Angel Bat Dawid is the next talented artist to emerge from Chicago’s experimental jazz scene.
A clarinetist, singer and composer, her new album The Oracle will be released on the same International Anthem label that gave us Makaya McCraven. Returning home after a successful trip to play the Winter Jazzfest in New York City, we caught up with Angel for a conversation about learning lessons from album liner notes, the influence of her spiritual jazz collection, and inspirational Stevie Wonder quotes.
How was Winter Jazzfest for you?
It was phenomenal! I went with The Brothahood, six guys who are my brothers for real. They’re all exceptional musicians and all we do is talk about music all day so it was fun to be in New York and just be ourselves. We didn’t change shit up. During the journey, when we drove, we were all singing the whole time and talking real deep about spirituality. We went grocery shopping and sat down and had a meal together like a real family — the way we cook together is the way we play together, like everyone is trying to make the other person sound good.
How did The Brothahood come about? How did you decide on the group members?
I honestly learned how to put together ensembles from my record collection. Like Grover Washington Jr’s Soul Box, I love the liner notes to that. He said when he puts together ensembles, he thinks of three things: First, the musicians’ attitudes towards each other; then the musicians’ attitudes towards the music; and then their technical ability. I use that formula. The Brothahood have a great attitude towards each other, they get the music, and we’re all into the experimental and we’ve all been to jam sessions together. And when it comes to technical shit? Damn, these are some of the most amazing musicians I know! They all play seven instruments, it’s like the Art Ensemble of Chicago with thousands of instruments! They’re our heroes.
Spiritual jazz is a big influence on your music, right?
Yeah, I have a record collection that’s very curated and it’s like the rarer jazz records I have, the holy grails, those are like my school, my library. I mean, I can get a master class from John Coltrane right now: I can put the record on and play along and it’s like he’s in the room. Then I’ll be like, “I see what you’re doing, okay, you just did that and there’s this going on with the composition.”
Did you use any specific jazz records as frames of reference for your own album, The Oracle?
A lot of Sun Ra, some Henry Threadgill, it’s a case of listening to the elders and going deeper than just the surface. Like I use a poem from Dr. Yusef Lateef on the album — nobody knows he was a writer and he has science-fiction books that are fascinating! I ordered a few of his books a few years ago.
Where was the photo on the cover of The Oracle taken? That’s you, right?
Yeah, that’s my baptism picture and I was really serious! I’ve always been spiritual since a little girl, always talked to God on my own. A few weeks before my baptism, my dad showed me this comic book but it was like these graphic pictures of hell and they’re so scary. I was like, “What’s that?” He told me it was hell and if you’re not good you’re gonna go to hell. I was like, “I ain’t trying to go there, what the fuck do I got to do?” “You can be baptized.” “Great, where do I sign up?!” So that picture on the cover is me very serious about I am not going to hell. It was taken in the church I grew up in where my grandfather was the pastor. I didn’t really like going to church ‘cause it was boring but I always loved the music and the singing together.
I noticed on your Instagram account that you posted up a quote from Stevie Wonder: “As an artist, my purpose is to communicate the message that can better improve the lives of all of us.”
Yeah, I saw that quote on an inspirational Facebook or Instagram video and I wrote it down and it’s on my wall now. In front of my desk I have all my aspirations I look at every day. Stevie was one of the greatest composers and musicians of our time and he said that, so I want to embody that myself. I’m an empathic person, I’m very affected by what I feel in the world, and there’s a lot of bullshit I don’t like — but I know the way to heal the bullshit is with music.
What sort of bullshit are you referring to?
Today, there’s anxiety and depression and a lot of people walk around with mental illness and they don’t even know it. We live in this very tech world, which is great, but we have to pay more attention to being actual human beings as we operate with computers and machines. They’re not human: They don’t know humans need to get together sometimes and be in the same room and breathe the same air and eat together and laugh together. We’re gonna have to be more intentional about that in the coming years ahead if we want to still exist, and music is the best way to do that: Just jamming together, singing together, not even being big time artists, but to just be human.
Angel Bat Dawid, The Oracle (International Anthem)