More memories of the band – Pat Metheny and Onaji Allan Gumbs
I’ve continued to be amazed to discover how many significant jazz musicians had significant “aha!” moments when they were young while listening to the Mwandishi band.
Pat Metheny saw the band play during two of their visits to Kansas City, the second time with Pat Gleeson on electronics. On both occasions, the young Metheny, still in high school, went out to their nightly shows as often as he could. Pat had discovered Herbie on a Miles recording that his trumpet player brother had brought home, and he then bought as many of Herbie’s records as he could. “But even knowing the records, nothing prepared us for what it was like live. It was light years beyond anything that had ever been seen or heard in any Kansas City jazz club; that was for sure. It was simply the greatest thing i had ever seen or heard. ” The shows became a model to which he aspires to this day. He marveled at what Pat Gleeson was able to do with the technology of the time, and most strongly, at Herbie Hancock’s playing: “I remember one night him doing one of those amazing Herbie solos, where it just keeps getting more and more intense and by the time he got to the end, every person in the room (including me) was standing on their chairs, screaming at the top of their lungs. It was unbelievable.”
Onaji Allan Gumbs was 18 when he chanced on a meeting with a person connected to Herbie’s commercial work (a number of Hancock’s famous compositions started out as music for television advertisements). With that person’s urging, Onaji met Herbie in person backstage during the same show I attended in 1970 in Central Park (it turns out that we had similar reactions to both the Sextet and to the headliners Iron Butterfly) and continued that conversation at Herbie’s apartment for some time to come. Onaji saw the band again in its Mwandishi formation in Buffalo, NY, in 1972, and most strongly remembers the role of Fundi, the sound man, who electronically (and processed the music of band members from his booth with a keen sense of intuition) and directed the state of the art quad sound sstem (which left Metheny equally highly impressed). Onaje went on to play with Herbie and other members of the band on recordings by Norman Connors.
Among the other musicians I’ve spoken with who were impacted by the band when they were in their teens or early twenties have included Bobby McFerrin, Wallace Roney (not yet a teen), Christian McBride, Billy Childs, Mitchel Forman, and Ndugu Leon Chancler, who played with the band on a few occasions and is the second drummer on the recording of ‘Ostinato’. Among the reasons these conversations have been so enjoyable is that I, too, was strongly influenced by the band from when I first saw them at age 15, and then through the Mwandishi recordings, particularly “Crossings.”