In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last few weeks, noted Bay Area DJ and friend to many Matthew Africa was killed in a car accident over Labor Day weekend, leaving a huge hole in the hearts of friends and music fans all over the country. Matthew was an amazing human being, a great DJ, and certified encyclopedia of musical knowledge. I wrote this post a couple days after he died because this song (streaming above) came up randomly in a jazz shuffle I had going on iTunes, and it reminded me of this story. I hadn’t planned on posting this; I initially wrote it just to get it outta my head at the time. So many of Matthew’s close friends, notable DJs and record nerds have had so many great things to say about him, and I kinda felt like this was an insignificant little blip in the amazing existence of a truly wonderful person. But I’ve decided that, regardless of whatever else is being said, this serves as another example of Matthew’s openness as a person, and the depth and breadth of his musical knowledge and curiosity, which is quite a legacy. And for me, it’s a fond memory, so…
We ended up talking about jazz piano players over dinner. I don’t remember how the conversation started, but it stands out in my memory because it was always a real pleasure to discuss music with Matthew, especially jazz and soul music. For a non-musician, he had a deep, innate understanding of music — specifically the instrumental and production elements and, more importantly, the emotional content and generally indescribable soul of sound — and I always found our conversations to be more fascinating and enjoyable than most of the myriad conversations about music I’ve had with musicians over the years. Matthew was as genuinely curious about music as he was learned (I find it hard to believe that there was anything out there that he wasn’t aware of), but the sheer volume of musical knowledge he possessed wasn’t in any way held as a cache of guarded secrets; it was a passion that he shared with the world, something that, in my own experience, he was always open with and always hungry for more of.
We continued that conversation about jazz pianists on BART as we rode back to Oakland together at the end of the evening. I remember sitting across from him on the train, which was pretty full, and talking in some depth about Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, McCoy Tyner, Ahmad Jamal and Bill Evans — this canon of the most amazing piano players of the genre. In the course of comparing notes, he mentioned a song from a record I had never heard called The Soul of Jazz Percussion, an odd compilation of jazz tunes recorded for percussion and production nerds. Because I was a little drunk and generally overexcited about the whole situation, I forgot the name of the record pretty much the moment I stepped off the train (Matthew continued on to the next stop), but it dogged me at the time because he had described the song in detail with such emotion.
A couple days later, I sent Matthew a link to download a rip of my vinyl copy of Bud! (Blue Note, 1957 with Paul Chambers on bass, Art Taylor on drums, and Curtis Fuller on trombone for a few tracks), which is easily one of my top five favorite jazz records of all time, and which I raved about to him on the way back to Oakland. I remember being surprised when he said he didn’t have it, but not at all surprised when he expressed an interest in checking out. Matthew responded to my email right away, and included a link to grab the track he told me about from The Soul of Jazz Percussion, a tune called “Quiet Temple.” The email contained a few words he wrote about the song, a reminder of what we had talked about…
“It’s the saddest, prettiest jazz song I know. It kind of reminds me of ‘Maggot Brain,’ which is the only thing I can think of that sounds as lonely.
The song comes from a date that featured Bill Evans, Donald Byrd, Pepper Adams, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones. No one is credited as the leader — it was a stereo demonstration record, so if you listen on headphones you can hear them trying to do all kinds of primitive panning. The song itself is a Mal Waldron composition.
It’s a little crackly, but nothing too distracting.
Like pretty much everything else Matthew put me on to — which amounts to tons of amazing music, some directly, like this, but most of it via his numerous awesome mixes and radio shows — this entire record is phenomenal.
Every time I hear this song, I can hear him describing it.