THE GUY WARREN SOUNDS
Themes For African Drums
256+ VBR LAME mp3
Vinyl rip & scans from RCA LSP-1864
The original Ghana Soundz. In fact, Guy Warren is pretty much checked as the start of afrojazz, bringing Yoruba rhythms and melodic sensibilities to NYC & Chicago in the 50s. He was so far ahead of the curve that they didn't know what to do with him back then (so of course the record company marketing men played up the sensationalist savage drummer angle) but his effect on the jazz idiom and popular music has been profound.
AMG Bio by Bruce Eder
Guy Warren, also known as Kofi Ghanaba, was among the earliest African musicians to exert an influence on world music -- a bold achievement for a musician who was so far out in front of his own time and audience that his presence was barely perceived by most of his colleagues. Born in Accra, Ghana, in West Africa, in 1923, he was drawn to music from an early age, especially traditional Ghanian percussion -- in 1937, at age 14, he became a drumset player in the Accra Rhythmic Orchestra, which led him to his first visit to America, in 1939. By 1947, Warren was a drummer and singer with celebrated Ghanian musician E. T, Mensah and his Tempos Band. In 1948, he played with Kenny Graham's Afro-Cubists in England; he was back in Ghana the following year, but he knew where he was headed -- after a brief return to the Tempos Band, and an involvement in Ghanian politics, he headed to Nigeria and Liberia (as a radio disc jockey) and by 1953 he'd made his way to the United States.
In the mid-1950's, based in Chicago, Warren began leading a string of different combos of varying sizes, all directed to the fusion of West African music and American jazz. His music -- between 10 and 20 years ahead of his own time in his goals and results -- was unusual enough to attract little more than a cult following, but he did cut albums, including Africa Speaks America Answers and Theme For African Drums. Other musicians were quick to appreciate Warren's virtuosity and unique gifts, and he was soon traveling in a circle that included Charlie Parker, Thelonius Monk, and Max Roach. In 1962, he published an autobiography. That same year, he also saw one of his pieces become an international hit -- and a staple for easy listening radio -- when German bandleader Bert Kaempfert recorded "That Happy Feeling"; drawn from a Warren-authored Ghanian piece, the Kaempfert single and accompanying album helped put African flutes into the top 40 in America and elsewhere.
In 1965, Warren returned to Ghana, where, thanks to his decade in the United States, he was something of a celebrity -- he was also too advanced and too internationally oriented to earn much of a living as a performer, apart from the occasional concert in Accra. By the end of the decade, he'd changed his name to Kofi Ghanaba (i.e., "Son of Ghana"), accepting and even inviting the mantle of being a cultural institution. By rights, he should have been at least as renowned before the public as Ginger Baker -- an Englishman who got to a somewhat similar place in music by following jazz back to Africa -- but he never had the press or the association with an English power-trio to carry his name to the world's public.
He did participate in the Afro-American music "Soul To Soul" concerts in Ghana that spawned the movie of that name, but principally Warren has been a teacher since the early 1970's. In that role, his years in the United States, coupled with his decades in Ghanian music before and after, have made him a magnet for aspiring percussionists and a living legend among musicians on several continents. Alas, his 1950's and early 1960's remain out-of-print, though in recent years his later recordings have been re-released on CD, to the delight of drum enthusiasts and jazz (and African music) scholars everywhere.
Guy Warren - Percussion, Vocals
James Hawthorne Bey - Percussion
Robert Whitney - Percussion
Phillip Hepburn - Percussion
Lawrence Brown - Trombone
James Styles - Bass on "The Talking Drum Looks Ahead"
Earl Griffin - Vibes on "The Talking Drum Looks Ahead"
1 - Ballad For Giraffes
2 - Waltzing Drums
3 - Blood Brothers
4 - Love, The Mystery Of
5 - The Talking Drum Looks Ahead
6 - The Lady Marie Drum Suite
7 - My Story
Listening Notes has one of the only reviews online specifically for this album:
Featuring one of the most compelling exotica covers ever, this hard to find recording from 1958 is actually one of the best drum records RCA ever made. Kofi Ghanaba (born Guy Warren in 1923) is a West African musician who, at the time held court at The African Room on New York's Third Avenue. Melding traditional African themes with a jazz sensibility, Guy Warren is the originator of "Afro-Jazz". He also spent time in Chicago, and worked with jazz legends Charlie Parker and Thelonius Monk.
What Warren has created here is an exotic percussion album that features ancient instruments such as "The Talking Drum", conga drums, bongos, flute. The music is primarily rhythm driven, and some cuts feature vocals, shouting, and chanting. The hypnotic rhythm and dynamics of this special record are evident just by looking at the grooves. Each track is appears like a swirling spirograph of sound.
James Hawthorn Bey (AKA "General Lefty" AKA "Chief Bey") had a long career in jazz, highlights of which included Ahmed Abdul-Malik's Sounds of Africa, Art Blakey's African Beat, Solomon Ilori's African High Life and Pharoah Sanders' Izipho Zam and Thembi.
Lawrence Brown should need little introduction to fans of swing, starting out in the early 20's with Louis Armstrong and then spending 50 years as a member of Duke Ellington's Orchestra with the occasional side gig for cats like Johnny Hodges & Big Joe Turner along the way.
Earl Griffin is a bit of an enigma. In an extensive interview Anthony Braxton mentions seeing him play with Cecil Taylor in the early 60s but the vibe playing on CT's Looking Ahead! released the same year as Themes For African Drums (and recorded in NYC around the same time) is credited to an "Earl Griffith" so I'm pretty sure it's the same person but less clear on which appellation is correct.
Couldn't find much on bassist Jimmy Styles unless he's reincarnated with the same name and plays in a metal band. Better luck with Phillip Hepburn, who is mentioned in Tom Lord's Jazz Discography with one credit - this LP. Robert Whitney fares even worse in history's roll call since he doesn't even get that much consideration. If anyone has any further info on either of these players, please let us know.
This album is extremely rare and popular with collectors of African music, Jazz, Exotica and those misguided souls who pay a premium for these types of covers with little regard for the music contained therein and can fetch sums upwards of $100 or more. Then again, it was just on auction over at eBay for $4.99 and closed without a single bid (there's one going for $30 at the moment) and Gemm's prices range from $8 - $180. I found it a few years back in superb condition for $3 at a local store called Jam Can, so it's still easy to find an affordable copy if you keep your peepers peeled.
Otherwise you can grab it from Soundological's library HERE or HERE.