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Avreeayl Ra

Chicago master drummer / percussionist AVREEAYL RA was born in Chicago on May 21st, 1947 and still lives there today. He is a renowned musician always in demand among visiting jazz artists in Chicago. Avreeayl’s father, Arthur “Swinglee” O’Neil, was a tenor saxophonist who was mentor to many young Chicago musicians, including John Gilmore, later the mainstay of Sun Ra’s Arkestra. (Avreeayl reports that John Gilmore had a crush on Avreeayl’s sister and so spent as much time as he could at the family house.) Swinglee O’Neil played in one of Sun Ra’s early Chicago bands, and Sun Ra played in one of Swinglee’s groups as well.

Avreeayl is a long-term member of the Chicago AACM, his relationship with the seminal music organization having begun with early studies with AACM co-founder Kelan Philip Cohran. Avreeayl has performed and /or recorded with Fred Anderson, Amiri Baraka, Fontella Bass, Lester Bowie, Ari Brown, Oscar Brown, Jr., Henry Butler, Henry Byrd (”Professor Longhair”), Hamid Drake, Malachi Favors, Donald Raphael Garrett, Charles Gayle, Henry Grimes, Billy Harper, Joseph Jarman, Edward “Kidd” Jordan, Nicole Mitchell, Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, Malachi Thompson, and many more.

Avreeayl considers himself greatly blessed to have come up in the richly progressive Chicago “avant-garde” jazz community. Though he has lived briefly in New Orleans and New York and has toured widely in the U.S., Canada, Europe, the Far East, and Africa, he has always returned home to live in Chicago.

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The venerable “Chicago Tribune” music critic Howard Reich wrote recently, “An indispensable Chicago innovator, Avreeayl Ra shapes the music-making swirling around him with remarkable precision and poise... extraordinarily sensitive percussion.” John Kelman of IndieJazz.com has described Avreeayl’s playing as “part Tony Williams, part Elvin Jones, and all Avreeayl Ra.” And John Litweiler in “The Chicago Sun-Times”: “He supplies ingenious sound colors and textures.”

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