[JPL] Detroit jazz and avant scenes lose icon in passing of Faruq Z. Bey

Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Sun Jun 3 23:08:41 EDT 2012


Detroit jazz and avant scenes lose icon in passing of Faruq Z. Bey
June 2, 2012
By W. Kim Heron

Faruq Z. Bey, local legend and icon of avant garde music in Detroit, has 
died after years of emphysema and other ailments. A friend who spoke to 
Bey regularly last heard from him Thursday and was unable to reach him 
on Friday. Her concerns lead to other friends entering his residence 
with police on Saturday and finding that he had died.  The cause of 
death has not been determined. He was around 70 years old.

Bey was the leader of the group Griot Galaxy, a sprawling group into 
which dozens of musicians fell in and out between 1972 and the time it 
stabilized mid-decade and slowly distilled to a classic quintet around 
1980. With saxophonists Bey, Tony Holland and David McMurray, drummer 
Tani Tabbal and bassist Jaribu Shahid, the group donned silver face 
paint and African garb, dubbing themselves a science fiction band. The 
name harkened to the African traditional bearers of tradition and 
history, on one hand, and ... the reaches of space and the future, on 
the other.

While they were clearly rooted in the jazz avant garde -- in artists 
like John Coltrane, Sun Ra and the Art Ensemble of Chicago -- the 
members of Griot Galaxy were extending that tradition in their own 
voices and in their collective sound. In fact, with their theatric edge 
and their penchant for hypnotic, layered rhythm, they were an avant 
garde group for people who didn't particularly like the avant garde, or 
maybe even jazz. They were one of a kind. Sorry if that's a cliché. But 
they really were.

The group made only a few recordings and was little known beyond Detroit 
when Bey was involved in a near-fatal motorcycle accident. The group 
dissolved rancorously in the aftermath, but in the ensuing years, Bey 
slowly returned to playing.

By the early 2000s, his music career entered a new phase, leading his 
own groups and collaborating with others, particularly the Northwoods 
Improvisers, with whom he did at least  nine records. Griot Galaxy had 
released only two vinyl records back in its hey day, although the 
release of live Griot tapes from the Detroit Institute of Arts in 2003 
made the group's music available on CD for the first time.

Bey had been in ill health for years, his oxygen and breathing apparatus 
a constant companion. The news of his passing still came as a shock, a 
blow. Several generations of Detroiters spoke of hm in terms that had an 
element of reverence for what he had achieved and represented. The "end 
of an era," lamented one friend and admirer who had followed his career 
back to the early 1970s at Cobb's Corner.

There'll be more later. And for those who have memories or thoughts, 
please add them below.

In the meantime, here's a 2003 profile of Bey and a blog that riffed 
from the earlier piece.

Update: Jim Gallert forwarded this link to an hour-long Detroit 
JazzStage podcast from 2006 featuring an interview with Faruq along with 
his music and poetry. More links: Griot Galaxy discography. Discs with 
Northwoods Improvisers.

Update: Sesheta Hanible, a longtime friend of Faruq's, and Jim Gallert 
both confirm Faruq's date of birth as Feb. 4, 1942. Hanible wrote in an 
e-mail: "As the news swirl around the community, there are people 
working on services. ... Faruq was very private. I hope that everyone 
take a moment or more and listen to his music, read a poem of his and 
remember the gifts that he has shared with all of us. " We'll share 
details as they become available.

Dr. Jazz
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