Clinton St. Quarterly, Vol. 5 No. 3 | Fall 1983 (Seattle) /// Issue 5 of 24 /// Master# 53 of 73

Pnester ■■ Clinton St. Quarterly Pepo Mtoto, the adopted African name of Chicago-born trombonist and Seattle’s Cornish Institute jazz department head Julian Priester, means “Spirit Child” in Swahili. The name fits. Priester has a smooth, boyish face, capricious good looks, quick smile and the open mind of someone half his age (he’s 48). Yet he is also deeply, spiritually serious, a quality which, like his firm-set gaze, measured speech and near-soldierly deliberation, he may have inherited from his father, a Baptist minister. Priester chose an African name, as did many other musicians and black intellectuals, during the consciousness-raising early 1970s, while playing with Herbie Hancock (Mwandishi). “In Africa,” Priester said last month, during two generous interviews about his life in jazz, “they have the village historian, the griot, whose respons- sibility is to pass on the history of the tribe. When we were coming up, we felt we had to learn as much about jazz as we possibly could. I felt it was my responsibility to pass it on to the jazz fans and the younger musicians. We felt we had a special mission in carrying on the music. “Besides,” said Priester of his sobriquet, “I liked the rhythm of the name, and ‘child’ sort of let me off the hook.” In his 30 years as a first-call sideman and sometime leader in jazz, the unassuming Priester has been anything but off the hook. From the early 1950s Chicago bebop scene through the trombone sections of Duke Ellington’s and Sun Ra’s bands to the fusion and free periods of the 1970s, he has been a creative force. The career of this spirit child of jazz reads a little like the history of the music’s last three decades. Priester’s early years were musically rich. “We always had gatherings at the house, singing gospel hymns. My mother would play, my sister would play and when one of my brothers got interested in jazz, since we had a piano in our home, his little combo would rehearse there. Before the rehearsal they would listen to the albums, mostly 78s, and get very excited. I was always fascinated with names like Bird and Diz. After they had played, I could go to the piano and mimic what my brother had done. So my parents started giving me private piano lessons. I was seven or eight years old.” At Chicago’s DuSable High School, Priester was lucky enough to study baritone horn, later trombone, under the legendary Captain Walter Dyett, whose disciplinarianism and love of jazz had already groomed such luminaries as Clifford Jordan, Johnny Griffin, Gene Ammons, Nat King Cole and Joe Williams. Even before he played “Pomp and Circumstance” at his own graduation ceremony, Priester was playing professionally in a jazz group with pianist Richard Abrams and Prom the early 195Os Chicago bebop scene through the trombone sections of Duke Pllington 's and Sun Ra ’s bands to the usion and free periods o f the 1970s, he has been a creative force.