McPhee, Joe (actually, Joseph J. Jr.)

views updated

McPhee, Joe (actually, Joseph J. Jr.)

McPhee, Joe (actually, Joseph J. Jr.), avant-garde jazz saxophonist, trumpeter, cornetist, alto clarinetist, valve trombonist, bandleader, poet; b. Miami, Nov. 3, 1939. He grew up and still lives in Pough-keepsie, N.Y. He was born into a musical family; his great uncle, Al Cooper, was leader of the Savoy Sultans. His father, an accomplished trumpeter, started him on trumpet at eight; he continued through elementary and high school bands and into a stint in a U.S. Army band in Germany. During his army career, he studied harmony and theory, and began playing jazz. In 1968, he began teaching himself the saxophone. He made his debut recording in the late 1960s with Clifford Thornton. In 1969, he and painter Craig Johnson founded CJR Records; this led to a position at Vassar Coll. in Pough-keepsie, N.Y., lecturing in a Black Studies program series called “Revolution in Sound.” In 1972, he appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival. He worked in N.Y. with Don Cherry, lived in Europe from 1975 to 1977, and starting in 1975 appeared at festivals in Switzerland, France, Germany, Portugal, and Canada. His recordings came to the attention of a Swiss entrepreneur, directly leading to the creation of Hat Hut Records. In 1981, he joined Hat Hut Records as Vice-President in charge of Promotion and Marketing, a position he held for four years. Later that year, he was invited to participate as a solo performer at the New Music America Festival, held in San Francisco. His work came to the attention of composer Pauline Oliveros, who inspired him to expand his investigations into extended instrumental and electronic techniques in a collaboration that continues to this day. Also in 1981, inspired by Dr. Edward de Bono’s concept of lateral thinking, McPhee adapted the concept as a process to realize his own work. The result is what he calls ’Po Music,” a label he prefers to “jazz”; derived from words like possible, positive, poetry and hypothesis, the word “Po” is used to emphasize the process of moving from one fixed set of ideas in an attempt to discover new ones. In 1986, McPhee played live music to a screening of L’Inhumaine, a 1923 silent French film, in Paris; he repeated this in 1988 in Lisbon and in 1990 in Tokyo and Osaka. In 1994, he toured the U.S./Canada with Paul Plimley and Lisle Ellis; in 1995, he toured Europe with Evan Parker and Daunik Lazro. He won the Earshot Golden Ear Awards in Seattle in 1995 and 1997.


Underground Railroad (1969); Nation (Time) (1970); Black Magic Man (1970); Trinity (1972); Willisau Concert (1975); Variations on a Blue Line ’Round (1977); Graphics (1977); Old Eyes and Mysteries (1979); Topology (1981); Visitation (1983); Po Music: Oleo (1984); Po Music: A Future Retrospective (1987); Linear B (1990); A Meeting in Chicago (1996).

—Lewis Porter

About this article

McPhee, Joe (actually, Joseph J. Jr.)

Updated About content Print Article