Monday, January 12, 2009

Prince Lasha, 1929-2008

In conducting interviews with musicians, I have been lucky enough to consider many of these artists – those who I’ve spent countless hours listening to – friends and colleagues. Even those who aren’t exactly peers and who had contributed a significant body of work to the art form a decade or so before I was even a glimmer in my mother’s eye. One of the artists who I became immediately attached to was the reedman Prince Lasha, who passed away December 11 at age 79. I interviewed Lasha (or “Peasant Prince” as he liked to be called) for All About Jazz New York in 2004. At that time, he was working in Odean Pope’s Saxophone Choir alongside Michael Brecker and James Carter. We spoke over the phone for a few hours and called it a night, getting down to the vibrant nitty-gritty of his life from working with altoist Sonny Simmons and recording with Eric Dolphy, Texas saxophone players, touring Europe and his subsequent success in real estate.

It didn’t take long before Lasha began to call me up to reminisce about the halcyon days and talk about his philosophy, spirituality, books he was reading and records he’d like to release. His tape cache must have been astounding—he recorded EVERYTHING. When he was working on new compositions he’d call me up on the phone and play them to me, often while at the beach drinking chardonnay. He’d set the cordless down and purr on baritone crystalline ballads, or deft flute birdsong.

One thing which really struck me about getting to know someone as deep in the music as Lasha was how listening to his records became like another conversation with him – the cadences in his solos were exactly like that of his speech. Bubbly, vibrant and overflowing with joy and poetry, they were like a long laugh and more than a few gentle prods in the direction of a complexity far greater than earthbound thought. Lasha had the habit of giving everyone he befriended a new name; he said it went back to his friendship with Ornette Coleman in Fort Worth in the Forties, when Ornette was “Captain Hornblower” and he was “Peasant Prince.” I became “Allen’s Alley” for Allen Eager, and my then-girlfriend was “Trolley for Molly.” My mom, Susan, was “Sweet Sue.” And so on. When he had musician friends over, he would pass the phone to them so that we could meet, and I always felt invited to the party, even though I could never be there in person – Lasha lived in Oakland, California and as a funds-short writer and student, I never seemed to have the bread together to buy a plane ticket out there. I figured it would happen eventually, but it never did.

I became inordinately busy with graduate school in 2005 and our phone conversations became infrequent, finally tapering off later that year as other demands took over. Lasha didn’t use email, of course, but he was really only a phone call away. It feels like there should be an apology to Peasant Prince for losing touch, but I know he would say something like this (with a chuckle): “It isn’t anything, brother. The most important thing is you’re here right now!” So thank you, Prince, for letting me be a part of your life and sharing your experiences with me. It meant a ton.

Rest in peace.

Photo courtesy of Mark Sheldon.

Complete interview with Prince Lasha here.

Recommended Listening:

Prince Lasha and Sonny Simmons – The Cry! (Contemporary, 1962)
Eric Dolphy – Conversations (FM, 1963)
Elvin Jones-Jimmy Garrison Sextet – Illumination! (Impulse, 1963)
Prince Lasha Ensemble – Insight (CBS, 1966)
Prince Lasha and Sonny Simmons – Firebirds (Contemporary, 1967)
Prince Lasha Firebirds – Live at Berkeley Jazz Festival (Birdseye, 1972)
Prince Lasha meets the Odean Pope Trio – The Mystery of Prince Lasha (CIMP, 2005)


  1. Hi Clifford!
    It's always interesting to read your interviews and reviews.

  2. Clifford, tune into the tribute show tomorrow, 1/23.


    The line up presently is as follows: Prince's children: Prince Jr., Anthony, John, will call in all morning at different times. I think most of them are calling in the first hour. Keep your comments succient so we have time to play some of Prince's music. Anna Johnson, Prince Lasha's sister is also calling in as well as Shirley Moffett. They will call in during the first half-hour.

    I will have Odean Pope on the air with me from the beginning, because I am calling him. Sonny Simmons might be on at 8 AM also. Leon Williams and Sandi Poindexter will call in at 9 AM. Chuck Fishman will call in at 8:30 and Oluyemi between 8:30-9 AM. Eddie is on from 8-9:30. When you are on the air, you'll be able to speak to other guests like a regular radio show.

    Remember, be concise in your comments. I'd like to play at least 4 songs in the 1-1 1/2 hours.

    Guest musicians on the air are: Eddie Gale, Odean Pope, Sonny Simmons, Oluyemi Thomas, Leon Williams, Melvin Butts, and Sandi Poindexter (maybe Destiny Muhammad)

    The call in number is: (347) 237-4610. The website is

    And here is a treat for you and only the select few that find this blog. Chuck.


    116 MB - should take about 10 - 15 minutes to download over cable
    connection. Should start when you hit the link:


    TRACKS ...





    1. Prince Lasha Quintet feat. Sonny Simmons - Congo Call

    >> The first track I ever heard from Prince Lasha. Info below. It just
    blew my mind the first time I heard it. It was the only track I could
    find instant ready on the internet before I prepared for my first phone
    call with Prince to talk about recording. I really needed to hear
    something from him before I talked to him. I was like this is some
    carribean funk. It didn't really stick out as jazz in my head. I was
    going to use Prince Lasha to do some original tracks for my band
    fONKSQUISh, but as soon as I heard this, I knew I wanted to cover it. I
    interviewed him about the origin. Album credits below.


    Prince Lasha Quintet feat. Sonny Simmons - The Cry !
    (Contemporary 7610)

    recorded. 62.11.21
    pressed. 1963

    Congo Call - Bojangles - Green And Gold - Ghost Of The Past - Red's mood
    - Juanita - Lost Generation - A.Y.

    Prince Lasha : flute. Sonny Simmons : alto sax. Gary Peacock, Mark
    Proctor : bass. Gene Stone ; drums.
    Rec. in Los Angeles, USA. Producer : Lester Koenig.


    2. fONKSQUISh feat. Prince Lasha - Zulu Congo Call


    Prince Lasha dubbed our 2008 rework of Congo Call with a modern style,
    'Zulu Congo Call'. This is an unreleased very rough mix of the song, a
    full release will follow in 09. Chuck Da Fonk Fishman, G Koop, Prince


    3. cHUCk dA fONk interview with Prince Lasha about Congo Call


    Prince Lasha interviewed by Chuck Da Fonk Fishman - October 2008


    Videos of the making of Congo call

    4. fONKSQUISh feat. Prince Lasha: Zulu Congo Call recording session

    5. fONKSQUISh feat. Prince Lasha: Zulu Congo Call recording session


    Chuck Da Fonk Fishman, G Koop, Prince Lasha in the studio.


    6. Elvin Jones/Jimmy Garrison Sextet - Just Blues

    >> At my first lunch meeting with Prince Lasha, he informed me of the
    album 'Illuminiation' which is essentially the John Coltrane rhythm
    section. I couldn't find this one online for purchase, though Prince
    Lasha did show me that it has been re-released on CD. It just is such a
    nice blues-jazz piece. It is heart warming. And the drums by Elvin Jones
    just keep this one moving so well. Just love this one.

    7. Elvin Jones/Jimmy Garrison Sextet - Nuttin Out Jones

    >> Another great one from this Sextet album. I love the introductory
    riff and how they play off. I dare say this one really is a funk track.
    Prince Lasha just does some incredible things with the clarinet on here.


    Elvin Jones/Jimmy Garrison Sextet - Illumination !
    (Impulse AS-49)
    recorded. 63.08.08
    pressed. 1963

    Nuttin' Out Jones - Oriental Flower - Half And Half - Aborigine Dance In
    Scotland - Gettin' On Way - Just Us Blues.

    Prince Lasha : clarinet, flute. Sonny Simmons : alto sax, English horn.
    Charles Davis : baritone sax. McCoy Tyner : piano. Jimmy Garrison :
    bass. Elvin Jones : drums.
    Rec. in NYC, USA. Producer : Bob Thiele.


    8. Eric Dolphy - Music Matador

    This is one I found on YouTube when searching for Prince Lasha. It had
    that trademark Carribean funk I had first heard on 'Congo Call' but this
    time the track is even more so... It just sounds like a calypso tune
    right off. I love the juxtaposition of Prince's flute, Dolphy's bass
    clarinet, and Sonny Simmons' Alto Sax. It maintains this lifting calpyso
    riff through the entire song, that underpinning it all. Amazing tune. If
    you just take out the improvisations, you have a funky carribean dance
    tune. Even a TV commercial jingle - it's just so catchy, like Congo Call
    - I could imagine covering this riff too. Prince was always about those
    simple riffs.


    Eric Dolphy : Conversations
    (Fred Miles FM-308)
    recorded. 63.07.03
    pressed. 1964

    Eric Dolphy : bass clarinet. Clifford Jordan : soprano sax. Sonny
    Simmons : alto sax. Prince Lasha : flute. Bobby Hutcherson : vibes.
    Richard Davis : bass. Charles Moffett : drums.
    Rec. in NYC, USA. Producer : Alan Douglas.


    9. Prince Lasha featuring Herbie Hancock - Kwaado Safari

    Prince Lasha with Herbie Hancock. Who knew? Prince hadn't mentioned this
    record to me, the first few times we spoke. I found it on iTunes. This
    was the stand out track for me. Just the nice samba vibe, with Prince's
    flute leading us through. I read somewhere that Hancock felt
    uncomfortable on the session. I also love that Prince also did the
    saxes. I mean this is all Prince. This record was not released after its
    1965 recording and was not heard until the 1970s for the first time. I
    called Prince in December - that was the last time we spoke. He said he
    was going in for surgery, he was really not as sharp as usual, but he
    did pick up on the fact that I had just found this song and that I
    really liked it. There are some great chants in the background.


    Prince Lasha : Inside Story
    (CBS unreleased; Enja 3073)
    rec. 65.??.??
    p. 1974

    Ethereal - Flight - Kwadwo Safari - Inside Story - Mary.

    Prince Lasha : flute, alto sax. Herbie Hancock : piano. Cecil McBee :
    bass. Jimmy Lovelace : drums.
    Rec. in NYC, USA. Producer : Prince Lasha.


    10. Michael White - Land Of Spirit And Light

    I found this one by going to the
    web site and looking at Prince Lasha's discography. I found he played
    flute on this set led by Impuse Records violinst Michael White. It's a
    funk fusion jazz number that goes through three different movements.
    Part 1 is a funk vamp, part 2 is a nice little, and part 3 features
    Lasha prominently. It speeds it up Fela / James Brown style with the
    group singing vocals along to Prince Lasha's sullen flute outro. I also
    got to tell Prince I had found this track during our last call and that
    I liked it.


    Michael White - Land Of Spirit And Light
    (Impulse AS-9241)
    recorded. 73.02.07-08
    pressed. 1973

    The Land Of Spirit And Light - Fatima's Garden - Fiesta Dominical - O
    Ancient One - Lament.

    Michael White : violin. Bobby King : guitar. Prince Lasha : flute,
    piccolo. Ed Kelly : piano. Cecil McBee : bass. Kenneth Nash :
    percussions. Kenneth Jenkins, Stanley Nash : vocals.
    Rec. in California, USA. Producer : Ed Michel.


    11. Prince Lasha - The Trane

    I just recently found this album and this track 'The Trane'. I mean it
    is otherworldly, like it is just so tight and loose all at the same
    time. The band creates so much space in the music. And Lasha's childhood
    friend Charles Moffett on drums is just doing some next level things -
    playing with the beat so much but staying in pocket. Again this is
    another Lasha track where the opening riff is so memorable, that even at
    the most improvisational moment, the riff sticks in your head. The horn
    section is great. And sometimes Lasha almost is not in the mix in your
    head sometimes, because he's like the glue holding all the horns
    together - playing the flute almost like the keyboard sustain chords.
    Don Cherry is on this session which is so cool, because I didn't check
    the session notes first - I was just like who is this trumpeter! You
    hear Prince yelling a lot in this track, just catching vibes with the
    band. What a discover this was .. My mind is blown.


    Prince Lasha - It Is Revealed
    (Zounds L71863)

    recorded. 63.05.??
    pressed. 1963

    Lost Generation - The Trane - Prelude To Bird.

    Prince Lasha : flute. Sonny Simmons : alto sax. Clifford Jordan : tenor
    sax. Don Cherry : trumpet. Fred Lyman : fluegelhorn. Bill Wood, Orwille
    Harrisson : bass. Charles Moffett : drums.
    Rec. in NYC, USA. Producer : Fred Lyman.

  3. Greetings.
    Digging back in your archives, I found your eloquent appreciation of Prince Lasha. Thank you for sharing that.

    I also found Chuck's share here, which I am looking forward to immensely, as there are several tracks I'm not familiar with.

    much appreciated!