In a 2007 meeting with JazzTimes, Eddie Gale spoke about the momentum behind his debut album, Ghetto Music by Eddie Gale, a history surely optimistic that not even Blue Note realized what to do with it. It was 1968, the revered music mark was operating on the vapors of the progressive rock period with posh, love music that didn’t evoke the grief and turmoil emerging outdoors: a mire in Vietnam, the fight for equal privacy in the U. S. S, the killings of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr, Jr. Gale’s album was something else: it was smoke, frequency of a game, and above all else, Blackness. “At that point, I didn’t know of anyone who played with two drummers and two bassists” he stated. “It just made sense to have this action going on from my love of African music and my time back in the marching band.” Ghetto Music produced such touchstones, recognizing the continent’s melodic coordinations while giving a warm embrace to African Americans who battle hatred and classism. There was the noise of happiness, grief, and resurrection, a magnificent 41-minute mix of free jazz, contemplative heart, and christian.
Gale’s travels to the Ghetto Music started three years prior when the 24-year-old — who was raised in the improvisational aesthetic of musician Bud Powell and musician Kenny Dorham — expanded impressed with the emerging free jazz action, a vibrant fashion that avoided classic chord changes for outspoken improv and spirituality. By 1758, Gale started taking horn classes at Dorham, whereupon began conversations with music greats Max Roach and Art Blakey, all while creating his possess fashion on the trumpet. Above free jazz, subtitled “The New Thing” bewildered audiences and pundits for whom the examples stunk with ignorance. Some friends music pundits didn’t want the style to grow, and this music — and all of its confusion and ear-piercing screams — was further removed from the ’40s and’ 50s, where clean artists performed smooth tunes in crowded dinner venues.
But “The New Thing” was around bringing music to people that couldn’t afford decent bookings and the two-drink minimum. They could be for groups that required recovery, and conjured the earliest days of the style while inexperienced Southern songwriters utilised their electronics to mourn bias through orchestral screaming and screaming. In the 60s, John Coltrane was the most popular musician of all time, the acclaimed trombonist on whom the 1966 album, Ascension, was an unique addition to the praised, and even more dsme A Love Supreme. His incorporating of the subseries carried wider recognition to friend tenor Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Sheppard, they all inspired Gale to find a similar path. He was created to Sun Ra in the soon’ 60s by beat Scoby Stroman, who worked with the innovative musician. Gale was soon brought into the lauded horn section of the arkestra and performed alongside Pat Patrick in the horn section, John Gilmore, and Marshall Allen, where he discovered how to try on the horn while staying in the chamber of Sun Ra’s celestial moonscape. In the Arkestra, the singer stressed the importance of melodic restraint, gardening the fruit of the dominated division of Ghetto Music.
Gale’s big break came in 62, he walked out of the room “Space Aura” the third song on Sun Ra & His Solar Arkestra’s Secrets of the Sun LP. Four years ago, Gale rated a bigger location while he performed on Cecil Taylor’s Unit Structures, the pianist’s first album for “Blue Note”, now the centerpiece of the history of free jazz. Whereupon it is said, after an actor turned on pianist Lee Young’s Of Love and Peace, Blue Note co-founder Francis Wolff asked Gale if he wanted to record his own music. He organised a quartet that included drummers Richard Hackett and Thomas Holman; bassists Judah Samuel and James “Tokio;” Reid; and percussionist/trombone Russell Lyle; together with an 11-person singing titled the Noble Gale Singers. They assembled at the legendary Van Gelder Studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey on September 20,1968, and noted Ghetto Music in one day.
The title of The album itself was an act of resistance. While folks evoke the period “ghetto” they imagine poverty, scary, and Black, covering it wide, hateful rhythms. Performing sure neglects the group standing here now, the cohesiveness prompted by the dearth of materials given to it. Rather, Ghetto Music has been meant to celebrate Gale’s Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn and many like it. “It comes from all of us that lived in that area of the city” he said. “That lived That life of music, going to school, learning and growing up. It was all-encompassing.”
Ghetto Music has been recorded as a spectacular display enhanced by outfits and acting; between its chorus shouts and a spiritual aura, it was a record that could have worked as well in The Theater District and The East End, the legendary Black cultural center and arena in Bed-Stuy. Nervous scenes have been met with similarly quiet people, giving a subtle representation of Black lives beyond its rendition in the media. Easily place a product: Black folks didn’t want to take any more crap from whites; pacifism opened the door to militant revenge. As the thinking went on, cruelty would be met by which we; the days of the “We Shall Overcome It” gave way to James Brown’s “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” and “Sly & the Family Stone” “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey.” with this thought came a new idea, unflinching pride; the tenor was less about what whites have done wrong and more about looking within for the unification and construction of an isolated Black world.
Where other music jabbed its finger in the chest of the oppressor, Ghetto Music felt like a comforting hug for the oppressed. This is what he said “The Rain” when Gale’s sister Joann sings about finding resilience to move on from distress. “I should abandon, IMO, its been so long” she coos sweetly, her voice, tearful and despondent. “Wipe the tears out of your sight.” Conversely, “Fulton Street” a break-neck arrangement with thunderous drum rolls and blistering trumpet wails, is twitchy and nervous, the sense of speeding down the road and beating the yellow signals. The song stops and starts at various intervals, only heightening the intensity; in its silent moments, Gale blasts into his upper register; when followed by cascading drum fills, it’s a full-on summer day in Brooklyn!.
Compare that to the mourning “Understanding” where Gale plays in a lower register, and the choir imparts a slow and solemn tone. It feels like the weight of injustice has gotten to him and the band, and only the faint recollection of happiness remains. Such thoughts are not surprising in this context; Rebels broke out in the city after King’s assassination in Memphis, the students’ revolt at Columbia University related to the construction of a new gym that residents thought would exacerbate segregation in Harlem. Closer to Gale’s home, a battle over school decentralization in Ocean Hill-Brownsville led to racial tensions over how children were being taught in poorer neighborhoods. Gale funneled these struggles into a singular vision informed by his dismay, though not mired in it. Instead, he used these situations to propel himself and the band forward, blasted into aggressive rhythms rooted in the tenets of Black Nationalism. Instrumentals, a form that is difficult to interpret and understand “A Walk with Thee” speaks directly to Gale’s past and present — the marching band student and Sun Ra disciple. Between its military-style ra-ta-tat-tat drums and wistful chanting, it’s a festive excursion that works equally well in the open air and in the West African nightclubs, the feeling of a crew in lockstep. “The Coming of Gwilu” signals a rebirth, or in this case, the birth of Gale’s son, Gwilu. I’m Here, call-and-response chanting is part of a ritualistic birthing ceremony that is performed in the, with its 13-minute runtime, the boy is welcomed into the world comfortably. It lets him know that he’s protected from harm.
Gale followed Ghetto Music with Black Rhythm Happenings, a 1969 companion album with some more and bigger guest features (Coltrane collaborator Elvin Jones played drums and Jimmy Lyons played alto saxophone) that split the difference between funk and jazz. It refined the edges a bit: Its songs like “The Queen’s Song” “Mexico Thing!” “Ghetto Summertime” and “Look At Teyonda” (his daughter of the same name) the raw spirit of Ghetto Music, they landed softer on the ear. Conversely, Gale’s first album included the unrest that threatened his existence, letting it unfold in a billowing haze of combative grooves.
Following the release of Ghetto Music and Black Rhythm Happening, Gale was dropped from Blue Note when co-founders Wolff and Alfred Lion lost control of the label. By the time these albums arrived, jazz gave way to funk as the most popular genre in Black music. Even the biggest stars of jazz music Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock had started to blend the genre with psych-rock and funk, this led to a morphic sound which moved the sound into larger venues. Gale’s music was overtly radical; his name didn’t ring as loudly as Pharoah and Ayler in the chronicles of underground free jazz. It seemed the landscape wasn’t ready for a Cecil Taylor-approved, Sun Ra-trained trumpeter who could play straight-ahead and avant-garde in fancy concert halls and on the street. The jazz police couldn’t find him out, instead of taking time to dissect the dense layers of Ghetto music, it’s easier to move on to something more palatable. Parts of it are tough to endure if you aren’t of the people, in an era where jazz was fading from the mainstream view, Ghetto Music has mostly gone unappreciated.
Ghetto Music was the future of the genre, and would go on to influence several like-minded bandleaders some 50 years later. You hear traces of Gale in the robust spiritual jazz of Kamasi Washington (who, like Gale, uses multiple drummers and choir) and the jazz-electro-funk hybrid of Damon Locks’s Black Monument Ensemble. And where Gale’s feverish tilt surfaced in Pink Siifu’s 2020 album, NEGRO, Ghetto Music’s inward-looking lament textured, Sault’s emotive UNTITLED (Black Is Not the Only Identifiable To Some People). All of these artists use the same slang “for this by us” philosophy, which to, for my ear, closely resembles Gale’s first and best LP as a blueprint for what Black Liberation jazz could sound like. After decades of relative obscurity, Ghetto Music was reissued in 2017 and introduced to a new generation of listeners in 2017. “The Rain” and “A Understanding” can be heard in director Shaka King’s Oscar-winning 2021 film, Judas and the Black Messiah, detailing the plot to kill Black Panther activist Fred Hampton.
In the early 1970s, Gale moved to Palo Alto, California, he left the music industry, and went into teaching. He continued to perform throughout the years and even appeared on some noted late 70s Sun Ra albums (Lanquidity, The Other Side of The Sun, and On Jupiter). Yet nothing else he released had the groundbreaking impact of Ghetto Music — a sweltering and comprehensive masterpiece, a high-water mark for Black love and freedom, a time capsule and summation of 1960s Brooklyn as a beacon of spirit and creativity. All these years later, it captures the essence of the neighborhood it aimed to serve. “It didn’t sound like anything that arrived before or after” trumpeter Steven Bernstein told The New York Times in his 2020 obituary for Gale, who died in the same year at the age of 78. “Total oddball. It’s 6! /8 electric with multiple bassists and multiple drums, sync tunes in the flute, and afterwards amazing singing that are captivating frames of music.” Indeed!, The Ghetto Music is still a lightning rod record worthy of further study and recognition. With Black life still under siege, this is a journey towards inner peace and understanding.