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New Hope Jazz Mass revisited

From a record collectors perspective it’s fun to dwell back when you first found or heard about a certain record. The personal nostalgia to keep track of ones musical finds and listening habits at a certain point in time. I was first introduced to New Hope Jazz through the Spiritual Jazz compilations put together by Gerald Short back in 2010’s, ‘Duke and Trane’ was the song; Bassist Pekka Sarmanto’s (the brother of Heikki Sarmanto) heavy bass laden motif grabs hold while the the instrumental layers are introduced. First it’s Seppo Paakkunainen’s calling tenor solo while the vocal groups, Gregg Smith Quartet and 60-piece Long Island Symphonic Choral Association are joining in with Maija Hapuoja’s wordless vocals are icing it on top. An extremely powerful piece of music marked 10:27 minutes.

The liner notes to the original New Hope Jazz Mass release tells us that the opening song is based on a sixteenth century Finnish folk tune, Sarmanto heard it as an echo of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. Heikki Sarmanto utilized the virtuosic abilities of his vocalist, Maija Hapuoja, inspired in the same way Duke Ellington used Alice Babs in his Sacred Concerts. Soaring the highest altitudes, surrounded by a transparent mist of sound from the chorus. Further explained in this Sarmanto Interview (done before the St. Michaels church premiere) in New York Times 19.05.78 by jazz critic John S. Wilson.

The seed of the dedication of the mass was planted when I spoke to Duke Ellington after hearing one of his ‘sacred concerts’ in Boston, later, when Pastor Peterson suggested a mass, a lamp went on in my head. Of course—it would be for Duke, who was a very religious man.

Then, when I began writing the mass, I based the opening theme on a Finnish folk tune from the 16th century. Playing it, I suddenly heard an echo of John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme.’ I could imagine Coltrane playing it on soprano saxophone. So, because ‘A Love Supreme’ was an expression of Coltrane’s religious feelings, I added him to the dedication.”

It’s just an expression of my feeling toward two giant musicians, It’s a synthesis of a Scandinavian folkloric feeling, gospel and blues with Ellington voicings in a couple of places and an improvised dance accompanied by voices, something that used to be done in Finnish villages where there was no band.

Sarmanto 78

Back in those days, Jazz Vespers was an established event on Sunday afternoons at Saint Peter’s Church (619 Lexington Ave, Manhattan, New York). Rev. John Garcia Gensel who curated the concerts made sure everyone was welcome despite of religion, race or colour. When the Saint Peter’s new church was built into the Citicorp Center skyscraper it was Finland’s innovative leadership in church architecture that provided a link to commissioning a mass for St. Peter’s by a Finnish musician.

Pastor Ralph Edward Peterson of St. Peter’s got the idea for the mass several years ago, when plans were being made for the new church. He had just sent an architect to Finland to look at modern churches there. I was here studying piano with Margaret Chaloff in ‘Boston and gigging around with Charlie Mariano, the saxophonist, with whom I had played in Europe, and Eero Koivistoinen, a Finnish saxophonist who had come over with me. One of our gigs was the jazz vespers at St. Peter’s.

Sarmanto 78

Some of the lyrics to the songs in New Hope Jazz Mass are taken from religious liturgy, but three of the titles are written specifically for the mass by Aina Swan Cutler, an american born of Finnish parents who had spoken the finnish language during her child years. She had attended a concert in Boston by Mr. Sarmanto at which some of his songs were sung in Finnish, and from there on a coincidental collaboration emerged.

She came backstage to thank me, she was a very nice lady, very polite. As a friendly gesture, I gave her one of my songs in Finnish and my address. A few weeks later, I received a letter from her with an English setting of my song —she insists on calling it a setting rather than a translation because the language is so difficult, it is impossible to translate.

This was a total shock, because for years I had been looking for someone who could set my songs in English. All her life she had been just a housewife and a mother. But she had sometimes written poetry and put it in a drawer, never showing it to anyone. She was a closet poet. Now she has written settings for 60 of my songs. I think that all that she was missing was the music. She understands the ethnic feeling of the songs so that she can make the same thing happen in English that happens in Finnish.

Sarmanto 78

Heikki Sarmanto premiered the New Hope Jazz mass this weekend in May 1978, first at the Ward Melville High School in Long Island and then for the official premiere at St. Peter’s on the Sunday. Autumn the same year three concerts would be held at the Temppeliaukio Church, (also known as the Church of the Rock) is a Lutheran church, an architectural wonder built into the landmass and rocks in the Töölö neighborhood of Helsinki, designed by Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen in 61, and built in 69.

When the choir came to to do the Temppeliaukio Church concerts at Helsinki Festival (Helsingin juhlaviikot) we had to have three performances as they were all sold out, packed. Then we went on the road, we toured 4 or 5 major cities in Finland, and then the choir went back to America.
It was great success and always sold out, we should do one more in the future…

Sarmanto 2022

For us who never had the chance to be at these monumental concert performances, they where mixed live and recorded direct to tape by professional recording engineer Juoko Ahera, first performance was then published and pressed in great numbers on FINLANDIA Records in 1979 (CAT#FA 201) as a 2xLP. However recently Heikki Sarmanto found the second day tapes recorded on the 8th of September 79 and contacted Jazzaggression records for a possible future publication.

It’s a better performance, and my ensemble is more confident with Pekka Pöyry and Seppo Paakkunainen taking turns and changing a little around who did the soloing in different parts.

Sarmanto 2022

All 12 songs including Duke and Trane have been remastered, the composers prefered version of the jazz mass have now been published for the first time. New Hope Jazz Mass – second day concert recordings from the Helsinki Temppeliaukio Church are now available on DigiPack CD and through all streaming channels from Jazzaggression Records (CAT #JACD736)

Buy the CD Digipak directly from us through this link!

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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.