Farewell: Wayne Kramer Remembers Charles Moore
Ex-MC5 guitarist and Detroit trumpeter were longtime collaborators
Inner-city Detroit in the 1960s was a hotbed of artistic possibilities. The intelligentsia of New York, Los Angeles, London or Paris never thought anything of cultural value could be happening in Detroit. “They make cars there,” was the joke. But the reality on the ground was that in this tough, grey, highly polarized social environment, the cultural breakthroughs were magnificent.
Not only was there the long, rich history of jazz in Detroit, there were a lot of new things emerging in our ghetto neighborhood near Wayne State University. This was the home of the Artists Workshop, founded by John Sinclair and trumpeter Charles Moore along with a gang of motor city maniac poets and artists. It was there, in 1967, that I first met Charles through Sinclair, who became my mentor and the manager of the MC5. He and Charles were best friends. Charles and I clicked and that began what turned out to be a 47-year musical collaboration. As time went on, Charles and I became better friends and worked together on MC5 records and live performances.
Charles represented everything I wanted to be in life: a jazz musician, an intellectual and hipster of the highest order. Clearly we came from differing traditions, jazz and rock, but that difference was never an issue between us. We smoked reefer and listened to Albert Ayler, Sun Ra, Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, Cecil Taylor, et al. All it had to be was unorthodox and high-energy and we loved it. The consensus in our community was that this was the music of the future, a goal that never changed in the almost 50 years we had together.
Back then, we shared the same low-rent apartments and crazy girlfriends and endured the Detroit police department’s harassment of beatniks, musicians and hippies. Free Jazz found a home in our crowd and it was an exciting time to be young and on to something new.
Charles left Detroit in the 1970s for Los Angeles to continue the formal education he had begun at Detroit Conservatory of Music and Wayne State University. He was scouted early on as a gifted music educator, but he had his own ideas about what was important.
When I ended up on the West Coast in 1994, Cee-Mo was my welcoming committee. We picked up right where we left off back in Detroit. We continued the conversation, both musical and philosophical. The things we talked about ranged far and wide. We talked about everything and everybody. He was a man of deep intellectual curiosity, a great listener and a natural educator who could speak the language of the street and discuss complex geopolitical ideas in the same breath. He was a master musician who understood the history of music and its significance for humans on the most profound level. And, being a Detroiter, he was of course always a sharp-dressed man.
Through the years, Charles performed in the United States, Europe and Africa. He collaborated with such musicians as Andrew Hill, Archie Shepp, Sam Rivers, Joe Chambers, Stanley Cowell, Ralph Penland, Yusef Lateef, Kenn Cox, Kobla Ladzekpo, Taranath Rao, Amiya Dasgupta, Nyomen Wenten, Francis Awe, Rudy Gomis, Chiekh Seck, John Beasley, Tigran Hamasyan, Palabra, Adam Rudolph, Ralph Jones, Robert Hurst, Danny Spencer and Harvey Mason.
And he graduated with a Doctorate of Philosophy, Ph.D, in the field of Ethnomusicology from UCLA. He went on to become a professor and specialist in the Blues Music of Africans in America and has had various visiting professorships at several universities.
He and I recently collaborated on a new record, Lexington, which came out this spring and landed at number 6 on the Billboard traditional jazz charts. We were both over the moon with the recognition. It was a long time coming and a first for us both.
Charles was an inspiring man to have in the studio. At one point on Lexington you can hear him shout out loud with enthusiasm. He didn’t care that the recording was in process! He was feeling it and he had to let us know! We were all having a ball. He inspired, supported and retorted. He was a joy. Our last conversation before he died was about our upcoming tour together and, what excited him most, the next record.
That’s what we do. We keep planning, keep gigging, keep writing, creating, taking it all the way to the final coda. He will be deeply missed. He never stopped being a humanist, an artist, a creative musician and my dear teacher and collaborator. Best of all, friend.