A Weaving of Traditions

Several musicians with Native American ancestry have made significant contributions to jazz; including Kid Ory (Cherokee), who helped define the sound of Dixieland jazz; Frank Trumbauer (Cherokee), who was a major influence on shaping the sound of both Lester Young and Benny Carter; Don Cherry (Choctaw), who was a pioneer in free jazz and world music; and Jon Hendricks (Cherokee), regarded by many as the father of vocalese. 

Charlie Parker (Choctaw) and Dizzy Gillespie (Cheraw) redefined jazz with a new style known as bebop, Ornette Coleman (Tuscarora) ushered in free jazz and Miles Davis (Cherokee) continued to expand the direction of jazz throughout his career.

Native rhythms and motifs have found their way into the music of several jazz luminaries, including Dave Brubeck (Modoc), Don Cherry (Choctaw), and Duke Ellington, Charles Lloyd, Sheila Jordan and Oscar Pettiford (all Cherokee). Even Jack Teagarden (who had no Native American roots) asserted tht his music was influenced by the American Indian chants he heard in his youth at Pow-wows. 

     Listen to the June, 2013 radio show

This project was supported by KBEM - Jazz88 FM and funded by The Minnesota Legacy Amendment Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.


Weaving of
              Traditions - April, 2016
     Listen to the April, 2016 radio show

A few, most notably Jim Pepper (Creek, Kaw) and Don Pullen (Cherokee), integrated traditional Native American songs into their jazz compositions.

Although I am not of Native American descent I became intrigued by the idea of arranging the music of some of these musicians on the instrument of their heritage: the Native American flute. 

The contemporary Native American flute (most often associated with meditative, new age music) has had little exposure in jazz. Yet, aside from R. Carlos Nakai's (Navajo, Ute) forays into jazz, the Native American flute has had little exposure in jazz. To my knowledge, the only notable jazz musicians to have recorded with Native American flute are Don Cherry (Choctaw) and Ernie Watts (Cherokee). 

(Cherry recorded “Blue Lake” in 1971 and Watts recorded “Spirit Song” in 2005.)

For me, this project is a labor of love – a love for jazz and a love for the sound of the Native American flute. Playing this music on this instrument serves to honor these musicians and their Native American heritage. It brings a new sound to jazz and a different approach to playing the Native American flute.

Duke Ellington and his sister Ruth grew up hearing their half-Cherokee grandmother sing traditional Native songs – which may have influenced some of Ellington's compositions. His sister noted: “All the credit's gone to the African rhythm in jazz, but I think a lot of it should go to the American Indian.

In a letter to Downbeat Magazine, Oscar Pettiford's widow, Jacqueline wrote:

The son of a full-blooded Choctaw mother and half-blooded Cherokee father, Pettiford was exposed at an early age to Indian ceremonial music and dance, and he contended that the importance of the American Indian to jazz has been underestimated if not completely overlooked. He maintained that the 4/4 tempo, which after all is the basic beat of jazz, came directly from the American Indian; that, though it existed in European music, it was not used in the same way; and that African rhythms, supposedly the important ingredient, were of very different rhythmic nature.”

Concert photo

Audience Response

...an intriguing concert illustrating the roots of American music in jazz and Native American traditions. Some of the legends of jazz have Native American heritage and we heard Ellington, Pettiford, Lloyd and more from a new perspective. - Andrea Canter

The music was transcendent and will be recorded in my memory as one of the finest performances that I have ever had the privilege to attend. - sjbestland (A Woman Complete blog)

That was one fabulous concert! Great musicianship and clever improvisation. Super-confident performances from all. Wonderful material. – Warren Park

Weaving of Traditions was absolutely first class!  I loved every minute of the performance.   Your group has a cohesive sound, a group sound.  Yet each piece was unique. And you provided just the right amount of verbal information.  It is impossible for me to choose a favorite piece from the concert.  They were all wonderful. – Deb Magnuson

© 2018, Bobb Fantauzzo