2017 Meade Legacy Jazz Griot Award Recipient: Willie Pickens

It was so great to hear about all the wonderful musicians who went through the Dusable H S bands. Johnny Griffin was my favorite… I'm hoping you will write down all of that great history so we'll have it forever. Thanks again for all you do to preserve the history and educate the people about America's great music - JAZZ !!!

Your friend, Juli Wood

If there is anything we want to know about life or jazz history we only have to call DAD. DAD is a walking encyclopedia of Jazz History. I love you DAD.

Your loving son,
Ahmed Benbayla
Artist Administrator
Chicago Jazz Orchestra

Since meeting you, I have grown a deeper appreciation for the language of Jazz. I can now say, if you don’t have anything to say, then stay away from Jazz. Jazz is a language of music only for people who want to hold conversation…

Love Always,
Your Student/Daughter
Christiana

The Griot emerged from West African traditions as a storyteller, historian, chronicler and keeper of the timeline. The Griot in short, remembers through word and song all of the important events and experiences of a particular community. The Griot holds sacred the collective memory of a community preserving it for future generations.

Hearing your stories about many of my personal heroes is always exhilarating and reminds me how fortunate and blessed I am to be a Jazz musician. To know you as a personal friend is a HUGE plus in my life. I am more than pleased to witness you being publically acknowledged at the 2012 JEN Conference as one of our most treasured and deserving Jazz Griot Historians. Without you, who would know the "real deal?" Thank you being the magnificent human being that you are!...

Love,
Rufus Reid

It is people like you who will help to keep Jazz alive for generations to come. Your incredible memory is second to none, so you are always able to share facts and details. But it’s your genuine and sincere love of mentoring young people that sets you apart, Donald…
Joe Calato & Family

The Donald Meade Legacy Foundation

The Meade Legacy Society in conjunction with the African American Jazz Caucus confers the 2nd Annual Meade Legacy Jazz Griot Award to Dr. Willis Kirk.  A noted musician, educator, humanitarian, Dr. Kirk personifies the essence of the jazz griot.

 Dr. Willis Kirk, a native of Indianapolis, Indiana, graduated from the prestigious Crispus Attucks High School and obtained aMaster’s Degree from Butler University.  He continued studies at Ohio State University, Indiana University, the University of San Francisco, and received a Doctorate in Educational Administration from Walden University. 

At Attucks High School, Willis came under the tutelage of music teachers, Russell Brown, Norman Merrifield, Lavern Newsom, and Marian Burch.  He played with noted musicians, Earl Hines, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, John Handy, John Hendricks, Jimmy Coe, Leroy Vinnegar, Earl Grandy, Slide Hampton, Hank Marr and many other legendary artists during the 1940,s 50,s and 60,s.  These experiences molded Willis Kirk, into the brilliant talent he became. 

 During his career he rubbed shoulders with many of the 20th century jazz greats, and played countless casuals. He was born in Indianapolis in 1928. In 4th grade he started taking drum lessons, and by high school had played his first paid gig. After high school, he worked with many groups in Indianapolis, including Wes Montgomery, with whom he played for many years. 

In 1950, he was drafted into the army. After the service he continued to play music and eventually went to Butler University on the GI Bill. While there were many others, Arthur Carter Sr. a former Tuskegee Airman, became a mentor and great influence on young Kirk’s understanding of community.

Kirk continued to play gigs and eventually had his own trio. In 1955 he married Roslyn King and began to raise a family. He supported himself as a music teacher. In the early 60s, Willis also worked part-time as a business agent for Indianapolis Musicians Local 3. He relocated his family to the Bay Area in 1968, where he taught music in Oakland public schools and, eventually, worked as a counselor for City College of San Francisco. From 1988 – 1991 he served as City College president.

In the early 80s, he wrote a jazz drumming instructional book called Brush Fire.

During the 1990s, Kirk composed “Rejoice! Rejoice!” a jazz oratory that was recorded and performed at the Indianapolis Jazz Festival in 2004.May 9, 2009, in recognition of his vast contributions to higher education, he received an Honorary Doctor of Arts Degree from Butler University. Today, Willis continues to play with the David Hardiman All – Star Big Band, as well as the occasional casual gig.

 “Dr. Willis Kirk and his generation were at the advent of modern jazz; a transitional time when swing had its run as a driving force” according to Donald Meade.  He was a major drummer, a great educator and administrator; one of the guardians of his time.  The industry has provided many critics and advocates but few griot/historians.  Kirk has worked tirelessly to share with others “the seriousness of this music.  We can’t be caught up in being kind” he says.  “We have to be accurate if this music is going to continue.  We need contributionsabove mediocrity to perpetuate a legacy.”

In His Own Words…

“One evening in 1949, my friend Walt McCauley and I were very excited about hearing the Charlie Parker Quintet with Max Roach & Miles Davis at the Sunset Terrace, on Indiana Ave. We arrived before the starting time of 9:00 p.m. so when the doors opened we were one of the first to enter the ballroom. Upon entering, we both heard someone say, “There he is, Bird.” Another voice came up to me and said, “Are you Kirk, man?” I said yes, not knowing who was asking. He said,”come on man. We have to hit at nine.” At this, he pulled me by my arm towards the bandstand, which was quite a distance from the entryway. Before I realized what was going on, the person sat me behind a set of old drums at the rear of the stage and proceeded to play. As I sat there he turned around and said, “Play man, play.” He repeated this command on more than one occasion as I continued to just sit there. Needless to say, I was bewildered and in shock as I realized I was sitting in the seat which should be occupied by my idol, Max Roach.

After I got myself together, I did start to play drums with Charlie Parker. My shock turned into excitement, and I began to feel good playing with one of my musical heroes on alto saxophone. Starting at 9:00 or shortly afterwards, I played with Bird until 11:00. When Max and Miles appeared at the entrance to the Sunset, Bird immediately took an intermission so that Max and Miles could set up. Charlie called me over to the bandstand and put $10.00 in my hand. I gave it back to him, but he would not accept the money. Instead, he put the bill in my coat pocket after he thanked me for filling in for Max Roach. I was excited to meet Max Roach, and he too thanked me and said that he enjoyed hearing me play. He and the rest of the quintet played the rest of the evening until the job ended at 1:00 a.m. This was the most memorable moment of my career in the music business.”

2012 First Annual Meade Legacy Jazz Griot Award Recipient: Donald Meade

“We stand on the shoulders of great people, and we would be negligent not to honor and continue the legacy of their monumental contributions.”
Dr. Larry Ridley

2015 Meade Legacy Jazz Griot Award Recipient: Congressman John Conyers, Jr.

I would like to personally and on behalf of all my students of over 35 years applaud the mentorship and friendship of a jazz legend, Donald Meade. He has kept the true tradition of knowledge of the history and culture of jazz alive and relevant to many young and old…

Ronald Carter
Director NIU Jazz Studies/Director NIU Jazz Ensemble

Because you have heard and experienced so much for so long, you stand as a beacon to so many fans, friends, and musicians, all of us sharing the joy of jazz and hoping to pass it along to others yet uninitiated. Your commitment is greatly appreciated…

Sincerely,
Semenya

2016 Meade Legacy Jazz Griot Award Recipient: Larry Reni Thomas

Support the DMLF

Congratulations on your 83rd birthday. You are the man when it comes to jazz history. Your knowledge has inspired and informed all of us who love jazz. You not only know this history but have lived it…

John Beck
Professor Emeritus of Percussion

​Eastman School of Music

You introduced me to and continue to guide me through the business aspect of music… And that brings to mind one of many of your sayings; "I will never tell you anything wrong" and that has never been a truer statement when it comes down to all that you have taught me…

Leon Joyce Jr
Gunnery Sergeant
USMC (Retired)

It is fitting that Dr. Willis Kirk be honored as the recipient of the 2nd Annual Meade Legacy Jazz Griot Award.Recognized widely by top jazz musicians, loved and respected by the jazz community, Dr. Willis Kirk has been a faithful steward of the oral history of jazz music. 

In the early 80s, he wrote a jazz drumming instructional book called Brush Fire.

During the 1990s, Kirk composed “Rejoice! Rejoice!” a jazz oratory that was recorded and performed at the Indianapolis Jazz Festival in 2004.May 9, 2009, in recognition of his vast contributions to higher education, he received an Honorary Doctor of Arts Degree from Butler University. Today, Willis continues to play with the David Hardiman All – Star Big Band, as well as the occasional casual gig.

“Dr. Willis Kirk and his generation were at the advent of modern jazz; a transitional time when swing had its run as a driving force” according to Donald Meade.  He was a major drummer, a great educator and administrator; one of the guardians of his time.  The industry has provided many critics and advocates but few griot/historians.  Kirk has worked tirelessly to share with others “the seriousness of this music.  We can’t be caught up in being kind” he says.  “We have to be accurate if this music is going to continue.  We need contributionsabove mediocrity to perpetuate a legacy.”

What is a Griot?

An accomplished musical force with decades of experience as a sought-after accompanist, a thoughtful soloist, and bandleader, Larry Ridley has appeared on a countless number of sessions as a sideman.  He studied at Indiana University and the Lenox School of Jazz.  After working in his hometown with Freddie Hubbard, James Spaulding and Wes Montgomery, Ridley relocated to New York, where he has been active ever since.  Among his more significant musical associations in the 1960’s were with Slide Hampton, Max Roach, Red Garland, Art Farmer, Jackie McLean, Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver, Lee Morgan, and George Wein’s Newport All-Stars, and Thelonious Monk’s regular bassist through the mid 70’s.    He worked with Philly Joe Jones’ Dameronia (1981-1985) and has been active up until the present time.  Ridley only recorded sparingly as a leader, but he has been a valuable sideman on many dates.
 
Dr. Larry Ridley has also been one of the staunchest advocates for jazz education and the appreciation of the music’s roots in African-American culture.From 1971 to 1999, Ridley headed the jazz program and music department at Rutgers University.The philosophy of the new College was based primarily with answering the Civil Rights Movement, the Student Demands for Ethnic Curricula Inclusion, and to quell the civil unrest and riots in many cities in the United States. The quality of activist intellectual colleagues included individuals such as Maria Canino, Lloyd McNeil, Dan Newman, Daniel Goode, Nathan Heard, Nikki Giovanni, Toni Cade Bambara, Philip Corner, Frank Jennifer, Bernie Charles, Mel Gary, Sonia Sanchez, and many others.

Dr. Ridley has served as chairman of the Jazz Panel of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and was the organization’s National Coordinator of the Jazz Artist in Schools program for five years (1978-1982).  He served as a consultant to Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) in the drafting of House Concurrent Resolution 57 declaring “Jazz as a rare and valuable National Treasure through the African American Experience”.  His many honors include the MidAtlantic Arts Foundation’s Living Legacy Jazz Award”, introduction into the International Association for Jazz Education Hall of Fame (IAJE) and the Downbeat Magazine Jazz Education Hall of Fame.  The Bennie Golson Jazz Award from Howard University and a Juneteenth 2006 Proclamation Award from the New York City Council.In 2013, Dr. Ridley was honored in his hometown with inducted into the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation Hall of fame.

Dr. Ridley, an active performer, has served since 1993 as Jazz Artist in Residence at the Harlem based New York Public Library/Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.  He established an annual series there dedicated to presenting the compositions of the jazz masters that are performed by Dr. Ridley and his Jazz Legacy Ensemble.  He is a contributing Editor to JazzEd Magazine, & Lecturer – Jazz at Lincoln Center beginning in 2011.

Ridley and the late Anderson White founded the Black Jazz Music Caucus (BMJC) in 1977, an autonomousaffiliate working with the National Association of Jazz Educators.  In the year 2000 he became the Executive Director of the BJMC’s renamed African American Jazz Caucus, Inc. (AAJC), a 501c3.  The AAJC proactively works to maintain the aesthetic integrity, heritage, legacy and historical facts germane to the music emphasizing “The Roots that have produced the Fruits.”  Under the leadership of Ridley & President Bill Myers the AAJC looks forward to continuing to recognize those “Roots”.

“I have known Larry Ridley since he was teenager playing in and around Indianapolis, Ind. I have always admired Larry for his interest in Music Education,his ambition, his musicianship and his willingness to continue his growth where ever he established his home.”



In His Own Words…

The early “educators” who continue to be significant influences on me as a musician and as a human being begins with my father, mother, siblings, paternal/maternal families, religious and extended families at large, my daughter, my grandchildren, my nephews, my wife Magdalena, et al.

I have had many great teachers. My third grade teacher at George Washington Carver P.S. 87 in Indianapolis taught and instilled a sense of pride in me as an African American/Cherokee Indian with a tad of European. Her name was Mrs. Pauline Morton-Finney. She was a brilliant woman who served along with Ms. Mary McLeod Bethune, as an advisor to Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt during her husband’s Presidency. Mrs. Morton-Finney introduced us to W.E.B. DuBois, Carter G. Woodson, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Booker T. Washington, Phyllis Wheatley, Harriet Tubman, Chief Sitting Bull, Frederick Douglass, etc.

My “big brothers,” David Baker and Jim Harrison, have always been, and continue to be, major role models and mentors.

I realized that I wanted to be a musician and music educator based on my earliest educational experiences in the 1950s observing the lack of African American, Hispanic, Native American and Asian Studies curricula inclusion throughout the European American Educational System. I felt the need to dedicate my life and career as an African American jazz performer and African American jazz educator. My point is teaching, “Inclusion to recognize the Roots that have produced the Fruits.” The roots of the Jazz Tree begin in Mother Africa and the fruits are the various global jazz hybrids that have evolved from those roots. This in no way makes it exclusive or exclusionary. It points to teaching the roots that many beautiful fruits have evolved from. But remember that Maestro Duke Ellington stated, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that Swing.”                                 

If there is anything we want to know about life or jazz history we only have to call DAD. DAD is a walking encyclopedia of Jazz History. I love you DAD.

Your loving son,
Ahmed Benbayla
Artist Administrator
Chicago Jazz Orchestra

DONALD MEADE RECEIVES 1ST ANNUAL JAZZ GRIOT AWARD

Louisville, KY, Jan. 5th: It was the best of times at the 3rd Annual Jazz Education Network Conference with the diligent support of Past President, Mary Jo Papich, as Larry Ridley & the Jazz Legacy Ensemble sponsored by the African American Jazz Caucus made time for his friends and the Universe to honor noted jazz historian Donald Meade as the first recipient of the Jazz Griot Award. (See attached) This annual award which will forever bear his name was made before an excited throng thrilled to pay homage to one of the most knowledgeable jazz historians of our time.

What is a Griot?

The Griot emerged from West African traditions as a storyteller, historian, chronicler and keeper of the timeline. The Griot in short, remembers through word and song all of the important events and experiences of a particular community. He holds sacred the collective memory, preserving for future generations.

Donald Meade is a timeless treasure. His life parallels the evolution of jazz music and culture. His love for music extends far beyond mere knowledge of facts and important figures. Meade brings to the conversation reflections on the origins, dynamics and byways of jazz music. He includes more than just an intimate familiarity with the people that inhabit the landscape, but a thorough knowledge of how these artists mirrored and informed the development of the American culture at the time. His first voice stories embrace the social, political and cultural realities that shape and created musical truths. He was in fact there when what we refer to as “history” was being made. One cannot argue with living history!

Meade, born December 8, 1928 in Joliet, Illinois, was raised in Joliet and later in the Watertown area of East Moline, Illinois, during the time when jazz was coming of age. Meade speaks fondly of growing up musically in the time of Duke Ellington, Nat Cole, Pat Patrick, Louis Armstrong, Clark Terry and many other pioneers and innovators of the day. He has been a life-long friend and confidant to many of the jazz legends and innovators, and has traveled extensively with jazz giants such as Ed Thigpen, ray Brown, Oscar Peterson, Milt Jackson, Cedar Walton, the Heath Brothers, Art Farmer, and Ella Fitzgerald to name a few. “At one time jazz was the popular music” he says.

The son of a revered labor leader, Alfred (Mule) Meade, Donald Meade remarks: “The history of some aspects of the culture in this country cannot be explained without first understanding the country’s labor history.” As a former laborer at John Deere Harvester Works and later a TWA baggage supervisor, Meade comments: “Were the opportunity to work not here, all of those musical influences from New Orleans to New York, would not have gravitated and uniquely jelled here.” We have all heard versions of the history of this music, but rarely in the context of the symbiotic relationship of arts and labor. It is an insightful view of life and music unique to Mr. Meade.

The history of jazz has often depended upon the reports of witnesses regardless of how far removed. A supremely valid history of jazz is on the lips of those who were there. Meade’s retelling of first-hand accounts has influenced jazz education and generations of young people.

It is fitting that Donald Edward Meade be honored as the first recipient and namesake of the 1st Annual Meade Legacy Jazz Griot Award. Recognized internationally by top jazz musicians, loved and respected by the jazz community, Donald Meade has been a faithful steward of the oral history of this music we all love.

I've never mentioned a name or subject that he hasn't had insight, personal experience or knowledge about. I have often told Donald that he should write a book chronicling his experiences and knowledge. Donald Meade is a true Griot. It is very fitting that he be honored and recognized world wide…
Willie&Irma Pickens

2013 Meade Legacy Jazz Griot Award Recipient: Dr. Willis Kirk

2014 Meade Legacy Jazz Griot Award Recipient: Dr. Larry Ridley

Meade Legacy Jazz Griot Award