In late November of 1978, I did a show or two with my friends in the jazz ensemble Kuumba. I’d been to a few practice sessions to get “in tune’ and to make sure that the band had an idea of what I was going to do. I think I’d done a few things at our Catacombs Coffee House. These were mostly solo or done with just one sax and/or drumming as backup.
This was different, as it was with a whole band. In a way, I think that they were my first real performances. Ten years later, in 1988, I started to do puppet shows. Fifteen years later, in 1993, I joined the Don’t Look Now Jug Band. Twenty years later, in 1998, I co-founded the Space Band (aka spaceband). This latter is most similar to what I did here.
Kuumba started as sort of a neighborhood band. Most of us grew up in and around the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood, on Detroit’s East Side. It was almost like a jazz “garage band” at first. I think I remember an actual garage show, or maybe two. They played at the Catacombs Coffee House sometimes. I was on the staff there.
They turned into the Sun Messengers a few years later. The main people I knew included Rick Steiger, James O’Donnell, R.J. Spangler and Jon Worrell. Jon also did puppet shows, which helped inspire me to try that. Rick’s still in the Sun Messengers. James and R.J. co-lead the Planet D Nonet. They both do other stuff as well.
I was doing hard work with a landscaping company. I’d rake the leaves into a tarp and lug them into the truck. Around this time, I finished with that work. From my Journal at that time: November 22 “Go to a Dress Rehearsal with Kuumba. The Lion’s Club’s really small…I do my spontaneous poetry (The Land Without Clocks) to the tune of Rick Steiger’s “Capture the Moment.” The band is described as including “James O’Donnell, Musa trumpets, Rick, Tim and Fred on saxes, Jabbar on Baritone Sax, Dave Springer on bass, Rick on percussion, Sule on drums and Gary Laehn on trombone.” Tunes included “Brainville” and “Take the A Train.”
I know that the Rick on sax was Rick Steiger. The Rick on percussion was R.J. Spangler. Jabbar was the late, great Arnold “Jabbar” Clarrington, right? I see in the photos that Jon Worrell played sax and clarinet.
The next day was Thanksgiving. Then that Friday, November 24, 1978 was the show. I’m not sure where it was. Was it at one of those bars on Charlevoix on Detroit’s East Side. Or was it at the same “Lion’s Club” where we rehearsed? The latter is more likely.
My notes at the time: “It’s on! The first thing you notice is that its way too crowded, over 200 people in that little place….I have a conference with the band right before they go on. They’re in their ties and sharp/hot clothes. Kuumba takes that “A Train.” I’m on about the fourth number, “Capture the Moment.” I go up and chant and shout pure, spontaneous poetry. It’s real “stream of consciousness poetry, bases on the theme of the “Land without Clocks.” It’s the point where all arts become one, the face on the wall out of the curved, reclining sphere of deepest eyeblack. YES. I’m a “hit.” More surrealism, yes! The band continues. I go talk to folks.”
The first three photos are of my performance with Kuumba. The last two photos, I think I took. Jon did an Alfred Jarry/ Pere Ubu puppet show. Kuumba played a second set, going into the wee, wee hours.
January 14, 1979, Sunday, the Catacombs Coffee House: “I do some poetry with the KDJ Sun Messengers: Spangler, Akunda, Jabar and Musa, sax, percussion etc. It goes really well. I do a few old things and new ones done spontaneous/on the spot.”