Prince Lasha's Inside-Outside Story
“ Love has a long tradition...you have to have that in spiritual music, Love. Music is the very song of the universe itself, the symphony that is. The soul of the universe is united by the concord and we recognize ourselves as united by the likeness of music. ”
Alto saxophonist, flutist, composer and multi-instrumentalist Prince Lasha was born in 1929 near Fort Worth, Texas, and came up with Ornette Coleman and Charles Moffett, but his travels have taken him both far away from and nearer to that tree. During the 1960s, after moving to New York from California, Lasha associated regularly with Eric Dolphy and reedman Sonny Simmons, and recorded a slew of sessions throughout the decade with such notable figures as Bobby Hutcherson, Clifford Jordan, Don Cherry, Woody Shaw and countless others. He released two albums of live music from the Berkeley Jazz Festival under his own Birdseye imprint in the middle 1970s, and though he had not recorded as a leader for some time until this year's meeting with the Odean Pope Trio (on CIMP), he has been involved extensively in music and spiritual philosophytoday, the pace of Prince Lasha's "Inside-Outside Story" shows no signs of abating. Writer Clifford Allen has had extensive conversations with Lasha over the past year; what follows is a result of some of their discussions.
All About Jazz: Well, let's start from the beginning. You were born in September 1929 in Fort Worth, right? How did you come to music?
Prince Lasha: My grandfather was a clarinetist from the plantation next to the Johnson Ranch, down in Barnum, near the Oklahoma border. His son was Don Jones, and I wrote a song on The Cry about him; he was a tenor man that was spending a lot of time with Count Basie's band. Herschel Evans and him were very good friends, like Simmons and I. The first time I saw a saxophone was when my mother took me over for a visit with her brother, and I saw this thing lying on the bed, and I thought it was gold! I said "wow, what is that and my uncle took the music stand, set it up, and played Coleman Hawkins' "Body and Soul, all the music, every note. I said "damn and finally said "I got to have one and she said "well, you gotta get a job.
Ornette wanted one at the same time I did (we were both in school) so we both got a job being a waiter at the Texas Hotel for [golfer] Ben Hogan, and every time he'd come in he had ten or twelve guests, so we'd always have the table set. These were the early years, we were waiters, and that's how we bought our first horns. We were early teenagers, just getting into high school after grade school. We bought our saxophones and were going to school, playing in the orchestrawe got kicked out a couple of times, but they always called us back for doing the John Philip Sousa marches. We formed a combo that could work the different nightclubs, and we were making a hundred dollars a week, more than our parents or the schoolteachers. We did that for about two or three years, and we had a great leader by the name of Red Connor. We had Weldon Hagan and a group of strong musicians there. Moffett and Ornette used to come over to my mom's house; I cooked for us, and started transcribing Louis Jordan's music off of the records. I gave Ornette the tenor part, which was trumpet, and I kept the alto part because I used to carry Louis' horns every time he came to Texas. I'd ride with the producer so I could meet him at the train station. I started transcribing all that music, and I was also singing like Billy Eckstine, real close to the original thing.
It happened like that until I left the combo and Ornette moved to New York to study for a year while I stayed in Texas; then he came back and moved on to California. I was in Texas working with Jimmy Liggens, while my friend [saxophonist] Harold Land was working with Joe Liggens's Honeydrippers, and that's how we met and became friends. Anyway, I was traveling all over the South, and I was working as an understudy for Buster Smith, the alto player that Bird loved so much. Buster Smith was my director, and that's where I got most of my stamina for playing the saxophone. It was so frightening standing next to him, because it seemed like the sound was coming up through the ground, up through the bottom of the horn and out through the bell. Being a young man, I was standing there [frightened] next to him for a couple of years; prior to that, we had jam sessions every Sunday in Fort Worth with James Clay, David "Fathead Newman, and Leroy Cooper.
AAJ: That's the Texas sound that you, Ornette, Booker Ervin and others have, where it just feels like it's coming up through the floor, and at least from my perspective, out through the speakers. It's a really forceful thing.