A friend of mine (former) who was a critic, gave me some opinions on AACM pianist Adgoke Steve Colson before I interviewed him a few years ago. He said some strange things about his music, which made me uneasy when I was preparing to interview him, like I wasn’t going to like him, and that would be embarrassing.
It was coloring my perception of the music when I first heard it. It was quirky and strange.
My mother makes children’s books. Like Ade, she never got the attention consummate with her talent. It was more like an artisinal level of success. I think that’s just the way Ade and my mother are, very modest and humble, with a quiet beauty that just doesn’t stand out in an obvious way, so they never becomes chic and trendy.
So many records make a million dollars, and I ask my friends about records like that from the seventies, and they’re just not remembered. But many artists whom nobody had really heard of when they played are cult heroes and legends now. Ade is a legend.
Colson’s new record, Tones For for solo grand piano, could change his current visibilty. Part of his legacy is in major civil rights movements. In 1971, he occupied the Bursar’s office at Northwestern, a year after the Kent State massacre. It was an act of incredible courage, and it had massive ramifications on the nature of Black studies in North American universities.
Typical of Colson, he never mentions this, unless you press him. But Tones For is a tribute to his mothers and fathers in Black liberation history. “Sister Moses” is Harriet Tubman, Underground Railroad heroine, and the only woman known to have led American troops in war. Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass are also part of the picture and tribute.
Tones For is quirky, deep, emotional, and passionate, strange for something so formal and disciplined. The work is in two volumes. Right way when Ade’s wife, Iqua, sent me the CD, and I was looking at the notes and list of titles, I knew this was an instant masterpiece, and the music creates twisting moods and thoughts, like you’re in the torchlight of the underground tunnels themselves.
Only Ade has been there. He is a civil rights hero, the platinum of American achievement. Colson has illustrious associations, drummer Andrew Cyrille, and bassist Reggie Workman, and also Art Ensemble of Chicago members. This one shouldn’t fall through the cracks. It should put him in the jazz canon forever, like his associates.