No Place for The New Thing: Cleveland in the 1960s

He’s been imam of Cleveland’s Masjid al-Mu’min mosque since 1970, but before that Mutawaf Shaheed was a bass player who worked around the city with tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler and other first-generation avant gardists. In this Wire interview, Shaheed tells Pierre Crépon and Richard J. Koloda how the concept of Free Jazz and Black Nationalism influenced the city’s music community at that time. Travelling with Ayler, and his brother, trumpeter Donald Ayler to Sweden, New York and other locations, the bassist saw the music developing and was also associated with other sound explorers like baritone saxophonist Charles Tyler, trumpeter Norman Howard and even drummer Sunny Murray. Yet his Ohio hometown was always hostile towards The New Thing and Albert Ayler in particular, a situation which Shaheed said eventually drove the saxophonist towards a simpler, more Rock-oriented sound. Among the revelations here are the real origin of the composition “Witches and Devils”; how and why Tyler wouldn’t play with white musicians; and how Donald Ayler’s mental state was fragile long before he began playing his brother’s music.