The first time I stepped into the Velvet Lounge, on July 28, 1997, it was like walking into the beginning of my life. Before that, I thought I was playing music and I thought I knew what love and community was. My big brother Hamid Drake had been playing with the Velvet’s proprietor and spiritual leader, Fred Anderson, since his teens. He had told me, time and again, “You’ve got to meet and hear Fred.” Fred was a father to Hamid, and began taking him to Europe in the ’70s. I got off the L train at Cermak and strutted past the Ickes projects to a brick shack: 2128 1/2 S. Indiana.
The Velvet. I had walked through a portal. Wall-to-wall people, some even on the floor, sitting in prayer to the stage. The room was full of magic. I looked around at the peeling kente wallpaper and the mesmerized audience and was instantly captivated by the smoky electric sounds. I wondered if the drooping lamp, dangling by a string from the ceiling, would fall onto the musicians. Anderson was all bent over, weaving energetic lines macramed with Charlie Parker’s essence and his own rugged determination. Fred’s ornate sounds were tinged with the blues poetry, strength, Black history and a golden edge that only honesty can bring. Hamid, in trance, whipped rhythmic questions beckoning us to the core of life itself. I quickly scrawled down my visions, dreams and doodles when I noticed two humongous feet before me. My eyes rolled up to discover saxophonist David Boykin, my avant-garde partner-in-crime to be. That night began my envelopment into a new world. I was home.