Oh, how fondly we remember Dewey Redman and all the Black Arts West Theatre
musicians, San Francisco, 1966. especially Rafael Donald Garrett, bassist, drummer Oliver Jackson,
BJ, Monte Waters and his Big Band, trumpet master Earl Davis who is still with me. Recently Earl performed with me at the Black Arts West Conference, University of California, Merced, Feb-March, 2014. Earl also performed at the Malcolm X Jazz/Arts Festival, Oakland. He was/is part of the Black Arts Movement Poets Choir and Arkestra who closed out the festival produced by Eastside Arts. Below is sax man David Murray and Earl accompanying my reading of Amiri Baraka's classic poem DOPE.
But Dewey, Rafael, Earl, Monte and the other musicians taught us (playwright Ed Bullins, actor Danny Glover, actors Hillery Broadous, Karl Bossiere, Duncan Barber, and Ethna Wyatt (Hurriyah Asar) and Vonetta McGee, et al., who to break free of the Western theatrical form, the main challenge of the Black Arts Movement. How do we transform the Western esthetic and return to the African and Eastern tradition of myth-ritual artistic expression. The musicians taught us how to transcend the script into an improvisational mechanism. They taught us ( and later Sun Ra would expand on the lesson) how to have discipline and freedom simultaneously. They demanded and we gave them free range of the theatre, including stage and audience (which become one in the BAM ritual theatre, ala Baraka, Marvin X, Ed Bullins and Robert McBeth and company at Harlem's New Lafayette Theatre, and of course Barbara Ann Teers National Black Theatre). During our plays, the musicians would appear on stage or enter from the rear, to accent or expand on the script. To help us promote our productions and their concerts, they would play on the street in front of Black Arts West Theatre on Fillmore Street, across the street from Trees Poolhall. Fillmore was bumper to bumper cars mostly with North American African riders. The musicians would play along with the car horns and other street sounds, thus art and reality became one. We are so thankful the musicians showed us the way. Of course, we would meet Sun Ra in Harlem and our world of Black Arts was smashed by the Ra machine or Myth-Science Arkestra. Ra transcended the other musicians with his deep knowledge of African science and esthetics. He took us deeper with his demand for discipline as opposed to freedom. We were born free, he said. "Stop teaching your actors freedom, teach them discipline, there were born free."
What is so wonderful about Dewey Redman is that he gave us his son, Joshua, and the world knows the rest.
photo Doug Harris
photo collage by Adam Turner