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Interviews

Sunny Murray

By Published: October 14, 2003
SM: Yeah, you know, the idea is you have to have a lawyer to fight with you. I just gave a very good publication lawyer here a thousand dollars, me and my old lady, and he's already started jumbling 'em around. So it is possible to win, but you have to pay somebody, you can't be a jailhouse lawyer and you can't be your own lawyer. 'Cause the men who have exploited us are great publication lawyers. They know what they are doing and they know the laws that we don't know. And musicians have this bad habit of signing contracts without really reading 'em and getting a lawyer to explain it to 'em.

AAJ: Right, like the contracts in the case of BYG, they were in French.

SM: Yeah, that's a funny one, my lawyer's started on that one too. The ones that really started the company was the group that I went to the Pan-African Festival with [in Algiers, 1969]: me, Clifford Thornton, Dave Burrell, Alan Silva and Archie Shepp. We went to play at the Pan-African Festival and we met these guys there and we got familiar with them, this was [Jean] Georgakarakos and Jean-Luc Young, and they said they had about 400,000 francs and they wanted to start a record company, and we could meet 'em in Paris, which we did. And they recorded just about everybody, from Kenny Clarke to Philly [Joe Jones], they could find in about a month, and they were in business. And I made three albums, Archie made four; we were like children in a candy-field. And we signed contracts, but Archie was the only one who understood a little (I understand well now) French. And like you said, the contracts are so artificial. Like one of the one of the lines, they said they owned the music for infinity. [laughs] It's impossible, and I showed my lawyer and he laughed, and we didn't know what to say. And now I'm the only one out the gang, I never lost my contract. So I took my contracts to the lawyer, and even one publishing house (they film here) ' they sent me a letter that if I had the BYG contracts to please bring them in, and I went in and I said 'what do you want to look at these for' and they laughed and said, 'do you really have 'em?' And I said 'yeah, here, they're old and shit,' and so anyway, that's another aspect of this music that we have to challenge. Another one is to try to find a way to get a senatorial or some kind of social mood to give us amendment and protection laws in Congress. Such as if they can't pay you royalties, you haven't sold anything, but that should be cleared in statements. If you level statements that show you haven't sold anything, there should be a fine against the company. There should be a lot of different protecting things for us in the future. You know, so companies are not free with this 'perfect crime.' These are some of the important things, because new music is really the music of the future, as it wasn't intended when Cecil led the gang. But it seems like we have accumulated some of the best players of each generation.

AAJ: Some of the most talented and innovative people on their instruments'

SM: I'll be 67 next month; I won't say everybody else's age, but Cecil and John [Coltrane] are the same age. The thing of it is, is that it's a great, wonderful music for a new generation. For example, now when I play I get such a wide assortment of young people. The music is starting to express its emotional qualities, its love, its struggle. You know, like bebop did eventually. These things are coming out in the music, and I'm very happy of my gigs now. Even young women like creative music now.

AAJ: Yeah, my girlfriend digs it some'

SM [laughing]: 'Cause I played in London and, you know, I smoke a little bit, so I went outside to smoke a J, and I was sittin' quietly in the corner, and these girls lined up, and I thought I must be in their way, you know, and so I was getting ready to move and they said no, and they came up and one by one they gave me a kiss on the cheek. And here they're kissing their grandpop! And it just knocked me out to think, you mean (and this is just last year) they really love new music? It's an alternative spirit, you can go hear swing and all those hip things, but they do something to you emotionally in a way. Nostalgia, sadness, the blues' but this music frees you, it's like the magic in liberation, you know.

AAJ: Did you have any similar feelings or experiences in the sixties, or was that [popular respect] not the case? As far as young people, that is'


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