Leroy Jenkins: Does Race Matter?

Group Mentality

“Blue” Gene Tyranny: Mutable Music just reissued The Psyche which the Revolutionary Ensemble recorded in 1975. Did you record that here in New York?

Leroy Jenkins: We could have done that in Europe. We’d go places and sometimes people would give us tapes. This tape was evidently a good one…

“Blue” Gene Tyranny: It sounds great …

Leroy Jenkins: At the time, we were flush. I met Sirone at the old Boomers on Bleecker and 10th Street. It was a jazz place.

I was kinda weary of staying at Ornette’s ’cause all I was doing was answering his phone. I was losing my identity there, so I thought I better get out before I turn into Ornette. So I left. He was really gracious. I bolted, ’cause I didn’t know how to be gracious. He recommended the Renaissance Hotel on 11th Street. I had about $500 in the bank. I had this room there and stayed until the money ran out.

My friend Kunle owned the Liberty House on 10th and Bleecker across the street from Boomer’s. Abbie Hoffman just gave it to him. Kunle was working for him. In those days, that’s the kind of things that were going on. So evidently he was leasing the whole building, not just the store but the floors up above. So Kunle said just come on down and I moved there. I worked in his shop. It was a crafts shop where people came in and sold us stuff and we sold it for double. It was really kind of a ’60s thing: incense, rare albums… Cecil Taylor came in and Miles Davis. I remember Miles Davis came in and asked, “This your store?” We used to go across the street to hang out at Boomer’s sometimes. Sunny Murray, the great drummer was there and Sirone was working with him. So I was telling Sirone my philosophy which was the AACM philosophy. We at the time all had a group mentality. No leaders. We thought the leadership thing was corrupting jazz. You could always take one guy and pull him a certain way, but with three guys or four guys, you can’t do that. So we had these co-op groups, and I had been involved with a lot of groups like that starting out with Braxton and Leo

“Blue” Gene Tyranny: That was the Creative Construction Company…

Leroy Jenkins: Sirone liked the idea. He felt the same way. At the time I was rehearsing with a drummer and a guitarist who I won’t mention. They’re not on the scene now so it won’t matter, but I was so frantic I just grabbed the first musicians I could find. Sirone came up and started playing with us. After the rehearsal he said (he called me Lee), “Look here Lee, I like you man, I like the way you play and everything, but those guys, we can’t make it with them. You get rid of those guys, maybe we could do something.” And he was right, so I dissolved the group. Well, not exactly, I told the guitar player I was trying to pull another way…

“Blue” Gene Tyranny: When did Jerome come in?

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Jenkins with Sirone and Jerome Cooper, 1970 (Leroy’s handwritten annotation at top)

Leroy Jenkins: Jerome came to New York from Chicago. He’s maybe 15 years younger that I am, so I didn’t really know him, but he knew about me being here, so he called me up. He came down and he was terrific. That was the biggest find of the year as far as I was concerned. So that’s how we started. Then Sirone got interested and he donated his floor-through apartment on 13th between A and B. That was a drug-infested neighborhood. Sirone’s apartment had gates on windows and everything, ’cause we kept all our instruments there. And he gated everything. You could not get into that place. We rehearsed there from 1971 to 1975, every day. We started 11 o’clock and we stayed till about 5 when his wife Katie came home from work. Everyday except Saturday and Sunday we took off. It was like our job. We did everything together.

“Blue” Gene Tyranny: You can really hear it on the record. The record has some really long improvisations, with solos as well as different combinations. How did that work? Did you plan it?

Leroy Jenkins: We planned everything. We’d run down everything. We figured it was important in this improvisational thing to know where you’re coming from and know where you’re going. That’s how I describe it, because if you know that, in between you’ve got free flight do what you want. You can detour and can go all kinds of ways, ’cause one of these days you’re going to that point we’re you’re through. So that’s the idea of improv. It’s not so free. We don’t have “changes,” but we do know we have a benchmark, or whatever you want to call it, as to where we’re gonna move to when we’re improvising.

“Blue” Gene Tyranny: So within that time it frees you.

Leroy Jenkins: Maybe we wanted the tune to be a certain amount of minutes, so if we go 50 minutes on one section, we know we’re going to have to cut the others. Not cut, but cut down, ’cause we have to do the whole thing. I’m exaggerating ’cause that didn’t happen. Sometimes it did, we overplayed but that was because we were a very spiritual group. When we were improvising, we were one. After we’d get through a rehearsal, we’d reach some points together and it was like getting high. It was really a great period and these guys were fine musicians. Sirone was an excellent bassist and he could play with the bow; and when Jerome played drums, he had a motion and it wasn’t a regular beat…

“Blue” Gene Tyranny: The third piece has a pulse but there isn’t anything you can count. It’s hard to describe.

Leroy Jenkins: I know I have a certain inner beat when I play, so I go my way. And Sirone and Jerome, they go their way. They’re sure I’m gonna go my way and they’re free to do what they want to, no matter what, even on the heads. I’d be going straight ahead with the melody and Jerome would just be hitting all over the place, banging and bopping. I was steady in my direction, so he was able to do that.

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