Liner note for an unreleased recording 'birth life and death' by YOSEF MUMIN PHILLIPS
At a time when the innovators of the New Music in the 1960's are fast leaving the planet, it is a blessing when one re-emerges, like Henry Grimes. It is an equal case for rejoicing when one appears, who was barely noticed in the first place, he was flying so far beneath the jazz radar screen. And so, welcome to Yosef Mumin Phillips.
This recording is called BIRTH LIFE AND DEATH and is very much about the life and re-birth of Phillips, also known as Joseph Phillips, Joe Phillips, or Yusef Mumin. But first, a little history.
"I was born and grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. I learned to play vibraharp under my older brother James, who played classical music as well as jazz. In the early 60's I picked up a flute and alto sax after hearing a friend, Jordan Twist, play some outside music. Jordan played alto with Albert Ayler and later with Charles Tyler. I didn't know Albert but Mr. Ed Ayler, his father, used to visit my mother. My mother was a spiritual clairvoyant in the 40's and 50's and many people used to visit our house.
Abdul Wadud (born Ronald DeVaughn) lived next door to one of my brothers in the 50's. He played cello as a young boy. He took me to Oberlin Conservatory and introduced me to Oli Wilson, a bass player and professor at the school. We formed a group with alto, cello, bass and Cleveland drummer Chuck Smart. With the second group Abdul and I formed , we went into the studio. We played a few concerts, one with Clyde Shy on bass."
Yusef Mumin and Ron DeVaughn, along with Hassan Al Hut on percussion called themselves the Black Unity Trio, and they released the music on their own Salaam label in 1965. The first track was called "Birth Life And Death". Common-place as it is now, with the advent of the cdr, for musicians to put out their own music, at that time it was quite revolutionary, as was the concept of a co-operative group. As Abdul later explained it, "we had something to say that was a reflection of our culture and heritage. It was a time when things were being challenged and changed, which was reflected in our art form. We just didn't have the money and the exposure to get our thing out there, which I think was a real tragedy. Because that group was really something special. We really communicated with one another."
Yosef remembers, "it was around this time I took Abdul to meet (trumpeter) Norman Howard, with whom I was also playing. Norman had returned from a spell in New York, where he had played with Albert Ayler and hung out. Together with drummer Oscar Hood, Abdul and Norman, there was another recording, which included Norman's famous composition "Witches And Devils".
In November, 1968, Yosef (then known as Joe Phillips) and Norman, with Walter Cliff on bass and Cornelius Millsap on drums, went into the studio again, and recorded enough material for 2 lp's. It was supposed to come out on ESP-Disk but remained unheard, except for an extremely limited cassette release on Homeboy Music many years later.
There was an incredible deep well of talent in the Cleveland area including, besides those already mentioned, Donald Ayler, Frank Wright, Bobby Few, Arthur Jones, Mustafa Abdul Rahim, Otis Harris..... But opportunies were so limited at home, the musicians dispersed, some trying their luck in New York.
"Abdul Wadud went to play with the New Jersey Symphony. And I went to Los Angeles, where I met up with Charles Tyler. We formed a trio for a short while with Everett Brown Jr., a drummer with Horace Tapscott, and myself on bass. Charles and I had played together before this in Cleveland."
While Abdul could play all the saxes in addition to cello and bass, Yosef had learnt bass and cello as well as saxophone !
"I was very busy interacting with some of Horace's band members like Butch and Wilbur Morris, Earl Henderson, Linda Hill and Tylon Barea to name a few.
After many more groups in LA, I moved to Milwaukee, playing with local people around town. I was using the name Yosef Mumin, which means Joseph believer in God. Then things slowed down. When it was time for me to leave Milwaukee, I was short of cash and had to play a wedding for gas money to get out of town.
Now that my kids are all grown up, I am back to playing every day and sometimes all day. Over the years, not being in the mix with other musicians, when I put ideas together instead of writing them on paper I play them to hear the sound, and at the same time develop on other instruments. Today you can't just walk out your door, here in Kissimee, and find someone like Abdul Wadud standing on the corner. So to keep the ideals alive that I have in my head, I try to record them so they are not just notes on paper for dust to claim. I think music should be free for the air to embrace.
I am playing tenor sax, bass, flute, alto, clarinet and cello. I put my alto in the music store for repairs but they said they would not be able to fix it. I have been playing tenor sax. The alto is a faster horn with a different voice. It has an exciting sound, a bright sound, while the tenor can be kind of blue and moody.
We are people of the earth and different sound elements send different signals. I consider myself a cosmic communicator. It's important that the air breathe and hear our good intentions. For me it's all about sound waves and cosmic vibrations.
I have forms where I try to tell a story. This project with my friend William Holmes from south Florida on drums and percussion is for the creative expression of sound."