Noah Howard was a Free-Jazz and alt saxophone legend

He was born in 1943 in New Orleans, the heartland of Jazz. Growing up in a city vibrating with Gospel and Dixieland he lived music in all its forms and played music from his childhood in his church. Noah first learned to play the trumpet and later moving on to alto, tenor and soprano saxophone. Noah’s music evolved as he worked with different people in different places, working with Dewey Johnson in Los Angeles and later on in San Francisco, and playing with Sun Ra after moving to New York. As an innovator influenced by John Coltrane and Albert Ayler he became a driver of the early Free Jazz movement and quickly developed into one of the world’s most celebrated alt saxophonists.

On New Orleans: “Growing up in New Orleans was like receiving a steady diet of music, and my taste in music became increasingly more sophisticated. In the neighborhood where I grew up kids around me were listening to Rhythm and Blues and Jazz; Rock came only much later. One of the great moments of my life was when I was around 13 years old and heard Duke Ellington with Paul Gonsalves playing a twenty-some minutes chorus solo on tenor sax at Newport. We had never heard anything like this before; a saxophone player doing so many choruses, this was years before Coltrane opened up. That experience meant there was no turning back; my ears were open and my desire was burning for music.” –Howard, N., Music in my Soul (2010)

He recorded his first LP “Noah Howard Quartet” as a leader in 1965 and his second LP “Noah Howard at Judson Hall” in 1966 both for the groundbreaking ESP Records label. In 1969 he appeared on Frank Wright’s album “One For John” and on “Black Gipsy” with Archie Shepp. His third record, which he lead, working with Arthur Doyle was the internationally acclaimed “Black Ark”. With this, Noah entered the Jazz hall of fame as one of the most brilliant and innovative Free Jazz musicians.

In 1971 he created his own record label AltSax and published most of his music under that label. In the same year he recorded Patterns in the Netherlands with Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink. Having honed his style and explored many eclectic sounds, he became disenchanted by the lack of appreciation for musical avant-garde in the USA. He moved on to Europe and Africa, moving to Paris in 1972, Nairobi in 1982 and finally Brussels in late 1982, where he had a studio and ran a jazz club.

On Africa: “ It was a Sunday morning with bright blue skies and I reached down and grabbed a handful of earth, holding it in my hands. It was red earth. As the first of my family to make this voyage back to my community, I was filled with emotion and started to cry – thinking about all those before me who didn’t survive the middle passage and slave trade. I thanked the few strong survivors of which I’m a descendant and was grateful to be a live and to make it back to Africa in my lifetime. The feeling of coming back home, after generations had gone through abuse and suffering, was upon me. I would put some of this into music later on when recording with James Emmanuel, the poet on “Middle Passage” (2001).  –Howard, N., Music in my Soul (2010)

He recorded steadily through the 1970s and 1980s, mostly with AltSax and continued to expand his repertoire, exploring funk and world music in the latter decade. In the 1990s Noah returned to his free jazz origins, infusing the many new influences and genres he had come across throughout the years into his inceptive passion. He released new music on various labels, notably Cadence Jazz, and experienced a resurgence of critical acclaim, in particular for his 2003 album Dreamtime.

Noah recorded 35 records, their sounds range from the sensitive, instinctive sound of Eye of the Improvisor (2007) to Desert Harmony, featuring Omar al Faqir (2007), which he described as “a representation of the magnificent brotherhood of musicians in our world.”

Noah Howard’s joy of life and insatiable curiosity was the driving force for his travels and collection of music, but also what made his sound so rich and remarkable. He gave concerts and worked with poets, visual artists, composers and musicians in places as diverse as India, the Arab world, Africa and Europe. This characteristic open-mindedness let Noah constantly re-innovate his style by embracing the cornucopia of the world’s cultures, people and music.

The last product of this existential experience was the truly diverse Voyage (2010). It creates a unique sound universe – Voyage Jazz, a beautiful interplay of World Music and Free Jazz, driven by a never-ending passion for innovation and love for the world’s music and its people, a true testament not only to Noah Howard’s musical journey, but his life’s achievements.

Noah Howard unexpectedly passed away September 3rd, 2010 while vacationing in Southern France. Just one day before finishing the first draft of his autobiography.

“I developed my sound and technique through constant practice and rehearsals with different formations. Very rarely has a day passed without practice in my life and I’ve worked this way throughout the years. I have always experienced that the best way for me to compose is to play with a full orchestral sound backing me up and to improvise within the structure I compose. This creates a tension fabric that makes the composition come alive. Because it is not enough for the piece to just be played, it must live and be alive, breathing and vibrating like a new born child, full of energy and creativity.”