Ambrose Akinmusire’s Pure Pursuit Of Sound

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On his new album, Ambrose Akinmusire includes original compositions that pay tribute to Roscoe Mitchell and Roy Hargrove.

(Photo: Ogata)

After the album was completed, the jazz world was stunned by the loss of one of Akinmusire’s greatest influences: trumpeter Wallace Roney, who died March 31 at age of 59 due to complications from COVID-19. Akinmusire indicated that, had the timing of his recording sessions been different, he might have included a tribute to Roney as well.

“I’m just thinking a lot about how we have to give thanks to people, man,” he said. “I, as an African American, playing and participating in an African American art form, have to make it so our masters can’t be easily written off. That they get the credit they deserve. You pick up my album a hundred years from now and you’ll go, ‘Who the fuck is Roscoe Mitchell?’ and you’ll research. You’re keeping people alive in doing that, too. I mean that in all the senses of it.”

Akinmusire, who has been based in his hometown of Oakland since 2016, carefully cultivates the chops that led to his win in the Trumpet category of the DownBeat Critics Poll. The liner notes for his new album include an essay by saxophonist Archie Shepp, who relates an anecdote about Akinmusire continuing to play his instrument during breaks of a rehearsal session. “I wake up every morning at 4:45 and I practice,” Akinmusire acknowledged. To help explain his studiousness, he told another story of a departed hero.

“Every day I think about this moment when I was with Donald Byrd,” Akinmusire said. “I was playing at Cleopatra’s Needle [in Manhattan]. I finished the gig, I was walking out, and I see Eddie Henderson and Donald Byrd sitting at a table. Mr. Byrd was like, ‘Hey! Come over here! You sound good! You sound good! How old are you?’ I said, ‘Twenty.’ He said, ‘Oh, yeah, cool. Well, you sound good, but always remember, you’re not shit compared to Booker Little.’

“It sounds so harsh,” Akinmusire continued with a laugh. “But the way he said it—it was like there was this pinpoint of light in it. And I think about that every day. That’s why I wake my ass up at 4:45 every morning to practice.” DB

This story originally was published in the August 2020 issue of DownBeat. Subscribe here.

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