Julius Hemphill (mbari)
Dogon A. D.
mbari 5001 / Arista Freedom 1028
Recorded St Louis, Missouri in February 1972
Julius Hemphill (saxophone & flute)
Abdul K. Wadud (cello)
Baikida Yassen [Carroll] (trumpet)
Phillip Wilson (drums)
1. Dogon A.D. (Hemphill) 14:48
2. Rites (Hemphill) 8:20
3. The Painter (Hemphill) 14:56
Because I've had some material lined up for a few weeks and not had time to post, I thought I'd get a second item to you all while I'm sitting at my computer. I'm aware this record has actually been posted on a few blogs, including some associated with, or frequented by, the esteemed regulars here. However, there are three good reasons to post it again:
1. This is a totally amazing recording. It should be posted on every blog, given away to school children as part of their education, and honoured in an annual celebration of all that is great in the world.
2. I offer it here in better quality than most of the posts. It's also ripped from the original 1972 vinyl, and so I've also posted the original art work. It's actually a scan of a facsimile created by Dale when he passed on the recording to me, but it's good to see the original design.
3. And this time the post comes with a great essay from Dale celebrating the artists and his recording.
Over to you, Dale:
Julius Hemphill: Under Appreciated Composer, Saxophone Artist, and Man**
I started paying attention to Julius Hemphill when I heard Dogon AD. It was early in the ‘70s and “Dogon” immediately became one of my favorite records. Then Coon Bidness came along and I was bowled over AGAIN and pretty much hooked on Hemphill. This was an important step in my growing fondness for “free jazz” and creative music/sounds. Mainly I was beginning to “hear” AND to grasp the importance of Braxton, Taylor and others. But for me the impact of Hemphill’s music was a little different. It was at once abstract and radically evocative as well as sleek and antique sounding stuff - all curvy and bluesy and dashing. And, for me, at least, it was actually more accessible. Even so, it was improvised music that was hard to pin down. But, above all, I REALLY “dug” it; and I still do. Interestingly, these are records where I can still listen to and hear new elements and strands every time. From that time on I tried to get anything and everything where Julius was ANY part of the formula. And, at last, there was a fair amount of his work coming out. I think I got the Wildflower Series next. Then I scored copies of Roi Boye and Blue Boyé, both beautiful self produced Lps on the now obscure (and defunct) Mbari label. Finally, the World Saxophone Quartet (WSQ) stormed onto the scene in 1976-7. During this period I wasn’t aware of his connection with the Black Artist Group (BAG) in St Louis. If comments about this were included in the liner notes, I must’ve more or less ignored them. I loved his sound and his musical ideas so the history was not relevant for me at the time. I think I picked up that he was from Fort Worth: that was about it. Oh yeah, and I read someplace that Ornette Coleman was his cousin. That didn’t seem important then because I heard very little of Coleman’s searing oblique style in Hemphill.
What about Hemphill’s BAG experiences? Right up front I will admit that I am generally skeptical of the notion of “influences.” I am apt to think of it as the “antecedent trap” with a mesh just the “write” size for at least some academics on the prowl to grasp the creative process. Certainly there is a risk of over simplicity when you are trying to frame someone’s personal aesthetic evolution. In Hemphill’s case, from what I read and hear, we are dealing with a STRONG individual who was particularly intent on following his own muse. So circumspection is in order! Let’s just say I am fairly cautious about placing a great deal of stock in “selected” episodes of this particular artist’s life in order to gain insights. With innovators like Hemphill “salient” life experiences yield very little assistance in grasping his development.
So, in spite of some of my reservations concerning “antecedentism,” here are a few “facts” about Hemphill’s life and development. Hemphill grew up in Fort Worth Texas. He dabbled in clarinet in grade school and was eventually captivated by the gleam of his distant cousin Ornette Coleman’s alto saxophone. The neighborhood and his house were full of music. So he figured out fairly early on that he was going into music. And, in fact, he did eventually get a college degree. He went to a small black school, Lincoln Univ., in Jefferson City, MO. But he was often in trouble (for playing “street music” in the practice rooms!) And he was thrown out during his senior year for skipping classes to go hear Coltrane. It took him eleven years, with a stint in the military interrupting his efforts, to get his music degree. He later claimed that “I learned what I learned in school. The rest of it I learned in West Texas and on the south side in Dallas jumping up and down on the blues boy’s bandstands and the bebop band stands.” Gigs and jamming around were significant even while he was studying music in school. BUT I think the BAG experience was another matter. At school he had met and played with Oliver Lake, Hamiet Bluiett, Joseph Bowie and others. During his 3-4 year stint at BAG he played in many group permutations. He also was involved in developing community outreach and educational programs. And he was sort of a star to the organization. He was noted for amazing improvisations and was known as “the professor.” His cool demeanor and brimming talent led to his being elected the first chairman at BAG. I also think the leading role he was forced into meant he had to be involved in conceptualizing, writing, designing and realizing the NUMEROUS multimedia events. This was a major learning experience and became the practical foundations for his later work. Tim Berne in an interview observed some of these skills:
“For someone as far ahead of the game as Hemphill, you wonder what he might have achieved with a manager who knew what he had. His attention to detail was astonishing. He couldn't just play a gig. He had to build a whole new set of music stands or get the band to wear different outfits or use weird lighting. And no two concerts would contain the same material. He was always thinking how it looked and he'd make the guys wear certain things. He was just way ahead of everybody else in that regard. It really inspired me to find my own way. Not copy him but to get my own ideas."
It is kind of academic and speculative when you get into connecting all these facts retrospectively. So I tend to think of these observations as possible ways to see and think about his music. Maybe Hemphill’s aesthetic arc can be clarified by his connection with The Black Artists Group (BAG) and later on by examining his work with The World Saxophone Quartet (WSQ). On the other hand, it may not tell us very much. When you look at his interviews etc. it is clear that he thought of himself more broadly as a jazz/blues artist who wanted to mine the “voice of the culture,” by personally remolding it so it could be blended with drama, dance, poetry and the visual arts. He was out to make the tradition personal in order to express himself. To quote Hemphill himself on this matter: “The music is blues-driven...it is right out of neighborhoods...but I am not trapped by it because the tradition of the music is forward. Forward! It’s got to change or it will die” (From an interview ca. 1994 at the Smithsonian). To be sure the BAG experience was where he got together with the St. Louisans. And they DID grow. They were hungry and deeply inspired by each other to move their personal music and the "culture" forward.
I do have one further impression about Hemphill that I think is worth mentioning in this context. He was always a bit of an outsider. Here are comments by some of his friends:
“Julius was contrary...he could be cantankerous...but there was a playfulness in all that. But the main thing to remember about Julius is that he was a powerful creative force...and he was a major intellectual who could discuss and use anything” (mainly taken from discussions with Malenke Elliott)
When I consider all this, along with some other aspects of Hemphill and his music, it helps me to put in perspective his intermittent successes and setbacks. And, surprisingly, I think I can see through this lens that there was a kind of logic that moved him in the direction of more detailed composition toward the end of his life rather than staying with jamming and gigging. I think this course and his cantankerous and independent streak, contributed significantly to his parting with WSQ. He needed to compose a saxophone opera and to work with dancers and playwrites. To move the “culture” forward.
I only met Julius Hemphill one time. It was in a hotel room after a WSQ concert at the Portland Art Museum in Portland Oregon. I’d gone up with Malenke΄ and Arzinia Richardson (a bass player and Oliver Lake’s friend from St. Louis) and another acquaintance writer and DJ who had worked with Julius on some musical dramas. The “get together” was just to have a few drinks and to chit-chat. As far as I can remember Julius hardly said anything beyond a quick “hi” when we first arrived. He sat off in the corner and listened and watched. I learned later from Malenke΄ that Julius “hates chit-chat.” I hate it too. I wish the situation would have allowed us to get beyond chit-chat.
Now, just a little bit about Oliver Lake. I had heard Lake around 1975. He was playing live with his friend, Arzinia Richardson (an old BAG co-worker), at a health food restaurant, Mama’s Homefried Truck Stop in Eugene Oregon. In addition to alto saxophone Lake played some solos on wood flutes that he’d purchased locally. Oliver was astonishing on alto and the flute playing was flat out inspired. He had some Passin Thru Lps and posters with him so I grabbed a few for myself and friends. In a brief and nervous conversation after the concert I found out about his 1971 album “NTU: Point From Which Creation Begins.” He also mentioned BAG, which I wrote down; and then he showed me some of his poetry which I thought was REALLY bad! But I couldn’t tell this brilliant guy that I was deep into the small press “scene” and thought his writing was much too abstract and needed serious editing. You know, I was getting signatures and being sociable so I kind of nodded politely and said something like “Hey, Cool.” Then, in addition to the 5 LP Wildflower set (at Rivers’ Studio Rivbea), and early WSQ I found him appearing on several Charles “Bobo” Shaw and The Human Arts Ensemble albums. I also noted some important connections with Chicago’s better known Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) – especially Joseph and Lester Bowie. And somewhere in there I picked up on the work of John Carter who had been one of Hemhill’s teachers. Things were beginning to connect for me so I was increasingly inclined be a little more organized in my searches for music coming out of St. Louis.
At one point when I was passing thru Missouri I made some weak efforts to find BAG material in either record or book stores in East St. Louis. One kid behind the counter at a record store on the Eastside yelled to an older co-worker and they shook their heads in unison. It was as though BAG and its brave and creative proponents had evaporated. It was true - BAG really had disappeared - the artists left St Louis for places like NYC, Chicago and Europe - the core was gone.
It is relevant to point out that there was no “web” in the early to mid 70s (computer nerds were still learning about IBM ‘punch cards’). It would have been amazing to just “Google” a web site like the one at All About Jazz which has Benjamin Looker’s nice 2004 article on the “Poets of Action: The Saint Louis Black Artists' Group, 1968-1972 (Part 1-4)” at:
Check it out and look at Looker’s fine book Point From Which Creation Begins: The Black Artists' Group of St. Louis.
The above article and comments are based on Hemphill’s music, reading Benjamin Looker (noted above) and discussions with Malenke “Kenyata” Elliott (Playwright and one of the founders of the St Louis Black Artists Group –BAG). The Tim Berne quotes are from his web site:
Additional comments and MP3 download link for
“Dogon A D” come from the “Free Jazz Blog”
From the very first notes of this album, you know that something special is taking place. The cello of Abdul Wadud brings a repetitive theme, supported by some energetic drumming by Philip Wilson, with Hemphill and Baikida Carroll on sax and trumpet playing the main theme. After a minute or so Carroll drops away and Hemphill starts with a magical sax solo. Wadud and Wilson relentlessly continue with their hypnotic basis, sometimes only playing parts of it, yet keeping it implicitly present at all times. After about 13 minutes the piece changes and the contrapuntal interplay between the cello on the one hand and the sax and trumpet on the other hand leads to a climactic finale. "Dogon A.D." is phenomenal in the simplicity of its form and the power and creativity of its performance. "Rites", the second number, starts with strong interplay of the four band members, who quickly pursue their own lines without loosing focus of the whole. "Painter" brings Hemphill on flute. This CD is an absolute must for all jazz fans.