Yesterday I was shaken by the deaths of two men: Roy Campbell, 61, a musician who expressed himself best on trumpet, flugelhorn and pocket trumpet but also played flute, was an insightful writer, and acted in independent films and plays; and Amiri Baraka, 79, who is best known as an influential poet, playwright and critic but whose use of words as rhythm and color and whose many performances with jazz ensembles counts him as a musician of high order in my book.
That they passed on the same day merely highlights many points of connection—cultural, spiritual and intellectual—regarding their respective arcs of art and life, not to mention one regular spot of physical convergence, Manhattan’s annual Vision Festival. That’s where I saw and heard Baraka, wearing reading glasses and a cardigan sweater, holding a book of his own prose onstage, making the phrase “We were slaves” sound alternately tender and fierce, sad and angry, as set against the thrum of William Parker’s bass. And it’s where I began a friendship I’ll always treasure with Campbell, who played in multiple Vision Fest set most years, sometimes alongside Parker, his dear friend and longtime associate, and often leading his own powerful bands.
It will take me a while to process these passings, and I’m sure to write about each of these men separately to celebrate their distinctive achievements and spirits: They were towering artists and very different men whose warmth, wit and wisdom took often contrasting forms. I suspect I’ll be attending gatherings in each of their honors.
But just now, I want to mark the moment and acknowledge how much both of them taught me about what black music sounds like, why it sounds that way, and what that might mean. I want to share these black-and-white photos by Peter Gannushkin. I want to relay what musicians have told me about Campbell and what Baraka and Campbell have said to me. Continue reading “On the Resonant Voices of Roy Campbell and Amiri Baraka”