Is jazz still important as it was during the 1950s and 1960s?
The history of jazz becomes more and more important as time goes on. In the beginning, jazz and Black American music was synonymous. Jazz is a music created by the African-American, expressing freedom, liberation, redemption, pain and misery. From jazz came ragtime, Dixieland, gospel, R&B, rock & roll, soul music and rap music; all of these styles and the artist that created them have contributed to the mainstream of American popular music. Louis Armstrong topped the pop charts three times in his career. A lot of factors contributed to the dilution of jazz, but if you take a quick look at the demographics of the jazz audience of today; you will find a small group of people who are over 35 years old; most of whom have been jazz fans from an early age. I remember when Louis Armstrong passed away; people were saying that the death of ‘Pop’s’ was the end of jazz. Jazz is still important today, but today we have to focus on the historical contribution that jazz has given to America and to the world.
When was your most inspired moment in your career?
There isn’t just one, there are a few that I remember well, I’ll just briefly talk about them one at a time. The first time was at the Studio Rivbea, December,1973. It was the first New York performance for my Ensemble Muntu with Arthur Williams, Mark Hennen, William Parker and Rashid Sinan. Six months earlier I came to New York from Antioch, Ohio where I had spent the previous two years playing and studying with the Cecil Taylor Black Music Ensemble at Antioch College. The intent was to come to New York, assemble the Enemble Muntu, rehearse and start performing. But the reality was that we couldn’t get gigs, no one knew us, and for the first six months all we did was rehearse. Sam Rivers gave us our fist gig playing at Studio Rivbea every Thursday night that December. By the group not being known, the first night was sparsely attended. We continued to play and put up flyers around the Lower East Side and each week the audience grew, by the last Thursday, we had a very good audience that was responsive and very supportive. That last Thursday night was the first of many inspiring moments for Ensemble Muntu.
Most live performances are satisfying, but some are very inspired. My first trip to Europe I toured in Holland with William Parker, Billy Bang and Sadik Abdul Sahib. It was at the end of the Loft Era and also the end the Ensemble Muntu, but I had this opportunity to play in Holland. I had played with Bang only a few times, and I had never played with Sadik. This group came together the very first time we played and everywhere we played people were either up and dancing, or glued to their seats listening. My first tour in Europe was very inspiring.
The live performance at the 2000 Vision Festival was also an inspired concert. This performance was recorded live (on Eremite Records MTE-28 CD) as ‘Revolt Of The Negro Lawn Jockeys’ with Jemeel Moondoc, Khan Jamal, Nathan Breedlove, John Voigt and Cody Moffett. This performance was especially inspiring; the interaction between the audience and the band was electric, at the end of the performance the uplifted crowd urged the band to play an encore.
Two live performances by the Jus Grew Orchestra were also inspired moments that I remember well; it was the feedback from a live crowd that motivated the band to a higher level of performance. One performance was in 2000 at UMASS, the Magic Triangle Jazz Series. This was the first time that the orchestra had performed in a large concert auditorium. The audience and the orchestra fed each other with excitement. This performance was recorded by Eremite Records (MTE-29 CD) ‘Spirit House’ by Jemeel Moondoc and the Jus Grew Orchestra, The second live performance was recorded at the Vision Festival (2001) and was released as ‘Live At The Vision Festival’ on Ayler Records (aylCD-047) by Jemeel Moondoc Tentet and the Jus Grew Orchestra . This was another performance where the audience and the orchestra fed one another with a heightened sense of performance and excitement.
What projects are planned for you over the next year, Jemeel?
I am hoping to record a new CD by the end of the year. I hope to use the same musicians as on ‘The Zookeeper’s House.’ Nathan Breedlove will play trumpet. I have wanted to record a blues record, so this will be a new blues concept, using avant-garde and traditional music concepts and techniques. I will start with one of my favorite blues pieces by John Coltrane, ‘Mr. Sims,’ in a duo with sax and bass. I have written some blues pieces for this project; however I am hoping to give the blues a whole new and modern perspective in a piece I have written called ‘The Nu Blues.’ I am also planning and US tour for the late spring of 2015 and a European Tour for the fall.
JEMEEL MOONDOC’S NEW ALBUM ‘THE ZOOKEEPER’S HOUSE’ IS OUT NOW ON RELATIVE PITCH