picture of Don Pullen
Don Pullen
Don (* 1941) was raised in Roanoke, Virginia. Growing up in a musical family, he learned the piano at an early age. He played with the choir in his local church. He took some lessons in classical piano and knew little of jazz. At this time, he was mainly aware of church music and the blues.
 
Don left Roanoke for Johnson C. Smith University in North Carolina to study for a medical career but soon he realized that his true vocation was music. After playing with local musicians and being exposed for the first time to albums of the major jazz musicians and composers he abandoned his medical studies. He set out to make a career in music, desirous of playing like Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy.
 
In 1964 he went to Chicago for a few weeks, where he encountered Muhal Richard Abrams' philosophy of making music. He then headed for New York, where he was soon introduced to avant-garde saxophonist Giuseppi Logan, who invited Don to play piano on his two albums, Giuseppi Logan and More, both exercises in structured free playing.
 
Subsequently, Don and Milford Graves formed a duo. Their concert at Yale University in May 1966 was recorded. They formed their own independent SRP record label (standing for "Self Reliance Project") to publish the result as two LPs. These were the first records to bear Pullen's name, second to Graves'. Although not greatly known in the United States, these avant-garde albums were well received in Europe, most copies being sold there. These recordings have never been reissued.
 
Finding little money in playing avant-garde jazz, Don began to play the Hammond organ to extend his opportunities for work, transferring elements of his individual piano style to this instrument. During the remainder of the 1960s and early 1970s, he played with his own organ trio in clubs and bars, worked as a self-taught arranger for record companies, and accompanied various singers including Arthur Prysock, Irene Reid, Ruth Brown, Jimmy Rushing and Nina Simone.
 
In 1972, Don briefly appeared with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. He appeared on no more commercial recordings until 1971 and 1972 when he played organ on three recordings by altoist Charles Williams, one being issued under the title of a Pullen composition, "Trees And Grass And Things". In 1973 drummer Roy Brooks introduced Don to bassist Charles Mingus, and after a brief audition he took over the vacant piano chair in the Mingus group. This gave great exposure to Don's playing and helped to persuade audiences and critics that Don was not just a free jazz player. Musical disagreements with Mingus caused Pullen to leave the group in 1975.
 
In this year, an Italian record company gave Don, George Adams, and Dannie Richmond the opportunity to each make a recording under his own name. In 1977, Don was signed by Atlantic Records. But after two records, Don's association with Atlantic was terminated and he returned to European companies.
 
Meanwhile, he recorded with groups led by Billy Hart (drums), Hamiet Bluiett (baritone sax), Cecil McBee (bass), Sunny Murray (drums) and Marcello Melis (bass). On the formation of the first Mingus Dynasty band Don occupied the piano chair and appeared on their recording Chair In The Sky in 1979, but he soon left the band, feeling the music had diverged too far from Mingus' intentions.
 
In late 1979 Don, Adams, and Richmond performed as the George Adams/Don Pullen Quartet. They played music that was more structured than Don normally favored, but the immediate rapport among them led to the group touring the world with unchanged personnel until the death of Richmond in early 1988. In 1986 they signed to record for Blue Note Records. After the death of Dannie Richmond the quartet disbanded in mid-1988. On 16 December 1988 he went into the studio with Gary Peacock (bass) and Tony Williams (drums) to make his first trio album New Beginnings.
 
In early 1990 Don added a new element to his playing and his music with the formation of his African Brazilian Connection ("ABC"). This featured Carlos Ward (alto sax), Nilson Matta (bass), Guilherme Franco and Mor Thiam (percussion) in a group which mixed African and Latin rhythms with jazz. During the last few years of his life, Don toured with his trio, with his African Brazilian Connection, and as a solo artist. As a sideman and session musician, he left his mark with a variety of noteworthy artists, including Jane Bunnett, Bill Cosby, Kip Hanrahan, David Murray's 1991 Shakill's Warrior, Maceo Parker, Ivo Perelman and Jack Walrath. He also toured and recorded with the group Roots from its inception.
 
Don's final project was a work combining the sounds of his African Brazilian Connection, extended by Joseph Bowie on trombone, with a choir and drums of Native Americans. He began to experiment with American Indian music as late as July 1992. In early March 1995 he played on his final recording, Sacred Common Ground, a few weeks away from his death, returning to his heritage of the blues and the church. He died on 22 April 1995 of lymphoma.
 
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Discography
Charles Williams
Mainstream Records MRL 312
released 1971
Charles Williams, alto sax
David 'Bubba' Brooks, tenor sax
Earl Dunbar jr, guitar
Don Pullen, organ
Gordon Edwards, bass
Bill Curtis, drums
Trees And Grass And Things
Mainstream Records MRL 345
released 1971
Charles Williams, alto sax
David 'Bubba' Brooks, tenor sax
Cornell Dupree. guitar
Don Pullen, piano, organ
Jimmy Lewis, bass
William Curtis, drums
Montego Joe, percussion
Booty
Mainstream Records MRL 413
recorded 1974 in USA
Charles Williams, alto sax
Chris Woods, alto sax, baritone sax
Bubba Brooks, tenor sax
Frank Wess, tenor sax, flute
Randy Brecker, flugelhorn
Cornell Dupree, guitar
David Spinozza, guitar
Paul Griffin, piano
Don Pullen, organ
Gordon Edwards, bass
Clyde Lucas, drums
Ray Barretto, congas
David Carey, congas, marimba
Milano Strut
Black Saint BSR 0028
released 1979
recorded December 1978 in Milano/Italy
Don Pullen, piano, organ
Famoudou Don Moye, drums, percussion, congas, bells
Conjure
American Clavé 1015
recorded September/October 1987 and January through March 1988 in New York City/USA
Allen Toussaint, piano
Don Pullen, organ, vocal
Leo Nocentelli, guitar
Elysee Pyronneau, guitar
Johnny Watkins, guitar
Lenny Picket, tenor sax
Eddie Harris, tenor sax, vocal
David Murray, tenor sax, vocal
Hamiet Bluiett, baritone sax
Olu Dara, trumpet, vocal, harmonica
Fernando Saunders, bass, vocal
Steve Swallow, bass
Robbie Ameen, trap drums
Ignacio Berroa, trap drums
Manenquito Giovanni Hidalgo, congas
Milton Cardona, congas
Frisner Augustin, congas
Ishmael Reeds, words
Clare Bathé, vocals
Roots Revisited
Minor Music MM 1015
recorded in New York City/USA
released 1990
Maceo Parker, alto sax, piano, organ
Vince Henry, alto sax
Bootsy Collins, bass
Bill Stewart, drums
Rodney Jones, guitar
Don Pullen, organ
Pee Wee Ellis, tenor sax
Fred Wesley, trombone
Stablemates
In+Out Records IOR 7021-2
recorded December 1992 in Heidelberg/Germany
released 1993
Nathan Davis, soprano sax, alto sax, tenor sax
Arthur Blythe, soprano sax, tenor sax
Chico Freeman, soprano sax, alto sax, tenor sax
Sam Rivers, alto sax, tenor sax
Don Pullen, piano, Hammond B-3 organ
Helmut Nieberle, guitar
Helmut Kagerer, guitar
Santi Debriano, bass
Idris Muhhmad, drums

 
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