DRAM and Sound American Celebrate American Trumpeter and World Music Pioneer, Don Cherry

Posted on Thursday, December 17, 2015

From Sound American Editor, Nate Wooley:

What is it about Don Cherry that made him able to sound so utterly unique while framing saxophonists as iconic as John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins in a sort of light they would never quite experience again? That was the question I wanted to tackle, but as the first interviews—meant to simply provide a back story for the grand thrust of this issue—began to take shape, it became clear that the influence of the man was not going to be contained in such a simple and limited question.

At the very least, it is essential to look at his career as an arc in the same way we may view Miles Davis and his many stylistic periods. Cherry was as radical in his changes as Davis, if perhaps more quiet about it. His own music could hardly be called a foray into the music of other cultures and traditions, because it doesn’t exist only as a passing interest or surface level exercise. Instead, he absorbed the music of Africa and the Middle East, and what came out was something that had inflection and influence but no sense of artificial fusion. His music has this quality because, as all of the interview subjects who had met Cherry have stated in their own way, to him all music is music.

This issue’s initial interviews and articles all tangentially answer the original question of how Cherry affected those early 1960s recordings, but always through the lens of this broader philosophy. Percussionist Hamid Drake, who played in the trumpeter’s last bands, talks about Cherry’s freedom with his musicians and his ability to “orchestrate his individual voice into any situation.” Cornetist Graham Haynes tells stories about Cherry’s giving spirit and citizenship of the world. William Parker, in conversation with special guest contributor Jeremiah Cymerman, paints a picture of the Lower East Side of the 1970s in which Don Cherry was a constant, open, and friendly presence.