Photo of Daoud Haroon

Trombonist and now USA Fellow for 2014, Daoud Haroon

Roxbury-born trombonist and percussionist Daoud Haroon was recently named a 2014 Fellow by United States Artists (USA)—a prestigious fellowship, accompanied by a generous grant. It is a high honor for the 81-year-old Haroon, acknowledging his lifetime of work in the arts, education and religion. He could never have foreseen all the turns his life would take when he was a young trombonist in this town, back when he was known as John Mancebo Lewis, another of the talented musicians who grew up in Roxbury in the years following World War II.

Like others from that time and place—trumpeter Joe Gordon, bassist Bernie Griggs, drummer Roy Haynes—Lewis learned his jazz informally, on bandstands and in jam sessions. He wasn’t a conservatory student, but he took lessons from someone who was. His teacher, Chuck Connors, studied at the Boston Conservatory, and Connors and Lewis played together in Richie Lowery’s Boston big band in the mid 1950s. Connors would join Duke Ellington’s orchestra in 1961 and remain in the trombone section for 13 years.

In 1958, Lewis joined the quintet of another Boston Conservatory student and Lowery bandmate, saxophonist and composer Ken McIntyre (not yet known as Makanda). Others in the group were pianist Dizzy Sal (Edward Saldanha), bassist Larry Richardson, and drummer Bill Grant.

McIntyre and Lewis were a formidable front line. McIntyre ascribed it to their complementary styles, where Lewis would play few notes and McIntyre many, or where one’s staccato attack would be matched by the others legato lines. Said McIntyre at the time, “I like the sound of alto and trombone, and particularly of flute and trombone. But you have to have exactly the right trombone player to complement you, and I think I found him.”

In May 1960, the group, now with Paul Morrison on bass and Bobby Ward on drums, recorded the music for McIntyre’s first album, Stone Blues, for the Prestige label (New Jazz 8259). Stone Blues was not, however, the first McIntyre album to be commercially available. That turned out to be Looking Ahead (Prestige New Jazz 8247), a session McIntyre recorded with Eric Dolphy in June 1960. Stone Blues did not see the light of day until late 1961, but when it did arrive, it garnered critical praise.

Cover of Stone Blues

Stone Blues, Prestige New Jazz LP 8259

Pete Welding, in his Down Beat review of Feb 1, 1962, expanded on McIntyre’s observations. “He (McIntyre) spins out his long lines in sinuous, spiraling obbligato manner—his tone dry and crackling—in a veritable torrent of notes (buckshot fashion), an approach in which the cry of the human voice is ever-present. His blistering style is handsomely complemented by trombonist Lewis’ spare, warm, essentially legato approach. Lewis acquits himself extremely well, constructing a series of discrete, fluid, and unhurried solos…The flute-trombone voicings, by the way, are a delight.” Welding rated the recording with four-and-a-half stars. “I have found this album so thoroughly enjoyable and consistently rewarding that I have no reservations in commending it as heartily as I can.”

McIntyre and Lewis moved to New York, recording for United Artists in June 1962 (a session finally released in 1997, part of McIntyre’s Complete United Artists Sessions, Blue Note ‎CDP 8572002). They played together through the 1960s, embracing the ideas of free jazz and becoming integral members of the loft scene. Haroon went on to work and record with saxophonist Sam Rivers, bassist Ronnie Boykins and trumpeter Earl Cross in the 1970s.

However, it is more than blowing trombone that earned Haroon his USA fellowship. The subjects of his work and research have been diverse to the extreme—traditional and contemporary music in Africa and the Middle East; the long-term development of African-American music; history and particularly the role of oral history; theology and spiritualism; music therapy. He has taught both music and history at the college level. He was a founder of the Avicenna Library of the Islamic Education Center in Houston, where he created educational programs for prison inmates. And he has traveled the world as a researcher and performer, visiting countries from Pakistan to South Africa to the United Kingdom.

And now for all of it he’s been recognized as one of 34 USA Fellows for 2014. USA honors “innovative, accomplished artists at all stages of their careers, who are nominated by their peers and field experts for the quality, imagination, and enduring potential of their work.” Haroon is one of three musicians named a fellow this year. Previous USA Fellows known to readers of this blog include Muhal Richard Abrams, Jack DeJohnette, Jason Moran, and Henry Threadgill. Haroon will receive an unrestricted grant of $50,000 to support his work.

Haroon now resides in Durham, NC, and he told the Herald-Sun newspaper there that he plans to use the grant to create musical vignettes for works of African and African-American literature. He will adapt existing music to the project and compose new music for it himself. Collaboration among artists will be crucial, and he envisions the involvement of filmmakers, poets, singers and dancers as well as musicians. “I’m working out of a big bag,” he said.

Of course, our congratulations to Daoud Haroon, as he is most deserving. But this is a Boston blog and I would like to recall his Boston years with Makanda Ken McIntyre, something Haroon himself makes possible. He contributed the title tune from Stone Blues to YouTube, and he’s included photos from his own collection in the video. I know of no other photos of the 1959 McIntyre band, which is seen on stage at Wally’s Paradise. A second series shows McIntyre and Haroon working at the Five Spot in New York. Rare indeed! So enjoy Haroon’s lean and essential trombone playing here, stripped of all the ornamentation favored by trombonists of prior decades.