[JPL] Detroit jazz and avant scenes lose icon in passing of Faruq
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
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
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 Operations
Oak Park, MI 48237
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