Understanding: 1970 Roy Brooks Live Release! All Proceeds from the Release Benefit DSC!

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Supercharged 1970 Roy Brooks Live Release! All Proceeds from the Release Benefit Detroit Sound Conservancy!

Understanding is a blazing 1970 concert recording featuring the Detroit-born master percussionist Roy Brooks leading a gifted quintet through its spirited paces at Baltimore’s Famous Ballroom, will be released by Reel to Real Recordings this week. 

Comprising more than two hours of expansive performances averaging 20 minutes in length, the potent date was recorded by Left Bank Jazz Society and stars trumpeter Woody Shaw, tenor saxophonist Carlos Garnett, pianist Harold Mabern, and bassist Cecil McBee

All proceeds from the release — produced with the cooperation of McBee and Garnett and the estates of Brooks, Mabern, and Shaw — will go directly to DSC!

Our Executive Director, Michelle Jahra McKinney” also contributed liner notes to the release: ⁣

⁣“Mjumbe was amazingly creative. As a performer, he would ‘play the room’ – literally. He’d roam the club’s space, using his sticks on the different surfaces as he’d come across them. He blew into various tubes to change the intonation of his drum kit, playing African-inspired rhythms. He would meticulously bend his large saw between his knees, coaxing out beautiful resonant melodies improvised over a jazz standard or an original tune.”

You can read the full liner notes essay here.

Born in 1938, Roy Brooks is perhaps best known as a sideman. He spent five years with pianist Horace Silver’s storied hard bop combo, appearing on the popular Song for My Father, and also worked behind Chet Baker, Yusef Lateef, and Charles Mingus, and alongside Max Roach in the percussion ensemble M’Boom

Beyond his formidable, gale-force attack on the traps, Brooks — who died in his Detroit in 2005 — delighted audiences with flights on the musical saw (heard on the present recording) and even invented a device, the “breath-a-tone,” with which he could change the pitch of his drums as he played. Sadly, the musician’s career was thrown off track in later years by severe mental illness. But the Famous Ballroom date displays him at the height of his considerable powers. 

Led off by a 42-minute performance encompassing the Brooks-composed prelude and title track, Understanding roars through compositions by Shaw (“Zoltan,” first heard on organist Larry

Young’s 1965 classic Unity) and Garnett (“Taurus Woman”) and a furious take on Charlie Parker’s “Billie’s Bounce” before an involved, vocal audience. Projected at a fever pitch, the music operates on the cusp between the ‘60s quintet innovations of Miles Davis (whose “The Theme” closes the gig) and the free-form explorations of John Coltrane and his acolytes. 

Understanding is filled out by intimate written remembrances by a pair of Brooks’ classmates at Detroit’s Northwestern High School, journalist Herb Boyd and alto saxophonist Charles McPherson

Boyd writes, “There was no limit to Roy’s imagination, which extended to making music while dribbling a basketball, breathing air through tubes attached to his drums to modulate the tones, and applying his mallet to a bending carpenter’s saw and turning it into a vibrating thing of beauty.” 

“He definitely had a concept of percussion and how to be musical,” McPherson adds. “So he’s not just some guy playing the drums; he actually knows when to be soft, when to be loud, when to be busy, when not to be busy. He naturally had that. So he was an interesting player, and he had his own style.” 

Detroit Sound Conservancy is honored to be a part of this project and preserving Roy “Mjumbe” Brooks legacy for the future. You can also learn more by watching our digitized copy of the Community Jazz History interview http://detroitsound.org/artifact/roy-brooks/

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