Click here to [close]

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Jemeel Moondoc (1946 - 2021)

 Photo by Michael Wilderman, 2019

The passing of free jazz altoist and band leader Jemeel Moondoc was announced today by Arts for Arts on Twitter. 

Born in August 1946, Jemeel Moondoc will be remembered for his role in the New York jazz loft scene in the seventies, for his singular vision and devotion to jazz. 

Originally from Chicago, he first moved to Boston, then to New York, first performing in R&B and blues bands, picking up courses from different colleges including the New England Conservatory and from Cecil Taylor at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. That period was influential in the sense that Taylor's course also "emphasized the impact of African musical, linguistic, and cultural origins; the African American experience as enslaved peoples in the United States; and Black Christian churches as spaces of resistance before and after the Civil War." (Cisco Bradley, Universal Tonality, 2020)

At NEC, Moondoc created his first ensemble as a leader, Muntu, then a 12-piece band. He then moved to New York where the loft scene was just starting, and where he met William Parker and Rashid Bakr, and together they formed the nucleus of the new band, first with Arthur Williams on trumpet, later with the late Roy Campbell Jr, rehearsing a lot and refining their music. Their first album came out in 1977 and has been re-issued by NoBusiness together with the albums the followed in the Muntu box. This comes highly recommended, not only for its historical value but also because of the quality of the music. 

Moondoc describes the concept in the accompanying booklet: "Muntu is about the transition and survival of an old world culture connected to me by birth. Muntu is about me traveling back centuries into an ancient world known to me only through my ancestors. This connection is spiritual, and embraces the living and the dead. When performing music, the execution of contacting ancestors requires a religious belief. This process can be an outer body experience causing one to be possessed, but can also bring into the room the spirits of ancestors known and unknown. The intent of the performance is not to merely entertain, but to uplift, and awaken the listener’s spiritual powers."(Jemeel Moondoc, “Muntu: The Essay”)

Muntu disbanded after William Parker and Rashid Bakr joined Cecil Taylor's ensemble, and even if that was tough for Moondoc, he continued to perform with Parker in various ensembles, including Parker's own bands, and they released the "New World Pygmies" album as a duo and its follow-up as a trio with Hamid Drake (see video below). 

Afterwards, Moondoc created his own bands, usually a trio, but he released albums with quartets, quintets, tentets and his 'Jemeel Moondoc All-Stars.' 

In his last years, he was member of Steve Swell's 'Fire Into Music' quintet. 

One of his signature compositions was 'Judy's Bounce', which we find back on several albums: on Judy's Bounce (1982), on Quartet Muntu – The Athens Concert (1982) and on We Don't (2003), a duo with drummer Denis Charles. 

Over the last years, he still continued to release new albums, which were always a treat for fans. The last review we wrote about his work, Astral Revelations (2018), also contains his discography. In my personal opinion, his most recommended albums - in my personal opinion - next to the Muntu box two other Muntu releases: The Intrepid - Live In Poland (1981) and The Athens Concert together with Revolt Of The Lawn Jockeys (2000), The Zookeeper's House (2014) and New World Pygmies, Vol. 2 (2002). 

In sum, Moondoc was a significant figure in the development of free jazz, someone with his own vision on music, and with a clear perspective on what his sound could be in this context. 

Even if I never met him personally, he and his bands have offered me hours and hours of musical joy.

Our thoughts are with his family and friends.

- Stef Gijssels


We are also happy to share an interview with Jemeel Moondoc by our colleagues from Burning Ambulance

The video below is from the Vision Festival in 2018 with William Parker and Hamid Drake. 


Lee said...

Thanks for this, Stef. He is a very special and important artist, key to the development of free jazz in the latter half of last century and start of the current one.

Maciek Stanisław said...

What a sad news! :(

The first time I heard about Moondoc was "Nostalgia in Times Square". I got to know the New York loft scene later.
The Muntu set is great, "Nostalgia ..." remains my favorite album.

L.B said...

Jemeel Moondoc lived in the same 5 floor loft building on 36th st. between 5th and 6th that I did in 1976 or around there until we evicted in 1979 after fighting the landlord. Those were the best of times! The building has since been torn down. Now an empty lot.