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Going Straight to the Source, Hugh Glover on Milford Graves, The Children of the Forest Interview

Hugh Glover interviewed by Jake Meginsky, September 2021

Commissioned by Black Editions Archive on the release of Children of the Forest featuring previously unreleased 1976 recordings by Milford Graves with Arthur Doyle & Hugh Glover. It's included as a printed insert with the 2LP Edition which is available now from Black Editions.

Saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist Hugh Glover played with Milford Graves from 1964 until 2015. Musician & filmmaker Jake Meginsky currently teaches at Smith College; he directed the film Milford Graves Full Mantis. Photographs of Milford Graves and Hugh Glover, arriving in Paris in 1973 by Thierry Trombert.


JAKE MEGINSKY: Did you listen to the recordings I sent? The reel-to-reel transfers of 1976 sessions? Prof labeled the tapes Pygmy with a piece of masking tape on the metal case.

HUGH GLOVER: Yes. I believe that this title is inaccurate. It should be Children of the Forest. At the time, we were listening to the music of the peoples of the interior forest of the Congo.[1] I don’t use the term ‘Pygmy’ to refer to them. Prof was also interested in their medicinal practices and their herbology. We were reading The Book of Poisons by Gustav Schenk[2] at the time. The intensity of the sounds on the tape requires precision for a title that can encompass the totality of these sessions.

[1]The Mbuti people or Bambuti, indigenous to the Congo Basin.

[2] Rinehart, 1955.

There’s three things I want to say. First, the Prof’s mood sets up a tribal-like atmosphere. It’s Congo-like — possession states. The rhythms, I think they immediately stimulated the need to dance. And he used to talk ... you know he talked about, “a drummer is supposed to dance when he’s playing.” One time Prof played with a traditional folkloric dancer, his name was Ishangi. Have you heard of Ishangi?[3] Ishangi literally had to leave his traditional dance forms behind because he had to move his feet so fast! By the time he finished, he had blisters. This was in the temple in the square, because we used to do Yara[4] there. He tried to do it for the full length of time Prof was playing.

[3] Likely referring to Baba Kwame Ishangi, artistic director of the Ishangi African Dancers who represented Africa

at the 1964/1965 New York World’s Fair, and founder of the Sankofa Society in Queens, New York in 1973.

[4] A Yoruba word meaning nimble or flexible, Yara was the name given by Graves

to the martial art he developed based on West African dance movements.

The next thing one must know and be aware of is that Milford Graves, he is not a time-keeping drummer like most jazz drummers. Prof represents the epitome of traditional hand drumming. I’m talking about ceremonial music and ritualistic sounds most familiar in divination. That isn’t to say that chang-chang ca-chang won’t be found in his tool kit.

The tapes open up with January, and the 24th is the earliest date. It’s interesting because, if you follow the dates, although Prof was on top of everything, the rest of us needed time, we needed rest!

What’s interesting to me, I wrote down Monk when I was listening, because Monk always said, “the first stage is the best stage, because that’s fresh.” And I noticed through all of these takes Prof never stopped. There were plenty of moments where, I’m sure he could have stopped us to say, well, you’re not quite doing it, and especially in the January sessions. But he didn’t, he let it all unfold. We were underdeveloped, you know — kind of an evolution was taking place on these tapes. Prof had something that he had envisioned, and he was already reeling it out.

What’s different on this one, he does a lot of rim stuff, and that rim stuff goes directly to his timbale playing, to the extent that he was da, da, da. Also the cowbell, dum, dum. Not a regular cowbell — that was THE cowbell. From West Africa. Again, it contributes to that whole tribal, ritualistic atmosphere. Because it takes it out of da, da, da, or that whole Latin feel. It was very clearly African. That’s an important point, because knowing as many rhythms as the Prof knew that are out of that repertoire, he was able to maintain his own identity by making sure that African element was always strong. I think what he was saying, the real answer to what we do is to realize that the Latin thing, it comes from Africa. Why take the detour? Go straight to the source. It’s clear throughout these tapes that’s what he speaks for.

I was listening to the February session, and originally I said, “oh, it has a Caribbean feel to it.” But that’s because of the melody, and the melody in his tones that he gets, the way he rocks from one melody pitch to another. It has always been a mystery to me how Cuban drummers in Bata were able

to modulate the rhythm and the meter. Well, it takes more than one player to do it Cuban style. Prof shows you can do it as one player. The reason he’s able to do it is because he has an encyclopedic knowledge of the rhythms of the Caribbean, rhythms of Africa, plus rhythms of jazz. He can move around without losing the feel. Well, he used to talk about how he had to channel his brain so that there was no hemispheric separation, because these limbs had to operate, not separately, but together. The ability to hold something different against…. And for a horn player, that’s not easy. Don Pullen was trying to do it

too. But I tend to think Prof was the only one that I know who could do it, and as one person.

Now, there was one time I had to tell you, if I could ever find the tape. I’m playing the bass saxophone up in Springfield. You could call it a flute-like instrument the way I was playing it, whatever you want. Because I’m playing the bass sax horizontally in a yoga position, I was able to get the tone from partially closing the keys, so I would get that woo, woo. And I was able to do…. In fact, the Prof turned around and he said, “you could play any rhythm and it would sound right.” That’s the first time I had heard him turn his ears around and then recognize what I was doing. I can only do it on the bass sax…. I’ve tried to find it on the tenor, and on the soprano. I’m still working on that one, because if I could get it again, watch out.

JAKE: The technique you’re describing, it gave you like a polyphonic and poly-rhythmic thing happening simultaneously?

HUGH: Yes, In other words, some cats try to get the same effect by playing overtones — tap, tap, tap. See, I was able to do it across tones —do, do, do. But I had do, do, do. So I was able to internalize that and it made the sax percussion. That was a goal of mine. Some would say that’s my problem, but I didn’t care because that identifies my voice apart from everybody else’s. That’s what I wanted ultimately. When you hear what I was doing on the ‘73 concert at Middelheim,[5] when I’m playing by myself, that’s just one part of what I wanted to be — the voice of percussion, a percussive voice. I wanted to open the whole thing up to the multiverse.

[5] Jazz Middelheim Festival, Antwerp, Belgium, 1973.

JAKE: Yeah, a focus on poly, both polymeter and polyphony – that is what you hear with the vaccine in Rara.[6] Those one note trumpets, even though it’s multiple people, it’s not just one, but they’re operating in a very drum-, rhythmic-type way. The melodies are emergent. They come out of relationships in rhythmic patterns, rather than a narrative linear line.

[6] The vaccine is a single-note trumpet important to ensembles playing Rara processional music

performed during Lent celebrations but deriving from Vodou ceremonial music.

HUGH: That’s right.

JAKE: In the middle of these tapes there is a clip from a documentary. Was this something you guys were watching together?

HUGH: Question was, what did these people who lived in the interior of the Congo have that allowed them to exist and survive under this deified atmosphere of the forest? We were thinking, these cats can live outside the box, their whole life is totally intertwined with life in the forest. And you can hear it in their sounds. Those sounds cats make on the hunt, to get the monkeys to come down! When you hear the sounds like white noise — shh. All I could think was shekere.[7] I could see the Prof digging in on what these people of the forest ... how they are incorporated in his thing.

[7] A West African percussion instrument made from a dried gourd.

That’s also with the klaxon. I tend to remember, although he started out on the klaxon, he gets worked up, and it’s similar to when I would play the gong back in ‘73. Now there’s a point I had to go back in it, where I played the klaxon. You can hear me do it more rapid, because he’s definitely the director — ga, ga, ga. He starts to gallop. It’s important to keep that tribal possession-state feel going along with it, because it’s not a Hollywood gallop. It’s very much about the energy, this gallop. Prof talks about that, talking about the low, the galloping … galloping as in the Divine Horsemen of Haiti.

That brings this up, definitely, in March. March is the epitome of this. In the March session Arthur Doyle was clearly on fire. And I should have known because the Prof said he went to Doyle’s house. And the Prof said when he was there, Doyle had pots, and he was trying to play pots and all the stuff in his kitchen, trying to recreate Professor’s presence.

When I was with Doyle, I was playing the clarinet up at his house. And we were experimenting with harmonics, harmonic tone, sometimes called ghost tones. Because we could find a frequency to produce a tone not from either one of us. So both of us were in tune trying to keep that tone, not the same tone, but get it to play! To play like we were playing the ghost, to get the ghost to play. And that comes from the World’s Fair,[8] when the African Expo was there. They were talking about the ghost rhythm because when you play it, you could always hear, it was like another player was there playing with you.

[8] The 1964/1965 New York World’s Fair in Queens, NYC.

My suggestion to anyone who listens to these tapes, you have to ... I’ll use the phrase listen in totality. You can’t compartmentalize. Popular music or whatever, you listen for the voice. With James Brown, you listen for when he says, “to the bridge.” With this you have to listen to the totality of the whole performance and you have to listen to the totality of what’s going on. I mean, obviously people start somewhere, they can’t hear it all at once, it can be overwhelming at first. Well, if it is overwhelming, then keep going back until you can hear everything because the message is in the totality. It’s not in the parts, it’s not a compartmentalized kind of thing.

JAKE: Yeah, I think this gets lost in so many conversations about so-called jazz, because so much of the critical lens has been through this very Eurocentric way of talking about players and their technique, celebrating talent, virtuosity, and technical ability. Dissecting, and as you said, compartmentalizing individual voices and aptitudes rather than focusing on the collective element, the spiritual element, like what happens when people get together and that third thing comes into the room. This is what I love about the music on this reel. It’s a spiritual practice, a summoning of energy.

Prof and I were talking about this in the month before he passed, talking about the idea of three, the power of the trinity, and the way it creates an expansive, sanctified place for music as opposed to a duple or binary pattern. And then thinking about even in duple-centric things like yin and yang, the yin and yang also exists in this third thing, the circle which contains the opposing forces. One of the first things Prof said to me when I came to the house in Queens was, “look at the room downstairs, look at the garden outside. Don’t try to analyze it, just take it all in, that alone will do something to you.”

HUGH: I try to put things simply. If you’re having a piece of cake, that if you only focus on the sweetness, you’re going to miss other aspects of flavor. Because suppose there’s some nuts in the cake, suppose there’s some cinnamon or nutmeg. And if it’s the other way around, if you focus ... you’re looking for the nutmeg, you’re going to miss the sweetness.

Realize how the Prof was a composer. That’s another important thing. His choices and the way he pivots in melody and rhythms — you can see him composing, not just for himself, but for us as well. I would suggest to most listeners, see if you can pick up on that. Don’t listen to him as a performer. Listen to him as a composer, listen to him as a healer doing the work. Because performers, their riffs are loose, sticks are the right weight and they are smooth hitting the skin. But when you’re a composer, you may switch up position of your riffs, a different stick. You may hit it, skin it with a different force or different trajectory, creating that dynamic range.

JAKE: When did you and Prof first connect?

HUGH: That was in 1962 at the October Revolution in Jazz that was held in what was called then The Cellar Café, Broadway & 91st Street. The night I was there it was Giuseppe Logan and naturally the Prof. And I still don’t remember the bass player.[9] Prof and I, after he finished the gig, we were outside. I don’t know if we were walking and talking, but we went at it, in the sense that we acted like brothers from different mothers just hooking up. There were obvious differences between us. I was in Mannes College of Music, and my head was all in the conservatory stuff. Theory, history, all of that. And he was naturally coming from, hey man, you got to get rid of all that stuff. I had thought that I couldn’t navigate both at the same time.

[9] Lewis Worrell.

Later I was heavily influenced by the New York World’s Fair in Queens. I went to all the African exhibits, especially those that had the drumming. I was working, at that time, on notating all the cross rhythms, you know, from three on two, all the way up to five on four. And I was thinking of going into 7s and 11s, because I wanted odd integers. Well, the Prof, because of playing conga and tabla, he had all that. He was more or less saying, hey, look, if you want to be on my page or beyond the page with me, you can’t bring that Western conservatory stuff with you. If you don’t know the rhythms, you got to feel the rhythms. So I remember him telling me, “start with the Cuban rhythms.”

See he didn’t know at the time that I had been messing around with Mongo Santamaria’s son Monguito. Now there’s more than one Monguito, but the one I was spending time with was living in East Harlem. He was a little bit younger than me, but he knew everything that I was trying to get into. And because of that connection to Mongo, it kind of helped me get in touch with Santeria. And I remember I had an LP, I think it was called Cult Music of Cuba[10] but it had Lucumí,[11] all of that good stuff.

[10] Ethnic Folkways Library P-410.

[11] Another name for Santeria.

Prof wasn’t in on Lucumí, but he could play along with it, in the sense that he was familiar with Bata. And he was playing with, well, Bill Fitch. And then I met Sunny Morgan through Prof after that gig, with Giuseppe. And the Prof was working on the Percussion Ensemble LP.[12] Somehow we couldn’t hook up for rehearsals he had with Sunny, but I did make it to the recording session. I was in the control room, and the engineer, Richard Alderson, was one of those kind of status quo engineers. And he had just put out a couple of mics, right? And they’d recorded a first take. I got the Prof’s eye, and I said, “you to need to listen to this.” He came in and they started to play the tape and he said, “oh no, no, no. You gotta have a whole bunch more mics for what I’m doing.” And the engineer said, “well, they never told me, and I thought this was going to be a regular recording session, and this is my recording session.” To this the Prof basically said, well, do we have to schedule this for another day? I’m not paying for it if you don’t have the right set-up. And it went on like that for a while. And then the engineer, he said, “well, give me a few minutes, take a break, while I go see what I can scout up.” Well, when he finally finished, he must’ve had, it had to be seven or eight mics because of the big percussion set-up they had. I think the second take was the take.

[12] ESP 1015, 1965.

I was in the control room as they played it back, I was nodding in my head, now this is out of the box, this is floating out there in space. What intrigued me, I was trying to figure out how did Sunny clue in as if he was part of the creation of the composition? And it was, believe me, man, it was all

ad-lib. He had some basic things about the rhythm, but, I mean, the continuity throughout is why I love that recording as well. That’s a hundred percent improvisation. That’s the quintessential example of what it’s supposed to be from the beginning. If somebody is going to talk about free improvisation,

that’s great.

So, after that we were hooked, I was hooked, We kept in touch, then in the summer of ‘64 I headed up the music department at the Black Arts Theater in Harlem.[13] This was Amiri Baraka’s spot. Naturally I had Prof play there. And the Prof, I mean, he took off, idea-wise, during that summer! That was when he wanted to develop a hundred drummers. You heard this one before?

[13] The Black Arts Repertory Theater School (BARTS), Harlem, founded by Amiri Baraka

in 1965 as a cultural establishment for Black artistic expression.

JAKE: No never heard this one.

HUGH: Well, he wanted a hundred drummers to play along 7th Avenue throughout the night. And this idea was his way of keeping down violence, fires, any negative happenings. And he put the call out, but not enough showed up. So then we whittled it down to a drummers consortium, I think Billy Cobham, Jack DeJohnette, Ed Blackwell, maybe a couple others. Chief Bey and Sunny Morgan showed up as well. Well, it must’ve been Billy Cobham who had his cymbals hanging on arcs above his drums. And when the Prof took off, you know, he plays fast with nothing hanging above him! And you should have seen seen Billy! I mean he was trying to keep up, but he was reaching up and was looking like an orangutan trying to stay in a tree!

JAKE: Recently I was transcribing a tape Prof had, dated 1978, he’s describing BÄBI Music. The document itself goes into detail about the polyrhythmic approach to the drums and then at the end he says, “to understand BÄBI music in the deepest sense, you must perform it.” You were saying earlier that you knew Prof was unveiling a vision, starting with your 1973 European tour and culminating in the BÄBI record[14] and the performances in Lagos, Nigeria at FESTAC 77.[15] In that context, these 1976 Children of the Forest sessions represent a point on this journey. When did you first meet the third member of the BÄBI trio, Arthur Doyle?

[14] Institute of Percussive Studies IPS ST004, 1977.

[15] An event, also known as the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, celebrating

African culture with roughly 16,000 participants representing African nations and the African Diaspora.

HUGH: I met Arthur Doyle in ‘76. I think he knew me before I knew him because he knew about what we did in Europe. And he was definitely jealous, in a good way, that he wasn’t a part of that trip. Because I think he had the dream that if he had done it, from an instrumental standpoint, he would have blown us all over. Which is cool you know — if you got it, give it, ha. I went over to Doyle’s house. I had my clarinet. He was playing flute.

Also, within the timeline of the three sessions on this record, there is an evolution, a clear development. Seeds were obviously there from the beginning, in Europe, prior to these tapes. You had that Middelheim footage in Full Mantis.[16] and you can even see it there.

[16] Milford Graves Full Mantis film, 2018.

Prof was putting out a vision in his way. Precisely how he wanted it to materialize wasn’t clear. What he was working through, it didn’t become clear to me until BÄBI. Now you know Prof — he was doing a lot of things at one time, as you have experienced. The music was just one part of a whole. He was growing stuff in his backyard. He was not only performing acupuncture but teaching acupuncture and that was playing a part. All that was coming out in the drums. As for me, I know I was feeling a strong pull to move off Western instruments, to explore non-Western instruments. That’s why the Haitian vaccine was my choice.

Now in ‘73 I was studying yoga with Yogi Vithaldis, and I was doing breathing because I have a history of sinusitis, borderline deviated septum. So that’s not cool for a brass instrument, an aerophone. So I finally got the deep breathing, and cooled out the sinusitis, and in that process, I was moving inwards in a breath-oriented way. I found that the the breathing was easier with the vaccine and this non-western flute, this little Japanese thing that Toshi Tsuchitori gave me in Japan.

When we played though, Doyle and I, we weren’t thinking of BÄBI [laughs]. We were thinking of … well I know I was thinking of, and I’m pretty sure he was thinking, how do we keep up with Prof! And he didn’t give us any clues what he wanted to do for this WBAI show that became the BÄBI record. So that’s the reason that I underlined that whole developmental aspect from ‘73 onward.

JAKE: That first European tour in ‘73, it was your first time out of the country?

HUGH: Yes. You know one of the big, outside of music, moments for me on that tour, it was a visit with the okapi. You know, the okapi? It’s a hybrid animal, it has stripes like a zebra, a nose like a deer, and it’s big — it’s as tall as a zebra. They’re about three animals in one, and in the Belgian zoo. And I went up and I said to the okapi, “you know, you’re behind this gated fence just like I’m behind a gated fence. So I’m sorry because I know you want to be running free back in Africa and I want to play free in America, but I’m trying to do it here, in Europe.” And that okapi would come right up against the fence where I’m sitting, and I mean he’s almost saying, man, can’t you do something for me? Can’t you get me out of here? Can’t you at least give me another okapi friend? Connecting with this animal, in this Belgian zoo, there was a recognition — heavy recognition.

That same week, in The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium there was a gamelan on display, behind some rope. No one could touch it. Prof had his sticks with him and he jumped the rope and played all the gongs, man. People surrounded the exhibit to hear him play. Eventually they stopped him and Prof said it was a shame a beautiful instrument was displayed like that and couldn’t be played.

JAKE: Thinking back on your relationship to sound, what was the sonic environment of your childhood like? Do you have early memories of music?

HUGH: Well, they tell me, mainly my mother, when I was born I only weighed two pounds, three ounces. So I was in an incubator for weeks. My parents were poor. This is the late ‘30s, Harlem, Depression, cold water flat, and I’m born in February, the dead of winter. They said I slept in a shoebox, too poor to have

a crib, but they naturally had the blanket and everything in the shoebox. But I was smaller than the palm of my hand. But as I grew up, because my mother, being musical, she’s the daughter of a known pianist, my grandmother was an accompanist for Ethel Waters. So she was exposed. My grandmother’s colleague was Art Tatum.

So my mother would talk about being under the piano while Arthur Tatum was playing, and it being like an orchestra. She said she would put on Symphony Sid…. now, this is late at night because Symphony Sid, the original Symphony Sid, came on close to midnight. Normally, I’m supposed to be

dead asleep. I would start moving and shaking and jumping, this is when I’m about seven months old. And I wouldn’t stop until she picked me up. My mother was a dancer and she’d say, “dance, baby, dance,” and hold me. And I wouldn’t go to sleep until we’d had those sessions with Symphony Sid. That’s the earliest memories.

My mother had a radio that you could hook on your headboard. And there was all kinds of music. I always gravitated to the NBC rehearsal broadcast, and I would jump inside when I could hear contemporary music. My mother first bought stuff like Peter and the Wolf, the Dumbo thing, those didn’t wear me out. But The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, some of the Impressionists — Ravel, Debussy, that kind of stuff — would really get in me. Shostakovich Fifth, that kind of stuff. So that played a part.

At the same time, though, I only lived five blocks from the Apollo Theater. The babysitter would take me up to the Apollo. I’ll never forget the opening band singing. And when that would start up and the curtain would part — oh man, I was in another world. Just hearing that big band moved me so deeply. And I remember the first time I heard Nat King Cole, it was live at the Apollo. And with his trio. Oh, that was…. I mean, to be able to sing and play like that, especially with his kind of tone, it’s like an instrument.

Dizzy didn’t play there when I was growing up. I heard Dizzy on the jukebox. My aunt took care of me because my mom had to work and my father had to work, so…. My aunt had a big house. She had a seven room apartment, 30 foot hallway. There was a candy store on the corner of 120th. And sometimes my aunt let me downstairs and she would say always, “stay where I can see you.” I never went around the corner to 120th, I was always on the avenue, so this time she didn’t see me and she got really upset, her first thought was somebody had kidnapped me. I probably looked like some little Barbie Doll or something. Anyway, she came downstairs, tried to find me, and she went in the candy store and she said my nickname — I’m named after my father, so they call me Junie. She said, “you all seen Junie?” And they said, “there he is.” I had curled up next to the jukebox and gone to sleep because that ... hey, that was my spot. That was my natural spot.

JAKE: Prof always talked about music as a healing force, did you experience it that way as a child?

HUGH: Aunt Esther, she really had a unique voice. She could have been Marian Anderson before Marian Anderson’s time. She used to sing! To me, and around me. She sang to Theodore Roosevelt back in the early 1900s. So I think that says that she had a special voice. She also sang in the Abyssinian Baptist Church choir, Rev. Adam Powell. That was the church — THE church — of Harlem. And so I was a willing audience to grow up under her voice.

And that just sort of got my whole intuitive aspect of my personality, of my musicality, really jumping. And before I knew it, I was following my intuition most of the time and gravitated to hear the music I needed to hear. That little story about me falling asleep under the jukebox in the candy store, I think it shows you early on, that I was being guided at times. I guess my parents thought it may just drive me crazy because I wasn’t going to do what they thought I should do in order to progress, especially in education. So that intuitive aspect in relationship to music, I experienced myself as a true healing force because, as I said, I didn’t always live with my parents. It was like I was an abandoned kid. And although I was loved to a great extent by Aunt Esther and Uncle Wallace, I still felt alone there, at times abandoned. I was by myself.

The healing came before I even knew the word healing. I knew what music could be — it could make me feel better. And it didn’t take me very long to find what I needed. I could hear what I needed in the recordings, in that jukebox. And it got to the point, because I didn’t have a phonograph, I would take some loose change or try to beg somebody to put in a dime — at that time I don’t think it was more than a dime, and then a quarter, you know — to play the jukebox, so I could hear Charlie Parker doing “Cherokee” or something.

So when I began to hear music on the radio, as I said, my mother’s radio, on the headboard of the bed, and NBC — Toscanini. I must say, although I was most moved by music of African-Americans, I could still get some skin crawling from listening to NBC, listening to orchestral music and having that sound in my head, to the extent that my own harmonic sense was cutting-edge. I wasn’t satisfied with a whole lot of classical romantic stuff, because I could anticipate where it was going before it got there. I love the element of surprise in music. So when I heard even Webern, some of the more avant-garde, even John Cage, when I heard his sonatas for piano.[17] I said, oh, how did he get into those rhythms? You know? And, uh, that tickled my fancy, which is a thing for me — if it tickles my fancy, it’s the right stuff.

[17] Likely a reference to Sonatas and Interludes, comp. 1946-1948.

I was always looking to hear stuff outside the norm. If Western was the norm, I was looking to definitely hear the abnormal. When I came across Abakuá,[18] I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was familiar, because there were cats — especially as I went over 116th Street in Harlem — going into Spanish Harlem. There were guys who were playing music, playing out in the street, as if they were in Havana. I remember my mother and I trying to dance a rumba. So it wasn’t chang-chang-ca-chang all the time. You know, I was open to everything that came across my airwaves. And that just became a part of me, to incorporate everything. Not be biased, only preferential in the sense that if it tickled my fancy then I’m telling me, myself, and I, let’s get to it. With that foundation, you can see where the seed was and ultimately how it grew.

[18] Both an Afro-Cuban fraternal organization and its music.

JAKE: What influences do you think you had on Prof?

HUGH: Oh, well, this one’s pretty quick because he wasn’t about to accept many influences from the outside!

But he did tell me that the reason he had me in his group was because of the information I brought. And, you know, my information grew out of, number one, an independent movement, an independence movement. One of the first things that I hooked up with was the Freedom Now Party.[19] And the feeling was, if we could get 55,000 people to sign up and petition, we could get a political party on the state ballot and run our own candidates.

[19] Domestic political party, active 1963-1965.

I had also been part of, in Brooklyn, it became the Revolutionary Action Movement.[20] Ultimately I took a break because I didn’t like doctrinaire politics. It had to be grassroots, it had to be from the Earth. And I was already into Frantz Fanon, amongst others. Prof was not directly involved in all that. He had a family to raise and, as you know, he was hustling to make ends meet.

[20] Black Nationalist group operating 1962-1969.

So, I kind of brought a broader scale of information, you know, hanging out with quote unquote literati or whatever. So he found my perspective valuable and, especially our association during the Black Arts, because he could tell from the way I built security around him. I didn’t mind the other drummer’s bad talk, but as long as they didn’t put it into action. There was one time, Andrew Hill’s significant other, Laverne Gillette, who was a classical organist, she wanted to participate in a Black Arts concert. And I said, “cool.” So she didn’t have a drummer. And none of the other time metronome drummers stepped up. Milford said, “hey, I’ll do it. Sure!” And they did it. All the other guys, drummers, were grumbling and so forth. And after they played, the Prof told me, he said, “you know, she came over afterwards and she said, that was really nice because you wasn’t timekeeping!”

JAKE: I want to hear that tape!

HUGH: The point is that she wasn’t your typical classical kind of Shirley Scott organist. She had her own style, I must give her that credit. All of a sudden cats who heard that, who were in the audience — there were other organists who didn’t identify themselves, who heard what the Prof did. I think Larry Young was there, because his style moved in a totally different direction. He was no longer cheng, cheng, cheng. All of a sudden it was kind of floatin’! Before that concert, he was trying to play all of the stuff that was coming out of Wayne Shorter, out of Bobby Hutcherson, you know, other things, and he was sticking to the pork chops and lima beans that you find in Jack McDuff and Dr. Lonnie Smith.

It was like Prof was saying, there is no ensemble, there is no musical configuration that I can’t play with as long as I’m allowed to play what I want to play. In other words, his confidence factor was like, I know I have the essence of where any group wants to go. If they allow me to do my thing, I’ll take them there.

JAKE: That’s a really succinct and beautiful way to describe Prof’s belief system.


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