Possibility means potential, dreams, and achieving new things. Bullhorn provided technical support for percussionist/composer Ken Moshesh’s latest album “Just One Day’s Work” in 2021. We hope to work with more artists in the future on achieving their goals. To learn about Ken and his experiences in the Sun Ra Arkestra and beyond, read the following interview we conducted with him in April 2021:
Bullhorn: Thank you for doing this interview with me, Ken. I’d love to start at the beginning. Where were you born and raised?
Ken Moshesh: I was born [on February 13, 1946] in Oakland, California. I was the second child to my mother, the oldest boy, and, eventually, I came to be one of 11 children. We moved around a lot to different schools. It’s important because of the different educational things I had to deal with. Eventually, I ended up at Oakland Technical High School and there I was a pretty good student. I think they called me “the Black Valedictorian” and that had some political controversies in terms of grades. But I ended up being “requested” to go to a pretty high-level private college called Claremont Men’s College. I used the word “requested” because, apparently, they knew I played baseball pretty well for Oakland Tech. The person they hired for the baseball part of their program was from El Cerrito, pretty close to Oakland and I guess he told them not only was I qualified to go to an academic school like that, but I also had those skills.
So I initially was being recruited by someone from Brown University and then one day my counselor said “Oh, you have a scholarship to Claremont Men’s College for academics.” So I went there for academics and I got that scholarship, but I played baseball there. And I played there well enough to be part of a Southern California baseball all-star team that got selected to go to Europe where they were just introducing baseball at higher levels. We were hired to go to the Dutch national team and teach their sporting-type of groups where they had a professional team at the top and it went all the way down to what we call Young American. After I did my duty there in terms of teaching, I hitchhiked different places and eventually came back to Claremont.
BH: What did you mean by “educational things you had to deal with?”
KM: The reason I didn’t start melodic music early is because, when they had their musical programs, by the time I signed up and convinced my parents that it was safe to have one of those instruments in the house, something would occur and we’d have to move to another place and I would stop taking clarinet or trumpet or whatever it was that I started. So there was not an official musical history, but all the time I was doing my percussive-type things. As I thought about this, most of my music was via dance. The types of dances we were doing socially, or other people were doing, contained the musical elements. And since most of them were using your feet, which made sound, for me that was my main percussion. Because most of the places we lived, people would not allow for too much sound, noise, music. So I’d had to kind of do that on the side.
BH: Is that what you meant by convincing your parents of the safety of…
KM: Well, the places we lived, you know, it might get stolen, you might get beat up coming home with something that someone, say, addicted to drugs, might be able to sell for a few dollars. That sort of thing. And they didn’t want the responsibility. It was hard enough for them, with a thirteen-member family, to make ends meet. My father was trying to do a business. He was probably one of the first Black persons in Oakland that was trying to do a refrigeration appliance business and he wasn’t greeted too well by the establishment. They didn’t think he should be able to do things like that, so we ran into some troubles like that.
So yeah, the music then was basically through the feet, listening to music on radio stations. I had a cousin who was a music major, he might come by with a guitar. But I only had a two-string guitar. So eventually, essentially, that was a percussive instrument for me. But what it did fuel was that with that two-string guitar being played constantly the percussion can also be melodic. You know, it could be more than just keeping a beat or keeping a lick or a hit-type thing
BH: Did you have any models that you imitated in your dance?
KM: We all, as soon as we could, say probably from sixth grade on, probably earlier than that, you know… probably the most danceable star was James Brown. He featured dance in his particular presentation. And you know, we admired that and very few of us could do stuff like that. But the dances that came in and out of vogue… once you get into junior high school, there’s always the fad dances that came there based on foot patterns that, as I got more into drumming, were drumming patterns. So we had the cha cha cha, we had the pony. We had the Texas hop. And each one of them was over a different foot rhythm that you did over and over and you did sorts of things. So that was the thing that I could concentrate on artistically doing. And at the same time, it was with the drumbeat of the feet doing the dance. It’s like it wasn’t the twerk, where your feet would be stuck solid and the top of your body doing all sorts of things. These kinds of dances, you had to move your feet to certain patterns.
So as I look back, I can see, okay, that’s where it was until I finally got to ’67, probably towards the junior year in high school, I discovered a drum circle at UC Berkeley. And I then would go there, and all the things that I had done on oatmeal boxes and tabletops and dance floors and had heard in other people’s music, we can begin to play. And eventually, I did end up playing there maybe about 40 to about 50 years. Every Saturday and Sunday, we would assemble. Everybody bring the drum and make music.
And there were some people who had more of an ethnic or professional background. So they would play at one end of this huge lower sprawl, University of California Plaza. And I was skilled enough that they would have me come and play with them. And then, on the other hand, they were exclusive enough that quite a few other people, they wouldn’t allow to participate. So then we would go down to the other end of the plaza, and kind of play, teach, however you want to call it, drumming, and would drum for hours. And so people were able to kind of feel what was going on. So we had these two things happening probably just about every Saturday and Sunday for about 30 to 40 years.
And then eventually we had to go to the Ashby Flea Market BART [Bay Area Rapid Transit] station and set up there because we got kicked out of UC Berkeley. Yeah, unfortunately, in Oakland, we were never able to play the kind of. . . Now the racist-type thing. They didn’t want that type of racial thing happening on a regular basis. So around Lake Merritt is where we tried to do. . . They would say, “Well, you have to get a parade permit. Otherwise, you’re gonna be arrested.” And it’s just ironic. Recently, say about six months ago, there was a lady who lived around Lake Merritt [who] filed a complaint to stop some Black people from barbecuing so much around Lake Merritt, which is typical for that type of area, I guess in Oakland at that time. But at UC Berkeley, Lower Plaza, we were able to, quote-unquote, make that noise and no one complained.
In fact, people came there. So much so that some of the later UC Berkeley guides, during that time, mentioned the drum circle as one of the traditional UC Berkeley activities. And quite a few known musicians would come there and play with us. So we had Tower of Power, Poncho Sanchez. . . Half of them I didn’t know, they just came and sat in and played because the music was good and there were lots of people you could play with. Because, playing that instrument, because of the political history of this country, had been forbidden and suppressed for so long, that, one, very few people would take it seriously because it wouldn’t lead anywhere. And two, very few places, you could do that without experiencing some sort of negative activity. So this was a Bay Area spot. I think Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, they had another one.
BH: What did you mean by an “ethnic and professional” drum circle?
KM: Yeah, there were two different types. One was Afro-Cubans. We had some people who professed to know the quote-unquote Afro-Cuban songs. We had another group who professed to know the Latin songs. And they had a club called La Pena, and some of those people would come. So they would set up their songs. But those songs involved only, say, maybe four or five people at a time. And each person at that time would only play one drum. Two drums or multi-type things was, I guess, wasn’t part of the tradition. So it was nice. The other people would listen, but because their understanding wasn’t that good, most of them couldn’t play with them. And that group would make it clear to them that, you know, you’re playing wrong, etc.
So our group down on the other end, we would start on a four or a six/eight or three/four, two/four, whatever. And eventually, those people who really wanted to play drums, they had bought their drums… or come up there, sit down and play long enough until finally, they could kind of feel what the essence of that was. And since the rules of playing that music weren’t so strict as it was in the ethnic or professional groups, they could kind of comfortably come through and do that.
BH: How did you go from being in the drum circle to being a teacher?
KM: Let’s see, I guess what I was saying is the part of the drum circle that I participated in the most, was a teaching thing. I was the teacher. And I should go a little further there. Since I was the teacher, people would be… inner circle or in a mass around, trying to play with what I played. Because they knew this guy plays with them [the professional groups], too. “He knows the rhythms and so we’re learning something.” Plus, because I was teaching rather than just playing, I was trying to project it, too, for people to follow or understand. Because there’s a way you can play music, and a lot of professional musicians do that so other people don’t understand, which you do -that’s part of your mystique. This was just the opposite experience. That would have been the ethnic playing experience. “Oh, you guys don’t understand. You’re not doing it right.” Whereas over here, it was: we keep playing until someone went “Oh, that’s, you know, yeah, okay.” Or “If you do that, let’s try…” and you know, things were more creative, educational, and especially more inclusive. And what it did, not only was the playing of these different rhythms being magnified, but they’re projecting the music to other people for them to play was also occurring, although I wasn’t quite as aware that that was going on.
But when I met Sun Ra, and I saw the big band that he had and some of the ways that they were doing what they were doing… Sun Ra came to my house one time and I was practicing up in my garage how to play five drums, which was a no-no in those [professional] kinds of places. And he then came to the drum circle, where we were doing that inclusive thing, and looked and said “Okay, I want you to bring those people right here that are playing with you. And come play with us at the Greek Theatre Jazz Festival.” And I was going, “Okay, if you say so. You know what you want.”
And then, eventually, I came to see that he not only was playing his music, but he was projecting choreography with what you would use as a dancer, but he was projecting the composition of his music through his keyboard, so much so that you could play to his composition. As though you were reading music. It was coming through the ears and the intuition, the way other people would have it coming only through the notes on paper. And then I realized that that’s why he’s decided, “Oh, you can play with us,” because that’s what they saw, more so than other things. So I began to play with them that way, too.
And eventually, as I became a UC Berkeley teacher, we had to have a strike. Ethnic Studies, Third World Liberation Front they called themselves so that we can set up a Third World Studies program at UC Berkeley and have it as a department. And we had to fight over whether it should be a separate department over there, it should be under L & S [Letters and Sciences] subject to their jurisdiction. Eventually, we came out on top, but it was a struggle. And a lot of us got labeled with the advocate, Black, whatever the word they used to get the attention of the federal government. So that occurred. Sun Ra then became one of the ambassadors of that department. When I became the head of the so-called entertainment, division – Pervista, performing and visual arts something or other-type thing- then I would often play for the band. And then I would step out and introduce the band, like to the United Nations Junior Cultural Committee. They were kind of all the way there. One, to participate in the activities of this fledgling, new department… and then Sun Ra would be there as our ambassador of goodwill. Yeah, so that fit real well.
Eventually, he sent for me. Well, let me go back. So when he first came there, they reneged on the housing and stuff [for Sun Ra]. They did everything they could to make sure that didn’t happen. So at one point, Sun Ra and about six, seven of his friends were staying at a house that I had at that time in Kensington. The others were spread out. And we had a chance to talk and I had a chance to sit and watch him write. He actually wrote the music. But, as I told you, when we started playing, I could realize how not only is it like that, that’s practice, but when we played, those notes weren’t there. Instead, he was playing the composition and projecting it. And at some point, he might project it to go somewhere else.
And the people that he kept and selected in his band would be able to play to that. They understood it was not free improv because he was very strict about people doing things that they shouldn’t have done. “Too much music, too much slop, and too much drums.” He’ll tell you that he expected you to be able to intuitively and ear-follow the production. “When it goes this way you don’t do that,” because he had ways when he wanted solos for people, he would play a certain pattern of music. So everybody else would just stop. And only that person would play.
And as I played with them, and we eventually went to Europe and tour, he was very clear when it was time to step out, step forward, as opposed to stay within the weave and within the practice that we had done before. And then it was obvious this was not an accident. This is how music can go to that level if you have someone that’s into it that much and has selected people who are also willing to put themselves into that. It takes a lot of energy and a lot of soul searching for you to play with a person who was gonna say, “Oh, yeah, we practice it this way. But right now I’m gonna do this in front of the king and queen of” whatever it is, and then pull down and expect you to step forward and do your solo and people are in an opera house with opera glasses looking down from the seventh floor, looking at you expecting you to do what you’re going to do. Yeah, so that was an experience.
So, I was teaching a class at UC Berkeley that I was drafted into teaching. We had to do some physical things, we had to avoid some physical confrontations, we had to struggle. And some of the students there paid attention. I was the field general, field strike martial, whatever it is, at how we navigated the attempts by the university through police and National Guard or just people off the street to try to turn our project into a law and order thing. So, when we finally got it there, I wanted to teach just an education course, but they were saying, “No, we want you to teach us what it was that enabled you to see these things coming. And know how to deal with them in such a way that we proceeded on to our goal.
At that time, I was one of the few Black persons taking this martial arts system called White Crane Kung Fu. And one of the differences between that style and other styles of martial arts was that it concentrated on ways to avoid obvious, aggressive actions and put yourself into a better position to deal with those, rather than having it cause you to have to stop whatever you’re doing and deal with it at the same time. It was modeled, mythically, about a white crane fighting a gorilla and showing how, because of its movements and its activities, it can out-maneuver and then finally put itself in a position to vanquish. There were certain principles and philosophies that went with it.
So I was sanctioned by the White Crane Federation of Hong Kong, they sent a letter, we went and visited and that sort of thing. We did the test to teach the philosophy of White Crane Kung Fu. And the students, they really liked that. That was probably one of our most popular courses. And of course, it was infiltrated by the powers to be. They were looking for ways to turn it into something else that it wasn’t, but it served to our advantage because the Asian-cultured persons teaching there, they all gave it great reviews because some of this information and some of this knowledge was not public information. Let’s put it that way. It was something that expanded even their knowledge and they were impressed that we were able to not only teach it but teaching in such a way that it wasn’t just a sit-down listening lecture. But I actually had all of the students standing, doing, performing certain things, and pointing out where it fits and why it was different. So they were really into that class. Let’s put it that way. And when they moved on our coordinator to get rid of him and put one of their people in there to take over. They tried to get me to keep teaching that course, but they missed the point. So that didn’t happen.
So that was a system that I saw that had lasted so long. And it had a mythology like the Sun Ra system. It had a mythology that kind of encompassed the entire thing, but the mythology was a realism, as much as the realism was the mythology. So you see, the dress, the songs, the speeches, they fit into a larger type thing. And that was projected, again, into the music. But you definitely couldn’t write in notes for people to play, but when you saw the dress, the ambiance, the atmosphere that was created, all of a sudden, you find yourself following that composition, rather than another composition, that would be based just on notes, and chords and flats and sharps.
So we traveled. Toured Europe. I know Finland, Denmark, Luxembourg, Germany, etc, etc. When they were going to France, and then from France, Italy, Egypt, I had to go back to the states and teach my elementary school because I was teaching that, too. My philosophy was from the cradle to the top, and we had to get people, especially in these under-served ethnic groups, ready, and prepared to think about going to that level.
BH: With the White Crane?
KM: This is the White Crane, but I also taught education as a performing art. That was my second class. And so there I was trying to get the elementary kids ready and prepared to think about going to a university like UC, which was essentially, what, 14 or 15 blocks away, that heretofore didn’t pay any attention to Oakland feeder schools. Berkeley schools, they may have done some, but Oakland, there were assumptions about the students there and very few of them. But I had a class where the students in my class would have to come five days a week to the elementary school where I taught at lunchtime. I taught some top class. And then they would also involve themselves with some of the activities in the school to test some of the theories or see what was going on. So that turned out to be very popular.
But what they were trying to do is use that popularity in mind to offset the fact that they had kicked out our leader, our coordinator, because they wanted to break up the Ethnic Studies group, which was Chicano Studies, Native American Studies, African Studies. They wanted to break it up and take the African American Studies and put it into L & S and give it a Ph.D. program and leave the other three Native American, Chicano Studies, and Asian studies to wither on the vine. That was their thing. And they were hoping I would either go along with it or, since I was also the student liaison, so to speak, that I would lead the student revolt against that, which then would shut down the Ethnic Studies department. And then they could come back and say, “Okay, because they failed we can set it up in our own way.” But we kind of saw through that. And eventually, they tried to destroy it. Since that didn’t work. Then they tried to destroy the other three departments by taking the FTE, which gives them the ability to hire instructors. They were going to remove that and try to strangle them.
So they had another strike, a second Third World Liberation Front. And during that time, I was quote-unquote homeless in the area, so I joined them and gave my advice and my experience to keep them from falling into the trap of turning it into a law and order thing and then just getting vanquished. And we were able to survive that again. So we did have an Ethnic Studies department without the African American Studies and we had the African American, the Black Studies in L & S as part of a Ph.D. program. One of the shots they [L & S] would call would be “No, you can’t hire a person like Sun Ra, he’s not on our list.” UC Berkeley had a blacklist of people they didn’t want hired because of their politics. One of the reasons our coordinator got ousted like he did was he began to hire some of those people. Marvin X was one of them. Sun Ra. We had quite a few other artists who had spoken out about certain things and were deemed to be advocates at that time in our department.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, I lived during the time, in the middle of the place, where the most things like that were going on. And people were coming to that Oakland, Berkeley, UC Berkeley area to be part of things going on. We were the news media’s darlings. Because we didn’t have as much internet or cell phone, so we had 5 o’clock news and a 12 o’clock news and these vans that would come and shoot these antennas up and that sort of thing. We were so prolific in activity that they just parked there. And since I was one of the shot-callers, they would ask me “Ken, what are you guys gonna do? Where should we be so we can get the best coverage?” And one of the reasons we were so successful is the liasons we had with the news agencies. So they would be sitting right there when we knew we were going to strike here, or they would be right there when we knew we were going to have a debate against Letters and Science, Asian Department, etc.
And so what we did was magnify all over the country. Universities, especially, began to do similar things so much so that most of the time at those universities they didn’t have to strike. People did not want the circus that was UC Berkeley, so they would give them what they wanted. Because what they wanted and what we wanted was the thing you would hope a student would do: strive for a better education. So we were on the right side of history, then. But yeah, everything was there. The Black Panthers were there, okay, US Out of Vietnam, Stop the Draft, all that stuff had emanated, right in that Plaza where we played the drums for so many years. Up some stairs was the upper sprawl. And that’s where all of the spokespersons for all these events rally their people at the top.
And eventually, they got the suspicion that maybe us playing these rhythms, which most of them were resistance/war rhythms because most people can only play fours, okay, maybe had something to do with the prevalence of so much activity coming out of that particular area. And the Cointelpro group began to concentrate on eliminating our types of students from even coming and enrolling and breaking up the groups and doing what they do to try to destroy that convergence of ideas and people. And eventually, they did. UC Berkeley is not anything like it was during the 60s, 70s, 80s. But the ideas always survive, and they’re at other places now. But at the time I was there, like you say a lot going on that was just normal, everyday activity. Something going on.
We had a UC Berkeley newspaper that time, The Daily Cal. Because they were trying so many ways to sabotage our program, they wouldn’t even put our courses out so students could enroll. So The Daily Cal newspaper, they ran our courses there. And that’s how people got into our… it’s different now. It’s more conservative, but at that time, they did interviews, they ran programs, they took pictures, and they ran the courses and how to get in. Otherwise, they would have stifled us at that point.
And like I said, they eliminated the housing for Sun Ra and his group and people like that. And that would have ended them coming from Philadelphia.
But I was able to offer housing for Sun Ra and some other people there and we had the Black House or some other places and we found places. So it was good. It was good in the sense that we all came together. We worked towards a common end. And then when people would come to see our department, [Sun Ra’s] big band would be as our ambassadors of goodwill. And so thereafter, as soon as that was over, he was invited with me to go to Europe, and we were playing for the governments of these countries. And that was a real experience. Although, on his own, he had gone there before. But this time he was going as a representative of this [Pervista]. And so we just added to his legacy and added to his projection.
However, I began to see that the Cointelpro people were getting real serious about identifying and trying to stop certain people that I had been associated with, right, like Huey Newton, with the Panthers, Bobby Seale, we were all in the same initial group in Oakland bringing that about. At some point, they had me as Minister of this or that. Other points, I rejected the Minister of Education, for example, because I told them I could do things better without being outed like that. Because I could see them and a lot of them didn’t want to accept the fact that we had infiltrators from Cointelpro right at the beginning. And all they would do was use everything we do.
In fact, I had people in my family that accepted the money that they offered me to be that person against these groups. So I knew for sure how extensive and how widespread that was and it took a lot of people who are new to the avocation game to realize that your enemy will then hire people that look like you, some that are related to you, to sit there and do everything they can to destroy what you’re doing. Which included, once they finally came to realize, as perpetrators who would try to get you to do things that they knew they would be able to then classify as a law and order thing, and then come down on everybody.
Yeah, that that was a consistent thing going on. I’ve got some of those things in this book [Ken’s autobiography Cobblestonging Quicksand Mazes]. When I was homeless I would write about a few things. There’s some things I honestly couldn’t write about. But that was UC Berkeley Cal. And that’s why the kind of music the Sun Ras, all of those people like Mario Savio, and Ron Dellums… And Cointelpro was coming in there to stop that from being such a conclave of liberal progressive type people. They were serious enough. So people died, a lot of people’s careers got diverted.
So when I got back, I realized that they were really concentrating, because some of the plants they had in our department were telling them that this person, me, was the person responsible mainly for the success of that group. And they were doing things within and without my personal life, business life trying their best to get something where they could negate my impact by having something seemingly community-oriented, to bring me down. For example. if I got arrested for this, or I got shot trying to resist arrest… they were doing these kinds of things. And Huey, you saw what happened to him. All of that was the Cointelpro setup. But they took time to try to establish a feud between him and somebody else and tell him what… you know, they went out of their way so it would look like just one of those community things happened. Many of the Ministers and the Panthers ran into that. Eldridge here… We get people in Chicago. That was just part of it.
So I figured if I stay that close to Sun Ra, they would go after that group under the pretense of trying to deal with unknown political activists, etc. at that time. So when I came back, I did not go back [to the Arkestra]. And then eventually, he called me to come and meet them in Mexico. I think he realized that, too. That we had gotten to the point where it was international attention, even all the time that I traveled with him playing music in Europe, people there would be asking me about UC Berkeley activities. All their students were getting that information via those news agencies. “What about the strike? What about this? What about….” Yeah, we were moving the needle, let’s put it that way. But you know, as I mentioned to all my other folks, you have to expect the response. There’s gonna be not just a backlash, it’s just what they do. And we probably didn’t know it would reach all the way over and Cointelpro people. But you know, you kind of had to expect it.
So, music… we play there all the time incorporating the Ethnic Studies information, history, that experience and realizing that the suppression of ethnic peoples as a history of this world was consistent all over the world. And that, in most cases, those early societies that got colonized and suppressed were basically societies that had heavy drum emphasis. There was one time, just because of the inventions, necessary that almost all music was percussion. Okay. And unfortunately, those were the times when colonial powers were doing what they were doing to achieve their ends. One of the things that they realized that they would have to do is stop the artistic, religious, spiritual activity that would make it more difficult for them to achieve their ends and to maintain their ends. So, consciously, drumming for the community gatherings and motivations and spirituality got, in most cases, suppressed or went underground. Other people who were the most impactful there, they had to do other things or come join the colonial folks and work for them.
So, the natural history of things is, as time goes on, they get better. So the rudimentary instruments, guitar-type one-string things or pan flute-type things, the conch shells, etc., now these things were allowed to naturally develop along with society with metal, with technology, knowledge of systems. We had a Western system of music that was based basically on these melodic instruments as they advance and they advance according to this system because they were allowed to. But during that time, the drumming systems, if they weren’t eliminated, they were held to just that particular era. So most of the time that you see people attempting to do that they’re playing what they have heard somebody else play way back in the day.
And there was no attempt to really have scholars in that area come up with systems and techniques and knowledge for this era, because, for one thing, you couldn’t do anything with it. No one would support you. Because of that negative tinge that drums had with colonial powers back in the day. People did not want to support something that seemed to be based on that. I think it wasn’t until about 1940, even in this country, as liberal as we are that people begin to… well I guess with Gene Krupa, people of that sort, they begin to accept Well, maybe it’s okay. But it had to be a certain type. But anyway, they were held back. And so most people, if you were serious about music, you would not go into drums, especially hand drums.
Now as Jazz and Sun Ra-ish-type people came along, it became and it’s becoming now more and more, okay. But still, the technology and the philosophy lingers way back. It’s behind the other instruments that were allowed to progress. And even more so than that, because they were not allowed the technology that was created to record and to microphone these musical expressions -was not developed until very very recently for drums. So if you did play that, you couldn’t be heard or it wasn’t recorded correctly or many of the recording studios couldn’t record that part of it. That was the worst part. So it became the least part. So, if you were a commercial producer of music, that would be the least thing that you were doing.
And because, I guess, of my experiences that also equated, to me, the persons that were associated with these drums are also looked down upon or not prepared. Not given opportunities as the rest of the world moved into the modern age. They suffered this sort of connotation of being people of the drums. So they essentially were second class -if that high- citizens in the particular countries that they were. So being where I was with the Ethnic Studies-historical thing, the drumming thing, the Sun Ra thing, the progressive thing, I started thinking, well, not only do I want to play music as an application, because, you know, teaching at that time was my vocation, I think I want to delve deep enough into this to get back to some of the roots. So then from there, I could begin to reconstruct and construct some of the advances and techniques that would have occurred if the world didn’t have the type of history that exists. And since I became proficient enough to do that, and I’ve experienced enough, places… I’ve gone places, I’ve seen things, I’ve been with different types of groups, I played with reggae groups, I recorded with a rock group, rhythm and blues, you know. I kind of felt I was in a position where, you know, I could do more than this, because I think these drums could do more than this.
So I initiate a lot of this multi-drum playing which was taboo in most of those systems before. And now just about everybody, rightfully so, does that. But instead of just doing the same thing you would do on one drum, this provides an opportunity to clearly show that there are repeatable compositions that you can create and actually put out music that is drum-based, rather than you being the person on the bottom keeping the beat or staying in a subordinate position, even though the band might be named after you. The song would be developed by the other musical instruments on the top because they were allowed to develop the recorded line. And if it was named after you, you might get a drum solo where everybody gets out the way, but you didn’t show much repeatable composition, because of the very nature of that. So I began, you know, that’s where I met Sun Ra at first. That’s what I was trying to do with five drums because it was easier to hear and see and play something that I could do again by repeating the patterns. And so that began to show me that there were patterns, hieroglyphics, petroglyphs, geometrics that, if you position your drums, instead of using do re mi fa sol note-sound things, if you use these patterns, and positioning and numerology, you can actually repeat and compose different drum-type things.
And I was imagining, that’s what, probably, the people who got chopped off at the top because they were in charge of these things, that’s probably where they were heading. When they were stopped and prevented from going there for physical reasons, career reasons, etc. This just was no way to go. So, I start spending time, especially when I got houses where I could go in the garage or play somewhere or when I got to become homeless, then I realized I could do that silently because instead of having the drums, which would get stolen all the time, I could play it on my legs, I could play it on something. I had to work the philosophies out, the patterns out. And then when I finally get to the drum, put the pattern on there. So it became obvious to me, you can make a whole series of songs and this is the way it would have occurred had this instrument not been singled out and deliberately repressed. So I’ve been, ever since then, doing different types of heretofore forbidden techniques in order to accomplish that goal.
And the more that I do, the more that I see could be done. And more that I see can be done now. Because people have developed, people in the music recording business, have developed techniques now that can actually record that frequency of sound so that you can actually hear. And you have a reason to put something like that together. Pro Tools and icon boards and things of that sort, you know, that wasn’t available back in the 30s and 40s, 20s, and on back. So I mean, you weren’t going to be able to make a recording that sounded anything like what you spent so much time and effort to do. So why even try? Just keep the beat. Just keep the sound. Just, you know, make that little solo, and then that’s it. But now it’s physically, commercially possible to create an all-percussive song if you want to or, even more important, to develop a song that proceeds from the bottom up, as well as the top down. So you really have a much more comprehensive thing. Or you can have a song that proceeds only from the bottom, as I saw, I came to see with Sun Ra.
Playing this instrument percussively and then creating those compositions and projecting them, which is something that playing that kind of drum enables you and causes you to do. You create another sense that allows you to intuit and project on a consistent regular basis. And that’s part of the music. That’s what you develop by spending that much time playing the same thing over and over for eight hours and five hours and trying to get the person next to you to complement. And that person next to you is trying and all of a sudden you’re developing more than the so-called five senses that we leave off at. We know there’s some more, but “that’s good enough.”
And then I begin to say, “Well, yeah,” when people start talking about maybe there were visitations from other places earlier, because certain things couldn’t have been done. I could see, if a person really spent all of that time developing those senses, playing those kinds of drums, those kinds of instruments, they could become in tune with some other flows and musics that we are now just beginning to discover in the cosmos. Some of our technology is beginning to realize that there’s musical sounds, notes. So it’s things that are happening that you can pick up on now with our sophisticated things that I can see you have to pick up on when you’re playing those drums as much as we did and as much as those early people had to do. And yes, it’s very, very, very possible, very likely that they were actually getting in tune with other people who were sending vibrations like that, that was beyond the capacity of the technology that we had. But that particular person could… we use the word “intuit,” whatever those senses are, could receive those vibrations, and project those vibrations. And actually, every musician has those moments, and you’ll see it in their expressions. They’ll say something like, “We were out, it was way out there somewhere else,” and you have it for a moment. But it’s not useful, or it’s not used, and so you just let it go.
Whereas I, again, was able to experience a musician who didn’t let it go, who delved more into it and went to those places. And this person began to concentrate so much of those outside vibrations that we all feel sometimes just come in and take over for a minute. And he began to, Sun Ra, he began to determine where they came from. He was doing that so often, he would know this one is from somewhere like Jupiter. He used the names that he knew we would understand, based on our space knowledge. But he knew they were coming from somewhere else the same way as our other musicians know that too, but there’s no reason for them to go into it that far unless they’re going to go into what we call avant- or esoteric-type music. But it’s becoming technically provable that vibrations are coming from elsewhere and they’re coming to this planet and they can be picked up. And my thing was, yeah, that’s probably what those people were doing. But they weren’t allowed to develop their drumming the way they were allowed to develop their pyramid building, their metallurgy. All the great revolutions, those were allowed. Nobody said, “No, this is too much, we’re not going to do this.” And so you see where it is now there, the electronic, all of that was allowed.
But now we’re behind, way behind. And as I say, one of the things I set for myself is to develop as many of these techniques now that I can see that it’s possible to leave behind or to inspire now, and to create some healing music. That type of music did something. Does something. And in those societies where the medical field wasn’t that developed, they needed that vibratory type of thing projected to sort of enable the civilizations at that time to survive. So now, I went to the five [drums], then I was thinking practically, I was at the five where it was easy to easier to show people that I was thinking practically, that’s not gonna work.
Except for a band like Sun Ra’s where, at some point, we had everybody playing some drums, okay. You couldn’t carry that many things around to different spots and stuff. The stage wouldn’t be that big, etc. So I took it down to two. And then begin to speculate, analyze, intellectualize, whatever it is, techniques where the same things that were being played on the five could be condensed and eventually played on the two. But in order to do that, back to some of these taboos, you’d have to be able to play equally with both hands. You would have to be able to play one hand doing one thing and the other hand doing something else. You would have to probably attach something to the foot so you could keep a third thing going. So people could understand or hear where to get into that. Because I see many people would want to do that. And don’t do that. So you can’t understand. You just think it’s something so out there that because you don’t understand it, it’s good.
No, this is a teaching thing and a clarifying thing that this instrument has the same music-making capabilities of other instruments. And in some cases, because of the projective-type thing you can do, maybe even more. So I’ve been the last few years, especially in the things that I’ve published… songs that each one has a different technique of playing these drums. Most of them taboo, which means I have to deal with the negativity from the people who play it the quote-unquote normal way, whose status would be changed if, all of a sudden, here comes somebody doing this with five drums or two drums, or here comes a person playing the entire piece by himself, not only the melody, not only the beat, not only solos, the quintos… They were famous for not seeing… but I look at it as expanding the musical diaspora for that drum and for music itself. And I’ve been able to withstand the headwinds from all these directions. People in the field that do what I do who don’t want to, I guess, have to deal with the fact that there’s more to do. You’re comfortable because you do that limited thing better than anyone else. But now, here’s another person coming out saying, well, you not only can you do that, with this hand, you can do that and you can do this and you can compose this. And you can repeat it again.
Okay, I know, that was the onus that people were trying to put on Sun Ra. A lot of the places we went, we would ask people in the audience that would say “Yeah, but can you play?” And he would have to play somebody -Ellington’s this or Count Basie’s that- just to sit them down, shut them up, and then play what he wanted to play. You know, just because of the difficulty of the human mind, you know, because what it had been fed so long. Not only did I have to play that, but I had to show that [what] I play is just an extension of what you play. So the notes are the basic units. And to be the basic units that everybody else was using. But taking the geometrics, hieroglyphics, petroplyphics to a different level. And so at some point, I’m hoping I’ll get with some people who are so versed in Western, Asian, whatever philosophy, that we can expand what they have to include these geographic, hieroglyphic types of things. What happens when you… How do you notate a song that you’re playing according to triangles, squares, rectangles, and writings? Okay, maybe there’s a symbol that we can develop that when you write the music for the bass, it looks like this. You write the music for
the trombone, looks like this. And then when you write the music, the same music, for the conga, it looks like that. That if people can’t understand they know…they might not be able to play it. But they know that’s where it’s supposed to be. And so a person who’s playing the conga can actually create a song, then you can go right back and do it again.
Okay, and what that did, the attempt to do that on two drums instead of five, five is easy to see because there are five-note systems. And people can say, oh, okay, I’ll just look at each one of the drums as a note. But that’s not where… That’s in there just like it is in western. But that’s not where it’s coming from. Because of the drums, those sounds may change because of the sun. They may change because of the nature of the drum that you have, because of the length of time that you played and your energy level, etc. In fact, you’re counting on your energy level, just like in orbit around the sun. That’s why I like some of the Sun Ra things. If you go to the atomic things if you go to another level, all of a sudden you have to go to another orbit. Okay, you can’t stay in that orbit. You’re counting on those things to produce the ultimate expression of that song.
So I’ve got some things on Bandcamp. The latest one, they’re called Grand Percussion, has the latest patterns of different types of music. So I had to develop some inspiration now for making songs with all these different techniques. One I called “Ziggurat Del Sol.” And what that was, I remember when Sun Ra has had me come and play with them there [Mexico], there was a Pyramid of the Sun and the Moon. And someone came and said “Hey, you want to go on this trip to” -wherever. I can’t pronounce the city. We went there. And what it was, it was a pyramid where the top looked like, you know, it would be shaved off, except it was built like that on purpose. And you could walk up these stairs from all sides. And then you’d be on top and do your spiritual thing to what you believed in.
So I said, “Okay, I can play that.” So I started off with a 10, then an eight, then a six, then a four. And at four. I said, “Okay, that’s the top of it.” And I’ll play a little solo with the congas and then I’ll back back down with the four, a six, and a 10. And then the vamp would be just walking off away from it. And I can play that over and over and over again.
But what it required, instead of playing the same time or the same, whatever we call, you have to consciously go from a ten -how do you do that on a drum?- to an eight, smoothly to a six to a four, that can go to two and then come back down. Those techniques have to be developed with one hand while the other hand is filling in the spaces, similarly, all the way around. So again, we have to go back to the one hand can be doing one thing, the other hand has to do something else. Each hand has to be equal. And what I’m working on now, once I do it with the right hand or the left hand steady and the right hand moving, now I’ve got to be able to do with the right hand steady back. And each time the technique is developed, another possibility occurs where, all of a sudden, I begin playing some Bach-Mozart type of rhythms, but they’re on drums. Okay, I can say “Okay, I see where that was going.”
But you can see where, and this has happened negatively, some people have taken the drum patterns that I created, and put them on Sound Score, which writes the notes of a song. It’ll compose that for you. And they composed the notes and made songs from that. And in a way, it’s flattering, but in a way, it’s like, okay, you got to be a little bit careful. But I’m getting to a point where it’s getting sophisticated enough that you can actually, especially other musicians, can actually hear the music in the drums without the drums. Without the other instruments. You see, right now, if you record it, or listen to anybody else’s music, especially the ones that are supposedly composed by drummers and their drumming, if you took out all the other instruments, you wouldn’t have anything. Okay, that’s a legacy of that negative historical suppression of the development of that particular instrument. But in the days when that was the only instrument, you would have compositions like that, okay, just all of that got cut off. And in many cases, they’re being cut off by the people who actually play the drums, who can only play certain traditional things that they’ve always heard. And that’s all they were allowed to do. That’s all they remember. And that’s all that got carried from where they were to the colonial places where they ended up.
So each song is, you know, it has a subject matter, but it’s also a conglomeration of the newest techniques and patterns that I’ve been able to play smoothly enough to put in a so-called song form or presentation form. Right now, after the covid, I’m trying to find a radio-ready recording studio that’s back in action. Because now I have 12 other projections like that that I would like to put down before they osmose into something else. Every time you play one type of pattern thing, when you listen to it, then it suggests something even beyond that. And then that thing is lost. I don’t want to lose this, this step in the progression, that’s gonna lead to the next thing. So I’m, you know, I’ll be laying up in bed, and I’ll have to play it on my leg to remember. “Remember this?” You got this one -“Sunny’s Song” or “13 Ray” or something of that sort. So I don’t forget. And in order to remember them and play them, I have to recreate the geometric hieroglyphic, especially geometric or numerology thing. Okay.
So now I’m, you know, I’m kind of -this is what I asked for early. Somebody has provided me with the locale because it was important for me. I see the move from California where people were really resistant and upset against the person being able to play that kind of music. But yet, they couldn’t totally dismiss it, because of the Sun Ra experience. Okay, but they couldn’t do it. Or they wouldn’t allow themselves to spend the time it would take to do that, because they were already known for or famous for or comfortable with being able to play this ancient style of whatever the fill in the blanks. And it would be an ethnic-type thing.
The last thing was in a studio called Manifold in Pittsboro, North Carolina. Huge, beautiful, concert-looking, recording thing. And I would like to play there again because I know they have the sound capacity and the technological. But they had to pause because of the covid effect on commerce. So I’m trying to find a place like this other studio that I spent a lot of time with -Nightsound- where the engineer and myself were able to work on trying different ways of miking and doing different things so we could capture what was done, but I don’t know if they’re back in business yet. So it turned out to be a good thing in order to retain these things, I’ve had to really codify the glyphics, the geometrics to remember “Now after the right angle now it’s the triangle after the two then it’s the four, after the left hand dominant it’s the right hand dominant. Here’s them both and together.” Each thing is just contributing more and the more that comes about, the more different genres of music that I can recognize as some of these things. But from a different position. It’s going somewhere else. So I send messages to pianists that are good. Lolo Astenova, she’s coming into her being. I send things out to symphony orchestras in the hopes that one day, “Let’s play together.”
[Unclear audio] present, and project that I would like the NCCU Philharmonic to play to or the D-Town Brass, you know, group to play with as, although right now, I limit myself to playing what the people in this 15 piece band D-Town Brass want me to play. Because now, they know they have a drummer that they can say I want this sound, I won’t say “Jones don’t play that or don’t do that.” I’ll figure out a way to play that. But still, I’m part of that band. So I just play my part, although they might include more of it, but they can include, and they can know that when we play it again, I’ll be able to play that again type thing. Okay, where do you want to go from here?
BH: I have at least one more question. Which will probably lead
to more questions. How did you meet Sun Ra?
KM: Yeah. Okay. That was, that’s why when I start talking esoterically people kind of look sideways, like what “Oh you just like, Sun Ra, you got the same problem [laughs].” But when we won that Ethnic Studies, and there was the Pervista stress area, we divided it in four: Black Studies, Business, Pervista performing and visual thing, and Science, I believe it was. I was in charge of the Pervista section. And I was playing drums, trying to develop these five drum things in my two-car garage, way up in the Berkeley hills. And I was lucky enough to get a developer to sell to me because he wanted to get the hell out of there. And we were doing the White Crane up there. And he’s, you know, he didn’t finish the complex, but there was one house. And we were able to work out something that I could work and also would work with the political, musical situation I was in. I can play up there. And I can have different political people come up there without no problems.
So I’m there. The chairman of the program says “We’ve hired this man Sun Ra” that I never heard of. Okay. “And they’ll be in your group.” I said, “Okay.” So I’m in my garage, and I have these five drums set up. So one’s in the middle, two are behind it. But apart from each other, so I could go in between, and then two more. So it looks like the nose of a spacecraft. Or the inside, I’m inside of a triangle. Okay, so I’m playing something. Then the chairman called me up and says “We got a problem. Now the university has reneged on the housing, and now we don’t have any place to keep him. I’m gonna send him up one of these days to talk to you.” No, no, “Can you do something?” I said, “Well, I’ll look into it.” And that was just that.
I’m playing these drums, and all of a sudden trying to work this five thing, which, initially, I had to train my ears to hear what five drums sounded like. I couldn’t follow that. I had to buy, initially, some Radio Shack clip-on mics record it, sit back and listen, to guide my ears to be able to “Oh, that’s what you’re listening to.” Because I think I was listening for the notes and a sound too – that wasn’t it. So I’m doing this, and I feel something strange, different, which is not too strange from playing those drums, and when I look back, Sun Ra and John Gilmore in full garb were standing there, they were just looking, smiling. And they said, “Oh, you can play with us.” He didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know who he was.
Okay, so eventually, when the housing thing came down, I guess he requested to stay up here with me. Had his keyboard and stuff and all his written music and stuff. And we begin talking, he did the talking, I’m listening. Or as I told another person who did an interview, I was osmosing all of the things, watching him write this complicated music, play this music. He put his keyboard in my living room so he could look up at the clouds. He was playing clouds and stuff. Now I can relate to that. But I had only gone as far as trees, or maybe some water or dancers. I could play from my mind to their movements. And now I realized because when I was early, I was doing my music via dance because we couldn’t afford the instruments. My music was coming through there. And because of the sound of the feet hitting the floor and stuff, that’s where the percussion-type thing comes through. So he said that. I go, “Okay.” So the coordinator of our department says “But he says he wants to stay with you.” I said, “Sure he can get in the house, six of them or whatever, there.”
So he was doing what he was doing. I’m teaching my class there, and I’m teaching my elementary school. Then on one of the Saturday-Sundays, I think the next one, as I told you, we were up at the other end where all of the people that wanted to try and play, as opposed to the commercial folks down at the other end, and I’m playing there and I saw him and maybe a few more people. He came near and he looked. Then when I saw him again, he says “I want you to bring the people that play with you.” Because they’re trying to listen, trying to osmose, trying to get into this, to try this, especially the ones that are trying to learn. The sincerity has to be there for this instrument to work. If it’s not there, it’s not gonna happen, because there’s not enough stuff to keep you occupied, you’ve got to really want to get into that. But anyways, he said, “I want you to bring all these guys with you and play with me at the Berklee Jazz Festival at the Greek Theatre.”
And so we go in there, he plays what it is, they’re sort of watching me. We’re used to “Okay, he’s playing this kind of rhythm, we play that kind of rhythm.” And we all just kind of osmose, we would get into it, which was the way his band was playing, okay. So he would cut us in, cut us out, by what he played, etc. And when he wanted a wall of sound like, for example, he would cut them down, and then all of a sudden, we would rise to, and I go “Wow, this is something else.”
But then, there we were, then we decided, well, you know, he has a philosophy that goes with this too. So we sat down and the coordinator said “Well, Ken, maybe you can submit a class.” We had to submit it to Letters and Science or whatever it is, that Sun Ra could teach. So I say “Okay, we can sit down” so he put out what he wanted. I put, you know, did what I knew I had to do for my esoteric class on White Crane. So we could present something. But he had his knowledge, information, I mean, it was already there. It’s just a matter of passing the UC Berkeley obstructions to get there. So we submitted that thing as part of our Pervista selection and its class got okayed, so then he was actually teaching a course in Sun Raism [laughs].
So, then we met, every time he played, it was just communication, knowledge, osmosis, every time we played it was like, going to the School of Rock, you know. You have to be that committed and that into doing that in order to play anything at all, otherwise you’d just be sitting there “What?” you know, trying to figure out what’s going on. But the knowledge was coming with it, too. Some that he imparted, I guess, purposefully. And others, maybe not. But people would ask John Gilmore “Why did you always keep playing with him when you could have been this, this, and that?” I understand that. I mean, he’s just the learning, developing if you’re really into music, every time out and every time we play a concert it’s like you’ve been taught to the Nth degree about some particular thing. Yeah, so it was just knowledge, knowledge, knowledge. And so I was meeting him philosophically for the little bit and I could understand and osmose.
Even now, years after, I can pull out stuff that’s still leftover from those times that you know, some other senses realize it before my cognitive senses realize, put it that way. So, you know, that’s adding to whatever what I’m doing now consciously is bolstered by playing with probably the master of those things. I don’t even know the words; esoteric, avant-garde. It was there. And I see other bands like the D-Town Brass that was modeled after, pulling elements of things that we did then, that people can finally cognitize. “Oh, yeah, let’s do this, and this, and this, because I’ve heard something like this before, where I want to do something.” Or “It’s permissible to do this now because I heard this person who reached acclaim doing stuff like that, so I can do some stuff like that.”
Again, then on tour, when we were going from Germany to, let’s see, the next place would have been France. And then Italy and then Egypt. It was time for me on tour to go back and do my teaching. So I left him there. And I could tell he wanted… Actually, I think he was more proud of the fact that I stuck to my commitments and went back and do what I had to do, etc. And that’s the last personal time I was in his presence. But all of that stuff that had happened on that tour, all our plane up and down, Northern California, Southern California. No that didn’t go away. That was there. He was it. That was always here.
And as I say, later on, he called me to go to come meet them. And again the esoteric thing. He called me, sent two tickets to meet them in Mexico. I’m in California there, they came back to Philly. They played at the Palace of Fine Arts. Palacio de Bellas, something like that. So I go to the airport when I’ve got my one drum because I know everybody in the band’s got drums, too. The Oakland airport, they tell me “Well, I’m sorry, sir. We don’t have any planes going to Mexico.” So you just like “Damn.” So Oakland has one long strip. And the bus thing is down that way. For some reason… You know, I went to each one Southwest, United, whatever, badabadaba, same thing. “We just don’t have that.” I get to the end of the terminal, whatever the thing is, it’s like a long thing, and this guy turns around – no, no. The security guard says “Can you play this pan flute?” [Ken holds up flutes around his neck] And I say “Yeah, I can play a little bit,” so I play something. He [says] “Ah ah ah like esta bien!” And by that time, the guy in the last section came out. “Oh, you play this music?” I say “Yeah, I’m trying to get to Mexico City, Palace of Fine Arts.” He says “We go there.” [Laughter] So I look at him. Yeah, we have this prop. It was a prop. Wasn’t a turbo plane. And I go “Well, hey, come on, let’s go.” And I what I had to do. I got on the plane. I remember we were doing the dipsy. You know, it was good. There was only about 12, 14 people. It wasn’t a huge plane. But so we got there.
When I got there, then a cab driver, I said I’m trying to find his place. He says “Okay, I’ll take you there.” So he takes me here. They’re on stage and I’m coming from the back of this huge, beautiful place. So I’m walking down the aisle with -I had my one drum with me- coming down. And then all of a sudden they’re playing the song where it’s for me to play. And so when I get to that point, I stopped in the middle of the island, I start playing. Then John Gilmore said, later on, he said, “I heard somebody said this dude acting like somebody sounds like you’re playing.” Then he says, “I looked out there and I saw Brother Ken.” Brother Ken is what he calls me. “Brother Ken way out there in the aisle.” So I play it off like that was just part of the, you know… I’m coming.
And then Sun Ra in front of everybody says “You see?” Because everybody had told him that “Ken can’t make it.” That’s why they had started, because “there are no flights.” He says “No, Ken will make it.” Nobody questioned. I mean, it’s stuff like that was happening all the time. He’d go into places where very few people spoke English or anything, and they’d be like, in Finland, they’d be doing all kinds of crazy stuff. He’d play a couple of notes and everybody would sit their butt down and be quiet and listen. I mean, that music did a lot of things. And like I say, we’d be in these opera houses and you have queens and kings looking down over the edge [laughing]. I mean they were smitten with that. And as you can see now, he travels, that band, even after he’s passed, they travel country to country, the way we would travel, not even city to city, but from venue to venue in the city.
That’s one of the reasons that with my age and health now I’m hesitant to commit myself to them. Because I want to make sure I’ve gotten all these health things identified and taken care of. So I wouldn’t be a hindrance on something like that. But they, once they start playing it’s, you know, Oxford, University of Yugoslavia, Slovakia, Russia, China, all kinds, you name it, they’re going there playing and playing and playing. And so that’s how I met him. And I can play deep enough that it will bring back the essence and the actuality of playing some of our music.
So when this batch of 12 songs that I’m going to put out, there’s one called “Sonny’s Song.” And that’s the song that he liked to feature me, a six/eight. Because, for some reason, that esoteric beat was the one that people would say I played easily the best. And so he would have the whole band doing something and all of a sudden he would crescendo to a point where… and then they would all cut out and then I would be there. Okay, so now I’ve been able to figure out how to play what the rest of the band was playing, and then take it to that point. Okay, so… and then when I do that, I can see him there. You know. So that’s how we met physically. And you know, his music it will always go [unclear audio]. At some point, I’ll be going this way and then I’ll cross a path where I see “Oh, that’s where he got that or he crossed pan or he went to this place.” And in his words, I would say “Oh, he went to this planet.” Okay, but he -woof- I can imagine all those years he was doing that, going to those places like that. What was in his mind? You know, where he brought back… and then I realized those songs and some of that is in you.
BH: You said you were playing the five drums when he came in. Were you already working on your hieroglyphic approach before you met him?
KM: Yeah, I was working on only one hieroglyphics, but geometrics as part of that. That’s a specialized form. There’s only certain patterns that we recognize and deal with. So I was working on the geometric pattern of setting the drums up that way. Okay, because one, that’s about the only way you could play them correctly, according to what I envisioned, which made it like a space capsule. You’re sitting in between, like Star Trek and all, that might have influenced. But I had me sitting in the middle, so I would be rocking back and forth like I’m –it would be like you were going somewhere. And when I started playing with them, he allowed, let me, set me up to play the five drums in the presentations. And a couple of times he would say “Ken,” like he would be talking like we are, “Go take your five and get us started.” And at some point, all of a sudden [makes Arkestra sound], the whole orchestra would come in with some stuff, playing his version of what I thought I was playing, okay. I had that, then I had a solo drum that was made out of goatskin, a voodoo thing. Like I say when there were certain places he would just somehow communicate to me. Okay, bring it up. Because otherwise I’m playing, trying to solidify with everybody else. But there were times when, many times -I had lots of solos with him- and then it was that now I realized why it was that space type thing that he was doing. And I’m thinking it’s because I was beginning to be even-handed. So I would, you know… And he’d chime in with something different according to what he was doing.
And then once I remember at UC Berkeley, this is the only time I feel like I disappointed him. It came to that spot. After I played the five drum thing, I think he really wanted to feature me then. And it came to my point. And I took my left hand and hit the drum and it went all the way through the skin. And he looked, I saw him look [laughing]. I was standing there looking like “What the?” And then, later on, typical Sun Ra, he says “Well, you had four other drums next to you, why didn’t you play one of them?” And I go “Yeah” [laughs]. From then on, no matter what drums falling over, the ceiling falling, whatever happens, I’m gonna play something if that didn’t work, then I’ll shift over and do the same kind of thing there. Okay, he just, you know, he used to say it’s the impossible that you play.
Okay, so whatever -flying from Oakland to Mexico City with no planes. Okay. I mean, they were shocked. I was too. I was just sitting there going [looks around in awe]. And then that’s where I went to the ziggurat. And ziggurat is a word that I saw somewhere… is the triangle pyramid with the top cut off. So that’s why “Ziggurat Del Sol” since it was the Pyramid of the Sun. Now see, I can play that pattern in my music, you know, at the bottom of it that’s the ten and then as it goes up, so the eight or the bottom is a 12. And the next level the 10. The next level is the eight. The next level is the six. The top is a four because it’s a square. And then when I got to the fourth square, I just said that’s when I go over to my bongos and play. Because I took an Egyptian drum to walk up there with me. I didn’t have my drums because I didn’t know anything about it. When we went on the field trip, so I didn’t have any. And then I saw it and I think some young lady loaned me her drum. I said, “I’ve got to go play something at the top of this.” And now that’s coming to fruition on my last album, Grand Percussion, Ziggurat Del Sol. That’s where all of that came back into the – Yeah, that’s the Sun Ra thing.