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"I want no compromises whatsoever. What I do is not a form of entertainment. It's like a religious or spiritual experience."

From the Archives: In the May 9, 1970 edition of the Buffalo Evening News, a 31 year old Charles Gayle provides some of the earliest published insights into his music and artistic philosophy, the impact of John Coltrane, ESP Records and what it was like then living a life committed to Free Jazz.

It would be nearly two decades before Gayle's music would finally be released. Charles Gayle / Milford Graves / William Parker "WEBO" 3LP + Digital , recorded in 1991, is now available from Black Editions Archives.


Special thanks to Craig Steger, The Colored Musicians Club & Jazz Museum, Buffalo, NY for his archival research and generosity.

He's Committed to 'Free' Jazz

by Dale Anderson


''I'll tell you something, man," Charles Gayle says, leaning forward in Jessie J. Taylor's chair. "I'm not concerned about whether people like my music.

"It's a type of music that a majority of times is going to get a negative reaction. But I want no compromises whatsoever. What I do is not a form of entertainment. It's like a religious or spiritual experience."

 

* * *

 

We’re using a corner office of Urban League headquarters in Buffalo's Talbert Mall Project. A desk, two chairs and, leaning against one wall, some large East Side street maps which ultimately will show where black-owned businesses are.

Gayle, 31, leader of the Charles Gayle Ensemble, works for the government, helping black businessmen get federal loans. Taylor, who heads the Entrepreneur Development Program, is on vacation.


* * * 


What the group plays is "free" jazz and Charles Gayle is probably the freest or BuffaIo' s jazzmen. Getting there, he's gained what you might call a cosmic outlook.

"You're either committed to people or you're committed to art," he says. "You've got to take art as far as it can go. It's the only way of getting true expression. "

"Everybody owes it to himself to find exactly what he is capable of doing and go ahead and do it. People usually stop because they become aware of the critical nature of people.

"Now there's just no way," he grins, “no way you could criticize me 'cause you can't tell me I'm wrong. I'm just expressing who I am."


 * * * 


He wasn’t always so unconcerned.

"You see, most people have an ego problem. They want to be recognized for their ability. I used to want everyone to understand what I was doing. I was getting into freer music and people didn't understand.

"I was totally convinced what I was doing was right. And I was saying: 'Listen to me, world, listen to me.' It was bad. That was the heaviest form or dues I ever paid."

Gayle's cosmic attitudes extend to his group's three year contract with ESP Records.

"Last year, well, we did something, but they haven't put it out," he says. "I'm not concerned about whether people hear our previous work. I don't care if anybody hears it or not."

 

 * * * 

 

If you think a man of Charles GayIe's convictions has trouble finding places to play around Buffalo, you're right. Even that doesn't bother him.

"In New York City, I played the John Coltrane Memorial Concert and it was very well received. Here the people are just drenched in rock and rhythm and blues. It would take years for them to respect an artist.

"I'm not bitter," he adds, ''but you have to adjust mentally, man. Leave? Well, no, I'm not that interested in playing for a mass of people anyway.

"I like to play in the parks. In Africa, they play along the highway, just to do it. It's very personal. Like singing in the bathtub.”


 * * * 

He feels most of Buffalo's jazz is hung up in 1957 bop. Safe. Restrictive. Without innovation.

"My validity is questioned by musicians," he says. "You know what happens when I walk into a place? If they think I'm gonna play, you see these AT-titudes. "

“Everybody respects what John Coltrane did, but they don't believe in advanced music. I'm speaking of black musicians. The system has made them scared musically.

"They're still playing a happy-type thing. That era's gone. You have to think now. You should represent what's happening and you should represent these times."

 

 * * * 

 

Coltrane set Charles Gayle free sometime back when he was going to the State University College at Fredonia. That was 1957 to 1960. Trane made him dissatisfied with his major (piano), classical music and rigid forms.

He had grown up in Buffalo and was an engineering graduate of Technical High School. He says his father, a steelworker, was interested in breaking down race barriers in classical music "and he felt I could do it."

 

 * * * 

 

He did some work at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, some piano concerts with the Buffalo Philharmonic, then "began to turn to other things."

He traveled for a while, spent 1 1/2 months in the Army, came back to work in a Buffalo factory, hung around the streets a lot and started to get more into himself.

Finally, he walked into a bank, applied for a job and wound up an executive trainee. He married, had a son and was set to become a bank manager when his present job came along.

 

 * * * 

 

"In the meantime," he says, "I was learning all sorts of instruments. Bass, violin, trumpet. And I was playing in clubs, every club in town. I didn't really, really seriously quit that until three-four years ago." "

And he met drummer Ameer Alhark. They wound up playing together in some club and "it came time for him to solo and we got into a different sort of thing. He was a very free player then." They've stayed together since.

"In our time together," he says, "I think we've talked about music, well, maybe two or three times we've mentioned what we're doing. It's not really necessary. There's not the format, the standards in our music. We’re not even relating to that at all.”

 

 * * * 

 

The group, besides Ameer, has Nassar , another percussionist, Gayle on soprano or tenor sax or piano, and two bass players, Roy Combs and Sabu. They play mostly in colleges, schools and on special programs. "

"We’re all sort of attuned to each other," Gayle says. "The music is just very, very, very, very powerful. Not loud. But there's always that actitivity going on around, so much, to think about." "

They’re appearing nowhere for a while because Gayle is working on ''a more refined form of expression." It may take a couple months.

 

 * * * 

 

Meanwhile, he's taking things in, thinking a lot and admiring the way his 7-year-old son is taking up the piano.

"You know," he says. "He doesn't have all these ambitions, all these hangups grownups have. Kids are so free. He’s so free and beautiful.”


 

 

Music Is Charles Gayle's Life

 

Charles Gayle may be an assistant professor of jazz at the Stale University of Buffalo next fall, but he doesn't see himself turning out a generation of Coltranes.

"I'm waiting on a phone call," he says. "As of now, I'm just a leading candidate for it."

What it involves is a new music degree program with a concentration in jazz. It’II mean classes in contemporary jazz theory, history, composing and arranging, and ensemble workshop.

"They won't come out jazz musicians," he says. "Most of it will be on a very conventional basis. We won't get into the psychological preparation to go into cosmic music. Most kids won't be ready for it.

"Now Coltrane was capable of expressing himself totally. He was one of the masters. If a Caucasian was capable of doing what Trane could do, he'd be a zillionaire.

"It's the thought processes that become important. It's maturity. Any type of involvement I'm in, it relates to me musically. Music is not music, music is life. "

"I don't think you can be really mature until about 40. That's when your body and mind pay allegiance for you. You know how to have yourself physically and your mind, you can have such great thoughts if you've grown. I'm really looking forward to it."


 

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