Michael Ray has been busy writing a thesis during the pandemic. Now he talks about his longtime friend and colleague Ronald Khalis Bell.
Pursuit of Happiness is the last song that Khalis wrote. He is one of the principal writers. There are a couple of versions of it. He’s got a rap version of it and some other stuff. It’s good you know. He wrote it for America because a lot of people kind of didn’t get it. My favorite line is “I want to live in a world full of peace. If you do then pull up a seat”.
Pursuit of Happiness
I think that it’s one thing that Khalis felt that you need to pay attention to. This country was really being torn apart. But music has always been the message. Khalis has always been a great writer. And George Brown - he wrote a lot of the songs. They took it to the studio, and then everybody put their touch on it. The concept that Khalis had was stacking and taking out what wasn’t working. It’s a good process.
Kool & The Gang playing an intimate show at BB King's
There are many songs in the can. We have all this material, but if they don’t hear Celebration or something like that… From the first album Khalis has always kept his ear to the mainstream. Khalis was a jazz musician. He has written some of the most beautiful music I ever heard, and we never even played it. Khalis did certain equations. They had to change with the times. We recorded so much music through the years. What they do with it is up to the studio. There is so much material. We’ve got enough for about two or three albums.
I never got bored with playing the Kool & The Gang hits. It’s a happy feeling because a lot of these songs have reached people all around the world, and seeing the response is exhilarating. It’s a real purpose of music, and how it effects different people. That is always a positive thing. I reflect back on how music has inspired my life and I’m happy that it inspires somebody else.
I don’t know what’s going on with an album release because there is some restructuring with Kool & The Gang to make everything workable. With Khalis transitioned a lot of things have changed. He is actually the captain. He’s been holding down the fort. A lot of things were really going on with the pandemic, you know. We are trying to get back into the swing of things. I should mention ShawnyMac McQuiller. He always brings his A-game to the stage. Always. He should be the poster child of Kool & The Gang.
Charles Smith was the most eccentric guy in the group. Khalis also. It’s what we did and so it was normal. With the business it’s a whole other thing. The music industry is a long, plastic hallway where thieves and murderers run free, and good men and women die like dogs – and then there’s the negative side.
We are planning on doing a tribute to Khalis sometime next year, with Kool’s son Prince Hakim, who’s been making a lot of noise. He has written so much music that people have never heard. It’s work in progress.
A later version of that horn section...
I’m writing a thesis on vibrational music. Some of it is common knowledge, but a lot of people don’t know the connection between vibrations and tones. I do that to keep my mind busy. When the pandemic hit both my knees were taken out. I feel improvements now. I’m not ready to fly yet, but I feel like walking fast. My energy is a mix of God and adrenaline. I thank God for the energy that he has given me.
MICHAEL RAY is a highly successful musician since decades with Kool & The Gang, Sun Ra Arkestra and Cosmic Krewe. Mr. Ray has kindly contributed pieces to this platform previously. Read them HERE and HERE. Read more pieces on Sun Ra Arkestra HERE and HERE, and on Cosmic Krewe HERE.
As this piece is made there are currently items on the internet suggesting that a new album with previously recorded material with Kool & The Gang is on the way. Here is an example of that.
Mr. Knoel Scott is currently busy on tour with Sun Ra Arkestra, and so kindly shares what a day on these travels looks like.
We landed in Strasbourg after taking two trains from Kassel Germany
We were pleasantly greeted at the station and our equipment placed in three vehicles which had to negotiate a distance of just one hundred yards diagonally from the station to our hotel made complicated by the twists and turns of the city streets
Strasbourg is a large town (as opposed to small city) although well saturated with tourists there is a very provincial air and homey vibe (for locals).
Anyway, the Django center had s very good sound man and the public was really into the Ra vibe. Expressive, open and quite friendly after the 90 minute show, which started off rather atypically with Marshall creating two back to back improvised compositions, using the Arkestra as his palette in the very beginning of the concert, immediately commmanding the avid attentiveness of the Arkestra
I am still a bit in awe of Marshall’s limitless creativity.
After returning to our spirituall home in Strasbourg......the unique and artful Hotel Grafslar, whose convivial owner and staff were a pleasant accent to the unique creativity of design through the hotel, with each room having been designed by a different artist
My room was filled with owls and had such a beautiful vibe. Even when I fell asleep at 5am ready to miss a 7:30 departure I Heard someone call my name in my sleep gruffly snarling what what is it?.....:and saw a wrist with a blue watch in front of my eyes there was no answer cause clearly no one had called me but seeing the blue watch made me jump up to discover it was 7:15 and were to leave at 7:30
Of course I threw my belongings together, dressed and was actually on time to leave with the band.
My most notable Strasbourg moment was when I visited the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Strasbourg and was able to purchase the last coin of the Black Madonna.
I feel so well Blessed.
We are now relaxing in the outskirts of Milan after playing two 70 minutes sets last night and waiting to resume travel on Sunday flying out of Malpensa airport to Gothenburg where we will play at Nefertiti Jazz Club. Quite fitting.
KNOEL SCOTT is a saxophonist, multi-instrumentalist, singer, composer, writer - and a member of Sun Ra Arkestra. He is also the director for the Knoel Scott Quartet. We feel so blessed and grateful for his sharing this day in a life with us all.
An article with Michael Ray. In this photo we see The Cosmic Krewe: Laranah Phipps-Ray and Michael Ray
There is no way that you can walk upon this Earth without music. You can’t communicate without music. People stay strong through music. Sometimes it’s the world against them. But music remains true.
The Cosmic Krewe have a new single out, which was recorded in Santiago. It contains highlights from two performances. We have been going for quite some time, and there were even two versions for a while. I also just did a recording with the Sun Ra Arkestra and Bono.
The Cosmic Krewe in action
It’s always very busy for me. I work with Kool & The Gang, and with them it’s pretty much the same show in the same way all the time. I work with the Arkestra, and with them there is no telling what’s going to happen during a performance - and it’s what comes after five to twelve hours of rehearsal.
Kool & The Gang at B.B. King's
It’s hard to be involved in as many things as I am, but it’s fun to be on the road. I stay in shape. I have been in most places, so there is no point in going out much. I stick to doing what I’m doing, and when I go on vacation I do nothing at all.
Some people are so creative and they don’t even know it. They hum where they go and can’t hear it themselves. You need to be in tune with the planet, and nurture that energy. The world can be like a long, plastic hallway. You need to stay true to yourself.
U2 with Sun Ra Arkestra at the Apollo
Michael Ray is presented thus by his partner in music and life, artist Laranah Phipps-Ray: - Michael is so well respected even in the most remote places. They love him and they might not speak the same language. He is very hard-working, very detailed, very technical, and keeps the excitement of a beginner. I am always inspired by him. He is fast-moving, energetic and exhausting - and we are both eclectic, and this keeps us drawn to each other.
At the behest of Ra Alumnis Trombonist/composer Craig Harris, who was moving on to other musical pursuits and was thusly providing Sunny with a 'trade off' by bringing Sun Ra fresh musicians to assage his departure as a steady member of the Arkestra.........an audition was arranged for myself, Tenor/Baritone saxist Kenny Williams and trombonist Henry Mitchell...all proteges of Makanda Ken McIntyre and recent graduates of the African American Music program at State University at Old Westbury.
The auditon took place at Studio WIS....151 West 21st Street in Manhattan ....the Jazz Loft of Prof Warren I Smith (founder of M'Boom.... the percussion ensemble headed by Max Roach). who mentored promising Old Westbury graduates.... incorporating them into his Composers Workshop Ensemble. Rehearsing and performing in what along with Sam Rivers Studio Rivbea was the first and the last of the 'Jazz Loft scene in NY from the 60s to the 90s.
Knoel Scott Quartet live
Sun Ra arrived and sat at the keyboard...launching into Cherokee...the litmus test for Jazz musicians.
Admittedly both Henry and Kenny were un-intimidated musically and sailed through Sunny's progressions....
As for.myself ..then and to this day a Charlie Parker sycophant....I found myself totally daunted as Sunny would change the chords each time around...playing alterations and harmonic substitutions that left me totally amazed and frustrated as I feebly attempted to negotiate my way through his chord alterations...........this was jazz at a level far beyond my bebop licks.... though i thought i knew Cherokee quite well.
Sun Ra then began to speak of what it meant to be a member of the Arkestra.
'This is the Creator's Band.......and I work for the Creator.
So if you want money, fame or fortune you dont want to work with me.
If you want Money, Fame or Fortune this is not the band for you.....
As I recognized Sun Ra as the return of Pharoah, the personification of the Black Gods of Ancient Egypt.....this proclamaition was a call.................
Kenny, a Grover Washinton disciple asequaly undaunted and was eager to join............Henry was working at the Apollo Theatre with Ray Chews Band and was not interested in such noble pursuits
For myself, I had already made membership in the Arkestra my life's dream from the moment I heard JAZZ IN SILHOEUTTE in Makandas office during my studies at Old Westbury.
Sun Ra told me to be at Variety Arts Recording Studio on 42nd Street at 6 ave the next day. That morning me and Kenny joined Sun Ra's marathon occupation of Variety Arts Studio.....from 10 am to 4 am five days a week..............an ongoing session which spawned the Albums.....Sleeping Beauty, Omniverse, Strange Celestial Road, UFO, Nuclear War and a number of others.
That first morning Sun Ra sat at the piano and began playing over some previously recorded tracks as myself, Michael Ray, June Tyson, Danny Thompson, Jacj Jacjson, Thomas Hunter, maybe Elo Omo, Kenny, John Gilmore and Marshall Allen, were gathered around the piano with our instruments. Sunny began playing something outer-worldly and nodded to me.
I was on Baritone Sax and looked at Michael in stupor.............what key? Mike mouthed the word PLAY!!!!! And I played my first solo with Sun Ra on our second meeting......recorded as part of an extended intro to what was titled Seductive Fantasy on the UFO album.
No, I had no idea at all of what was going on.....Sun Ra would tell me later: I don't want your musical knowledge, your bebop vocabulary or your musical training.................I WANT YOUR SPIRIT.......spirit sound.
During subsequent days and nights at Variety Arts Sun Ra would let Mike Ray coach us through the recording of the vocal tracks o UFO, and On Jupiter.
Sun Ra believed that the way to get to the public was with vocals and would sight the popularity of Louis Armstrong as an example.
You've got to reach people...singers always reach people..............I remember him saying.
Singing has added a more intimate aspect to my presentation and expression.
The inclusion of vocalese and spoken word in my performances has enabled me to continue Sun Ra's clarion call for the continuance of Jazz Tradition...........
They tried to fool you....I'm here to school you..... about Jazz...........It don't mean a thing...if it aint got that swing..
A beautiful capture of the Sun Ra Arkestra in Rome 1980
My plans for 2018 include the completion of KSQ's debut Album.............'Stardust' and signing on with a company to release it as well as launch KSQ on a promotional tour.
Music to me is the embodiment of Gods Love..............as Art Blakey said ...to wash off the dust ..of everyday life.
Music is my offering to the Creator and to the people of this planet.
Music is my testament to the beings of other worlds that there is more to this planet than death and destruction