Pheeroan akLaff

b. January 27, 1955

Pheeroan akLaff has great memories of his childhood in Detroit, Michigan. He enjoyed the sounds of his elder brother, Eric, practicing to be a concert pianist, the Jazz legends in concerts halls, and the live performances of the many artists of Motown. His parents prepared him to appreciate a wide spectrum of music. His desire to perform music professionally was driven by sensing the power of music as a catalyst for collective transformation. His concern with national decline grew with the Detroit 1967 riots, the King and Kennedy assassinations and losing his cousin to the Vietnam War. These impressions led him towards activism, and the musicians who articulated responses to such in their work. His High School days as an influential student organizer of the Free Angela Davis committee, a member of the Pan-African Congress, and listener of John and Alice Coltrane was encouraged by his famed Detroit teacher Chester Littlejohn.

His studies of Speech and Drama at Eastern Michigan University were supplanted by independent study of drums and relocation to New Haven, Connecticut. He honed his skills there with ensembles that included Dwight Andrews, Nat Adderly Jr., Jay Hoggard, Wes Brown, Mark Helias, Ed Cherry, Mark Dresser, Wayne Boyd, the Rozie Brothers, the Buster brothers and several musicians from the area. On the most auspicious occasion he played with Bill Barron, substituting for Ed Blackwell at Wesleyan University.

It was Pheeroan akLaff’s work with Wadada Leo Smith and subsequently with Oliver Lake, Anthony Davis, Michael Gregory, Henry Threadgill, and others that paired him with the New York avant-garde of the late 1970's. He moved to New York and established recognition for his ability to articulate a wide range of musical genres.

By 1981 he had the opportunity to perform and reside in West Africa. He worked with the Marie Rose Guiraud Dance Company in Abidjan, Cote D'Ivoire, and explored urban popular music with Frank T. Fairfax, and Fela Anikulapo Kuti in Lagos, Nigeria.

His New York career introduced him to the opportunities to work with several performance artists, particularly those dedicated to the spiritual service of their music. His drumming led him to recordings and European tours for a public that sharply contrasted the mainstream.

Throughout the Eighties and Nineties Pheeroan performed and recorded his compositions for quartet, quintet, and solo oratorio. He has been profiled by publications in the United States, Canada, Germany, Finland, India, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Japan and Australia.

He was a recipient of the New York Foundation for the Arts award for music composition in the year 2000. His teaching affiliations include; Wesleyan University, Elisabeth Irwin High School, and New School University, He is a founder of Seed Arts Inc. a non-profit organization for the promotion of healing arts and international awareness. He is an Advisory Board member of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn.

Special Music Performances of Pheeroan akLaff Ensembles

  • Columbia University 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003
  • Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, Australia, 1996
  • Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan 1994, 2004
  • Willisau Jazz Festival, Switzerland 1993
  • Nurnberg Ost-West Festival Germany 1992
  • Moers International New Jazz Festival Germany 1989
  • Sju Festival, Netherlands 1993
  • Middleheim Festival Belgium, 1995
  • Sweet Basil, New York 1985 – 2000

Special Interactive Performances

  • Rob Fisher (sculptor), Dr. Julian Thayer (psycho-physiologist) and Scott Robinson (musician), Carnegie Mellon University S.C.I. 1996, University of Pennsylvania, Central Pennsylvania Arts Festival Bellefonte Pennsylvania Arts Council 1993, 1992, 1991
  • Yosuke Yamashita (author/musician), Sadamsa Montanaga (painter) Iga Ueno City, Japan 1992
  • "X" The Life & Times of Malcolm X, Anthony Davis composer New York City Opera, Premiere 1988
  • Jay Hoggard Group, U.S.I.S.tour of Bangalore, India, Syria, Jordan, Sudan Morocco 1985
  • Henry Threadgill Sextet/Jazz Yatra, Bombay and Delhi, India 1984
  • Oliver Lake and Jump Up Band U.S.I.S.tour of Malawi, Togo, Swaziland, Liberia, and Cote D’Ivoire 1982
  • Marie Rose Guiraud Dance Company, Abidjan, Bouake, Yamossoukro and Korhogo, Cote D’Ivoire 1981
  • Oyamo Charles Gordon, "The Resurrection of Lady Lester (Young)," Manhattan Theater Company 1981, Yale Repertory Theater 1980
  • Jessica Hagedorn (writer), Reggie Life (director), "Mango Tango" New York Shakespeare Festival 1978
  • Ntozake Shange, Thulani Davis, Jessica Hagadorn, "Where The Mississippi Meets the Amazon," New York Shakespeare Festival 1977, 1976

Interactive Arts Workshops

  • Rhythm Adaptation – 1996 – Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne - 1997 Harvard University
  • Frederick Douglass Chronicles - text of Frederick Douglass, music of Pheeroan akLaff, Carver Cultural Center San Antonio, 1996
  • Drum-set Master Classes, The New School University 1991-1992
  • Art and Music Therapy, The Graham Windham Agency, Paul Dunn director, Harlem, New York 1987, 1986

Music Dance and Arts Workshops in Public Schools

  • With Musart Brooklyn 2006, 2005, 2004
  • With Elisabeth Irwin High School 2003, 2004, 2005
  • With Mickey Davidson 1999, 2000, 2001

Selected Discography

Pheeroan akLaff — recordings as leader Brooklyn Waters, Global Mantras, Sonogram, Fits Like a Glove, and House of Spirit: Mirth

Featured on recordings with

  • Oliver Lake Cloth, Live at Willisau, Virtual Reality, Again and Again, The Prophet, Gallery, Clevont Fitzhubert, Impala, Expandable Language, Shine, Life Dance of Is, Holding Together
  • Yosuke Yamashita — Field Of Grooves, Wind of the Age, Canvas In Vigor, Spider, Ways of Time, Dazzling Days, Kurdish Dance, Sakura Live, Sakura, Plays Gershwin, Crescendo
  • Henry Threadgill Makin' a Move, Slippin' Into, Subject to Change, You Know the Number, Just the Facts, When Was That
  • Mal Waldron My Dear Family
  • Geri Allen Maroons
  • Baikida Carroll Door Of The Cage, Marionettes, Shadows and Reflections
  • Don Byron Bug Music, Tuskegee Experiments
  • Anthony Braxton Charlie Parker Project, Live Piano Quartet
  • Marty Ehrlich The Welcome
  • Fred Simmons — Going Forth
  • Craig Harris Shelter
  • New Air Live at Montreal, Air Show
  • Oliver Lake and Jump Up Band Plug It, Jump Up
  • Anthony Davis (Malcom) "X" The Opera, Episteme, Hemispheres, Of Blues and Dreams, The Enemy of Light, Hidden Voices
  • James Newton Romance and Revolution, African Flower
  • Jerome Harris Algorithms
  • Sonny Sharrock Seize The Rainbow, "Live"
  • Carlos Ward Faces, Live At The Bug
  • Jay Hoggard Love Is The Answer, Riverside Dance, Love Survives
  • Rob Reddy Post War Euphoria
  • Mark Helias Desert Blue
  • Amina Cludine Myers Song for Mother E
  • Ray Anderson What Because
  • David Murray — Karmen Gei, Yonn De, Quartet Live
  • Leo Smith Song O Humanity, Spirit Catcher

Print Articles

  • Hot House Magazine, cover article, April 2004
  • Coda Magazine, cover article, July/August 1997
  • Signature Magazine, Japan, Dr. Tekemura interview, April 1996
  • The Sydney Morning Herald, Peter Jordan interview, January 1996
  • The Villager, New York, NY, interview, February 1996
  • Modern Drummer, Noah Howard interview, December 1995
  • Drums Magazine, Japan, interview 1991
  • Marie Claire, Japan, CD review 1990
  • Jazz Podium, Germany 1989
  • Musician Magazine, Ted Drozdowski interview, June 1989
  • RYTMI Magazine, Finland, #9-10 interview, November 1987
  • Modern Drummer, Chip Stern interview, May 1984
  • Midday Times, Bombay, India, interview, January 1984
  • Coda Magazine, Canada, #186 interview, January 1982
  • Ivoire Dimanche Magazine, Ivory Coast, #537 J.S. Bakiono interview, June 1981
  • Ophelia Magazine, Nigeria, Volume 2, Frank Fairfax interview, January 1981