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Q&A with Simon Henry of Mu Quintet

FL: Tell me a little bit about the background of the group and how it came to be.

SH: We all met and are based in Leeds which is a city in the North of England. The band features five of Leeds foremost jazz/improvising musicians and we have taken influences from within the musical avant garde. The band formed from improvising sessions at an abandoned rugby pitch in 2021. We all share a love for the music of Eric Dolphy, John Coltrane, and Ornette. The debut record has been streamed over 850 thousand times now (so hopefully the vinyl’s will sell).

FL: So how did you guys meet, is it in the same academic circles, or music school, or just through jazz clubs?

SH: Myself, Matt Cliffe and Elliot all met at Leeds Conservatoire which is the local music school. We met Hugh and Joel just on the local music scene then all started playing together. We all shared a passion for creating original music and jazz.

JFL: So was there a strong vision of what you wanted to do musically, did the band have any particular path you wanted to follow?

SH: I set up the band with the intention of playing original music and making albums. We are obviously heavily influenced by Dolphy/Ornette/Coltrane and 60s/70s Avant Garde jazz but the plan was to make it sound fresh. I think it also helps that we are all in the North of England which has its own strong identity and adds something to the music. Of course it’s hard to do something that hasn’t been done before, but as long as musicians are being honest and playing music seriously I’m happy.

FL: What is you perception of the current contemporary jazz scene/ in Britain, in Leeds, are you affected by anything of the things happening in let’s say London?

SH: The current scene in the UK is good and there’s a lot of new music coming out all of the time which is great. I would say the UK scene is too London centric and sometimes the music can become a little sterile. Of course what’s happening in London affects us but Leeds has a much more DIY feel which allows for more freedom. I think sometimes UK and contemporary jazz can sometimes lack a connection with the spirit of the music which turns me off a little.

I personally try to maintain a connection with the music and regularly go over to the US to study with some of the older musicians. 

FL: What about the jazz clubs in Leeds, and the audience, do you have any good spots to play out live, or is mostly concerts in academic circles?

SH: There’s a couple of clubs in Leeds that we all play at in various groups. With Mu we are trying to put on shows at normal music venues and jazz clubs. We have one of the best venues in the UK here the legendary Brudenell Social Club so we try to play there as often as possible. We are currently in the process of trying to book gigs all over the UK and Europe if we can but my marketing skills aren’t quite up to scratch yet. As for the audience, it’s mostly just music fans which is what I’m really seeking for the band. In general, I try to stay away from academic circles as much as possible .

Thanks for this Q&A Simon, we wish the group all the best for the future.

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Interview with Pentti Oironen aka Antti Vauhkonen, aka Mr. Oiro Pena

We meet the mysterious multi-instrumentalist from Oiro Pena and saxophonist in Soft Power, Antti Vauhkonen. Oiro Pena’s second 10inch release is now in shops. We asked a few questions about his inspirations, musical background, and plans for the band.

When did Oiro Pena start?

Yeah, it was just Aleksi Tanhuala (the drummer) that came up with this name, he just started calling me Oiro Pena, that was it, Oiro Pena is something I do by myself and then it became a band after the first 10-inch.

How was your background, have you gone to any school in music?

Yeah when I was kid I started playing piano when I was 6, then drums, then guitar, then I got tired with studying, just started jamming and experimenting with friends. Went to Tapiola music school in Espoo.

What kind of music did you start out with?

I made electronic music for 10 years, quite intensively, I began doing that around 2006-2007 and then started gigging in 2011, the genre was Suomisaundi (Finnish psychedelic trance music in weird style, bands like Texas Faggott, Squaremeet are originators) it’s a bit like krautrock but trance. I made music like that.

So there are some element of this in Oiro Pena music?

I don’t know, this is a part of me, part of my sound, so in some way, it has some influence.

So when did you swich over to more organic music/jazzier sound, did you have an epiphany at some point?

It came from krautrock first, I started listening to CAN, and searched through all the psychedelic german rock bands. There was a lot of jazzier elements there, horns and saxophones, I think it came from there, and then I found Miles Davis and John Coltrane. But at first, I didn’t like Miles Davis, I could not understand what was so fantastic about him, but then … I heard his live at Fillmore East record from San Fransisco (Columbia Records, 1970) wich had a more rock sound, and that I liked, the whole listening experience of this record was kind of the passage into jazz for me.

How did you come to make the first Oiro Pena 10 inch, that’s you on all the instruments?

It’s just me at my home, with overdub, overdub, and overdub, on the first 10- inch I also looped a-bit, I started with piano first, and then I could not play the piano part through the whole song, so I looped it, but you cannot hear it, or I don’t think you can, because of the other instruments on top. It’s just like that, usually, I start with the piano.

Is flute your favorite instrument, there seems to be a lot of it on the Oiro Pena releases?

I think my favorite instrument is drums actually, but there are limitations with melodic expressions, if you want to provide melody then you’re kinda limited the drumsticks. I dig drums, flutes, and saxophones. There are so many fantastic instruments to explore in the world.

So you would call yourself a multi-instrumentalist, you don’t have a plan to become good on one instrument?

No, take saxophone for instance, when I listen to whoever saxophonist, I realize I will never be able to reach their skills, I don’t have the time nor motivation. I’ve never been that kind of person that just pick one thing, I have to do other stuff as well. 
I also think it’s really weird to compare players, this is better, that is better etc. the main thing is feeling and expression, the whole vibe, that’s what relevant to me, not necessarily kills or technique.

What kind of music do you listen to now?

Mostly spiritual jazz, a lot of Coltrane. I love John Coltrane. And now I started listening to the early Sun Ra material (surprised that people are comparing Oiro Pena to Sun Ra), not so much the newer stuff, it’s too free. It’s nice to play this kind of music oneself, and when it’s in a live setting it’s nice to be audience to but on record, nah…

Let’s talk about your next release Oiro Pena Jani a full long player lp. A quartet session. Fully improvised?

Yeah, it’s free improvisation, it was a nice session. A jam basically, and then we find the groove, and continue on…I like it, I listen to it now and again, and it’s nice.

What’s next for Oiro Pena?

We have some new songs for the trio, or quartet, Aleksi (the drummer) he had this idea of Oirolan suku, wich means the Oiro Pena family, a bigger band, maybe with a harmonica, violin, gonna look into that. Aleksi comes up with these weird and funny ideas, he’s a creative dude, and we all dig his ideas.

I’m very grateful to my bandmates: Johannes, Keijo and Joona.  I hope we will make lot of music together in the future.
And also thanks to Arsi Keva for making the first recording happening and everybody else involved.

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Interview with Cynth from the High Risk group

The High Risk group was an early all female quartet who started playing together in the early seventies, the lineup was Virginia Rubino on keys and vocals, Cyndy “Cynth” Mason on flute and sax, Bobi Jackson on bass and vocals and Sandi Ajida on percussion. Bobi and Sandi have moved on but Cynth and Virginia are still very much musically active playing today. Check out Cynth’s own musical pages on and Virigina’s Following the release of the group’s Sisters love EP we had a brief chat with Cyndy Mason about the group, the music and the tymes.

Tell me a bit about the band, HIGH RISK, how did the group come about?
In the early 70’s there were many creative women expressing themselves in all the arts.  In Venice Beach, California there was a special concentration of musicians and artists and there were many women’s bands (Lizzy Tisch, Bertha, Red Zinger, Teda and Dog Squeeze, La Silvia, to name a few.) There was constant jamming at each other’s houses and every week-end the Very Very Venice Festival showcased various configurations of groups and musicians at the Pavilion on the beach.  The members of High Risk played with these various configurations of musicians, men and women.  We got to know each other musically and recognized our particular expertise. Sandi Ajida had started her career with Olatunji and played on his first album Drums of Passion, she toured with the Ohio Players just before she came to Venice. Cynth had been under contract with Warner Bros. and had made an album with Paul Williams entitled “The Holy Mackerel”, Virginia, the youngest of the group, was a classically trained pianist and all agreed had one of the greatest voices we had ever heard.  Bobi began her career in the Haight Ashbury and played with every name band that came out of that part of the world. Bobi, who was the brains and business mind of the band, approached Virginia and suggested the four of us start playing together.  Cynth was working on a film with Donna Deitch and brought High Risk in to do the sound track. Judy Grahn’s poems “The Common Women” had recently been published and Cynth suggested to put the poems to music as they reflected the themes in the film “Woman to Woman”. Virginia wrote a concerto to the themes of the poems and Bobi wrote “Degradation” which also reflected  themes in the film.

What feels so special about listening to the High Risk single is that is has kind of two unique sides to it, there is the jazzy Common Woman and the more soulful funky Degradation. Was this the profile of band playing both R&B and Jazz or was this coincidental with the assembly of musicians in the group?
As musicians we were all classically trained and then found our influences that made us unique.  Ajida studied with the Royal Court Drummer from Ghana who was attending Temple University in Philadelphia as was Sandi. She graduated with a music degree.  Bobi was born and raised in New York City and was influenced and played with many of the greats from that part of the world and brought the R & B feel to the band. Virginia began her studies at a young age in the classics and was gifted with an exceptional voice. Cynth, daughter of a jazz drummer and classically trained, studied with the first chair flute of the LA Philharmonic, but when she heard Alice Coltrane she stopped reading music and learned to play from the heart.  I cannot stress enough the influence of living in Venice had. There were so many influences and we were constantly learning from everyone.  But it was our recognition of our level of musicianship and a knowing that we could do something new in the blossoming world of “women’s music” that was the glue that kept us together. One day we figured that between us we had almost 70 years of playing experience.

It also states on the back sleeve it’s the soundtrack to a movie called ‘Woman to Woman’ by Donna Deitch. We must admit we can’t find any info on this film online, did it ever happen?
The documentary “Woman to Woman” was a student Masters thesis by Donna Deitch attending the University of California Los Angeles.  The film was finished and premiered In Berkeley. It may have had a limited commercial release.

How was the single received at the time and how was it distributed?
The single was well received so much so that Olivia Records, the first woman’s record label in the US. released it as their first record.

Tell us a little about the music vibe in LA back in seventies. And how is it now, compared to back then.
In the seventies the music was organic, reflective of the times, women were waking up to their potential, the Vietnam war was raging, the Black and Brown communities were fighting the oppression they had endured for so long and were waking up to their potential and all of this was coming out in the music.  Someone once said to me recently the difference between now and then is that we had theme songs.  There was an urgency, we didn’t have cell phones or answering machines or social media.  We had each other and we had the knowing that we had to change the world and were willing to put our lives on the line for it.  We were passionate, committed and also dedicated to having fun.  Dancing was important, lyrics were important and the revolution was just around the corner.

In many respects Hip Hop carries on this zeitgeist and of course now we are a global community and the internet has made it possible for more diversity and voices to be heard.

We are also thrilled to hear that you played with Somayah (featured on the Brotherman single) she seemed like a special individual on many levels. How was it working with her and in what band was this?
I knew Somayah as Peaches and we met when I worked on a film about the breakfast program the Black Panthers ran in Los Angeles. After she left the Panthers, Peaches started writing songs about her experience and vision.  She asked me to come and open with her at the Ash Grove in Los Angeles, a well-known nite club where Linda Ronstadt and Bonnie Raitt got their start. The Ash Grove mainly featured the greatest blues players of our time, Leadbelly, B.B. King, John Mayall, Muddy Waters, Big Mama Thornton and Esther Phillips etc. The band consisted of Peaches, myself on Sax and Flute, a conga player and a pianist. We opened for Albert King and the first thing Peaches would say to that blues audience was…”I’m here to stamp out the blues.”  Peaches had a strength and a sweetness to her songs, not to mention she played the autoharp which was an instrument “of the people”.  Everyone in public school in California had to learn how to play it. Peaches would end her show with the song “Four Women” written by Nina Simone, who was also a great influence on us all.  The song ends with the words “My name is Peaches” and Peaches would slide across the stage on her knees, autoharp in hand and stop just before the footlights. Unforgettable. It was an honor to play with her and if you know her story, she is one of the bravest women I have ever known.

What other jazz artists are your most favourite, in any genre.
My father’s heroes were Miles Davis and John Coltrane, I was raised listening to them, then Stevie Wonder came along and I stopped being a jazz snob. Miles called Jazz social music and really that is what music is to me.  From the human heart and social. Alice Coltrane was the greatest influence, from her early days to her introducing world music.  Playing together on stage she would have the New England Conservatory of Strings, Charlie Hayden on bass, Rashid Ali on drums, an east Indian sitar and tabla, a multitude of African instrumentalists and an African church choir singing Indian bajans. She was the first.  I was fortunate to spend time with her and learn about music and life.ja02front

We know that Bobi Jackson has passed, is this band still in touch with each other.
Regrettably Sandi Ajida also passed in 1992.  I have stayed in touch with Judy Grahn and Max Dashu and due to your re-release of the High Risk disc I have reconnected with Virginia.  We are all happy that this work is being recognized again and I’m sure Sandi and Bobi would feel the gratitude we do.

The High Risk full album is now now available for order from Jazzaggression Records. Get it here!

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Interview with Fuasi Abdul-Khaliq of Black Belt Symphony

One of the key members of the Black Belt Symphony group was saxophonist Fuasi Abdul-Khaliq, once a Los Angeles native who’s professional career started back in the early seventies with Horace Tapscott and his Pan-Afrikan People’s Arkestra. He now residents in Berlin, we had a chat with him about the group, the tymes and the Brotherman single.

How did the group come to be and when did you first meet Somayah?
 I first met Somayah in 1980 when she was sitting in as a guest with the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra at one of our “Last Sunday of the Month” concerts. Horace Tapscott, who was the director of the group and pianist, really enjoyed Somayah’s music and the fact that she was a Autoharp player, which was a rare site to see in an Arkestra. Most of us only saw this instrument in elementary school when the teacher would play it to introduce music and singing to us. She performed one of her signature songs in her repertoire that day, Four Women by Nina Simone. At some point later we hooked up and began playing her compositions together. We called ourselves “The Black Symphony” in reference to the land where all the captured Africans who were brought to the southern U.S. states to work as slaves on the cotton plantations. One thing led to another and she moved in with me with her two children, her daughter Angelina and son Lumumba (RIP). In 1981 we began our involvement with the Malcolm X Center, which was a community center in south central L.A. They held personal defense classes, after school tutoring for children in elementary and middle school, yoga classes, karate classes, West African dance classes and drum classes. We began to perform there for a variety of political lectures and book readings from African-American scholars living in our community. There was a small space attached next to the Malcolm X Center, which was not being used so Somayah asked if we could use it to open up a small café that would have food and drinks for the visitors that would come around to the center. That was the beginning of our joint enterprise she named “The Family Teahouse and Jazz Café”. It was here that Somayah became a producer of healthy survival food (as she called it) for the community. She had never forgotten the need to feed the community as she had when she was in charge of the breakfast program in the 60s for the Black Panther Party’s Los Angeles branch. Now we had a place that I was able to provide live music every day as well as nutritious food for those who could pay something. Black beans and rice was the main dish we served. Later we began serving fruit salads, vegetarian soups, tacos, and vegetarian stews made with tofu and veggies. Of course, there was plenty of herbal tea to go around.

It was around 1982 that we started adding musicians to our duo which eventually grew into the 7 piece “Black Belt Symphony” that recorded the single “Brotherman”. It was in 1986 when we recorded the single but she had written the tunes a couple of years before because we were already performing them at concerts. “Brotherman” was written in 1983 to the response of the U.S. sending an invasion force to Grenade where many of the black sailors and marines refused to leave the ship to fight other black soldiers for the U.S. “Geronimo Pratt” was written around 1980 before we first met. This was in response to the U.S. government wrongly imprisoning Elmer “Geronimo“ Pratt, the deputy defense minister of the Black Panther Party and leader of the L.A. Panther headquarter on false murder charges.

The lyrics of the songs and the message are really strong as well, I know that Somayah was a Vietnam veteran and ex-panther. Did that go for the rest of the band as well?
As Somayah would tell you, “once a Black Panther always a Black Panther.” She never stopped being a Black Panther, which made her a “Freedom Fighter” in mind and spirit for life. I was a member of the Black Panther Party during my time in the university (Whitman College) for one year when the Seattle, Washington branch, recruited me. I had the opportunity to meet Bobby Seal and Huey P. Newton briefly when I was at a BPP convention in Oakland in 1969. I do not believe anyone else in the band was a member of the BPP.

Somayah was a veteran of the Vietnam War era (or the American War as the Vietnamese called it) but not a veteran who fought or served in Vietnam. Most of the band had never been in the armed services. I was drafted to go to Vietnam right out of high school but I refused and filed as a “conscientious objector”. I was also in the university at this time and had a college deferment, which kept me out of the war until I left school. The war was just about over when I graduated and I wasn’t forced to go. The rest of the band was never a member of the armed forces either, I believe, except Akin Davis in some form or another. But I don’t know if he went to Vietnam or not.

How was the single received at the time?
Everyone in the community loved Sister Somayah, as she was fondly called, and her lyrics so when the single came out everyone in the community loved it. The others who were part oft he establishment had reservations about the lyrics and the message that she was singing. We tried to get the record played on a couple of Black owned radio stations but the programming directors has reservations about playing it because they were uncomfortable with the lyrics being played on their playlist. One of the stations was a radio station owned by Stevie wonder (KJLH) and was refused play time for the same reasons. The lyrics, “Brotherman, sent to fight the white man’s war again” were a little too much for the black listeners of the radio station at that time… they presumed.

Somaya and Sabir Mateen
Somaya and Sabir Mateen

The Aseelah imprint was you and Somaya’s label, nothing else was released, how did you distribute the record?
Unfortunately, we never recorded again after our first single. Money was an issue in those days and after the recording and after losing our Teahouse to a freak tornado in 1983, we were homeless and struggling for a few years trying to get back on our feet again. Somayah, at this time, was getting worst with her bout with sickle Cell anemia. Her crisis was coming more frequent and severe. We mainly distributed and sold our records at our concerts, which we continue to perform over the next 3 years in L.A. before we moved to Atlanta, Georgia. During this time she went to school to study Stenography and I worked in an alarm security company monitoring home security systems.

I want to add that during this last 3 years in L.A., Somayah had the opportunity to meet Nina Simone not far from where we were living at that time. It was a dream come true and she had the opportunity to work and travel with Nina on tour as her assistant and confidant.

Do you still have contact with any of the other musicians playing on the release, Louie “Mbiki” Spears, Akin Davis, Nirankar Sing Khalsa, Eugene Ruffin, Akin Davis, Sekou Ali?
 I am still in contact with some of the members of the group. Louie “Mbiki” Spears I’ve known since 1973 when we were playing with Horace Tapscott and the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra. He was already a successful musician playing with some of the great jazz musicians and traveling all over the world at this time. He has styed active up to 3 years ago when he had a massive stroke that finished his career as a premier bass player. This misfortune happened to him directly after we finished our performance at our concert in L.A. It was lucky that we got him to the hospital in time or he would have not made it. We still stay in contact.

Nirankar Khalsa I’ve also known since 1973 where we played together in the Arkestra (ARK). We had performed many times in L.A. together with Somayah as well as in Atlanta after our move. He moved to Madrid, Spain around the same time I moved to Berlin (1992). In the late 1990s and early 2000s he performed with my touring group and me whenever we were in Spain. We still are close.

Eugene Ruffin was also a member of the ARK in the early 70’s and we stayed in touch until his untimely death due to a tragic car accident in 1988.

Akin Davis we met when we first became involved with the Malcolm X Center. He was on one the drum teacher who conducted weekly classes. Unfortunately, he died from complications with Diabetes before the record was released.

Sekou Ali I never saw again after our move to Atlanta.

Tell us a little about the music vibe in LA back in seventies.
The music vibe in L.A. back in the 70’s was a very vibrant scene in my opinion. Everything was on fire and electric. It was still the time oft he social, cultural and political revolution oft he 60’s. The vibe oft he civil rights movement was still part of the fabric oft he city. The jazz scene was aggressive and innovative in the playing and the composing. Boundaries of the past were being continually challenged and the people were always waiting and expecting something new and original. It didn’t matter which genre you were into (RnB, Soul, Jazz, Free, etc), everyone was trying something new.

How is Berlin and Europe today compared to LA back in seventies and 80s?
I believe Berlin has become a musical mecca for a lot of Europeans. It is so diverse with cultures from around the world and so cosmopolitan that you could find almost every type of music and art form from around the planet being performed or being showcase somewhere in Berlin. The city is very vibrant and open almost 24hrs a day. This is the way L.A. was in the 70’s and part of the 80’s but in Berlin, in some cases, the music and art is not as innovative or daring as it was in L.A. because of political reasons. The 70’s in L.A., in particular and in the U.S. in general, was a time of revolution on many levels. The reasons to be different and innovative were for reasons to create a change from the status quo. The reasons to be different and innovative now in Berlin are to get noticed so that someone will discover you to be the next famous superstar. The political, cultural and social reasons do not apply for the need to be innovated today as it did in the 70’s and 80’s in L.A.

What other jazz artists are your most favoriteja703front, in any genre.
My most favorite jazz artist  are because of their commitment to being different, innovative and excellence on a high artistic level….John Coltrane, Charles Parker, Nina Simone, Ornette Coleman, Duke Ellington, Horace Tapscott, Sun Ra, Miles Davis, Fela Kuti, Curtis Mayfield, Kamau Daooud to only name a few. There are so many more but too many to mention. Of course, Somayah is included in this list.

Visit Fuasi’s own web page here, and if you are in Berlin catch him live!
Brotherman EP single is out on Jazzaggression now, buy it!

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Interview with Chicago vibraphonist Paris Smith

To celebrate the release of the Quartets album and the full re-release of the Paris Smith triology on Jazzaggression records we sat down with Paris Smith in Chicago and talked about the past and future…

First of all I must say it’s been an interesting and rewarding experience getting your three latest albums out on the street again, sales have been brisk and people have been positive, how do you feel yourself about the renewed interest in your previous recorded music.
I feel grateful that music listeners have shown enthusiasm for my past albums. No doubt, some of these folks weren’t even born when the records first came out. Myself and the other personnel involved on the albums worked hard to make the musical statements listenable and be about something.

Over three decades you released three albums, Quartets in the seventies, Thought Seeds in the 80s and ghost in the 90s. All three albums have your unique individual style but in a way they are all very different. The first one being the bebop album, the second one has a modal, less chord changes approach and finally the Ghost with it’s rhythm and blues touch. Tell us a little how this came to be, was it popular in Chicago of what went down or was this your personal plan from the beginning that you wanted to vary each three releases?
Each album came out sounding the way it did because of the instrumentation I was working with at the time. I didn’t necessarily have making records in mind. Hard to say what was popular in Chicago during the periods when I was recording. Jazz was being played in several different styles. Bop, big band swing, third stream, fusion, funk, easy listening, free music, and probably some more. I didn’t consciously try to settle into any of these categories. I was just playing the vibes and writing tunes. Personally, I like all kinds of music, but I might not play in all those styles. And the other players on the records made a difference, too. The R&B touch on the Ghost album is due to the bass player’s input, and the pianist added some of that flavor, too. Bringing in the vocalist really took things into another dimension.

One thing is that you have worked with a lot of different musicians and line-ups during your career, you first started with reeds but changed to vibes, tell us a little bit about how that came to be.
Playing the vibes came about on the spur of the moment back in the 70s when I was fooling around with the reeds. Alto sax was my instrument. But I wasn’t really feeling it. One night I was hanging out with a buddy and we stopped in a little southside club called the Living Room. A combo was playing and a vibes player was featured. I’d been hearing vibes all the time, of course, but for some reason something clicked that night for me and I decided that was the instrument for me. Sold my horns, bought myself a set of vibes from a guy named Moody at a music shop on East 79th St., and made the transition to happiness. I have melody, harmony and percussion all in that instrument.

Can you tell us a little bit about the Chicago jazz underground scene back in the seventies, as I understand there was no shortage of gigs. Several other Chicago underground jazz artists, have renewed fame the last 10 years, namely Philip Cohran, The Musra Brothers. Also more famous The Pharaohs, Art ensemble of Chicago and Sun Ra. Was the scene joint in a way did you have cross paths with any of these constellations?
You can be sure there was really a jazz scene going on back in 70s. “Underground” is a good term to use, but that underground sure was popping. The bands had followings and there were places to play; not just in taverns, but in artists’ lofts and galleries and house parties. To mention something in particular, a girl named Max Fran always kept some kind of loft where she did her art, and we played some good sets at her place. We even got hired to play for corporate events. Sure, I remember the players you mention, and of course there are some not mentioned. To say each band had its own “clique” might be a questionable statement, but that’s how it seemed to me. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Music got played and things got done.

How is the music scene today compared to back then, you have switched to keyboards instead of vibes, what are the pros and cons of using a much lighter instrument.
The music scene in Chicago today is hard to see and hear. I have no idea what people, in general, are listening to. They wear earphones and don’t talk, except on their cell phones. I seldom hear music out in the air anymore. The only time I might hear music in the general commerce world is when I go to this resale store on the west side. They jam their box in there. Other than that, I usually just hear the background industrial hum of the city. I very seldom see flyers advertising little gigs like we used to put up in the old days. They have big outdoor fests in the summer now, like Lollapalooza but our style of music doesn’t fly on those scenes. Jazz Fest Chicago, put on by city government, still happens in September. And there are some neighbourhood fests here and there. I’ve been told by younger people that all the action is contained inside the Internet now. I started playing the electronic piano just to have something new to do. Got a bunch of new tunes and the reception has been good for the little trio we got going. The vibes always present a challenge when it comes to amplification. In the studio you got all the right microphones and stuff, but out on the scene that’s seldom readily available. And, too, I can pick up and carry my piano keyboard with one hand, and be set up and ready to play in five minutes.

On a sad note, the everyday violence and gun situation in Chicago seem to plummet and has put restrains on mobility in your southern area. How has it come to this and how does this affect your everyday life.
I don’t know what to say about the madness and gunplay that’s going on in this city now. The sociologists and the police come up with their ideas on how to deal with the situation, but the blasting continues. Had a stray bullet come through my window during Christmas week. All this shooting has definitely put a damper on things. And it’s gone citywide now. The fact that I don’t hear music in the air anymore might have something to do with it, and some of what I do hear from time to time sounds like background tracks for a violent movie.

Tell us a little about your special musical relationship with Kenneth Hill.
Ken and I worked well together. We met at a vibes player named Cooper’s house where we rehearsed all the time. That would’ve been in the early 1970s. Other players would come through and we’d all have a good time. Then Ken and I branched off and started doing our own thing. We lived within walking distance of each other. We compared notes on music method books, analysed tunes, and started building a repertoire. Ken was a no-nonsense kind of guy who liked to tackle tough material. We’d work out for hours on those finger-breaking Bird and Bebop tunes. Then we met Donnell Lambert, the bassist, a really advanced player, and we started rehearsing in his basement. We then brought in drummers, like Ben Montgomery, Usama and Richard Terrell.

What’s the story behind the ‘Lilith came’ track.
“Lilith Came” got written on commission at the request of playwright, saxophonist, Larry Dunn. He wanted a new song about a scandalous woman for one of his plays. I was the musical director and Carol was a featured vocalist. The play was a real other worldly kind of thing with spirits and spiritedly dancers. Carol came up with the melody and lyrics and I put in the rest.

What other jazz artists are your most favourite, in any genre.
I listen to and like lots of jazz artists. I guess my favourites would probably be Charles Mingus, Captain Beefheart and John Lewis.

We found the old Downbeat magazine review of your debut album, it was a bit negative but still in a positive manner saying it sounds unique. How did you feel yourself at the time?
Felt down in spirit when I first read the review, but then I felt good about it. I was surprised, really, that Downbeat, the premier jazz magazine in the world at the time, even paid us any attention, since they probably received tons of material from all over the planet for review. Ken was really shocked to see it. But we both felt encouraged by what the reviewer said, ultimately.

You said you prefer live recordings contrary to studio recording. As the vibe is much more alive and sound more like when you play it yourself?
Well, it’s not such a cut and dried situation. The vibes is a difficult instrument to mike up, especially on live sets. In the studio you can get a good sound. Mikes on top and sometimes underneath. On live sets, all that equipment might not be available, and often times you’re competing with instruments which have volume controls on them. Ampli-pickups can give you some added volume, but they might distort the sounds, especially if you turn the volume up high. So, I do prefer live recordings, but they aren’t always the best. In the studio you have more time and equipment available to make the vibes sound as realistic as possible.

Did you come from a musical background, did you have any family members that where musicians?
I had an uncle who was a pianist, and he led a combo that played in the south. I started out playing piano and reading music when I was around nine or ten years old, but I didn’t really care much about music then. I liked baseball and other sports type things. My interest in music really clicked when I was early high school age. Played in the band and started paying attention to the sounds. Wanted to be an alto sax player, but decided early on that horns weren’t my thing.

What truly is great about your creative output is the collaborations with your better half Carol Sawall. The vocals are very unique and the visual illustration that accompanies the three albums are next level! She is from Detroit right? How did you two first meet and did you start working together early?
Yes. Carol is from Detroit. She’s very much into drawing and painting. She would sing at jam sessions and knock em out with tunes like Joy Spring and Lullabye of Birdland. She’s really a bebop singer. Knows all those old standards. She didn’t start singing with the band Ken and I put together until later, like in the late 70s. She would design our advertising and flyers. Then when the records got made, it was only natural that she did the artwork.

We thank Paris Smith for the time, forthcoming from Jazzaggression and Oracle Records 2016/17 is the Thought Seeds EP and hopefully some unreleased works.