Since his emergence on the creative jazz and new music scene in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Joe McPhee has been a deeply emotional composer, improviser, and multi-instrumentalist, as well as a thoughtful conceptualist and theoretician. Born on November 3, 1939, in Miami, FL, McPhee first began playing the trumpet at age eight. McPhee continued on that instrument through high school and then in a U.S. Army band stationed in Germany; during his Army stint, he was first introduced to traditional jazz. Clifford Thornton ’s Freedom and Unity , recorded in 1967 and released in 1969 on the Third World label, is the first recording on which McPhee appears. In 1968, he began playing the saxophone and since then has investigated a wide range of instruments (including pocket trumpet, clarinet, valve trombone, and piano), with active involvement in both acoustic and electronic music.
McPhee’s first recordings as leader appeared on the CjR label, founded in 1969 by painter Craig Johnson . These include Underground Railroad by the Joe McPhee Quartet in 1969, Nation Time by Joe McPhee in 1970, and Trinity by Joe McPhee, Harold E. Smith and Mike Kull in 1971. By 1974, Swiss entrepreneur Werner X. Uehlinger had become aware of McPhee’s recordings and unreleased tapes. Uehlinger was so impressed that he decided to form the Hat Hut label as a vehicle to release McPhee’s work. The label’s first LP was Black Magic Man , which had been recorded by McPhee in 1970. Black Magic Man was followed by The Willisau Concert and the landmark solo recording Tenor , released by Hat Hut in 1976. The earliest recordings by McPhee are often informed by the revolutionary movements of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s; for example, Nation Time is a tribute to poet Amiri Baraka and Joe McPhee & Survival Unit II at WBAI’s Free Music Store, 1971 (finally released as a Hat Art CD in 1996) is a sometimes anguished post- Coltrane cry for freedom and liberation.