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JUNE 24 - JULY 02, 2014

Jazz Great Juini Booth Celebrates 50th Year in Music with Buffalo Homecoming

By Mike Hudson

June 24, 2014

Jazz legend Juini Booth

Legendary jazz bassist and Buffalo native Juini Booth has returned home to celebrate his 50th year in music, and taken to it so much he's thinking about making his hometown into his home base.

Booth, who has lived variously in Los Angeles, Europe and most recently New York City over the past half century, said he has many fond memories of the area.

"I got thrown out of every high school I ever went to, and it was all music related," he said. "If they had study hall I'd cut and be in the auditorium practicing. And then, once I was 15 and 16, I had to skip school every Friday to take the train to Rochester. I was in Chuck Mangione's band then and he had a thing every Friday there."

It wasn't long before Booth decided the bright lights of Manhattan were for him. By the time he was 18, he'd hooked up with jazz drum great Art Blakey, acknowledged today as one of the inventors of bebop.

Blakey was widely known for discovering young and talented musicians to add to his band, the Jazz Messengers, and Booth – being both very young and hugely talented – certainly fit the mold.

Too young to get into the Village Gate, Birdland and other New York Jazz clubs through the front entrance, the teenage Booth made his entrances through the stage door.

"I didn't care. If I'd have had to grow a moustache, smoke a cigar, you know, I would," he said, adding that music most likely saved him from becoming a juvenile delinquent, as did so many of the young men from his Buffalo neighborhood.

McCoy Tyner Quartet in Pori Jazz July 14, 1973 (from left: McCoy Tyner (p), Azar Lawrence (sax), Juini Booth (b) and Alphonse Mouzon (dr))

"I didn't drink, but I remember one time I was in San Francisco with Art and I thought, well, maybe I want a drink," he said. "So I walked up to the bar and I said in a deep growly voice, 'I'll have a grasshopper."

He laughed at the thought of it.

"They gave it to me though."

The membership of the various New York Jazz bands was in constant flux during the early to mid 1960s, and Blakey used some musicians from Sun Ra's group, most notably tenor saxophonist David Gilmore. It was through this connection that Booth found himself drawn into the circle of the influential and charismatic, but often quite controversial, Ra.

McCoy Tyner Quartet in Pori Jazz July 14, 1973 (from left: McCoy Tyner (p), Azar Lawrence (sax), Juini Booth (b) and Alphonse Mouzon (dr))

Claiming that he was of the "Angel Race" and not from Earth, but from Saturn, Sun Ra developed a complex persona using "cosmic" philosophies and lyrical poetry that made him a pioneer of Afrofuturism. He preached awareness and peace above all. He abandoned his birth name and took on the name and persona of Sun Ra, after the Egyptian God of the Sun.

"After I first came to New York City, I was ready to play any kind of music," Booth told the Niagara Falls Reporter. "It was just being in the right place at the right time."

But the young bassist bristled at some of the bandleaders strictures, particularly Sun Ra's insistence that the band live together communally.

"I didn't want to live in a house with a bunch of guys," he said.

After a few months playing some of the legendary gigs at Slug's Saloon in Manhattan, Booth left the band on amicable terms.

That was fortunate, he said, because during the 1980s, the two would cross paths again.

"I was kind of stranded in Europe, you might say, and he picked me up, said get on the bus, just like that," Booth recalled. "I came back to the States with him and played with him off and on until the time of his death."

Firmly rooted in the forefront of the American jazz tradition, which he has helped to shape, Booth's music also integrates influences from world music, emerging beyond the boundaries of categories to express the poetics of universal humanness. His compositions reflect a masterful use of simple melodic themes developed through unexpected harmonies, unusual tonal qualities and time relationships, inviting the listener to a new level of musical perception.

Booth often tours extensively in Western and Eastern Europe, performing solo bass concerts in the U.S., Canada and Japan. Some career highlights have been a concert with Randy Weston at the Tangiers Jazz Festival, Morocco, and with Sun Ra Arkestra in Tiblisi, Georgia (USSR) performing in a film of painter Larry Rivers entitled "Round Trip.

Two weeks ago, he played a series of shows at the Pausa Art House in Buffalo and, this weekend, he'll be playing City at Night Festival at Silo City in Buffalo. The Friday VIP Preview performance will begin at 8 p.m. and the Saturday matinee starts at 4 p.m.

After 50 years spent traveling around the world making music, the Buffalo legend said it may be time to come home. Modern technology has made living in cultural centers such as New York, Los Angeles and Paris less vital than in years past. Anywhere with a telephone, Internet service and easy access to a major airport can sustain artists in 2014.

"New York isn't what it used to be," he said. "I've always had a lot of friends here in Buffalo, and maybe it's time".





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