By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
What has made you evolve?
LATEEF: It was my nature.
Who were examples to you?
LATEEF: Uptown from where I lived as a youth was Lucky Thompson. He wanted a saxophone, but he couldn’t afford one. So he got a broomstick and carved notches on it, and practiced on the broomstick until he got a saxophone. John Coltrane, every time he’d come to Detroit, we would get together and study. And he was always looking for what he didn’t know. He always asked me, “What have you been following?” And I asked him the same question. He said, “I found the secondary dominants” [the fifth degree above a note other than the tonic], which were in Europe years ago, but no one had used them in improvisational music, and John told me he knew his secondary dominants backwards.
What moved you away from the blues and toward avant-garde and classical music?
LATEEF: I think the basis of it is the moments that I spent sitting in the library in Detroit, and taking classes at Wayne State University in classical music, finding out what it involves — Mozart, Beethoven, and the Russian composers, Borodin et cetera. And I realized that to be a musician, there’s much ter-
ritory to look into. Beethoven wrote nine symphonies — I’d like to write nine, too. I’ve written one symphony, I’ve got eight
more to go.
Both of you have spent considerable time in Africa. How has that changed your attitude?
LATEEF: It’s more compassionate. You see somebody who needs help, you got to help.
What attracted you to Islam?
LATEEF: There was a mosque in Chicago, and I went and got some literature. It said through prayer and deeds one’s natural tendencies are directed to the proper channels. The only virtue is in your actions — that’s what Islam teaches. And it spoke about respect of parents and of neighbors, and I already believed those things from my Christian upbringing. I joined Dizzy Gillespie in Chicago, and when we got to New York, a mosque was there, near Art Blakey’s house. I started going to the meetings, and I said, “I better try this.” I thought I ought to change my name, and the reason I did was because Lateef means gentle and amiable, and Yusef means Joseph after the prophet Joseph. And Abdul Lateef means a servant of the gentle and amiable, a servant of God — that’s one of God’s attributes, gentle and amiable. And I said, “That’s something for me to try to live up to.”
Is nature an inspiration?
LATEEF: Nature is a prototype for painters, for musicians, for writers. We didn’t create that, it’s beyond us. We observe it, and I think when we reflect on nature, it gives us ideas how to synthesize whatever we’re doing. It’s a great teacher. It’s reflections of the higher power. And we’re part of nature ourselves. This is something I believe: When we observe something that’s beautiful, it’s not the thing that creates the beauty. The force that
created that beauty is really what’s attracting us. So that means a thing of beauty comes in pairs. There’s the thing itself, and there’s the thing that makes it.
RUDOLPH: That’s why I feel music is about something greater than music itself. Music is just a medium through which something is passing. It’s all ultimately in service of something else.