Save the Date: July 14
Concert of Colors at the Scarab Club
Featuring RJ Spangler’s Kuumba
Often there is something special about communities attached to waterways and the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood is no exception. Located on the extreme northeast side of Detroit, as this is being written in 2017, like so much of the city, it is undergoing a rejuvenation. But in the late 1970s there was a special energy in Jefferson-Chalmers that was unique to the city. It attracted creative people from all over and it was at 256 Ashland that Kuumba was formed by RJ Spangler and myself. Kuumba was a culmination of the jazz, Latin and African music we were hearing live and on record. Most notable among our influences were Sun Ra, Abdullah Ibrahim, Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, Tito Puente and The Art Ensemble of Chicago on the national/international scene and Griot Galaxy, Roy Brooks, Tribe & CJQ on the local scene. Another big influence on us was the New York Loft Scene and its self-determination movement that was mirrored in Detroit by bassist Shoobedoo at his Space Pad on Avery in the Woodbridge neighborhood. Against this backdrop, we started to build our band, something that was made easier by the number of talented musicians who lived close by, many within walking distance.
Back when we were in our early 20s, we learned how to play this music by practicing, listening to records and occasionally taking private lessons from the local masters. Jazz in college was just getting started and there was no YouTube so if you wanted to learn about it, you met and watched the greats that came through town as well as the greats lived in town. Often, Rick and I would drive to Toronto or Chicago to experience those that influenced us. It was an era of Afrocentric music and you had to prove that you were serious. My uncle Bud was the part of Strata and the Tribe collectives and was also broadcaster on WDET. He had a profound influence upon me. Rick mentioned the self-determination movement and John Sinclair taught us much of that.
At the loft of our friend Shoobedo, we met trumpeter Musa Abdul Malik & it turned out he lived right down the street. A contemporary of his, saxophonist Jabbar Clarington moved into our house and started writing arrangements and compositions. My friend, the bassist Mike Hollis lived a block over and his 15-year- old brother, Akunda joined us on congas. A master in the making already. My roommate Bob White brought over a young trumpeter that he had met at a party a few blocks away, James O’Donnell, age 16. Rick & I were 20. These men have been my musical brothers for my entire adult life. Such was the confluence of events back in the Jefferson-Charlmers neighborhood of the 1970s. Sulé, Fred Bergman, James "Blood" Cain, Tbone Paxton, Tim Mitchem, Dave Springer, Mike Cazabon, they were all there back in the day. Musa & Jabbar are now gone and we dedicate this music to their memory. I think that all of us look back at that time with great fondness. We were lucky to have gone through that together.
-RJ Spangler, Winter, 2017
We want to thank Ron Alpern, John Sinclair, Frank & Peggy Back, Gary Laehn, Jon Worrell, Maurice Greenia Jr and we’d like to remember our friends, Reginald Fields, aka “Shoobedo” as well as Faruq Z. Bey.