Hasan Fest celebrates the life and music of the late Hasan Abdur-Razzaq

Created and curated by Gerard Cox, the inaugural event takes place at the Columbus Performing Arts Center’s Van Fleet Theater on Saturday

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Hasan Abdur-Razzaq

When free jazz multi-instrumentalist Hasan Abdur-Razzaq finished a saxophone solo, he would occasionally set aside his horn and pick up whatever else might be laying around onstage — mallets, rattles, chimes — and continue to play, adding texture and dimension to the sound building among the players.

“He had that attitude, like, ‘I should always be contributing somewhere,’” Gerard Cox said of the late Abdur-Razzaq, who died in February. “If he was feeling the spirit in the music, he would manifest it in ways other than playing his horn.”

Abdur-Razzaq was born in 1949 in Montgomery, Alabama, and emerged from the same 1960s Cleveland jazz scene that produced the likes of the Ayler Brothers and the Black Unity Trio, a period the musician recounted on the South African website Chimurenga.

“The [Black Unity] Trio was moving toward the recording of their Al-Fatihah album, which took place in December 1968,” Abdur-Razzaq wrote. “They rehearsed in the basement of Cosmic Music. After witnessing the rehearsals on a regular basis, I decided I would make the effort to learn how to play. I acquired a used saxophone from a pawnshop and got as much as I could from their technique and style of playing.”

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Cox described Abdur-Razzaq as someone who saw himself as part of the greater continuum in music, whose style carried echoes of the past but also moved the genre forward. “I don’t think any jazz player comes out of a vacuum. It’s always distilling the things you’ve heard and then putting your own stamp on it,” said Cox, who heard within Adbur-Razzaq’s sound certain aspects of players such as Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp and John Coltrane, among others. “Hasan played pretty rough, in a good way. It was a very unapologetic, take-no-prisoners style of playing. And I think most people who heard him would attest to that.”

Though steeped in the music’s history, Abdur-Razzaq was always pushing into new realms, too, and Cox said the musician enjoyed experimenting with effects pedals and electronics, hoping to expose new wrinkles in his sound. When touring musicians would pass through town, Abdur-Razzaq wouldn’t hesitate to gently interrogate at the end of the night. “If he was curious about how a musician was making a particular sound, you can bet he would be up there after the set, asking, ‘How are you doing that?’” Cox said. “By no means was he someone stuck in doing one thing, or playing a particular style. He was game for anything, like, bring it on.”

As a result, Cox said Abdur-Razzaq was an effortlessly malleable player, fitting seamlessly within various musical formations and even across genres — a trait that carried over into his life off of the stage. “He was involved in the spoken word [poetry] scene, and he would go and play percussion behind the poets,” said Cox, who first met Abdur-Zarraq in the early 2000s following a show at New Harvest Cafe where the saxophonist sat in with Mark Lomax and Eddie Bayard. “By no means was he just confined to the improvised music scene. He made friends in a lot of different circles, and he traveled well across those circles.”

For the inaugural Hasan Fest, which is set to take place at the Columbus Performing Arts Center’s Van Fleet Theater on Saturday, Sept. 11, Cox, who curated the event, focused squarely on Abdur-Razzaq’s history within the world of improvised music, building a lineup around artists with whom the late player had collaborated, including guitarist L.A. Jenkins and drummer Tatsuya Nakatani, among others.

“He really loved all the festivals and the shows in the improvised music scene,” said Cox, adding that it wasn’t unusual for Abdur-Razzaq to perform at one festival while wearing a T-shirt from one he had previously played. “He was proud about being involved in these things, and I thought I would try to honor his love for that scene by starting a festival in his name, and featuring the kind of music he loved to play. Essentially I was trying to create a program he would have enjoyed. That’s always going to be the ideal.”