Jazz Laureate

Jazz Laureate

Seed Artists has partnered with the Montclair Public Library (MPL) to establish the world’s first Jazz Laureate program. Each year, we honor a Montclair musician who has substantially contributed to the music. The Laureate receives an honorarium to compose a substantial new work, debut it at a free public concert, and help to curate and expand jazz programming at the Library. A novel way to advance and preserve. The Laureate program establishes the MPL as a jazz institution and serves as a pilot program for replication. On day, perhaps, a national Laureate network.

Seed, the MPL and Mayor Robert Jackson induct the inaugural Laureate, ANDREW CYRILLE, on May 4 at the Freedom of Sound festival. Jazz great Oliver Lake will honor us with a special dedication to his longtime colleague, and we will present Andrew with a physical Laureate award created by sculptor Tom Nussbaum. The MPL has been generous to Seed Artists as a platform for everything from concerts and listening sessions to film screenings and kids’ creative projects. We look forward to building the Laureate program with one of our favorite cultural and educational resources. Support your local library!

Andrew Cyrille

Drummer, composer, bandleader, educator, mentor…Through six decades, Andrew Cyrille has been a central figure in the advance of jazz and improvised music. A player of remarkable sensitivity, purpose and power, he has figured a host of the music’s most forward-looking and influential performances. At 79, he continues to create gems.

It has been a while now that people have written of The Andrew Cyrille Renaissance. Fact is, renaissance is his mode. He epitomizes the creative integrity, restlessness and curiosity at the heart of Eric Dolphy’s conception: freedom of sound. Seed Artists is honored to present Andrew as the inaugural Montclair Jazz Laureate.


Andrew was born in 1939, in Brooklyn, to Haitian-immigrant parents. Drums first caught his ear as a child when he heard hand-drummer Alphonse Cimber. Andrew began playing in a drum-and-bugle corps at age eleven, and was told that he had “natural hands”—an intuitive and sophisticated sense of rhythm. He played in the school orchestra and by fifteen was gigging with guitarist Eric Gale. Neighbors Max Roach and Philly Joe Jones encouraged him to find his own voice on the drumkit, and Jones brought him along to recording sessions: Miles Davis, Bud Powell, Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Stan Getz.

​Lucky us, in 1958, Andrew left his Chemistry studies at St. John’s University for Juilliard. A stretch with Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunje segued into work with such heavyweights as Coleman Hawkins, Mary Lou Williams, Kenny Dorham and Roland Kirk. But it was his gig as accompanist at the June Taylor School of Dance that ultimately prepared Andrew for his 1964 breakthrough in the avant-garde, as drummer for pianist Cecil Taylor. Andrew said in a New York Times interview, “One time [Cecil] asked me, ‘How do you hear rhythm?’ I said, ‘I hear it in relationship to dance.’”

Eleven years with The Cecil Taylor Unit produced some of the defining recordings and concerts in avant-garde jazz. Andrew also worked at the time with Marion Brown, Grachan Moncur III and Jimmy Giuffre, and was Artist-in-Residence at Antioch College. He recorded a solo-percussion record in 1969, What About?, and performed drum duos with Milford Graves and Rashied Ali. In the 1970s and 80s, Andrew led the band Maono, featuring saxophonist David S. Ware, and in the 80s played in The Group with violinist Billy Bang. The 1983 release Pieces of Time—an all-percussion session with Graves, Kenny Clarke and Don Moye—is a landmark.

Among the dozens of Andrew’s notable collaborations: Sun Ra, Carla Bley, Peter Brotzmann, David Murray, Horace Tapscott, Bill Frisell, Charlie Haden, Butch Morris, Marilyn Crispell, Muhal Richard Abrams, Richard Teitelbaum. Trio 3, Andrew’s longstanding collaboration with bassist Reggie Workman and saxophonist Oliver Lake, is one of the great working trios in jazz. Andrew continues to release music that is fresh and daring, consistently ranking among the best recordings of the year. He has appeared twice with Seed Artists: in multiple groups at Eric Dolphy: Freedom of Sound, and at William Paterson University with Richard Davis, Angelica Sanchez and Aska Kaneko.

Andrew Cyrille has been a Montclair resident since 1996.