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George E. Lewis

Trombonist and musical composer George E. Lewis was born on July 14, 1952 in Chicago, Illinois to Cornelia Griffith Lewis and George Lewis. He graduated from the University of Chicago Laboratory School in 1969, and went on to receive his B.A. degree in philosophy from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut in 1974. Later, he received his D.Mus. degree from the University of Edinburgh in 2015.

Lewis was first taught to play the trombone at the University of Chicago Laboratory School; he later took private lessons with graduate students. At the age of nineteen, he joined the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and studied at the Association’s School of Music. There, he learned composition with Muhal Richard Abrams and trombone with Dean Hey. Lewis began to explore computer programming in the early 1970s. Between 1985 and 1987, he wrote the software program Voyager, which was designed to improvise and interact with human musicians. In a recording entitled “Voyager”, released in 1993, Lewis and saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell played duets with the computer software program. Lewis continued to produce music during this time, and became a curator of music at the New York non-profit arts organization The Kitchen in 1990. In 1991 he was named a professor of Music, Critical Studies/Experimental Practice at the University of California-San Diego. In 2004, he became the Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music at New York’s Columbia University, where he was named director of the Center for Jazz Studies in 2007. Lewis produced hundreds of compositions over his career.

Lewis wrote numerous journal articles and one book on the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. In 2015, he co-edited a two-volume collection entitled The Oxford Handbook of Critical Improvisation Studies. Lewis received numerous awards for his work, including several grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Cal Arts Alpert Award in the Arts in 1999, and a 2002 MacArthur Genius Fellowship. In 2015, he was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship. Lewis toured extensively across North America, Europe, and Asia, and his work was performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, and others. His book, A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music received the American Book Award and American Musicological Society’s Music in American Culture Award.

Lewis and his wife, Miya Masaoka, have a son named Tadashi.

George E. Lewis was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 24, 2016.

Accession Number

A2016.107

Sex

Male

Interview Date

10/24/2016

Last Name

Lewis

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

Emanuel

Occupation
Schools

Walter Scott School

University of Chicago Laboratory Schools

Yale University

First Name

George

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

LEW22

Favorite Season

Spring, Summer

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

7/14/1952

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Sushi, Salmon, Chicken

Short Description

Trombonist and music composer George E. Lewis (1952 - ) was a leading figure in the field of computer music and improvisation. He composed hundreds of compositions, and served as the Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music at Columbia University.

Employment

CNA Insurance

Freelance Artist

The Kitchen Center for Video, Dance, Music, and Performance

Koninklijke Conservatorium Den Haag

Simon Fraser University

School of the Art Institute of Chicago

University of California

Mills College

Milton Avery School of the Arts, Bard College MFA

The Kitchen

Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music, Columbia University

Favorite Color

None

Timing Pairs
0,0:648,7:4640,103:15260,235:19550,337:21310,362:25578,390:28050,411:31947,446:33423,459:40383,534:56810,815:63388,911:63952,918:69588,992:70133,1031:83656,1275:94862,1515:95266,1521:95670,1526:115876,1765:124622,2042:127736,2052:131818,2098:134626,2153:137650,2171:145604,2532:160636,2635:170081,2781:174753,2875:175191,2882:178280,2887:179405,2916:181880,2969:182630,2980:183305,2992:183755,3003:184355,3012:186230,3056:187805,3090:189830,3127:196475,3201:202765,3357:206335,3418:211494,3450:211908,3458:216393,3614:216945,3624:221042,3674:224177,3739:230093,3821:237401,3989:237923,4005:241840,4015:243680,4103:258094,4297:258675,4305:263242,4333:264122,4349:267994,4416:271250,4478:273010,4512:279076,4584:280732,4608:282043,4626:286666,4723:288322,4793:288598,4798:295002,4828:295418,4833:295938,4839:297082,4865:307650,4964$0,0:2079,24:4356,59:14652,204:15048,209:25550,270:27070,300:27630,310:28830,336:33550,424:49644,645:53163,723:53991,737:67655,937:68488,947:68964,953:72454,999:76754,1175:77786,1187:97784,1599:98440,1613:99096,1621:101474,1653:102458,1672:106010,1679:113831,1780:114425,1790:115910,1811:116603,1821:119474,1916:134092,2114:137312,2314:163820,2683
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of George E. Lewis' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - George E. Lewis lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - George E. Lewis describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - George E. Lewis talks about his mother's move to Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - George E. Lewis describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - George E. Lewis describes his parents' marriage

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - George E. Lewis describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - George E. Lewis describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - George E. Lewis remembers the Walter Scott School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - George E. Lewis remembers his transfer to the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - George E. Lewis recalls his teachers at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - George E. Lewis remembers his decision to play the trombone

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - George E. Lewis recalls his musical training at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - George E. Lewis describes his social life at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - George E. Lewis talks about his transition to private schooling

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - George E. Lewis remembers his decision to attend Yale University

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - George E. Lewis recalls the civil unrest in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - George E. Lewis describes his experiences at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - George E. Lewis remembers meeting Anthony Davis at Yale University

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - George E. Lewis recalls his leave of absence from Yale University

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - George E. Lewis describes the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - George E. Lewis describes the ideology of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - George E. Lewis recalls performing with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - George E. Lewis talks about the members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - George E. Lewis describes the emphasis on composition at the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - George E. Lewis recalls his activities while on leave from Yale University

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - George E. Lewis recalls studying music and philosophy at Yale University

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - George E. Lewis talks about his membership in the Skull and Bones society, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - George E. Lewis talks about his membership in the Skull and Bones society, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - George E. Lewis describes his interest in early computer technology

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - George E. Lewis recalls joining the Count Basie Orchestra

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - George E. Lewis remembers touring with the Count Basie Orchestra

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - George E. Lewis talks about experimenting with free jazz

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - George E. Lewis describes the influence of Count Basie on his career

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$4

DAStory

1$7

DATitle
George E. Lewis recalls studying music and philosophy at Yale University
George E. Lewis talks about experimenting with free jazz
Transcript
You go back to Yale [Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut], this is though, I guess your third year that you're in Yale, right?$$Yeah, third year, yeah, I didn't--finished it in four, I ended up finishing in four years, yeah.$$And, while you're there, since you've had the AACM [Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians] experience, what are you doing at Yale with music at this reentry point?$$Well it's very interesting. I was disappointed with, you know, becoming a music major, you know, I was having a hard time with that for a number of reasons, I have no idea why I sort of, I sort of squeaked by like, you know, total harmony and things like that, did okay in that, but it wasn't that great. But I had some, I had some pretty good teachers. Lazarus Ekwueme was freshman, you know, he's a great Nigerian musicologist and theorist, he was teaching there then, so I had some pretty cool people there, Mr. Tirro [Frank Tirro] wasn't there at the time but he later came later--$$Yeah.$$--became the, yeah, he became the dean of the school of music. So (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) After you left?$$Well after I left.$$Um-hm.$$But I got back, but I said, "Well I don't know if I wanna major in music again, you know?" He said, "Okay well you don't have to major in music, but you should go back," this is when Muhal [Muhal Richard Abrams] and these people were telling me, you should, you should go back. So, have you thought about anything else you might wanna major in? I said "Well, that, that book you gave me, 'Genealogy of Morals' ['On the Genealogy of Morality,' Friedrich Nietzsche], that looked like a pretty good book, I could probably--maybe if that's a kind of philosophy, right? Maybe I could do that." He said, "I think that would be a good idea," you know, they'd all been reading, like him and Phil Cohran [HistoryMaker Philip Cohran], they'd all been reading Nietzsche [Friedrich Nietzsche]. So, so I went back as a philosophy major and that's how I finished.$$And how has philosophy affected your art, your music?$$Well I fell in with a good crowd there when I got to--I started doing the philosophical work, the guy who almost flunked me in total harmony became interested in phenomenology, and he wrote a kind of what's now a famous book called, 'Music as Heard' [Music As Heard: A Study in Applied Phenomenology'], Thomas Clifton. So, and he was doing a seminar, he hadn't written the book yet, but he was interested in this, he was interested in exploring the phenomenology of music, so I took the course, I just said, "Well let's see what happens here, you know? I'll take this course, I don't wanna do that much music but, you know, this sounds like my kind of thing."$$So the phenomenology of music, what does that mean?$$Well, you know, phenomenology being this branch of philosophy that deals with experience, and rather than being, you know, there's the being thing and there's the ontology and there's the experience there, what people are actually experiencing and how they experience it and describing that. So there's this phenomenal logic, the description of phenomena, so they don't make any claim that the phenomena are real, it's just like that's what you're experiencing so you describe that and you kind of try to figure out what that or how that gets grounded. So, there's a famous book by one of the founders of that field, Edmund Husserl, a German phenomenologist who, the book is called 'Phenomenology of Internal Time-Consciousness' ['The Phenomenology of Internal Time-Consciousness'], where he's trying to think, get people to think about how people understand and experience time, so he uses music as an example, so. And that's what these guys were doing, these two professors, David Carr and Thomas Clifton, team teaching this class, we were reading Husserl, we're reading all this stuff, they had a lot of phenomenologists at Yale at the time, later they all got fired but they're all still in wonderful places now. So that was, that actually wa- I was able to work on music and phenomenology at the same time and to work on improvisation, which is something I had become interested in and sort of fi--it could have been Tom or David or it could have been Ed Casey [Edward S. Casey], but somehow I found myself writing about improvisation and the phenomenon, the experience of improvisation, the temporal experience of it and all that, so that's something I still do.$$Did you feel like AACM prepared you for that, like their opening the door to (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Oh yeah--$$--to no style--$$--well because they were, it's a research, it's like a think tank, the AACM is like a self-funded think tank--$$Um-hm.$$--with no money really, the think tank is in your head, you have to kind of use your head as a think tank, you can talk about anything with anyone, you know? It was very intellectually broad minded, open ended, cosmopolitan, all that stuff, you know?$When you were doing the same sets every night, having come from a very free form of creating and performing music, was there ever any conflict for you in having to do the same thing over and over, or was that possibly why you did your free form when you did?$$Well, you know, you're always free, you know, you play your solo and you're free, and you figure out how to use that freedom in the environment, it's not like the, having to play the twelve-bar blues, it's some sort of, you know, slave setup, you know, you work with the environment. That's what you do as an improviser, so it's nothing unfree about it at all. And, you know, it's a different sort of freedom and you're dealing with a different relationship to materials and methods, but also when you get up there and play, you can do whatever you wanna do. And I thought th- you know the quasi-Cage [John Cage] thing was the ultimate sort of expression of that and it was like, you know, people thought it was okay, I mean maybe, one person didn't, Al Grey didn't think it was okay. But I mean (laughter)--$$And what did he say?$$Well Bill [Bill Hughes] said he went to Basie [Count Basie] and complained, he said, "Well this guy is," says, "he might not be taking care of the music, you know?" But, you know, and then Bill said, "No, no, he's taking care of the music," and that was all Basie really cared about, is he playing the music? If he plays the music, if he can't play the music he's got to go.$$Um-hm.$$But, if he's playing the music, well I didn't know any of this was going on, so I didn't know about it. But I don't look at it as being a real contrast, I mean maybe for myself, I wouldn't choose that kind of way of expressing, but then I'm me and not Count Basie. But, other than that, he was a figure of real leadership, you know, he, people revered him and the band, and I went to see the band later after I just, I wasn't there that long.$$What year were you there?$$Seventy-six [1976].$$Um-hm.$$April to, yeah probably March and April, something like that, but the name new boy stuck, I guess, so after that, whoever came in they started calling him the new boy and so, so I met this guy on the train and he said, "Aren't you the original new boy?" I said, "What?" Said, "Well I played with the band too but, you know, you were the original new boy, we heard about you." I said, "Wait a minute now, this is like twenty years later what do you mean the new boy?" And so, I guess whatever it was, that name new boy stuck, so it was kind of a nice name I guess or whatever they were doing, I didn't know, I couldn't doubt I was the original new boy that's probably just something they made up.

Vincent Chancey

Musician Vincent Chancey was born on February 4, 1950 in Chicago, Illinois. In junior high school, Chancey played the cornet, trumpet and flugelhorn. However, after hearing the French horn during rehearsals, he switched to the French horn. While performing with his high school band, Chancey was active with local musical groups like the Giles Yellow Jackets, the St. Andrews Hornets and the Des Plaines Vanguard competitive drum and bugle corps. He went on to attend and receive his B.A. degree from the Southern Illinois University School of Music in 1973.

Upon graduation, Chancey was awarded a National Education Association grant to study under jazz musician Julius Watkins, a renowned French horn player. In 1976, he played professionally for Sun Ra Arkestra, where he worked to incorporate the French horn as a jazz instrument, which he would do throughout the remainder of his career. From 1978 until 1984, Chancey worked with the Carla Bley Band. Then, in 1984, he joined Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy, where he was featured on all of the group’s nine recordings. Chancey later worked with Dave Douglas in the 2000’s. He was also a member of the David Murray Big Band, which included him on five of its CDs. Chancey went on to perform with a number of other artists, including Ashford and Simpson, Melba Moore, Peggy Lee, Maxwell, Aretha Franklin, Cassandra Wilson, Freddy Jackson, The Winans, Elvis Costello, Brandy, Charlie Haden Liberation Orchestra, Dave Douglas, and Diana Krall. He also performed with classical groups such as the Brooklyn Philharmonic, the Pan American Symphony, the One World Symphony, the Zephyr Woodwind Quintet, and the Netherlands Opera. In all, Chancey recorded with various artists on more than 300 albums, CDs and soundtracks.

In 1993, Chancey released his first solo album, Welcome Mr. Chancey; and, in 1998, his second album, Next Mode. Later, Chancey released the album LEGenDES Imaginaires. In 2000, he was asked to play the French horn at Pope John Paul II’s eightieth birthday concert at the Vatican.

Vincent Chancey was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 22, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.291

Sex

Male

Interview Date

10/22/2013

Last Name

Chancey

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

Southern Illinois University School of Music

Parker High School

First Name

Vincent

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

CHA11

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

Italy

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

2/4/1950

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

None

Short Description

Musician Vincent Chancey (1950 - ) was a professional jazz French horn player. He played in the Sun Ra Arkestra, and later recorded albums like Welcome Mr. Chancey and Next Mode with his own band.

Employment

Sun Ra Arkestra

Carla Bley Band

Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy

David Murray Big Band

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
234,0:2028,32:2418,38:4134,65:5070,81:5538,106:18054,265:25722,376:26910,388:30366,452:38167,515:38491,520:39544,538:40921,570:41326,577:42217,595:42703,603:48859,700:56068,856:73893,1091:75048,1161:75356,1166:77127,1211:77666,1229:80207,1287:91484,1423:95900,1490:99396,1542:106232,1611:110570,1641:116057,1754:137856,2089:140520,2169:141852,2198:142370,2206:146935,2251:165794,2491:166102,2496:167257,2520:167565,2525:171646,2596:186640,2915:187165,2923:201730,3142:208232,3435:208524,3441:213707,3627:226050,3869$0,0:7374,131:14082,256:14426,261:19414,324:24832,422:31983,514:36723,638:37592,657:40900,680:42083,705:45268,761:45996,771:57048,981:57664,989:58984,1012:66288,1142:74032,1333:74384,1338:74824,1344:77112,1388:77728,1396:78432,1406:79136,1416:83024,1448:87799,1540:90704,1678:94024,1817:121268,2173:129910,2306:130940,2341
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Vincent Chancey's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Vincent Chancey lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Vincent Chancey describes his birth parents' background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Vincent Chancey remembers being placed in foster care

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Vincent Chancey describes his foster household

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Vincent Chancey talks about his experiences of abuse in foster care

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Vincent Chancey recalls his household chores

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Vincent Chancey describes his relationship with his foster parents

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Vincent Chancey describes his foster mother's abuse

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Vincent Chancey remembers the holidays with his foster family

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Vincent Chancey recalls the last time he saw his foster mother

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Vincent Chancey describes his early personality

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Vincent Chancey talks about his early interest in music

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Vincent Chancey remembers his hospitalization as an infant

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Vincent Chancey recalls his piano lessons at the Chicago Musical College

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Vincent Chancey talks about his attraction to music

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Vincent Chancey recalls moving to the South Side of Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Vincent Chancey describes his home in the Englewood section of Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Vincent Chancey recalls his early education

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Vincent Chancey remembers the drum and bugle corps

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Vincent Chancey describes Parker High School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Vincent Chancey describes his success in the drum and bugle corps

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Vincent Chancey remembers playing in the concert band at Parker High School

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Vincent Chancey recalls his foster mother's opinion of his musical talent

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Vincent Chancey talks about the popular songs of the 1950s

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Vincent Chancey recalls joining the Des Plaines Vanguard

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Vincent Chancey describes his experiences of discrimination on the North Side of Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Vincent Chancey remembers marching in drum and bugle corps competitions

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Vincent Chancey recalls his decision to focus on the French horn

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Vincent Chancey remembers his scholarship to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Vincent Chancey talks about his siblings' education

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Vincent Chancey describes his experiences at Southern Illinois University

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Vincent Chancey remembers his audition for the music program at Southern Illinois University

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Vincent Chancey describes his training in music department of Southern Illinois University

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Vincent Chancey talks about his summer work experiences

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Vincent Chancey remembers moving to New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 12 - Vincent Chancey recalls his mentor, Julius Watkins

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Vincent Chancey talks about the development of his musical style

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Vincent Chancey remembers touring with the Sun Ra Arkestra

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Vincent Chancey remembers playing with Sun Ra

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Vincent Chancey describes his reasons for leaving the Sun Ra Arkestra

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Vincent Chancey reflects upon the development of his jazz technique

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Vincent Chancey remembers playing with Carla Bley

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Vincent Chancey remembers his musical collaborations

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Vincent Chancey describes his income as a musician

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Vincent Chancey remembers traveling in rural America with Sun Ra

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Vincent Chancey talks about the culture of the Sun Ra Arkestra

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Vincent Chancey describes the structure of a jazz band rehearsal

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - Vincent Chancey talks about the free jazz movement

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Vincent Chancey talks about the changes in his musical style

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Vincent Chancey describes his French horn technique

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Vincent Chancey talks about Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Vincent Chancey recalls playing in jazz festivals

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Vincent Chancey remembers Lester Bowie's death

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Vincent Chancey remembers Lester Bowie

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Vincent Chancey recalls meeting his wife

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Vincent Chancey talks about his master classes

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Vincent Chancey recalls forming the Vincent Chancey quintet

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Vincent Chancey talks about his record, 'Welcome Mr. Chancey'

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Vincent Chancey describes the Julius Watkins French Horn Festival

Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Vincent Chancey reflects upon his compositions

Tape: 5 Story: 13 - Vincent Chancey talks about his music students

Tape: 5 Story: 14 - Vincent Chancey reflects upon his life

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Vincent Chancey recalls his musical collaborations

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Vincent Chancey reflects upon his career

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Vincent Chancey talks about his favorite artists

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Vincent Chancey plays an original composition on the French horn

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Vincent Chancey talks about the spirituality behind his music

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Vincent Chancey reflects upon his life

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Vincent Chancey shares his advice for children from abusive homes

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Vincent Chancey describes how he would like to be remembered and reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Vincent Chancey narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

9$5

DATitle
Vincent Chancey remembers traveling in rural America with Sun Ra
Vincent Chancey remembers Lester Bowie's death
Transcript
What other things--can you, are there other Sun Ra stories you'd like to sort of share?$$Travel stories?$$Travel stories or--$$(Makes sound) I have a million of them (laughter)--$$Well, let's just share a few of them.$$Well Sun Ra, he, he traveled all over America unlike any other band that I've ever worked with. He would play in every little town in you know, Missouri or Oklahoma or Tennessee you know, he'd go to all kinds of places. So this one trip, I was traveling, I don't know where we were going but we were traveling through Texas, I think we were going to Texas, going through New Mexico, driving in like two or three vans on, on the road, so as we're driving like one [o'clock] in the morning, like all, all the guys in the vans drove the vans, we didn't have drivers and everything was totally self contained, so this was the day of the CD radios, so you know, Sun Ra said, "I'm hungry," you know, and it's like one in the morning, so all the guys in the van started saying, "Sunny's hungry, Sunny's hungry." So I--all the three cars knew that, you know, so we had to find a restaurant so we saw this little sign that just said, "Restaurant," a neon sign in the middle of nowhere on the highway going through New Mexico. I remember we, we were going through Deming, New Mexico, so he said, "Get off there and let's find this restaurant." So you know, we get off the highway drive down a dirt road for like three miles and then we pull up to this area that's like kind of a shack with like maybe a Budweiser sign and you know lights and some pickup trucks parked there, so, you know, one in the morning, mind. So we get out, open the door. When Sun Ra, when he traveled he wore everything that he wore, wore on stage so he had like this, this big tunic with a Saturn on it and a cape and then he had a hat that had lights that spin around, so the door opens, Sun Ra's standing there with this cape blowing and the wind and hat spinning with the lights on his hat and these guys are sitting at the bar you know, like drinking Budweiser with cowboy hats and so, so everybody just stopped and they looked you know, Sun Ra is there with all these guys, you know, the guys you know were wearing turbans and all kinds of stuff, so they were like, "What the hell?" So you know we all walk in the place, so a lady comes up and she says, "Y'all ain't from around here are you?" That's one story I will always remember with Sun Ra.$$'Cause you know when I think of him, God, who do I also think of? You know for some reason, but it's a whole different thing, I think of George Clinton in some respects (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Well, yeah, I mean--$$--because--$$--George Clinton said he learned everything he knew from Sun Ra, I mean that they, and he even said in an interview, somebody mentioned Sun Ra to him, he said, "Yes, we eat at the same lunch counter," you know.$$That's what I think, his earlier version.$$Right, right, yeah because when I first saw him, when I was in college [Southern Illinois University], when I was in Carbondale [Illinois] I went to one of their concerts and, well that's before I was playing with Sun Ra, I was, I think I was nineteen years old, I said, "Wow this guy is weird," you know, what a weird, strange band [Parliament-Funkadelic], you know, almost scary (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Right, it was right--$$--I was kind of frightened by it.$$Do you know what--he also had like, they had a, that group thing had to have, you know, it was also--$$A cult kind of feeling, yeah (simultaneous).$$--(simultaneous) I don't want to--cult. Oh, well not a cult. But sort of like, you know, everyone had this sort of, it was, you had, it was all in the environment--$$Right.$$--you know.$$Everybody had their own strange appearance and dress and yeah (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Right, that's right, that's right.$Okay, so you played with him how long, with Lester Bowie you said?$$I played with Lester until his death, so I played with him for fifteen years.$$Oh 'til his deat- 'cause that's what I was going to say, oh.$$In fact when he, when he, when he got sick, we were doing a concert in Portugal once and on the way back from the, from the concert he was on the plane and he said, "Oh god, I've got this feeling, this pain in my stomach. I don't know what it is, just, you know, it's really bothering me." I said, "You should go to the doctor Lester when we get home, when we get back." He went to the doctor, the doctor told him that he had cancer and had six months to live, right, just like that. So, you know, he had a tour planned like the fifth and sixth of those six months you know, so, so he said he was going to do the tour. I said, "Lester, why are you going to do that, you should, you should really take care of yourself." He said, "No, I mean I've spent my whole life playing music, music is what I love, what I do, so if I go out, I want to go out doing what I love." So when we did the rehearsals for the, for the tour he gave everybody in the band all these parts. He said, "If I'm not there on this song you play this part where I play and you play--," you know, and all, he did all of the songs like that. We get like three quarters of the way through the tour he was getting worse and worse and worse as it went on. We got to London [England] and he went in the hospital and the doctors said, "Get this man home." He went, came, he came back home and died in two days and we--he said but, before he left, he said, "Finish the tour." We still had two more weeks of touring, so we finished the tour and he was (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) In his honor--$$--he had died before we finished the tour, yeah.$$Wow. So no one was with--$$Yeah, so we weren't even there to play for his memorial or whatever, it was, it was sad.$$So he, he, he decided not to get any treatment?$$Well, he was doing some treatments, but you know, he had let it go so bad, I mean Lester was a big drinker, he had you know, some drug issues you know.$$You know, but he wasn't that old, he was fifty-eight, it might have been (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Fifty-eight--$$Fifty-eight when he died, he wasn't that old.$$I know, I know.$$So he--

Philip Cohran

Chicago music legend Philip Cohran was born Philip Thomas Cohran on May 8, 1927, in Oxford, Mississippi. His parents, Frankie Mae Green Cohran and Philip Thomas Cohran, who had ancestral ties to Rust College, sent their only child to the Oxford Training School and later to school in Troy, Missouri. Cohran attended Vashon High School in St. Louis, but graduated from Lincoln University Laboratory High School in 1945. Music teachers Ruby Harris Gill and Lewis A. Laird identified chemistry major Cohran as a Lincoln University prodigy. Drawn increasingly to music, Cohran played trumpet with a number of groups in the St. Louis area during the late 1940s.

In 1950, Cohran joined Jay McShann’s touring swing band, playing with Charlie Parker and Walter Brown. He recorded with McShann for Houston’s Peacock Records where he backed up Big Mama Thornton and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. Drafted that year, Cohran trained Naval bands at Annapolis, Maryland. Discharged in 1952, Cohran moved to Chicago where he studied the Schillinger system and played with Jimmy Bell and Walter Perkins. For the balance of the 1950s, Cohran was a part of Sun Ra’s cutting edge Astral Infinity Arkestra where he played trumpet, zithers and harp on recordings such as Rocket Number Nine and We Travel the Spaceways. Cohran remained in Chicago when Sun Ra moved to Montreal in 1962, and briefly joined the Nation of Islam. A remarkable autodidact, Cohran amassed a huge library of books and media. His studies and research on science, health, history and music made him a community guru.

In 1966, Cohran’s Artistic Heritage Ensemble included Amina Claudine Myers, Ajramu, Larry King, Eugene Easton, Don Myric, Aaron Dodd, Bob Crowder, Pete Cosey, Charles Hany, Louis Satterfield, Verdeen White and Maurice White. The latter three later formed the nucleus of the musical group Earth, Wind and Fire, utilizing the thumb piano sounds pioneered by Cohran. One of his 1966 concerts at 63rd Street Beach in Chicago drew 3,000 people. As founding director of the Afro Arts Theater in 1967, Cohran hosted a weekly cultural extravaganza that featured poets like, Haki Madhubuti (Don L. Lee), Carolyn Rodgers and Useni Eugene Perkins; dancers like Darlene Blackburn and Alyo Tolbert; and musicians from the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) that he founded with Muhal Richard Abrams. In 1968, Cohran left Affro Arts to teach at Malcom X College.

From 1975 to 1977, Cohran operated Transitions East, a Chicago South Side venue featuring music and health food. In the 1980s, Cohran twice co-chaired Artists for Harold Washington. In 1987, he composed the award-winning music for the Sky Show at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium. His music has been featured in countless venues including the Chicago Jazz Festival. Honored numerous times for his musicianship and teaching, Cohran was honored with the name “Kelan” by Chinese Muslims while on tour in 1991.

Cohran passed away on June 28, 2017 at the age of 90.

Accession Number

A2006.158

Sex

Male

Interview Date

12/11/2006 |and| 1/18/2007

Last Name

Cohran

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

Lincoln University Laboratory High School

Lincoln University

First Name

Philip

Birth City, State, Country

Oxford

HM ID

COH02

Favorite Season

Birthday

State

Mississippi

Favorite Vacation Destination

Chicago, Illinois

Favorite Quote

A Man Gets Worked On By What He Works On.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

5/8/1927

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Grits

Death Date

6/28/2017

Short Description

Trumpet player Philip Cohran (1927 - 2017 ) played trumpet, zithers and harp in Sun Ra’s cutting edge, "Astral Infinity Arkestra," and was the founding director of the Afro-Arts Theatre in Chicago. He also formed The Artistic Heritage Ensemble, which served as a basis for the group Earth, Wind and Fire.

Employment

Jay McShann's Band

Rajas of Swing

Afro-Arts Theater

Sun Ra Arkestra

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Philip Cohran's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Philip Cohran lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Philip Cohran describes his mother's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Philip Cohran remembers his childhood friends in Oxford, Mississippi

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Philip Cohran describes his maternal grandfather

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Philip Cohran describes his mother's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Philip Cohran describes his mother's family background, pt. 3

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Philip Cohran describes the history of his surname

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Philip Cohran describes his father's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Philip Cohran remembers his paternal grandparents

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Philip Cohran describes his paternal uncles

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Philip Cohran describes his father's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Philip Cohran talks about his father's education

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Philip Cohran describes his parents' marriage

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Philip Cohran recalls his childhood during the Great Depression

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Philip Cohran describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Philip Cohran describes his neighborhood in Oxford, Mississippi

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Philip Cohran remembers his early music lessons

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Philip Cohran describes his family's decision to move to Troy, Missouri

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Philip Cohran describes the history of Native Americans in Troy, Missouri

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Philip Cohran remembers his elementary education

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Philip Cohran describes the culture of Troy, Missouri

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Philip Cohran recalls his music teacher at Lincoln University Laboratory High School in Jefferson City, Missouri

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Philip Cohran recalls his early musical influences

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Philip Cohran describes his perspective on religion

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Philip Cohran describes Africans' regard for musicians

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Philip Cohran describes his early career as a musician

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Philip Cohran describes the jazz community in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Philip Cohran recalls his experiences in Jay McShann's band, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Philip Cohran recalls his experiences in Jay McShann's band, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Philip Cohran remembers being drafted to the U.S. Army during the Korean War

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Philip Cohran recalls his transfer to the United States Naval School of Music

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Philip Cohran describes his travels with the U.S. Army band

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Philip Cohran describes his experiences of racial discrimination in the U.S. Army

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Philip Cohran remembers his move to Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Philip Cohran describes his experiences with drugs

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Philip Cohran remembers his arrival in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Philip Cohran recalls working in a steel mill in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Philip Cohran describes Sun Ra's personality and background

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Philip Cohran talks about the influence of Sun Ra's philosophy

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Philip Cohran remembers joining Sun Ra's band

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Philip Cohran talks about Sun Ra's musical style

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Philip Cohran remembers inventing the frankiphone, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Philip Cohran remembers inventing the frankiphone, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Philip Cohran remembers the development of Sun Ra's music

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Philip Cohran recalls his introduction to the Nation of Islam, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Philip Cohran recalls his introduction to the Nation of Islam, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Philip Cohran reflects upon the Nation of Islam's relationship to music

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Philip Cohran talks about the symbol of the sine curve

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Philip Cohran describes his work with Malcolm X in the Nation of Islam

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Philip Cohran reflects upon the discipline in the Nation of Islam

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Philip Cohran talks about his experiences in the 1960s

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Philip Cohran reflects upon the perception of Malcolm X, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Philip Cohran reflects upon the perception of Malcolm X, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Philip Cohran describes the Black Arts Movement, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Philip Cohran describes the Black Arts Movement, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Philip Cohran describes the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Philip Cohran describes the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Philip Cohran talks about his use of incense during performances

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Philip Cohran recalls leaving the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Philip Cohran remembers meeting Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Philip Cohran describes the creation of 'Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow,' pt. 1

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Philip Cohran describes the creation of 'Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow,' pt. 2

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Philip Cohran talks about the origins of music, pt. 1

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Philip Cohran talks about the origins of music, pt. 2

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Philip Cohran talks about the origins of music, pt. 3

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Philip Cohran recalls his performances at the 63rd Street Beach in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Philip Cohran recalls founding the Afro-Arts Theater in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - Philip Cohran describes the programing at the Afro-Arts Theater, pt. 1

Tape: 10 Story: 2 - Philip Cohran describes the programing at the Afro-Arts Theater, pt. 2

Tape: 10 Story: 3 - Philip Cohran talks about the mission of the Afro-Arts Theater

Tape: 10 Story: 4 - Philip Cohran recalls the closure of the Afro-Arts Theater

Tape: 10 Story: 5 - Philip Cohran describes the music of the Artistic Heritage Ensemble

Tape: 10 Story: 6 - Philip Cohran describes the response to the closure of the Afro-Arts Theater, pt. 1

Tape: 10 Story: 7 - Philip Cohran describes the response to the closure of the Afro-Arts Theater, pt. 2

DASession

2$2

DATape

6$10

DAStory

6$7

DATitle
Philip Cohran remembers inventing the frankiphone, pt. 2
Philip Cohran describes the response to the closure of the Afro-Arts Theater, pt. 2
Transcript
And so I walked the streets of Chicago [Illinois], like from my house on 75th Street down to the library [South Shore Branch, Chicago, Illinois] on the lakefront, and I would play these thumb pianos with me. And that energy field that's in there would get so deep in my mind that I had to play that instrument sometimes two weeks, I couldn't turn it loose. It was almost like drugs. And I realized how strong music is. What had been happening to me is that we had been playing shallow music, it wasn't strong enough. Sun Ra's music was strong, but even his music wasn't strong enough. It was his spirit that made the music so strong, and his energy that he applied to the music. But the music itself has energy, and that's what I was exploring. That's why I play string instruments and instruments with specific tuning, because I understand now the field, the energy field that comes out of what people call modes. See, I was the one that started that. Sun Ra did it, Clark Terry did it. Other people did it, but they didn't understand it. I explored it. I dealt with the scientific breakdown of it. I went into the ancient tuning system. I saw what other people did. I read Plato and Pythagoras; I read the whole manual by Zollino [ph.]. So, I worked to get some type of understanding. And I think because of the hard work that I did, the ancestors just let me see the whole picture. And so, I began to write out of that picture, and I had a picture like Sun Ra (laughter). He was space and place, but I was earth. And that's why I had to leave, because I saw that I was diametrically opposed to what he was doing, while respecting him at the utmost for his genius and the fact that they opened me up and gave me an opportunity to see life on a higher level. Now that frankiphone, everything I do, I try to improve. And so anything that I make--like I made this stuff right here. Anything that I make, I see a better way the next time. But if it turns me on, I'll go ahead and do it. But I'm always trying to improve, you know. At seventy-nine, I'm still trying to improve. And I've learned some things this year that I didn't know before. Now that's how the frankiphone came about.$$Okay.$$But it had to be based on my concept of music, not general music. You go to school and learn music, this is this and that is that. That ain't worth a damn for creating anything (laughter).$$Okay. Now the frankiphone, in terms of chronology, that comes like--is that before Sun Ra or after Sun Ra, or during--$$After that.$$After.$$And during--you know, because we were all creating. Marshall [Marshall Allen] had created a clarinet that has a flute--no, it had a flute with a clarinet mouthpiece. Yeah, it was called the fluziphone [sic. flutophone] or something. And it got a good sound, and he could play that, you know. Marshall is a tremendous musician. All these guys were dedicated to music for life. People are not like that now. They want to be famous. They want to be, you know, they want to get on TV. I don't care if I ever get on TV. I'm trying to generate the music in my heart that draws beautiful people to my presence, you understand, to give me a better circumstance of life. Because that's what, what I'm emanating is what will come back. What do they say, what goes around, comes around.$$Okay, so--$$So, let's get on back to the why?$$All right, so--$$I had to define music for myself. So, I went back to a single note. And I don't want to write a book on it, but I will tell you that David Baker, our distinguished musician at Indiana University [Bloomington, Indiana] in '69 [1969] told me that he wanted to dedicate a chapter of his book to me. And I let him have an interview, just like you. And then one day I was teaching a class maybe ten or twelve years later, and a student said, "That's what David Baker's got in his book." (Laughter) So then I didn't have time. So then I got the book and found out he didn't mention my name (laughter).$$So he took the concepts, but not the--$$Not only him, everybody else. Who, who else originated modal concepts? Name one that you know.$$You got me (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Don't tell me Coltrane [John Coltrane], because he was all into chords.$$I'm a not a music theorist, anyway.$$Yeah, okay (laughter).$$That's above my--$$Well, a lot of people out there consider themselves composers. But they're not; they're copiers. They go--and then in the business, they're total thieves. They pay people to go and steal. I've seen them in my rehearsal. I can tell their energy the minute they step in the door. They come to hear my rehearsal, you know, so they can take something back to their studio. Well, none of the studio people dealt with me. I dealt with my music like Sun Ra. But it was so strong, the thing that it did, it pushed other people into doing it.$Now, when this thing was supposed to go down, the guys accused me of all kind of things. I didn't really get a complete charge, but everybody said I was doing something wrong, and that I was wrong. I can just take it from what I read about J. Edgar Hoover, that they tell all kind of lies on people. And I found down through the years that it's easy to believe a lie on a black person, because they're the ones who's the object of all the lies, all right. So then we split up right there, because I demand integrity in my life. And I told them that I had picked each one of them up in giving them the best of what I knew. I had taught them musical techniques, and I had taught them things about living that I would never go back on. To me, it was the truth. So I just said, "You can have all this, if you think it's more important than being truthful, okay." So they took my Malcolm [Malcolm X] picture right there that day just to hurt me, you know. So, they, I got all my stuff out and I left the PA [public address] system there. And I went and moved out to the St. John Grand Lodge [M.W. St. John's Grand Lodge, Chicago, Illinois] (laughter). But all the time that I was there in the theater, there was this energy that came from the young people. The Four Corner Rangers [sic. Blackstone Rangers], they didn't know nothing. But they stopped the wine heads from coming on the street. Some of the other Rangers stopped people from smoking. You know, people began to become aware that they could make a difference. And so, I was very appreciative of that. And I moved back up to my little apartment and started doing my thing as Phil Cohran [HistoryMaker Philip Cohran]. Well, the public didn't know what had happened, but they were told a lot of negative stuff, too. I saw friends of mine who wouldn't even speak to me. And so, it was a thing. But the Afro-Arts Theater [Chicago, Illinois] lasted all the way into '69 [1969]. I don't know what month it was, because Sammy Davis, Jr. came to the theater and we gave a performance for him. He said, "I'm going to come back in the fall and give you a house, you know, and that'll give you a boost." So, he couldn't get back in the fall, so he used Finis Henderson, his agent, to give the Pharaohs, because when I left [the Artistic Heritage Ensemble] they called themselves the Pharaohs, and copied my compositions and my songs. Fortunately, I hadn't taught them very much. I just played for them and made, you know, gave them the keys to playing together. But I didn't teach them the whole concept. And so, they couldn't go very far with what I had. They were good musicians and they were all dedicated, and they had played my music, but they didn't know the formulas. And I'm so glad that happened. I wanted so much during that summer to teach them performance, but we were just performing day and night; we didn't have time. And that's what it was. In '69 [1969], in the summer of '69 [1969] after I had split with them for over more than a year--but I talked with them and worked with them. I even held a fundraiser there, because it didn't bother me. I never bother about what is not true. And they can say whatever I did, it didn't bother me. And once I finished with those guys, one of them lost his mind. Well, I won't say that. He appeared to have lost his mind, and I don't see any remnants of recovery. But I thought they took some deep things, okay, some deep hits.