Give the Drummer Some's
6 Yusef Lateef Downloads from the MP3 Blogosphere
Back in 1979, right around my 18th birthday, I ventured from my suburban Maryland home into D.C. to go see my favorite musician, Yusef Lateef, who was performing at Blues Alley. I'd tried to enlist a few friends to come with me, but ended up going by myself. I've always been bashful about approaching the musicians I idolize, but I was determined to speak to Yusef, to express to him how much his music meant to me. With some measure of embarrassment, I brought with me an album cover for him to sign and kept it in a paper bag.
At the club, the host led me to a small round table right at the foot of the stage, close enough for me to reach out and touch Yusef's tenor, propped on its stand. Soon the lights dimmed, the cocktail-clinking quieted and the emcee called the musicians to the stand. Along with his band, Yusef descended the stairs from the second-floor dressing rooms garbed in flowing white robes that dazzled in the glare of the spotlight. I sat there alone during that transcendent first set, barely breathing, taking in the almost-too-intense thrill of it. Yusef delivered great rollicking sermons and tender, ecstatic ballads, ending each song by holding out the sax or flute or oboe he'd just played as if the instrument, not him, was deserving of the applause. When the set ended, I remained in my seat, unable to summon the courage to approach him.
After a brief interlude, the band came back down for a second set, one long blissful R&B number that built over the course of 45 minutes from a bright vamp to a pulsing, surging, wailing catharsis. Yusef's supporting musicians played as if they adored him, and the intensity of their communal spirit was palpable to everyone in the room. As each man soloed, Yusef made the selfless gesture of removing himself from center stage, standing off to the side with his eyes closed, nodding in appreciation.
When the set came to a close and the musicians retreated upstairs for the final intermission, I felt emboldened and headed, with my paper bag, for the second floor. There was a queue of well-wishers and fans between me and the entrance to Yusef's cool-down spot, and I nervously half-wished that the people ahead of me would use up all the break time. But the line moved along and soon enough I found myself standing there being warmly received by Yusef himself. In the next moment, a couple of dashiki-clad gentlemen pushed past me to greet Yusef, but he gently rebuffed them and said he was already speaking with someone, pointing to me. It was just a small act of courtesy, but to be the recipient of his kindness made my head spin. I pulled out my record, and Yusef autographed it and handed it back. He wrote, "To Bro Doug in peace, Bro Yusef A. Lateef.
Before leaving, I asked Yusef if he was still playing "Russell and Eliot," my all-time favorite tune (which appeared on the 1969 LP Yusef Lateef's Detroit). He said that the song was in the band's book and then smiled as I thanked him and walked on jelly legs back down to my table. When the next set began, I sat there at the edge of the bandstand, transfixed, as Yusef stepped to the mic, bowed in my direction, and announced, "Here's a song for my new friend." Then he counted off for the band and they launched into the opening groove of "Russell and Eliot." (mp3)
This Friday, October 9, will be Yusef Lateef's 89th birthday. Tune in to my radio show, Give the Drummer Some, [hear the show here] for a three-hour celebration. To get the party started early, this volume of Mining the Audio Motherlode offers six wonderful recordings by Yusef, including downloadable tracks for Hikima, a recording that recently surfaced that has never appeared on any discography. (It contains material that appears to have been recorded at the same July '83 session that produced In Nigeria.)
Blowing in Philadelphia
Yusef Lateef ~ "Live at Pep's, Vol. 2"
(The Sound of Jazz)
Yusef Lateef ~ "A Flat, G Flat and C"
(Blog: Daytime Lovers)
Blowing in from Detroit
Yusef Lateef ~ "Before Dawn"
(Blog: The Monk)
Big Bass Drum Say Tum T'tum
Yusef Lateef ~ "Part of the Search"
Stay in Contact with Your Mind
Yusef Lateef ~ "Autophysiopsychic"
(Blog: The CTI Never Sleeps)
Give the Drummer Some, Fridays on WFMU, 9 to Noon (ET).
Check out every installment of Mining the Audio Motherlode