The world of improvised music was shocked to learn of the passing of master guitarist Bern Nix.
Born in 1950, Nix moved to New York City, and made a living for a while as a guitar teacher. He succeeded James Blood Ulmer in Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time band, and in 1985 formed his own band. In 1993, the band released the album Alarms and Excursions. Nix released solo recordings such as Low Barometer (an acoustic recording), Less is More, and Negative Capability. Nix also performed with Jayne Cortez, John Zorn, Marc Ribot, Elliot Sharp, Jemeel Moondoc, James Chance, Kip Hanrahan, and Roland Shannon Jackson. In recent years, Nix performed regularly at the Vision Festival, and at smaller local venues. He worked with his quartet The Bern Nix Quartet (featuring Matt Lavelle, François Grillot and Reggie Sylvester), Cheryl Pyle’s Beyond Group, and with ensembles led by Ras Moshe Burnett.
In this part of the Jazz and Islam Series, I will provide a perspective on the growth of Islam among American jazz musicians.
Many of the earlier converts to Islam worked at raising money to bring Muslim / Sufi teachers to the USA. Talib Daoud and his wife, singer Dakota Staton (a.k.a. Aliyah Rabia) taught Islam in Philadelphia, PA. She also opened a store in New York City that sold African art and wares, and Islamic books and supplies. An Egyptian man named Sheikh Mahmoud Hassan Rabwan taught Islam and Arabic there. In the New York area a few Muslim owned venues, mostly restaurants, opened that featured musical performances. These included “The East” and “The House of Peace.” Mosques such as the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood used to hold benefit concerts, which featured performers such as Alice Coltrane, and others. Later, a performance venue opened by saxophonist, composer, bandleader, teacher, and mentor Muhammad Salahuddin (1930-2004) called “The University of the Streets” featured performances, workshops, and music instruction.
The approach to improvisation that Ornette Coleman pioneered in the late 1950s and early 1960s rewrote the book on musical improvisation. However, Coleman’s paradigm shift was only the beginning. San Francisco based composer, saxophonist, and musical theorist Hafez Modirzadeh is among the forerunners of a significant transformation in improvised music, picking up where Coleman left off, and taking it into new places.
On the morning of Saturday, June 27th, 2015, I attended jazz legend Ornette Coleman‘s funeral.
It somehow seems inappropriate to write a “play by play” about this event. Sure, I could list those who spoke, sharing beautiful and sometime hilarious anecdotes, or described his genius and influence. I could talk about the beautiful music offered by Pharaoh Saunders, Cecil Taylor, Henry Threadgil, Bachir Attar, Geri Allen, Ravi Coltrane, and others. Somehow, that doesn’t quite work in the context of Ornette.