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.
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)