Youseff Yancy--Pioneer of Electronic Jazz, Part 2
My Book: Electronic and Experimental Music, sixth edition, Routledge 2020.
My Podcast: The Holmes Archive of Electronic Music
One of the pleasures of listening to jazz is the recognition that comes when you hear the iconic sound of each jazz artist. Miles’ trumpet. John’s tenor. Ella’s voice. Max’s drums. You know them the instant you hear them. Every jazz artist wants to find their personal, iconic sound. Whether it be drums, woodwinds, keyboards, voice, brass, or string instruments, the sound of jazz is as unique as the individuals who make up an ensemble. It is a music in which self-expression is expected, a quality that stands in sharp contrast to the blended sounds of classical music in which individuals do not stand out.
In the world of electronic jazz, Youseff Yancy is such a musician. Whether he is playing his trumpet through a tone multiplier or letting his Theremin create layers of sound textures that carry and unite other musicians, his is a distinct voice in electronic jazz going back to the 1970s.
For this, the second part of our celebration of Mr. Yancy’s electronic music, we are joined in conversation with Youseff and vocalist Genie Walker with whom he often collaborated during the late 1970s and 1980s. I want to thank them sincerely for sharing their thoughts so generously for this podcast.
We will also listen to many unusual, seldom-heard tracks from Youseff Yancy, plus one track composed by Genie Walker and featuring Youseff that has never been released on record.
Although jazz has been his focus, Youseff has a broad education in many styles of music, especially contemporary classical. He experimented with tape music in the sixties. During a time in the early seventies when he was taking a night course from Pierre Boulez at Julliard, Yancy recalled learning about the Columbia Electronic Music Center at 125 West 125th Street.
Mr. Yancy was about 35 when he was introduced to the Theremin. He came across it while visiting a music store in New York City. He also adopted a variety of sound modifiers, such as the Echoplex and Signal Multipliers made by Maestro.
The two Maestro Theremins of which Youseff speaks were the models with the two square plates in place of the traditional Theremin antennae. This model had circuitry designed by Bob Moog. Youseff’s style of playing the Theremin in performance was a particular focal point for the audience. Rather than playing melodies, his Theremin style was to create layers of sound textures as a kind of tapestry for the music. As a trumpet player, I wondered how his style of playing the Theremin differed from the horn. He recalled working with Lydia Kavina and contrasted his music with hers. Creating a sound environment. That really explains Youseff’s unique approach to jazz Theremin that gives him an iconic sound signature.
I asked Youseff and Genie to walk us through a work that they recorded in 1979. This song is called That Look and was composed by Genie Walker. Genie unearthed a cassette recording and it doesn’t appear on any record. They haven’t heard this track in over 40 years.
Then, we moved on to the collection of archive recordings I’ve put together for this episode. This collection of rare, seldom-heard tracks were all recorded by Youseff while contributing to the ensembles of others. Genie is also featured in some of these tracks. The playlist on the website for this podcast includes all the details about these recordings.
In the previous podcast about Youseff Yancy, we played tracks from the late 1970s to early 1980s. Here we will focus on the period from about 1979 to 2000.
First, we heard the track That Look again, in entirety, written by Genie Walker and featuring Youseff on electronically modified flugelhorn. We heard two version of Byard Lancaster’s tune Sweetness, the first with vocalist Joan Hanson, the second with Garrett List’s A-List band featuring Youseff and Genie. We’ll hear Fly Hollywood by the A-List band featuring Genie on vocals and Youseff on trumpet, flugelhorn, and Theremin and electronics. Youseff relocated to Belgium in 1984 but continued to record from time to time with folks in Belgium. The last set of tracks fell into this category. The track Vincent Van Gogh with the Calvin Owens blues orchestra, a couple of tracks from Hooverphonic, and finally a fascinating combination of poetry and jazz based on James Baldwin’s a Lover’s Question. Baldwin reads the poetry, Yourseff plays the Theremin along with an ensemble that also includes Toots Thielmans and Byard Lancaster.
At 84 years old, Yancy doesn’t fancy the idea of performing live anymore. These days, however, he finds new frontiers of sound exploration working in his private studio in Belgium, composing with computers and digital sounds in a way that wasn’t possible years ago.
I want to thank Youseff and Genie Walker for the great conversations and remembrances.
1. Youseff Yancy and Genie Walker, "That Look" (circa 1979 from a privately recorded cassette tape). This recording is from a cassette and was digitally restored by Genie Walker. Composer, vocals, Genie (Sherman) Walker; flugelhorn, electronics, Youseff Yancy. Recorded circa 1979. 3:41.
2. Byard Lancaster, “Sweetness” from Documentation The End of a Decade (1980 Bellows). Theremin, Youseff Yancy; flute, Bayard Lancaster; vocal, Joan Hanson. This recording for solo voice and Theremin was later sampled in entirety for a rendition called “Heavenly Sweetness” by Better Daze, complete with electronic accompaniment (1995 Ubiquity). 4:25.
3. Garrett List / A-1 Band, “Sweetness” from Fire & Ice (1982 Lovely Music). Alto Saxophone, Byard Lancaster; Theremin, Electronics, Youseff Yancy; Vocals, Genie Sherman. 4:11.
4. Garrett List / A-1 Band, “Fly Hollywood” from Fire & Ice (1982 Lovely Music). Alto Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Flute, Piccolo Flute, Byard Lancaster; Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Theremin, Electronics, Youseff Yancy; Drums, Percussion, Ronald Shannon Jackson; Trombone, Piano, Vocals, Garrett List; Vocals, Genie Sherman. 4:12.
5. Calvin Owens and His Blues Orchestra, “Vincent Van Gogh” from That’s Your Booty (1996 Sawdust Alley). Trumpet solo and vocals, Calvin Owens; Theremin, Youseff Yancy; Alto Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, Eddy De Vos, Kurt van Herck, Peter Vandendriessche; Backing Vocals, B. J. Scott, Frank Deruytter, Mieke Belange, Yan De Bryun; Baritone Saxophone, Bo Vander Werf, Johan Vandendriessche; Bass, Ban Buls, Roman Korohek; Cello, B. Piatkowski, X. Gao; Drums, Cesar Janssens, Laurent Mercier; Guitar, Marty Townsend, Yan De Bryun; Keyboards, Rafael Van Goubergen; Organ, Peter Van Bogart; Saxophone, Jimmy Heath; Tenor Saxophone, David "Fathead" Newman, Shelly Caroll Paul; Trombone, Marc Godfroid, Yan De Breker; Trumpet, Andy Haderer, Rüdiger Baldauf; Violin, D. Ivanov, E. Kouyoumdjian; Vocals, Archie Bell, Otis Clay, Ruby Wilson. 6:23.
6. Hooverphonic, “L'Odeur Animale” from The Magnificent Tree (2000 Columbia). Guitar, Raymond Geerts; Keyboards, Bass, Programmed by Alex Callier; Vocals, Geike Arnaert; Theremin, trumpet, Youseff Yancy; Fairlight, Effects, Dan Lacksman. 3:48.
7. Hooverphonic, “Jackie Cane” from The Magnificent Tree (2000 Columbia). Guitar, Raymond Geerts; Keyboards, Bass, Programmed by Alex Callier; Vocals, Geike Arnaert; Theremin, Youseff Yancy; Fairlight, Effects, Dan Lacksman. 4:21.
8. James Baldwin, David Linx, Pierre Van Dormael , “A Lover’s Questions Part II” from A Lover's Question (1999 Label Bleu). Poetry written and read by James Baldwin; produced by David Linx, Pierre Van Dormael; Trumpet, Theremin, Youseff Yancy; Harmonica, Toots Thielmans; backing vocals, Téjan Karefa-Smart; Percussion, Chris Joris; Saxophone, Flute, Percussion, Voice, Byard Lancaster; Vocals, Deborah Brown; Vocals, Drums, Percussion, David Linx. Poetry of James Baldwin set to jazz, features Yancy on two tracks. 6:47.
Opening background music: Garrett List / A-1 Band, “Passions of Miles” from Fire & Ice (1982 Lovely Music). Composed by, Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Theremin, Electronics, Youseff Yancy; Alto Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Flute, Piccolo Flute, Byard Lancaster; Drums, Percussion, Ronald Shannon Jackson; Trombone, Piano, Vocals, Garrett List; Vocals, Genie Sherman. 5:54.
Second background track: Byard Lancaster, “Blue Nature” from, Documentation The End of a Decade (1980 Bellows). Theremin and trumpet, Youseff Yancy. Recorded in New York in 1979, this is a multi-tracked, solo performance by Yancy on his own composition. One track of straight trumpet, at least one track of electronically modified trumpet, and another track of Theremin. On the liner notes, “B. Lancaster acknowledges the spiritual and education guidance from Youseff Yancy and family.” 2:43.