Noah Howard’s Black Ark is rl reeves jr’s New Orleans album of the week

When Noah Howard was a teenager growing up in New Orleans in the fifties he got turned onto bop by listening to the Symphony Sid radio show.

Unsure of the role of Sid in the music scene back then?

“[Symphony Sid] is probably the greatest middleman jazz has ever known. A broadcaster for 35 years, once billed as ‘the all-night, all-frantic one’, he was the man to listen to in the forties, fifties and sixties if you wanted to know what was happening in jazz.”— Leslie Gourse, New York Times.

When Noah was 14 years old, Norman Mailer published his The White Negro championing New Orleans along with New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Paris and Mexico, D.F. claiming that young adventurers were attracted “to what the Negro had to offer.”

He went on to say “In such places as Greenwich Village, a ménage-à-trois was completed—the bohemian and the juvenile delinquent came face-to-face with the Negro, and the hipster was a fact in American life.”

But the presence of Hip as a working philosophy in the sub-worlds of American life is probably due to jazz, and its knife-like entrance into culture


You have to wonder if a teenage Noah Howard may have been turned on to to Mailer’s pen? At age 13, young Noah had his world turned upside down by a Duke Ellington concert where Paul Gonsalves wildly solos for over 20 minutes.

That experience meant there was no turning back; my ears were open and my desire was burning for music.

That desire continued to rage and led the young Noah to sense there was a much larger world than New Orleans. He would eventually wreck himself free from the city where he’d grown up singing in the church, and migrate to Los Angeles at the tender age of 17.

One day, while walking downtown, I heard a trumpet playing and found out it was Dewey Johnson, a trumpet player from Philly. He had a beautiful unique sound all of his own… Dewey and I started talking and I asked him to give me lessons. He agreed and so began a significant relationship for many years. Dewey was responsible for my real and full entry in the jazz world.

That’s Noah Howard writing about his initial immersion into the world of jazz.

The two would migrate to San Francisco, and live in a “musical commune” on Haight Street with Byron Allen and Sonny Simmons. There are said to be tapes of these men playing together in the house but they have yet to surface.

After his mentor Johnson moved to New York City, the young sax player kept in touch and would mail his teacher tapes of his latest work til Dewey coaxed the young man into following him to the city in 1963.

Albert Ayler was one of Noah’s heroes and when he introduced him to ESP Records label owner Bernard Stollman he was initially elated as the impresario offered him a record deal. ESP was in avalanche mode, at one point the concern would release 45 LPs in just a year and a half but many of the musicians involved were left at loose ends financially. Howard would refer to Stollman as a “a monster of deception…” saying further “I am aware of ESP’s adventures…they continue to make money off the artists and they refuse to pay any royalties.”

But at that time these young, naive future legends were just happy to be able to record these strange new sounds that were upending the jazz mainstream.

“…To have that record come out, and to have it in our hands, that was the thing. That’s where my head was at.” trombonist Roswell Rudd of the New York Art Quartet.

Howard’s debut LP as a band leader, Noah Howard Quartet was recorded in 1965 and just a year later he would be back in the studio with followup Noah Howard at Judson Hall.

These two records are crucial listening but ultimately were just a glimpse into the young man’s genius as many jazz scholars consider his third outing, The Black Ark to be his magnum opus. By this point Howard had shed ESP and signed with Polydor, and his band of southern heavy hitters (tenor saxophone – Arthur Doyle is from Alabama; and bass player Norris Jones is from Georgia) were ready to hit the studio and just start chopping heads off.

Yes, this album is wildly dissonant with flamethrower horns bleating out sheer madness, but there’s a blues character to it that gives it a serious deep south flavor (although I could see these guys causing eardrums to explode in Muscle Shoals.) And it’s playful – check out the crazy conga drums from Juma Sultan who achieved brief fame via his playing with Hendrix at Woodstock.

If you’ve ever been in a black Baptist gospel church, and the choirs cut loose, you have this incredible harmony, and then you have the soloists, and the soloists go all the way out. And most of the preachers can sing too, and they’ll go all the way out. But always within the context of gospel harmony.

Noah Howard would go on to found his own record label, AltSax, along with the New York Musicians’ Organisation before moving to Europe where he would tour and record for decades, leaving a significant catalogue of LPs with some jazzbos numbering his output at nearly 50 full length records.

His last studio recording was ‘Voyage’ released on February 10 of 2010.

Just seven months later he would pass away unexpectedly while on vacation in France.

Artist: Noah Howard
Album: The Black Ark
Genre: Free Jazz
Label: Bo’Weavil Recordings (reissue, the original is shockingly expensive)

Domiabra 10:20
Ole Negro 8:43
Mount Fuji 15:32
Queen Anne 5:43

Noah Howard
b. April 6th 1943
d. Sept 10 2010

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critical playlist
Frank Wright LP One For John (featuring Howard)
Archie Shepp LP Black Gipsy (featuring Howard)
Noah Howard Live at the Unity Temple (Recorded on 9 September 1997 at the Unity Temple, Chicago.)
Noah Howard Patterns, a sextet featuring Han Bennink and Misha Mengelberg) with a previously unreleased 18-minute track from 1979 called Message to South Africa, Eremite Records reissue
Noah Howard Live in Europe Volume 1

New Orleans: Creolization and all that Jazz By Berndt Ostendorf
Music In My Soul: The Posthumous Autobiography of Noah Howard
Free Jazz: A Research and Information Guide By Jeff Schwartz
Loft Jazz: Improvising New York in the 1970s By Michael C. Heller
As Serious As Your Life: Black Music and the Free Jazz Revolution, 1957–1977 By Val Wilmer
The Cultural Politics of Jazz Collectives: This Is Our Music edited by Nicholas Gebhardt, Tony Whyton

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