"Swinging with an ecstatic mastery"
Joe Rigby, on his first new recording Praise, playing tenor saxophone and soprano, just two of his many instruments. Hear Joe's own music with this moving picture of his quartet featuring long-time friend Ted Daniel on trumpet.
"He doesn't sound like anybody else" Julien Palomo
"A beautiful recording" Rudolph Grey
"A phenomenal saxophonist" Patrick Regan
Made in Scotland in 2008, it includes Joe's version of the Scottish lament The Dark Island and a truly transcendent Lift Every Voice And Sing.
"The saxophonist is on absolutely terrific form throughout" Dan Warburton
"A defining personal statement. Each tune operates as a component of a starkly beautiful suite. one of creative improvisation's most powerful and storied voices" Clifford Allen
On Joe's next visit to Scotland, he got together with the gifted young bagpiper Calum MacCrimmon and two local drummers for an ecstatic spontaneous communion. Called For Harriet in honour of his lovely wife, and available on Improvising Beings as well as Homeboy Music. We are proud to present this sonic exploration, the whole music exactly as it was performed. There was also a second solo statement More Music.
"Jaw-dropping, finally realising the dream of a free jazz/drone blow-out. the match is heavenly, Rigby playing with an astoundingly powerful tone, perfectly balancing bold melodic statements with some wildly outside scorch, threading screaming feedback tones into the polyphonic drone" David Keenan
"The sound is truly unique and deserving of a world-wide audience" Les Walker
FROM THE CHANTELS TO MILFORD GRAVES
Does the name Joe Rigby ring any bells ? You may have seen him playing without knowing it. Maybe at a wedding in Brooklyn, or perhaps on a cruise liner sailing out of Miami. On the other hand, if you'd seen him playing with Milford Graves, you'd most certainly remember.
Milford may not perform in public very often, but every single gig is an unforgettable experience. And Joe has been by his side, on and off since the 60's. Milford has always believed in connecting with his audience. In a way, that's not unrelated to playing for the people on a cruise. But Milford's performances are a little more unpredictable ! His forays into the crowd, the atomic blasts from his enormous multi-coloured drum-kit. His hand signals, switching on and off the intense screaming from his side-men, usually 2 saxophonists. Usually Joe Rigby and his alter-ego Hugh Glover. Playing music which at first shocks, then overwhelms, and finally converts the audience. Hugh providing a raucous bridge between Joe's often stratospheric sounds and Milford's earthy dynamism.
But it's not only music that links Joe and Milford. "I met Milford in my junior year of high school, although we went to different schools. We had a mutual friend who had an idea of forming a social club of guys primarily to meet girls. That was the birth of the Zeusinians. I was the only non-jock. Everyone else was very athletic, including Milford, who was on his school's track team, as were most of the Zeusinians." Milford remembers Joe, who is well over 6 feet tall, as "a great high jumper", and thought "we were the hippest cats in New York with our blazers !".
Joe remembers their first musical gig together "was a Latin gig where I was playing flute, and Milford was one of 4 percussionists. I couldn't hear myself on flute, and that might have started my interest with the tenor sax."
But let's begin at the beginning. Born in Harlem on September 3, 1940, Joe is a Virgo. His family history is fascinating. "My mom's name was Catherine Fedder Harding. Her father, my grandfather, was the illegitimate son of President Warren Harding. My mom was born in New Bern, North Carolina. My father, Joseph Benjamin Rigby, was born in Haiti. His father was Haitian and his mother was Dominican. The word is that my father came to the U.S. with his mother, where they met an Englishman named Rigby and adopted the name. I've two sisters from my father's first marriage, but they aren't musical to my knowledge."
Joe, however, began music young. "My first musical memory was playing at a piano recital when I was 6 years old. I wasn't too bad !" There were lessons at the New York Schools of Music with a Mrs.Fuchs for 35 cents a time. Joe's father loved jazz. "He played boogie woogie piano by ear. I don't think he was too happy when, as a teenager, I was into R'n'B. I was in the neighbourhood where a lot of R'n'B acts started, like the Moonglows, the Chantels, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, the Valentines, the Charts, the Paragons, the Harptones and Leslie Uggams. I played piano for the Chantels. We won 3 Apollo amateur nights. If you won 4, you got a week's engagement. The fourth week they threw a young Jerry Butler at us and we lost !"
But there was a lot of jazz in the house and Joe remembers hearing Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Meade Lux Lewis, Art Tatum and Frank Sinatra. The Sugar Hill section of Harlem where he lived was also home to Duke Ellington and most of his band, as well as Count Basie and Billie Holiday. "And Billie Strayhorn stayed for about 2 years in my aunt's house. Dad also worked on the Pennysylvania Railroad as a waiter at a time when most people rode the rails, so he met the celebrities of film and music."
Surrounded as he was by music, it's no surprise Joe was smitten. "I went to high school at Power Memorial at the same time as Lew Alcindor, later known as Kareem Abdul Jabbar and soon to become a New York [basketball] legend. When I walked there, I would often hear Thelonious Monk practicing the piano because he lived near the school." It was there that Joe picked up the flute and played with the marching band and orchestra, "so the piano was out ! I was drawn to the saxophone because I had started playing flute and then I heard such great saxophonists as Johnny Griffin, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Johnny Hodges, and I decided I'd be better on saxophone. My best friend Paul Kappes also played tenor sax. This was after high school, but he didn't play professionally. Around 1965 he moved to Mexico where I heard he became a drug dealer and a millionaire. Anyway, there was a music store on 48th. Street in Manhattan called Jimmy's. I was able to try 5 Selmer tenor saxes and make my choice. During the Beatles' invasion, the store stopped selling wind instruments and concentrated on selling guitars. The owner made a lot of money and moved to Florida. I played the clarinet before the saxophone, and traded it when I got my tenor. I wasn't very good as I recall."
"At that time, other musicians I was listening to included Sonny Stitt, Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins, Lee Morgan, Art Blakey, Lennie Tristano, Paul Chambers, Horace Silver, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans and Miles Davis."
But it was one musician above all others who inspired Joe. "I knew I wanted to be an improvising musician when I heard John Coltrane with the Miles Davis sextet at the Apollo Theater. He was playing harmonics, and the crowd actually booed him. I thought he was fantastic, and wanted to play a saxophone like him."
This was the start of a long journey. "Improvising is very hard work, and I don't think I got it naturally. It's a part of your life's experiences, and I've had a long and interesting life. I've lived in New York all my life. I've been married 3 times, and I have 4 sons and 2 grand-children." Fortunately for Joe, "my wives were all very supportive of my musical career. It was my womanizing that they didn't like. Old age, or better yet maturity, has kind of changed that!".
In a time of civil rights agitation, there was little enthusiasm for America's colonial pursuits. "I was in an age sense too old for Vietnam, but I was drafted during the Korean War. I got married to keep from going in. I was also going to live in Canada, and had met a family I was going to stay with, but it didn't come to that."
Unfortunately, it was impossible to survive from music alone. "Through the years, to support my family, I've been a postal letter carrier, a bus driver, a United Parcel carrier, a liquor salesman, a New York City taxi driver, a garment buyer, and a nursery school teacher. Then I was a music teacher for the New York Board of Education for 14 years until I retired in 2004."
"The most relevant thing about my artistry is that I've had a fantastic life, and I hope when people hear me they can get a little, actually a lot, of my life experience in my tone. My tone on my respective instruments is what makes me, me. I developed my own approach primarily because Milford Graves was my friend, and he was always searching himself. I learned from him."
But Joe Rigby played a significant part in Milford's development too. Milford remembers how "I didn't get into jazz until 1962. It was John Coltrane who did it. There was this place out here on Merrick Road called Copa City. A little Queens club. Joe was a Trane man. He said 'hey man, get your head out of the sand, the greatest saxophone player who ever lived is playing out in Queens, right by your house, and the greatest drummer is with him.' We went down there, young guys, got a front seat. That was the first time I ever saw Elvin Jones, he was so loose ... and I said to myself, that's it. I went out and bought myself a trap set."
Milford played some gigs with Giuseppi Logan, and the New York Art Quartet, and then withdrew from the commercial scene. He decided to play the New Music for "the people on the block". Joe remembers their first real job together "was with Don Pullen on piano and Arthur Williams on trumpet at the Renaissance Ballroom in Harlem. I think Arthur Doyle was playing tenor sax on the gig too." The group, always with a core of at least 2 saxophonists from Arthur, Joe and Hugh Glover, who Milford met at 1964's October Revolution, confined their activities to the Black community, winning over ordinary listeners to a music that was regarded as "way-out" and "extreme" in the jazz world. Sometimes all 3 saxophonists played together producing a sound that can only be imagined. Unfortunately, no recordings of this awesome gathering have ever emerged.
Even when gigs were thin on the ground "we rehearsed 1 to 3 times a week". And "Milford didn't like band members fraternizing with women, and I always went against that rule ! But he's always coming up with something to keep you interested. He connects with stuff you didn't know was there, then you hear it and that's like the way it's always been."
These were volatile years. The music seemed inseparable from the politics of the time. "Milford's groups played for a lot of political events. I met leaders... H. Rap Brown, Ron Karenga, Stokely Carmichael and others. Angela Davis was also around a lot of the music. A little later I dated a woman who was a Black Panther. I met Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Seale and was in the audience when Huey Newton was released from jail. There was a party for him in North Philadelphia. All I remember is that he wasn't such a good public speaker, but he did have some very good ideas. In 1969, I was president of the Black Students' Union of Bronx Community College. When Kent State University's security guards killed a student, we were the second college to close in sympathy, after Kent State itself. This caused a ripple effect that closed most schools across the country. I'm very proud of my involvement in that protest."
"Milford played a lot in the community. We played a lot in Harlem. Rockland Palace and the Renaissance Ballroom were just some of the venues. The people were very receptive, and we were playing music that fit the period."
In 1972, Milford featured Joe and percussionist Raleigh Sahumba with Frank Lowe on tenor, in place of Arthur Doyle who was putting together his own trio. They played at Slugs' Saloon as part of the first New York Musicians' Jazz Festival. T he city was awash with new music. Joe also appeared with trumpeter Chris Capers at Studio We.
By 1973, Arthur Doyle was suffering a nervous breakdown. "We were friends when we played with Milford, but we never really hung out together. Milford tried to make it a competition thing and, to a degree, he was successful, but Arthur and I were always ok. At the time, Milford seemed to prefer him over me. I think the fact that Arthur could be unstable is what did him in with Milford." Don Pullen had long since left to play in organ trios before swinging the Charles Mingus Workshop. Milford played with Arthur Williams, Hugh Glover and Joe at the Newport in New York festival in 1973, and in Europe, before returning to the shadows. There was the occasional gig, one in 1976 at Fordham University with Joe and a recovered Arthur Doyle, but mostly they took place in the basement of Milford's home in South Jamaica, Queens. In 1997, Milford, Hugh and Joe emerged into the light, once more, to great acclaim at New York's Vision Festival. Nevertheless, "to this day, Milford has always told me that I sound too much like Coltrane. But he was my influence, and I'm proud of that. Until recently, he wanted another saxophonist along with me." Joe's not too sure why Hugh's no longer part of the group, but "he had obligations with his family, and it was hard for him to rehearse." Lately, Milford has been recording his and Joe's heartbeats and incorporating them into the performance. Even now the group hasn't been recorded. Joe is a man who lives for music, but these occasional gigs with Milford, albeit unique and incredibly stimulating, could never be enough. Playing with Milford is like the icing on Joe's musical cake.
When asked to name his heros, Joe replied "my parents, Milford, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy and McCoy Tyner, and, although I'm a Catholic who doesn't go to church often, I do believe in a higher being". And if he could pick just one musician he would most like to have played with, "that would be Louis Armstrong".
Joe was once described as "the spectacularly ambitious Mr. Rigby with his myriad reeds and flutes". Perhaps, not surprisingly, Mr. Coltrane had something to do with this too ! "I started exploring the saxophone family almost immediately after hearing Coltrane play the soprano. I was attending Hartnett School of Music in Times Square. I didn't hear Trane's first night at the Jazz Gallery after he left Miles. Some of the students went, and the word was that he was playing soprano. I did go the second night and I was blown away ! I got a soprano. and then I wanted to play the alto. The baritone and sopranino followed. I think each horn has its strengths and weaknesses, my weaknesses of course. I feel that there's a time and place for each sax. I got the sopranino when a music store salesman made me an offer I couldn't refuse, because he wanted to move the instrument."
"I had someone give me a C-melody but then, in a couple of days, they realised that the instrument was worth something, and they took it back. I've never had the desire to play the bass sax. I did try to trade my then Selmer baritone for a bass clarinet, but it wasn't an even trade, so I declined. I tried a bassoon for about 3 months, but my heart wasn't in it. I would like to try the bass clarinet again."
And which of all the instruments is his favourite ? "I would say the tenor sax is my favourite, but at times it can be the alto or, when I was playing the blues, it was often the sopranino". Of course, Joe isn't the only afficianado of the whole saxophone family, "I talked briefly to James Carter, who might just be my favourite saxophonist at the present time. I think he's fantastic. I only know Michael Marcus through Ted Daniel, but I'd like to meet him too."
Living in New York enabled Joe to immerse himself in the music. "My most memorable concert-going experience is between seeing Trane at Olatunji's in Harlem, and Freddie Hubbard with Herbie Hancock at the Beacon Theater. I also can't forget seeing Coltrane with Booker Little at the Five Spot. It was in between his leaving Miles and forming his own band with Steve Kuhn, Steve Davis and Pete LaRoca. I was fortunate to see John Coltrane perform at least 200 times, and most of those performances were noteable. And I must include Ornette's first New York concert appearance at Town Hall. Carmen McRae opened the concert, and Ornette and Dizzy played together. Sonny Rollins playing live at Lincoln Center was also tops."
Although Joe grew up surrounded by the sounds of hard bop, he couldn't miss the emerging new sound. "I became aware of the New Music, probably because of my associations with Milford, Pharoah Sanders and Steve Reid. The Cleveland contingent was happening. There were the Ayler brothers, Mustafa Abdul Rahim, Charles Tyler and some folks I've probably forgotten. I remember playing with Norman Howard once at a jam at Steve Reid's house, so I have fond memories of the days with the great Cleveland musicians. During his association with Milford, Albert Ayler showed me how to play harmonics in a room at the Theresa hotel in Harlem, while Fidel Castro was staying there too. Pharoah had a big band in which I played, with Frank Lowe and Frank Wright as well." During Pharoah's early, scuffling, years, he and Joe even played together behind the wicked Mr. Wilson Pickett. And speaking of powerful performers, Joe also played beside David S. Ware in Andrew Cyrille's Maono. Little wonder he developed his own sound, strong enough to stand with anyone.
"Ornette's music had virtually no impact on me originally. I did, however, know how important he was right away, but I didn't really listen to him until the 80's and the 90's." Joe first heard Sun Ra with his Outer Spacemen in 1962 while working as a waiter at the Cafe Bizarre on 3rd Street. "I was not really a Sun Ra fan, but John Gilmore was excellent. If he had left the Arkestra he would definitely have been one of the innovators of the music. I remember later how some of Ra's musicians like Marshall Allen and Pat Patrick were recruiting people to come to Philly to live in Ra's brownstone and just play music. Ronnie Boykins in particular made a concerted effort to draft me. Ronnie was a terrific bassist who I played with a couple of times with Steve Reid." And another great tenor saxophonist made a strong impression when Joe caught Charles Mingus Workshop, " I liked Booker Ervin a lot. I always thought he had his own distinctive sound. I was exposed to him before Trane and Rollins."
Joe feels his major artistic achievement to be "my friendships and musical sharing experiences with Milford, Pharoah, Carlos Garnett and Eric Dolphy, who turned me on to one of my teachers, Garvin Bushell." While a major performance achievement was with Ted Curson's band where he was able to develop more continuity in his phrasing. "Playing with Ted, who hired me over David Murray, made me concentrate more on my phrasing because I was playing alongside legends like Bill Barron and Nick Brignola. It's called growing up or, better yet, the maturation of the Rig ! Both Bill and Nick played with such beauty and drive, I had to listen more to what was coming out of my horns. Bill Barron was sensational, and a very nice person always willing to help in any way."
"I have worked with some dynamite drummers, amongst whom have been Andrew Cyrille, Mohammad Ali, Rashied Ali, Milford, Billy Hart, Beaver Harris, Barry Altschul, Rashied Sinan, Steve Reid, Lou Grassi, Rashid Bakr, William Hooker and probably a few I've forgotten. And I would have liked to play with Edgar Bateman, Al Foster, Denis Charles, Paul Motian, Buddy Rich, Art Blakey, Roy Haynes and Max Roach !"
The so-called "Loft Era" opened up many opportunities for the practitioners of the New Music to play, even if there wasn't much money involved. Sam River's Studio Rivbea opened in June 1972. "I did a lot of gigging there, and Sam gave me all the freedom I needed. I had the pleasure of playing with Sonny Sharrock there." Other musician-operated lofts incuded Artists House, the Tin Palace, Studio We, Ali's Alley, the Brook, the Ladies' Fort and Studio Wis. Not only were the lofts leased by the musicians, they also made up a large part of the audience, supporting each other, even working the door. And if one musician got a grant by filling in the right bits of paper, others would benefit too from the gigs that followed. Sometimes a group could last for years, sometimes just the one gig. And, of course, rehearsals were abundant. Besides the names Joe has already mentioned, there were other important associations.
Ted Daniel's Third World Energy Ensemble, "Ted gave me the opportunity to be one of the main contributors in his band. Very often, he had close to 20 musicians in the ensemble. We have remained good friends ever since, and I can say Ted is probably my closest friend, along with Milford Graves."
The Master Brotherhood included Steve Reid, Ahmed Abdullah, Les Walker, and Arthur Williams, "my best musical friend until he died of what was called a drug overdose. Whether that was true is a matter of speculation. Arthur had distanced himself from his friends and even his family. I remember talking to his sister, who didn't know the extent of his addiction until his death. The Master Brotherhood was a fantastic group of young musicians. We played a lot of Brooklyn gigs. We all got along very well with no ego trips. One of the group that didn't record with us, but was an important member was bass clarinetist Mustafa Abdul Rahim."
Carlos Garnett's Universal Black Force, "Carlos and I were friends too, in the 70's to early 80's. We had a mutual admiration for each other. I think he's back in New York now [from Panama] and sometimes performs at the Lenox Lounge in Harlem, though I haven't seen him yet."
Charles Tyler's New World Ensemble, another big band, but "it was more usually a sextet when I was in it. The only time I had a problem being a sideman, was with Charles. He tried to tell me what instrument to play, and when to play it. We almost came to blows. As you know, musicians aren't fighters... We talk a good game... I don't usually have a problem being a sideman, but a lot of leaders don't really know the intricacies of what it takes to lead, so you have to be a co-leader."
Finally, thanks to Rashied Ali, early in 1978 Joe got the chance to lead his own group, which he called Dynasty, at Ali's Alley. He brought in a powerhouse band with Marty Cook, trombone, Amina Claudine Myers, piano, Jerome Hunter, bass and Steve McCall on drums. No less than Stanley Crouch reviewed a subsequent gig, saying "Rigby plays a lot of saxophones but the tenor is his instrument. He played solos that swung, shouted, made brilliant uses of harmonics and built with an ordered and swelling passion that let you know he is an important voice, in any direction.... I will always remember the way Rigby walked off the bandstand and remained audible as he traveled through the audience, inventing and swinging with an ecstatic mastery." But somehow Joe wasn't able to break through with this group. "There were no recordings with Dynasty. I didn't really know how to do a press kit etc., and that cost us some bookings. I never applied for a grant, although I should have. A change in personnel also happened with Joe Bowie on trombone, Sonelius Smith, Brian Smith and Rashied Sinan coming in."
By the end of the year, the golden era of the lofts was coming to a close. As suddenly as the lofts had opened, they began to shut down. "I think a lot of the lofts got tremendous increases in their rents when they became popular, so the musicians who ran them lost their leases."
But as one set of venues disappeared, others emerged. Soundscape, the Squat Theater, Tier-3, Hurrah, Irving Plaza, CBGB's, though some of them were aimed at the new sounds of punk, funk and No Wave that were emerging on the pop scene. There was also a short-lived new synthesis in the New Music. Just as 25 years before, when bop musicians had looked for a closer connection with the blues and a soul feeling and hard bop had been born. This time round it was the turn of the New Music, perhaps influenced by Ornette Coleman's electric Prime Time or the emergence from James Chance's backing group of Joe Bowie and Defunked (soon to be Defunkt). The connections were blues, funk and rock, reflecting the influences of James Brown and George Clinton, as well as a desire to reach a bigger audience. Major players included Joe Bowie, Luther Thomas, James Ulmer, Oliver Lake, Ted Daniel, Henry Threadgill, Steve McCall with LeftHand Frank on a blues tip, Arthur Doyle and Beaver Harris with Rudolph Grey riding No Wave.
But only Joe Rigby did it for real, and did it for keeps. "Johnny Copeland's manager Dan Doyle got in contact with me because he wanted a saxophonist who didn't sound like most of the blues saxophonists, whatever that means. And Johnny gave me all the freedom I needed too. I think that the experience working with the blues bands of Johnny, and briefly with B.B. King, was fantastic in making me the musician I am today. B.B. hired me to replace his baritone sax player for 3 gigs at jails. I didn't want to just play the baritone so I left." Through the 80's, Johnny Copeland, who played a searing guitar as well as singing, enjoyed a surge of popularity. But this was not a good time for jazz musicians, and there were many casualties. Some managed to survive by entering the education system. And Joe eventually followed suit, going back to college and slipping almost completely off the jazz radar screen. There had been some good gigs. Playing with Jaki Byard was a highlight. At one point, "Hannibal talked about getting a group together, but it never happened."
"I graduated in 1989 and a major turning point for me was when Russell Simmons of Def Jam Records offered me a job with his company. It would have involved a lot of travel, and I was a newly-wed, and chose to become a New York City teacher instead. For basically 14 years I diminished my individual goals while I was teaching. I was pretty much off the scene in terms of performing. Even though the Def Jam job was hip hop, I would have been more connected with the music scene than I was as a teacher of grades 6, 7 and 8. I don't regret the decision, but it would have been interesting to see what would have happened."
Well, Joe might have become a millionaire, or he might have ended up in jail, or both, like Death Row's Marion 'Suge' Knight ! His boys would most certainly have been impressed. "My sons, all four of them, are into hip hop. At the time that I might have worked for Def Jam, I wasn't into hip hop, and I'm not now, although I listen to it." Not that that's prevented a lot of people making money out of it. But Joe adds that "one of the reasons why I left the teaching profession was because I felt I couldn't reach my students as effectively as I should, because I couldn't relate to their music."
There was still a little happening during these years. "I was gigging around with a woman harpist called Karen Strauss. And I was part of a group called 'the Teachers'. We were all teachers, and not too bad. I also worked with a couple of pop singers who had high hopes but didn't manage to reach stardom. And before appearing at the Vision festival in 1997, Milford, Hugh and I performed at the Knitting Factory. Over the years, I've played a lot of wedding gigs. They paid the bills very often, but I can't sing at all. I was never tempted to be a studio musician. I've known a few who've made an excellent living, but I never explored it".
Nowadays, Joe can dedicate himself totally to music. But what does he do for relaxation ? "I relax by practicing my horns, especially the flute. The other week I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Yusef Lateef and his wife, at a wedding. The man is 85 years old and has all his faculties. He is a beautiful human being. Things like that float my boat."
And outside music, "my passion is animals. I love cats and dogs in particular. But when I was in Florida, I was extremely troubled by the amount of construction in the State. That means animals are being displaced and that really bothers me. Also my passion is my sons and their children. And my cat Jazzy, who's the keeper of my house. She's the boss !"
Sports are another interest. "I've always liked boxing, but I don't follow the lighter weights. I'm disturbed that the Heavyweights aren't as exciting as I would like. I also like football, basketball and baseball.My favourite teams are the New York Giants, the New Jersey Nets, and both the Yankees and the Mets, but if they're not winning, I turn on them ! I actually like the New York Jets more than the Giants, and I've been a Net fan since they had Julius Erving".
If he couldn't be a musician, Joe says "I'd be an actor." But Samuel L. Jackson needn't lose any sleep, Joe's commitment to music is total. And his passion isn't just confined to jazz. Ask him about Bettye LaVette, and he'll speak about this great "forgotten diva". Try him on Bjork and he'll tell you he "likes her music and her style". He'll listen to the most minimal Detroit techno of Monobox (aka Robert Hood). "It's all music. I wish there weren't the divisions between, say, hip hop, salsa, world music etc." It's doubtful there's a more rounded musician in New York.
Speaking of New York, Joe is one of surprisingly few jazz musicians actually born in the city, though most make the trip eventually. "I love New York... Saying that, and the fact that I've been there most of my life is all the more reason why I would love to live somewhere else ! I would like to live in Paris, or possibly Amsterdam or Copenhagen. The avant garde seems to get more notice than it does here, but the fact that I don't speak the respective languages would stop me. That gets me to think the U.K. would be more feasible. In the U.S., California might be an option, but I was disappointed in the jazz scene there."
It seems unlikely Joe could ever leave New York. He has a voracious appetite for music. Not just playing, but attending concerts and gigs. He could be seen at most of the recent Vision Festival. And, of course, he listens to records. His current favourites include "a lot of 60's Miles Davis, new stuff from Sonny Rollins, Gary Bartz, Antonio Hart, Roy Hargrove, James Carter, and George Adams. I also love Arthur Blythe's sound and ideas."
As far as his own music is concerned, the different approaches he uses, depending on whom he is playing with, are a constant stimulus. "The contrast of playing spontaneously [with Milford], and playing a more structured format is something that I really like. I don't hardly think of myself as a be-bopper, but one of my favourite play-along Jamey Aebersold books is a Tadd Dameron volume that I really enjoy playing. That is full of be-bop, and I find my alto sax can handle the up-tempo tunes. The tenor is ok, but the alto is faster. I do think that the fact I like to play both [free and structured] is, or could be, a way of critics saying I don't really have a definite style. But I feel that kind of [open] approach to my music. And playing with Johnny Copeland made me really appreciate, and like to play, the blues".
"I am trying to develop my own sound. I've always concentrated on [having] my own sound. It comes from playing alongside Bill Barron, Arthur Doyle, David S. Ware, Pharoah and a few others I'm forgetting ; Carlos Ward and Carlos Garnett too."
Moving on to recent events, "I'm trying to get a working group that are willing to stick together through thick and thin, much like David S. Ware's quartet. It won't be easy, but I'm optimistic. I've played a couple of gigs with Roy Campbell. One was the closing of CBGB's jazz series. I also played with a quartet of Ted Daniel on trumpet, Ken Filiano, bass and Lou Grassi, drums. We had a few gigs. I want to add a piano. Then I went to Florida to play on a cruise ship. I belong to a web-site, Musicians Contact, and I was contacted on a trial basis by a cruise line. But they want you to sign a six month contract... that's out of the question."
"I came back just in time to fly to London and play with Steve Reid at a club called Cargo. The gig went well. We were warmly accepted by a primarily 20's to 40's age group. That comes right behind a Newport Jazz Festival performance with Milford Graves in 1968, and a Bard College gig with Beaver Harris, Dave Burrell and Jimmy Garrison as my most memorable performance ever. I guess I prefer performing in concerts, but in November 2005 with Steve we toured the UK playing rock clubs, and that was a very positive experience. We played on a couple of occasions for more than 1200 people. I'll be in Porto and then Milan with Steve, and he's planning a trip to Africa in the fall."
"I'm working with a pianist, Chris Chalfant, playing with a trio of Ken Filiano and Lou Grassi, a singer who has a recording contract, and Milford. I'm also working with Rashid Bakr's group with Mark Hennen. Roy Campbell and I have talked about playing some more together, but that hasn't happened so far. I'm also playing with drummer William Hooker's group. I might even be doing some things with Cecil Taylor, who I saw recently. And there's my own group, which now looks like being Charles Eubanks on piano, Hill Green, bass and Warren Smith, drums. Maybe there'll be a trumpet too. I've just had a rehearsal with Ted Daniel and Charles. It went well. I'm going to rehearse my group at a studio run by Nasheet Waits, who went to school with my oldest son."
All that says that there could be a couple of recordings this year. "For quite a while, I've wanted to present my own music, but I haven't found the right opportunity. My success would be to be able to be heard. I just found out that there is a record on Utech of a performance I did at the Stone in January. This is an unauthorized recording as far as I'm concerned, since I didn't know it was happening. It was with Ras Moshe. You might have trouble telling us apart. Ras has just appeared at the latest Vision Festival, and I wish him well. He seems to be on his way, and I feel very good for him."
It would seem, after all these years that Joe must have a lot more than one recording in him. "I've written a few new tunes. You know I'll have to do one [recording] focussing on the New Music. And definitely a blues. I absolutely love ballads and standards. I would love a live recording. I'm okay with focussing on all my instruments. The baritone and the piccolo are the horns that I don't have as much confidence as I do in the others. I try to practice every day. I keep a record so I don't neglect any of my instruments. I'm also working with all these different groups. Right now, I think my music is stronger than ever."
In conclusion, Joe wanted to say "what sustains me both artistically and personally is that through my life, I've had people who have shared their love with me, not necessarily in a romantic sense, but that helps too. Love is what propels us all. That has kept me going, and will in the future. I have never given up hope in a musical sense. The artistic achievement I feel best about is in the future, but I am very glad to have my health and my ability to play the music that I love. I am a strong individual, and I thoroughly believe in my ability to reach people musically, and I will do that."
"My ultimate goal as an artist is to play music that makes the listener want to hug the person next to him or her and tap their feet. If everyone were exposed to music, I do believe the healing aspects of music could take over our doubts and fears. The bottom line is that people can save people... We just have to want it, but war is big business, at least in the United States."
"I want to lead my own groups, playing music that I choose, but also open for any of the band members with their input. I want the public to know that I am a survivor and a world-class musician who needs to be heard."
BELOW THE RADAR
Joe Rigby's first gig of the new decade was an intriguing one. On the bill at the Brecht Forum was young saxophonist Ras Moshe's group including cellist Joel Freedman who brought the sound of strings to Albert Ayler's music back in the day. Then there was Giuseppi Logan's Ensemble, another small step in the return of the multi-instrumentalist from a near 40 year absence. Finally there was the reappearance of Chris Capers, one-time trumpeter with the Arkestra and close friend of John Coltrane. Now playing oboe, clarinet, and a just-purchased French horn, and supported every step of the way on his return by another old friend from back in the day, Joe Rigby. "My association with Chris goes back to the 60's. We played in many groups together. There were so many places to play, that you had gigs, jam sessions, rehearsals, and just a positive atmosphere to learn and grow as a person, and as an artist. Chris and I go back, as do Steve Reid and I, and also Milford Graves.... a long time."
Joe, himself, has never really been away from the music. And this little concert was an example of the determination and resilience of these men who were part of the jazz revolution in the 1960's. The essence of the avant-garde isn't just the ability to break the rules, but also the openness to accept and absorb everything that's happened before as well. And if anyone has demonstrated the universality of this music, it's Joe. As he says, "the avant-garde is a lot more mainstream than we ever thought it would be. World music is finally getting its due respect. A mix of everything is what's happening. Steve Reid's ensemble was trying to bridge world music and the so-called avant-garde." Joe's most frequent work in recent years was with the recently deceased and much missed drummer who brought his rhythm mix and world view to a young and enthusiastic audience. Many of whom must have wondered just who was this rockin' rollin' amiable looking saxophonist lighting up the music.
Joe's most recent recordings took place in November 2009 in Scotland, following a gig with Steve's Ensemble at London's Jazz Cafe. He wanted to play with some local musicians, though this proved a little harder to arrange than first imagined. Plans to use an experienced bebop pianist and then an Angolan bongo player both falling through. So Joe duly recorded solo, and at the end of the date engineer Kenny MacLeod casually asked if he would be interested in playing with a (bag)piper.
Two nights later, two young musicians shuffled into Dundee's Showcase the Street studio. While Scotty Duncan put together his drum-kit, Calum MacCrimmon assembled his pipes and asked Joe what he should play. Joe replied "Hit it. Play whatever you feel. You follow me and I'll follow you. Just hit it." The tapes rolled and the rest is history. At the end of the first piece Calum,exhausted from continuous blowing, had to switch to penny whistle. Though he did express astonishment at how his severe hangover had miraculously vanished. The session proceeded, percussionist Billy Fisher arrived, and the spontaneous communication continued, with Calum returning to the pipes for the third and last segment. An hour after it began, the music reached a natural conclusion. The pipes subsided, everyone grinned and slapped hands. They had created something fresh, something different.
Of course, way back in 1973, Rufus Harley had played with Sonny Rollins. But this was a Scottish piper. Calum stands to become "12th. Hereditary Piper to the Chief of the MacLeods", no small distinction in the piping world. This is the real deal. World music if you like, but not as you've heard it before. This was also the very essence of jazz, musicians from diverse backgrounds coming together as one, to create new music. "It was a joy to play with an authentic bagpiper like Calum, whose family tradition goes back years and years. The combination of instruments didn't pose any problem. When you're playing with instruments and instrumentalists that you don't come in contact with normally, just play, and let your God-given talents take over."
Joe's love of music began very young. "There was a piano in the house when I started taking lessons at the age of 6. My father played it sometimes. He was self-taught, and could play boogie woogie very well. I remember he was into Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Meade Lux Lewis. There was also a lot of blues. Got to mention Louis Jordan too. He was very popular in the Black community when I was growing up. The first music I remember hearing was 'Open the door Richard'. Both my Mom and Dad encouraged me to get involved with not only music, but also dance. I had tap dancing lessons at an early age. The golden age was happening in Harlem. There was music everywhere. There were clubs all over, including Minton's. There seemed to be a club that had live music almost on every block in the Sugar Hill section that I grew up in. Dad and Mom loved music. My first live experience was hearing Billy Eckstine's band and Fletcher Henderson. I think it was at the Harlem Renaissance, and I was too young to be there, but Dad knew someone, and I kept a low profile drinking Coca Cola. Most of my early going to hear music was with my Mom, because Dad was a waiter on the Pennysylvania railroad, and was gone for days at a time. Mom was the one. Music was everywhere, in the clubs, on the radio, i guess in the juke boxes too, although I didn't get into that until the R&B days of my teens. Doo wop, singing groups just about everywhere. The Drifters, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, the Valentines, Louis Lymon and the Teenchords, the Harptones, the Channels, the Paragons all were within earshot. I was also aware of the modernists like Sonny Rollins, Jackie McLean, Kenny Burrell, Johnny Hodges, King Curtis. A lot of famous artists lived in Sugar Hill. Duke Ellington and a lot of his band members were there, as was Count Basie, before he bought a house in Queens, so it was a fertile neighbourhood to be exposed to the arts. I wouldn't trade the era that I grew up in for anything."
Joe, who was born on September 3, 1940, was very close to his parents and very precious to them. "The fact that I lived after being only 3lbs 4 ounces at birth was their main source of pride". Joe's roots are partly caribbean. "My Dad didn't speak too much about Haiti. I know he left when he and his elder brother were very young. He had a group of friends he would get together with, but to my knowledge he was glad to be in the US. He was very aware politically , as was my Mom. I don't know if he was a follower of Marcus Garvey, but I grew up being very conscious of who he was , and his importance in the community." Brought up in an atmosphere of positivity, Joe avoided the down-side of the busy music scene. "I came from a strong family unit, and I don't ever remember being even slightly induced to try hard drugs by the neighbourhood elder musicians, so it wasn't hard to avoid at all. The whole community was responsible. There was a lot of support, period. A lot of very good artists never received national attention, but in the 'hood they were legends."
"In the inner city schools, there were mostly drum corps, if there was anything at all. You learned an instrument on your own or took lessons at a few music schools that were around like the New York Schools of Music which was located in Harlem, and a number of spots in Manhattan. It was an inexpensive way to learn music. A lot of my neighbourhood friends studied there, when they couldn't afford to study with a private teacher. I studied piano with a Mrs. Fuchs, whose crowning glory was a recital of her students at Town Hall. I was lucky enough to play there 2 years in a row, although I wonder what became of my piano prowess. In grammar school, there were talent shows, but no real musical instruction. That happened in high school, some of which had music departments." It was as a teenager in high school Joe picked up the flute and began playing as a member of the school's marching band and orchestra. "As a music major in college, I studied flute with Paula Robison. She was very tolerant in her approach, and I learned from her that I should concentrate even more on the tenor saxophone." Anders Paulson was a performing saxophonist that I studied with in college. He helped me a lot with my tone, and approach. He encouraged me to perform in front of people, not to practice only for myself. Get those ideas out. There was Harold Jones, an excellent flute teacher, who I learned a lot from, and the Hartnett School of Music in Times Square was a bebop institution, where I studied piano. And later Eric Dolphy turned me on to Garvin Bushel. Unfortunately, I wasn't as serious as I should have been when I studied with him."
But for Joe, the most important school of all, as it was for so many aspiring young musicians was the school of John Coltrane. Of course, he shared his mother's affection for Art Blakey and Horace Silver. But then Miles led to a love for Trane, who Joe caught at every opportunity. "When he left Miles' group, his first gig with his own group was at the Jazz Gallery. My friends caught the first night and came back raving about Trane and his playing the soprano sax. The next night I caught him and I was blown away." So began Joe's love affair with the soprano and then the entire saxophone family. "Eric Dolphy, Roland Kirk is definitely an influence. The avant-garde brought in a lot of musicians who played more than one or two instruments. There are quite a few dynamite multi-instrumentalists out there." And Joe's affection for Trane's music through all its changes never faltered "because all his groups had an identification that covered their own particular period of time".
Joe's experiments weren't just confined to woodwinds. "A bass was available at college, so I tried playing it for 2 semesters. I lived in Greenwich Village at the time, and I was going to the College of Staten Island, so I would lug the bass on the ferry, sometimes along with the saxophone. I was a liability during rush hour on the subway getting to the ferry. Though maybe I should have stuck with it, bass players always work !" But the saxophone took precedence. "I felt it would be an extension of my flute playing at first. It did become evident that the sound factor, being so much louder than the flute, was the early hook that made the tenor sax in particular so intriguing." Over time Joe developed an enormous sound and unique tone. And he needed it to stand beside such powerful figures as Bill Barron, David S. Ware, Pharoah, Arthur Doyle. "For years I started each practice with long tones on all the instruments I played. I also love a vibrato. I'm sure I was influenced by Albert Ayler, and Sidney Bechet on the soprano. Age has a very defining way of changing an embouchure. Physical changes, life changes, all temper my sound. It just happened that way." Joe absorbed all the new sounds. He was an early witness to the cosmic explorations of Sun Ra. "I worked as a waiter at the Cafe Bizarre on Bleeker Street. A friend got me the job. The Arkestra was playing great music. John Gilmore, Pat Patrick, Marshall Allen were all there every Sunday night for about three months. Sometimes they were in regular clothes, sometimes in space outfits."
"Listening to music. Playing music. Gradually it all came together. When I started to realize that I was a better musician than I'd ever dreamed I'd be, and the learning process was slowly turning into actual fruition. I could compete with other musicians, and hold my own, and sometimes excel. That was the product of jam sessions and rehearsals with my peers. Rehearsals can be so important, whether there are gigs or not. When I was growing up, there was a band that rehearsed about five or six times a week. My father knew most of the musicians, and I remember him telling me that they didn't gig every night, but just got together to play, and perform compositions that the individual members had written. That's what it's all about."
Gigs could be a decisive influence too. Joe took his friend Milford Graves, with whom he'd played in Latin emsembles, to hear John Coltrane. And Elvin Jones altered Milford's life forever. He took up trap drums and never looked back, becoming a key figure in the New York avant-garde scene. After a brief period in the limelight he returned to making music in the community with an explosive group featuring, variously, Joe and two more saxophonists, Hugh Glover and Arthur Doyle, and trumpeter Arthur Williams. They played venues large and small throughout Brooklyn and Harlem, in the open, at political functions during the heady years of Black Power and hope. "Milford is a very strong person, and playing with him was a lesson in being yourself, and not worrying or even being concerned with what others think or do. It's what you do that's important. Milford believes that you should be compensated for what you are doing, not only in music, but in life. The Black consciousness movement was very necessary, and a long time coming. I feel that the music might have been a close second to the actual art of protest. Music was the element that fused thoughts and processes that were so necessary at that time. I feel at some point(s) that music indeed was the movement. It was a great time to be on the planet." Times may have changed, some dreams have not come to pass but, as Joe says "the music is always dependable, through the years." Hope lives on.
A second important association of Joe's was with another drummer, Steve Reid, "who often had some of the best musicians playing in his basement. Some of the artists were Pharoah Sanders, George Cables, Charles Tyler, and a lot of very good musicians that lived in the borough of Queens. Talking about Steve's basement, that's where I met the members of the Master Brotherhood. Arthur Williams, Ahmed Abdullah, Les Walker, Joe Falcon and, of course, Steve. The Master Brotherhood was a union of some young, up and coming musicians, and 'Nova' (released on Mustevic and more recently SoulJazz) is not representative of the Brotherhood experience. It's not bad, but as is the case with many bands, the live experience is what's happening. That was the case with the Brotherhood. We rehearsed quite a bit, and we shared a humor thing that made our music happen. We liked each other, and we were having fun." Ahmed remembers the group with fond memories too, "music was really flying, cats were really taking chances. We were very understanding of the fact that what was considered the avant-garde was the music that was dealing with the political and social realities of change, and that was the music we should be experiencing and learning how to develop. We did lots of performances at political rallies, lots of things associated with the Nationalist movement." And Les Walker agrees with Joe, "you should have heard that group live, particularly with the full ensemble of Joe and Mustafa Abdul Rahim on reeds, Ahmed and Arthur on trumpets, Luis Angel Falcon on bass, me on piano and the Farfisa mini-organ, and Steve all over the drums ! That was the golden era of the music we called 'outside'."
Joe remembers one particular gig, where the music made a strong impression. "We were performing at the Countee Cullen library in Harlem, and my Mom got a group of her friends, about eight or ten in all, to come and hear our music. Remember, she was a fan of the Messengers, Horace, Lee Morgan, and after she heard us, I don't think my Mom and I really had a conversation about music ever again, and she never heard me play after that to my knowledge."
But like Milford's groups, the Master Brotherhood, co-led by Steve and Joe, shocking some and exciting others, were functioning well under the radar of the jazz world as represented by DownBeat magazine. Friendships were made in those days that endured through the years. Sadly, Arthur Williams, like Steve is no longer with us, "but Mustafa Abdul Rahim is fine. He looks great, and sounds good, we had a nice gig together not so long ago. I just talked to Les Walker on the phone a couple of days ago. He's in California and doing well. Ahmed Abdullah is the musical director of Sista's Place, which is a good venue for the arts in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Joe Falcon is still playing a mean bass. I played with him about two years ago in a Latin band."
Another enduring friendship is with trumpeter Ted Daniel. Joe's first release 'Praise' on the Homeboy music label is from a rehearsal with Ted, Ken Filiano and Lou Grassi. "It's a good representation of what was happening on that particular day. I think if it could have been a concert situation , it might have been even better. I'm never satisfied, but it was cool." When Joe and Ted rehearse together anything can happen, not just avant-garde. If you heard them playing hard bop, you would wish they could make it happen in public. Their association goes back to Ted's wonderful Energy big band, a dynamite ensemble which also, unfortunately, flew well below the radar. This wasn't the only large ensemble that escaped notice. "Energy was the house band at Rashied Ali's club, Ali's Alley. I remember playing with Pharoah Sanders' big band at Slug's Saloon, that included Frank Lowe, Frank Wright and Benny Maupin. I think Carlos Ward was there. Also a band with drummer Harold Smith, that included Arthur Blythe, Ahmed Abdullah, Chico Freeman, Dewey Redman and a lot of other artists that I will probably omit due to the power of forgetfulness." From within the ranks of Energy, emerged the bare bones of Joe's own group, known as Dynasty. "Marty Cook on trombone played in Ted's band, and we decided it would be a good fit. Later I had the pleasure of working with Joe Bowie, a fantastic musician and a good friend. Dynasty got good reviews across the board, but there were no offers of a recording, so it never happened." As the loft era came towards its end, work dried up, and the promising group couldn't survive.
Joe continued to play where and when he could. When asked if he had any musical regrets, apart from not recording, he could only think of one. "I had a chance to go with Cecil Taylor when he was artist in residence at Antioch College, but my wife was pregnant with our first son and I wound up not going. I don't regret it, but it would have been interesting to go. Jimmy Lyons was there."
Over the years, Joe has had to take many jobs to support his family. Some for a short while, some a little longer, including a 13 year stint as a school music teacher. "Whenever I had a gig or a rehearsal that was important, I just took off. Bus driving to Atlantic City was good if there were no gigs. The passengers got six hours in the casino. The bus drivers and their buses had to go to a holding lot after dropping the people off., so it was a good time to practice on the bus for a few hours. Teaching was good too, since you had off after 3pm, so you could make gigs and rehearsals. The only drag was being tired that next day." Incidentally, Joe's first group may have been called Dynasty, But his four sons have not followed him musically. "Each of them has played a musical instrument at some point, but they're all into other types of expression. Hassan was the first trombonist in the Mount Vernon high school band. The school was known for its basketball team, so he got to travel with the team and see the USA. My other sons played in high school bands, without much fanfare."
Joe's love of music isn't confined to the avant-garde. Beside his love of John Coltrane, if you ask Joe his favourite trumpeter, he will unhesitatingly reply "Lee Morgan", and for alto sax he will name "Charlie Parker and Jackie McLean". So it's no surprise Joe has played the occasional bop and hard bop gig, and "yes, I did play with a few mainstream groups as well. I want to be able to express myself in all kinds of music." Not just jazz. A gig on a cruise liner out of Miami where "the music was played straight, but every once in a while I'd have room to improvise on maybe the last tune for the night. I've played in disco bands, and backed up a few singers. Playing funk is ok with me." Joe appreciates the contributions made to popular music by innovators from James Brown and Jimi Hendrix to Michael jackson. "It's all music."
There were sideman gigs here and there, but the principal focus was always on developing his own sound, be it on tenor sax, alto, soprano, sopranino or baritone. Not forgetting his flute and piccolo either. Each horn with its own character and feel. Joe's sound has been described as "spiritual, even religious", terms he is a little uncomfortable with, but he will admit there are many occasions when the music "takes off" and levitates, transcending the normal. "I've been in that situation many times, when the music had mystical properties, and was extremely overpowering."
One recent association Joe has really enjoyed is playing with Sabir Mateen's orchestra. "He doesn't use manuscript paper, and has graphs indicating the notes but it seems to work. The gigs went well. The music was powerful and serene. The trick is to see if Sabir can keep this band together. 17 musicians is a big undertaking. It was great playing with his band, and especially being a part of the today scene in the new music with some young musicians like Ras Moshe, Darius Jones, Sabir, Matt Lavelle and others." Joe represented the older generation along with Ted Daniel, and another legendary saxophonist from below the radar, Will Connell Jr. Astonishingly their paths hadn't crossed for more than 30 years ! "But it's always good to play. Everyone learns from each other. That's the beauty of music. Thank goodness they don't throw you under the bus when you age. In private industry that would be your butt, but even that's changing. People are realising that you don't have to be young to be a burner. If you take care of yourself mentally and physically, the sky is the limit."
Now Joe has retired from teaching, he is trying to focus on his own music. In rehearsals and the gig with Chris Capers, Joe thought "the rhythm section is smokin'". It was Chris Sullivan on bass and Michael Wimberly on drums. For piano, Joe enjoyed playing with Walden Wimberley, and would love to use Boris Netsayev, who played keyboards with Steve Reid. "Boris is fantastic. His lady is first violinist with the Hamburg symphony," so he spends most of his time in Europe. Then a duo gig with Billy bang's pianist Andrew Bemkey went like a dream, so Joe's hopes are coming together. "My whole direction is a quartet, I would only add another horn if it was the right fit. Hopefully in the near future we will go into a studio, or record a gig."
Of course, many times in the past, Joe has played with another sax in a small group. Hugh Glover with Milford Graves, Mustafa Abdul Rahim with the Master Brotherhood, Bill Barron with Ted Curson to name a few. "When it's happening, it's great. But there ain't no guarantees, it could be a bust." Sabir Mateen, Daniel Carter, Ras Moshe and Joe played together for an Albert Ayler tribute and there was talk of a saxophone choir with Hugh Glover, Charles Gayle and maybe even Arthur Doyle added, but in the end, the money wasn't strong enough, and it came to nothing.
Joe is at a good point at the moment. There's been a big change in his life. In October 2007 he played only spirituals in a chuch in Philadelphia with his old friend from Dynasty days, Jerome Hunter, on bass. Mrs. Hunter brought her friend Harriet along, and introduced her to Joe. The happy couple are now married, and Joe has relocated from the Big Apple to the City of Brotherly Love. "Harriet is a classical pianist, and she's progressing nicely." Joe has added to his musical arsenal with a zurna and a ney from Turkey, but is not yet ready to unleash them on the public. He has no time for regrets, "I know some things that may have made a difference, but I very much believe that you should accept whatever happens in your life as a gift and an experience. The future of jazz is very bright. The young musicians are fantastic, and it's good to see how diverse the artists are. We're gonna be alright."
Since these interviews, Steve Reid has sadly passed away.
The Ensemble made a final studio recording and "live" dvd, but these remain unreleased. Joe's music itself continued to develop, although opportunities for live performances became extremely limited. Plans were afoot to do more recording, with no shortage of exciting ideas.
Re-uniting Joe and Hugh Glover for the ultimate spiritual out sound. Joe and Ted Daniel together, maybe exploring hard bop.
Unfortunately, the spirit was there but Joe's health slipped and he passed away on July 16th 2019 after a number of operations.
Joe is survived by his wife Harriet, and his four sons, Chris, Kenny, Hassan and Jordan.
A TRIBUTE FROM CALUM MACCRIMON
About 8 years ago Scott Donald (Man’s Ruin, Laki Mera, Funkin Idiots) rang up and got me involved in a jam session with an American born Sax player that had some ‘days off’ in Dundee, Scotland. He wanted to jam with a local piper. As it happened I was in town and pretty much free that evening, so I popped along to Showcase the Street.
Upon arrival, I was introduced to Roy Morris who acted as Mr Rigby’s UK agent, and then to a very mild mannered and undeniably ‘cool’ older gentleman, this was Joe. I could see there were mics set up already, and in respect of his readiness to play, I cautiously asked Joe what key we would like to start off in, or what kind of feel or line we could use as a starting point. To this Joe said, “We’ll just do whatever happens man, its gonna be great." I confided that the pipes are a relatively limited instrument, they don’t offer much harmonic or dynamic range – at which point he came close to me put a hand on my shoulder and said “It’s cool man, we’ll just play and see where it goes”. I need to confess that these words gave me little comfort but I loved his vibe and we promptly got the instruments pieced together.
The ‘jam’ was actually a live studio session. The team being Joe Rigby (saxes and flute), myself (pipes), Scotty Donald (kit) and Billy Fisher (percussion). Our improvised collaboration was intended for Joe’s new album ‘For Harriet’ a three track record with literally no planning and tons of musical recklessness. I was in the company of an untamed jazz god, initially dipping and diving through curious musical motifs before inevitably attacking my senses with every possible tone, squawk, squeak and scream that the sax could achieve.
This was (thankfully) not my very first encounter with free jazz. I took part in a music retreat organised by Hands Up For Trad in 2009 called Distil. We had a mixed bag of mentors on the course, one of whom was a free jazz bassist called Simon Fell. An incredible musical mind, his sessions on improv’ gave me at least a slight foothold on how to approach and interact with improvisation of this level.
Don’t get me wrong, I was absolutely out of my depth! This was a high speed train. Joe had been riding this train for quite some time and I simply hopped on the back at the last minute. Clinging on for dear life as we hurtled down a dark and twisting track… I did my best to grow in the moment, stretching and reacting to Joe’s flare and fearless experimentation in music.
Perhaps one of the lighter moment’s from ‘For Harriet’ would be helpful as a reference: SEE VIDEO BELOW
I think the world of free jazz is, to many folk, an enigma…for some it might even be a complete unknown.
That evening in a back street studio of Dundee, I danced around the edges of an endless landscape of possibility. I wasn’t sure how to play, where to go, or how to feel…But, perhaps that is the aim of this rare art form? A place where everything meets nothing, a musical exorcism, a release from the self in some way. It was somehow all of these things and I often think back on the session, wondering how I would respond to that musical exchange today…and how many journeys Joe took throughout his long and inspirational career.
As a slightly older musician today, I enjoy reassessing what my musical limits and tastes might be? At what point do things become ‘too much’ for me? When do I feel the urge to stop or incentive to ‘hold back’? My musical outlook is certainly a lot broader thanks to the late, mild-mannered gentleman of jazz, Joe Rigby.
Rest in peace Joe.