The Steve Reid Foundation was established by Gilles Peterson in memory of the drummer Steve Reid, who died in 2010. The aims of the foundation are to fundraise on behalf of struggling musicians in need of help and support.
“Steve was a dude!” said Gilles Peterson back in April when he asked me if I could spread the word about his marathon run in aid of the Steve Reid Foundation, which I duly did. I told him that I was really into the idea of the charity, (which currently donates all funds to the Musicians Benevolent Fund here in the UK) and to let me know if there was anything I could do to help.
Then I had the idea of creating some kind of a musical tribute, a version of ‘Lions Of Judah’, whereby all the proceeds would go to the foundation. I mentioned this to Gilles, who said: “Sounds great, let’s do something!”
To those of you who know of me and my Emanative project, it’s obvious that Steve’s music is definitely on my wavelength – he even played a Gretsch kit just like myself. And after recently releasing some records with my good friends at Futuristica Music, as well as rehearsing the full live band and performing the material live, all whilst working to support our three kids - I’m more than aware of the hard work connected with all of this - for everyone involved. But I also know that this is part of the joy of it. And at least we are in a position where we can do this! So it felt like a nice idea to do something to help with this cause.
This quote from Steve shines a bit more light on it:
“But with the musicians it’s mainly periods of not working that causes problems, you know, and a lot of guys don’t have anybody looking out for them as they get older. And then you get these sad stories at the end, you know, about what happened. I just don’t want to go out like Elvin Jones and the other guys. There’s a different way, you know, there’s got to be a different way to... it shouldn’t be a sad story at the end of every jazz musician’s life, you know.”
It was around this time that I came across the details for Ahmed Abdullah, original trumpeter and writer of ‘Lions Of Judah’ who played alongside Steve in The Legendary Master Brotherhood, as well as being a veteran member of the Sun Ra Arkestra!
“And then we have Lions Of Judah which was written by Ahmed Abdullah. He’s one of my favourite composers.” – Steve Reid
I sent Ahmed a message asking his permission to use our version of the track for the purposes of The Steve Reid Foundation and if he’d be up for playing on it? To my surprise I received a reply around maybe an hour later, saying that he was in London holidaying with his family for a few days and that if we could arrange something to fit in around his family’s plans he’d be interested in playing something on it! We spoke the next day and arranged a last minute session for the following day at Wax Recordings, recommended to me only a short while before by Hands On Music. Ahmed had been visiting London every year since he met his wife at Ronnie Scott’s whilst performing with The Sun Ra Arkestra some twenty years ago, and he’d always brought his horn hoping to get a chance to play, but for some reason or other it had never quite happened... until now.
We spoke about the synchronicity of the whole thing and how some things are just meant to happen, and that this was definitely a spiritual thing! Being a Buddhist he saw this as an opportunity to acknowledge the very best of Steve Reid – genius musician and amazing spirit.
He also told us of several other sad stories of jazz musician friends of his whom he’d worked with like Billy Bang and Marion Brown that had also recently passed.
We later spoke of Steve and of the collective known back then as The Legendary Master Brotherhood, and how those records made back then were basically intended to document the music that they performed live with this collective. The chant of “Red Black And Green...” that Ahmed sings on our version was what they used to originally perform live.
He mentioned that the original inspiration for Lions of Judah was the three leaders known by the name. Most importantly in this context was Marcus Garvey who created the Red Black and Green flag for his organization called the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) but there was also Jesus Christ and Haile Selassie, all called by the name Lion of Judah. And he spoke of his belief that three is a very important number in matters of spiritual significance.
All in all, it really was an amazing project with some very generous spirits involved. It was a pleasure and an honour to meet and work with Ahmed Abdullah, to have him bless this project with his composition and performance and to have him help us travel the spaceways. (It was also lovely to get to meet his wife Monique Ngozi Nri and their daughter Tara too.) Robert Strauss at Wax Recordings captured Ahmed’s vibe beautifully; Jessica Lauren tracked down and had repaired a dusty old Farfisa Organ that had been in someone’s loft for 20 yrs like sleeping beauty; Ben Hadwen and Max Grunhard blew the soul outta their horns whilst Nick Haward dropped two b-lines, both electric and upright. And to top it all off, Guy Davie at Electric Mastering ran it through their 70’s EMI desk from Lagos, Nigeria that was used to produce records for Fela Kuti.
Then last but definitely not least came the Re-Edit from Steve Reid collaborator Kieran Hebden aka Four Tet (bounced to tape by Nathan Fake to attain a more vintage sound). Throughout all of this, over in Montreal, Gene Pendon from HVW8 (responsible for the sleeve art for my records) was busy creating this beautiful homage to Steve for the cover, and Made In Earnest have finished it all off with their usual design skills. Huge thanks to everyone who has contributed their art to the foundation’s cause!
“You know, I want to be a force for real good. In other words, I know that there are bad forces, forces put here that bring suffering to others and misery to the world, but I want to be the force which is truly for good.” – John Coltrane