In Print

Music in My Soul
Noah Howard (Buddy’s Knife)

By Ken Waxman

Metaphorically, alto saxophonist Noah Howard’s musical life mirrored the history of jazz. Born April 6, 1943 in New Orleans, the music’s purported cradle, before his death on Sept. 3, 2010 in Belgium, Howard had travelled to San Francisco and New York, recorded for small labels like ESP-Disk, expatriated overseas, toured Europe, Africa and India, while developing ties with emerging local players. Completed just days before his death from a cerebral hemorrhage, Music in My Soul is written in the artless but competent prose of a constantly working musician with some haziness in chronology, spelling and details.

Still as reminisces about the changes which took place in jazz following the advances of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman from someone who seemed to be present every step of the way, the book is doubly valuable. Personal reminiscences from musicians who worked with or knew the alto saxophonist over the years are intermingled among the chapters, further elucidating Howard’s journey.

Following military service in the American South, where he experienced pre-Civil Rights era racism, a stint on the West Coast exposed Howard to mind-altering drugs and finally guidance into experimental sounds from trumpeter Dewey Johnson, who later played on Ascension. In New York, Howard’s addition of New Orleans-style rhythm to cerebral sound searching had him recording at 21. Gigging often at the Lower East Side’s legendary Slug’s Saloon, frequently as part of Sun Ra’s Arkestra, which he would sometimes rejoin in Europe, Howard befriended major figures such as Charles Mingus and Albert Ayler, who got him his first international job – in Montreal in winter – and formed lasting alliances with other New Thingers including tenor saxophonist Frank Wright, pianist Bobby Few and drummer Muhammad Ali – eventually forming a co-op working group in Europe.

From that point on Howard reveals his amateur author status. Although he devotes some paragraphs to the factors that influence his compositions and improvisations, most of the volume becomes a recitation of gigs and recording sessions done, musicians and friends met and recalled, plus near-tourist brochure reminiscences of countries in Africa and Asia visited. Finally comfortably settled with his wife of 30 years, a medical doctor, and helming his own AltSax label, Howard begins playing regularly in the US again in the ‘90s, scotching rumours that he was another deceased Free Jazzer. A presence at the Vision Festival, the saxman put out exceptional new CDs with the likes of poet Eve Packer and similarly grizzled drummer Bobby Kapp.

Now Music in My Soul will remain his legacy. Interesting in itself for some of its woollier tales about bringing experimental music to the hinterlands,

—For New York City Jazz Record August 2012