The Jazzcat

Yusef Lateef Performs at the Herbst Theater as part of the San Francisco Jazz Festival

by on Oct.31, 2005, under News


The one, the only, the great Yusef Lateef, proclamator of Autophysiopsychic

music (mental, physical spiritual music), has been a master and a genius of

jazz music for many, many decades. Tonight, we are celebrating 85 years of his

life and his music here at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco for another exciting

performance of the San Francisco Jazz Festival.


Orrin Keepnews, the long time producer and owner of Riverside records, has known and worked with Yusef since

the early 50’s and 60’s. He stands in place of Mr. Randall Klein tonight as he

welcomes the audience and gives many praises to his great and wonderful friend.

He says that Yusef is the only one he knows in this business that is older than



As I am sitting and listening to Orrin, a wonderful thing

happened. There was a gentleman who was to be seated next to me for the

performance. As he was escorted to his seat, I overheard him say that he had

just had dinner with Yusef backstage for Yusef’s birthday and that his name was

Prince. Now, I am not talking about the leader of the New Power Generation, but

Prince La Sha, the extraordinary tenor, flute, barritone and multi-instrumental

wonder of jazz music. I introduced myself and we ended up hanging out until

3am, looking at pictures of him and Sonny, Trane, Woody, McCoy, Elvin, Ron

Carter as well as listening to music that he composed featuring these cats,

Herbie and many others. I will tell you that story another time but, it was a

fantastic encounter.


Yusef produces such serene sounds! Healing sounds. The

wonders of the East are upon us and his oboe enchants and speaks in the

silence. Adam Rudolph has an arsenal of percussive instruments on stage ready

for any encounter including those of the third kind.


Joseph Bowie blows wind through the mouthpiece of his

trombone ever so slightly. A soft calming breeze barely audible assisted by

silence and the exchange of resonating gongs, dissonant angular strikes from Sylvie

Courvoisier on piano and Yusef switching from oboe to tenor to flute to bamboo

flute. This is mental music that paints abstract pictures all through your mind

while stretching each instrument way beyond its intended boundaries.


It’s like dreaming in a rapid eye movement maze, walking with

caution on clouds of darkness, floating, guided only by the sounds of silent

blows, footsteps of percussion and ghostly shrieks of imaginary goblin like

sounds. It’s seems a bit spooky, but there is no fear. You walk with confidence

on the premonition of a path that already has your name on its destination. You

listen to the faint touches, taps and blows that suggest an endless array of

infinite potential in an enchanted forest of sound where all things are possible.


Strings of the piano plucked, muted and taped down sound

like spiders running with tap shoes on all eight legs. There are wooden flutes,

African chants, improvisation of didgeridoo sounds and a constant source of

evenness in the silence which acts as a conduit for a plethora of cacophonic

separation. Yusef rocks back and forth as if to be channeling this energy.

Breaking down the molecules of life, extracting the poison and restructuring

the deoxyribonucleic acid to form a perfect strand of pure love.


If you are lost in the maze of your mind there are constant

clues to put you back on the intended path. The music resembles life in the

same sense that we may not know where we are going until we experience déjà vu. There are triumphs, pitfalls,

obstacles, encumbrances, encroachments, serenity, confusion, enlightenment, mayhem,

and cliff hangers that can only be understood when tapped into a super hypnotic

state of intellectual altered worlds.


Yusef reads his poetry with the music. He speaks of leaves

that wave at you and protoplasmic flowers plucked and floating towards death.

What was their mission? These are thoughts about life that extend way beyond

the box of knowing and into the search for that which we do not know that we do

not know. A realm that exist in a galaxy floating with answers to questions not

even comprehensible enough to fathom. These are more than just poems, they are

prayers and he is praying for us. He is praying for the life of humanity. When

the leaves blow in the wind and wave to you that is life saying hello, did you

overlook the pleasantry? Is the flower’s purpose to be pulled from the life of precious

mother earth and put in a vase just to please us? What is their purpose?


Wisdom is sought from the ancient mystical tribal spirit of

the music. Yusef is summoning the spirit for these answers and he weeps in the

process. He is seeing life from another plane and he feels the pain from all of

our useless self destruction.


I was in a deep state of relaxation with my eyes closed and

I felt the music plunge into my soul and begin to lift my spirit with its

healing powers. I should have let it take me, but instead, I opened my eyes and

dropped back into my seat. We are all afraid of the unknown. Perhaps there was

a message that was waiting for me that I missed.


On stage these four minds and four bodies tap into something

that resembles prayer, healing and goodness. These prayers are to eradicate

evil and promote love, life and waves of light. I hope that there are answers

out there because the music, poetry and prayers are for us!


LeRoy Downs 

2 Comments for this entry

  • Tyler Patterson

    Hi, I’m interested in doing a drawing of Yusef Lateef. I found an image of him from the cover page of your October 2005 post “Yusef Lateef Performs at the Herbst Theater as part of the San Francisco Jazz Festival” and I was wondering, do you happen to have, or know someone who has a higher-resolution version of the image?

    -Tyler Patterson

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