I come to be a storyteller; I’m not a jazz musician, I’m really a storyteller
through music and I’ve had some amazing and unique experiences. When
it comes to considering these experiences together, my quest is always in
the spirit of our ancestors. Whether it’s when I hung out as an inexperi-
enced, green piano player with the grandmaster drummer Max Roach, one
of my Brooklyn homeboys, or the first time I played for the great Charlie
“Yardbird” Parker; whether it was playing in a little Army band during the
war trying to dodge bullets, or hanging out with Thelonious Monk and
being part of his vast sphere of influence, or being mesmerized by Sufi
masters—I’m constantly assembling all these forces to create my message,
a message which comes directly through me, passed down from the ances-
tors and ultimately from the Creator.
In 2006 I passed a milestone of eighty years on the planet, so I’ve been on
this path a long, long time. You know how life is: something that happened
to you thirty, forty years ago you don’t necessarily carry in your conscious
mind; it’s always there, buried in the deepest recesses of your mind, but in-
fluential nonetheless. Sometimes you can’t properly value what transpired
at a particular time until many years later; then what I like to think of as
your cultural memory kicks in. But the constant theme of my life that came
directly from my mom and pop and our neighborhood in Brooklyn . . . was
to fight for black people, for the liberation of our minds and spirits. Black
people are in a constant struggle on this planet; we are not completely re-
spected for our enormous contributions, we are globally downtrodden and
that must change.
In order to enact positive change we must remember the greatness of our
ancestors, we must open up our creative minds, open that door that we’ve
sealed as a result of being taken away from our Motherland and enslaved.
Additionally, we must celebrate our own diversity as a people, because we
are a very great people with unlimited spiritual resources.
I have always worked to be a part of that collective uplifting. I grew up
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