December 2019: One week before the new year, I receive notification from the Supreme Court of New York informing me that my divorce has been finalized. I’ve avoided the gravity of this life altering decision by staying busy throughout the year, but it doesn’t seem to be working anymore. I can’t stop crying, which is making it hard for me to finish composing music for my new project, In August of 1619…, scheduled for performance in early January. I hope 2020 will be a better year for me, but I am walking into it on shaky ground. I feel like a failure inside, which is disturbing my artistic process.
January 2020: It’s the day of the performance and I was only able to finish composing six pieces, one of which is still a sketch. Exhausted, I hope I can catch a few minutes of sleep in the cab over to rehearsal.
Overall, four of the six pieces have great potential but need a little more work. I don’t feel I have a grasp on the instrumentation of the ensemble yet; vibraphone, bass, drums, and alto sax have a lot of sonic and textural potential, some of which will manifest while improvising but it needs to be present in the written material as well.
The concert went well but I’m grateful we have a second night. Beyond exhausted now, I’m experiencing waves of intense physical fear, as if someone is going to do me bodily harm. Diving into Nikole Hannah Jones’s “The 1619 Project” for this music has me reflecting on how systematic the terrorist behavior of white Americans has been towards Black folks. I am still wrestling with the story of Elmore Bolling. I pushed up against it all night.
March 2020: I’m in flight to New Mexico to perform with the Dezron Douglas Trio. Upon landing, the promoter hands each of us a bottle of advanced hand sanitizer, a custom ordered sandwich, and a bottle of water. I’m not certain how the high altitude will affect my sound and stamina. The horn is going to resonate differently so I must practice getting used to the thinner air. I’m a little nervous that I might faint on the bandstand.
Just finished the performance and I am extremely thirsty. It was challenging to find new ways to pace myself and think about how much energy I was going to give each phrase and sound. I could have been more creative given these limitations. I need to push beyond the knowing and enter the creative space with more abandonment next time.
The audience didn’t seem to notice the struggles. One couple even complimented me on my elk-like sounds. Finally, those elk lessons are starting to pay off. I learned a lot from this experience, and my curiosity is extremely piqued. How would my sound evolve if I stayed here longer? Will my sound be different once I return to a lower altitude?
I’m at the airport and they are starting to lock down the country due to the coronavirus. I hope Dez and I make it back to New York before things completely shut down. I can hear this lady coughing and sneezing from a distance. I hope she isn’t on my plane; I can’t afford to get sick. Fuck! She is on my plane. She sounds sick as hell. Please God don’t let me get sick. I’m just starting to get back on my feet.
I enter my apartment and the lockdown has begun. It should be fine. It’s only for two or three weeks. I need a break anyway.
May 5, 2020: I’m watching the murder of Ahmaud Arbery by two white creatures with guns and a truck, surrounded by a beautiful tapestry of green trees. How many times has nature witnessed this type of evil upon those who look like me? Watching Ahmaud fighting alone for survival with only the body the creator gifted him, against multiple white creatures with guns and automobiles, I realize that some white creatures can’t even murder us without practicing inequality. Fucking cowards! I begin to feel anger and fear in my body as his body begins to run, then stumble, then fall to the ground after being shot. I guess they have decided to start hunting us again.
It was my birthday two days ago.
May 13, 2020: I’m reading about the murder of Breonna Taylor, and I can’t stop thinking about my sister. This sleeping beauty will never awaken and those that pretend to protect and serve don’t seem to care. No one seems to care when Black beauty is consistently being attacked and slaughtered in our society. Where did America hang its humanity?
May 26, 2020: I’m watching a Black man beg police officers to let him breathe. “Bruh you got him down man, let him breathe, least man,” a witness says to the police, who are engaging in the twilight of torture. The pleading from witnesses and begging from George are beginning to create a dark musical landscape, causing me to dissociate from the evil I’m viewing. I find my ears actively listening to every sound in the video. I’m starting to cry as it goes on and on. I know the Black man is going to die, and he knows he is going to die. Why is this the default in America during these situations? “He is human bruh,” a witness mentions to the police, to remind them of their own humanity.
I am human. I am a fighter. I am broken. I am angry, and afraid I’m sliding into an unhealthy mental state again.
June 2020: People are protesting in the streets. I wear a mask and latex gloves to run errands. Every performance I had in the books has been canceled. Many musical heroes and mentors have transitioned and I worry about the ones who are still with us. There has been so much death. I saw medical workers putting dead bodies in a freezer truck on the street yesterday.
This squirrel I’m watching is helping me overcome the abyss of despair, I can feel it scratching at the walls of my psyche.
I put on my masks as I head out to do some studio work. This is the first day that has felt familiar to me in months. I feel awkward carrying my case. I have two recording sessions today, one with Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog and the other with Gerald Cleaver and Brandon Lopez.
As I remove a mask to play, the first thing I notice is the room’s acoustics. I have become so acclimated to my apartment that my ears need a moment to adjust. I’m pushing the air recklessly through the horn, which is unlike me. Trying to prove something to myself is getting in the way of me truly serving Marc’s music. I adjust my mask and take a moment to breathe. My mind turns to the mechanics of process, and I start finding comfort in knowing: the knowing in my horn technique and of the time I’ve spent practicing, studying, and developing the fundamentals of music and sound. This isn’t a moment for proving but a moment for being, listening, and connecting. The session got better, but I’m not sure because I’m still in a bad place.
Gerald’s playing always reminds me of home and possibilities. My mask falls away as we play, revealing the depth of my despair and vulnerability. All my emotions start pouring through the horn, and I abandon all pretense around “normal” saxophone linguistics. I dive completely into the theoretical and conceptual zones of my artistry, manipulating the physics of the horn and creating systems of sonic linguistics that embrace the harmonic spectrum. I stop caring if anyone understands me or the art that I create. I start saying, “I’m claustrophobic” over and over as Gerald and Brandon keep playing.
The first instrument always has the answers when the horn doesn’t, and I start to speak/sing into the bell of the horn. It’s no longer music anymore, it is an incantation we are creating here today.
During my walk home I realize I can’t fight it anymore, and I feel ashamed after being given a reprieve from the monotony of my current circumstances. Performers are illusionists and I have been a poor one for far too long. I can’t hold this façade together any longer. Depression and despair take me, and I wonder when they will let go.
November 2, 2020: I’m at Roulette watching a performance of a piece I composed, We Can Change the Country. When the 60-minute work ends, all the beautiful energy the performers just created in the space is met with silence. Maybe there was applause and roars on the other side of the screen. It doesn’t matter to me because the performers were magnificent. I truly hope people vote tomorrow and in the 2022 midterms.
December 2020: One week before the New Year, I receive the final mix of my live solo sax album from David Torn. I listen to it from top to bottom and at the end I hear her laugh with joy amid the applause. My ex has great ears and caught my final musical punchline. It makes me cry a little and smile a little. I take it as a sign of progress.
December 31, 2020: News of the death of a son, brother, husband, father, teacher, student, lover, friend, icon, artist, creator and more reached my universe today. One look at his featureless face transported me back to the villainous sounds that enraptured me for the first time in my early 20s. Why does it seem courageous to simply be oneself? “It’s a miracle how he get so lyrical / and proceed to move the crowd like an old negro spiritual” is accompanied by the sound of brass riffing on ti-la-sol-fa-mi. While wearing a metal mask and making tracks that featured Charles Bukowski, MF DOOM aka Viktor Vaughn aka King Geedorah aka Zev Love X, and originally known as Daniel Dumile, was a Black artistic and musical genius who helped me to understand that eternity is now.
Darius is dead. Demoon is all that’s left. The Illest Villain.
July 2021: Just finished confirming shows in the Catacombs of Green-Wood Cemetery for the release of an album entitled Raw Demoon Alchemy (A Lone Operation) on Northern Spy Records. The opportunity to perform this music for a live audience inside a mausoleum, after existing in a state of extreme uncertainty throughout the pandemic, feels poetic.