Vibes from The Tribe: Two jazz legends bring Detroit history to MSU


This Friday, MSU’s Jazz Studies program will take a dive into a fascinating chapter of jazz history and offer a rare chance to hear two Detroit legends play with top MSU students.

Trombonist Phil Ranelin and saxophonist Wendell Harrison are founding members of the Tribe, a fertile 1970s arts collective formed when African-American musicians were taking control and ownership of their own creations.

Friday, Ranelin and Harrison will join top MSU jazz students for a concert that is likely to stretch beyond the customary confines of student-guest artist recitals.

Ranelin, 80, and Harrison, 76, both are active musicians and educators. In Detroit, they are still best known as the guiding spirits of a multifaceted musical and cultural movement.

The Tribe mixed avant-garde, funk and spiritual jazz in an earthy, uncommercial style rooted in Detroit’s black community. They managed their own music label and successful magazine from 1971 to 1978.

“The word ‘tribe’ possessed near magic proportion in the African American community,” Ranelin wrote in his notes to the 2001 re-issue of “Vibes from The Tribe.” “The Tribe was more than a band, a record company and a magazine publication. It was a movement of black pride and self-determination.”

The Tribe got the keys to the city from Detroit Mayor Coleman Young in 1974 and represented the United States at the World Music Festival in Lagos, Nigeria in 1976.

In the ’90s, music lovers around the world, especially in the United States and Great Britain, rediscovered the music of the Tribe when the label’s catalogue was re-issued.

On trombone, Ranelin embodies a long tradition of jazz that pulls deep strings in your soul, from the New Orleans style of “Kid” Ory through the supreme mid-century artistry of Melba Liston and J.J. Johnson (with whom Ranelin is often compared) through the spiritual modes of John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders. He’s now based in Los Angeles, where he’s been designated a “cultural treasure” by the county board and the state legislature.

A killer CD compilation, “Collected Works 2002-2019,” shows what he’s been up to in recent years — a non-stop steamroller of spiritual grooves, inventive arrangements and unusual time signatures.

Wendell Harrison was born in Detroit, where he studied with Barry Harris, and moved to New York to play with many jazz greats. After a stint in California, he came back to Detroit in 1971 and met Ranelin, who had moved there from his native Indianapolis a few years earlier. They found that they shared the same dreams of playing, publishing and recording their own music.

Passionate provocation, deep tenderness and high musicianship were all part of the Tribe’s formula.

In 2018, Harrison was named a Kresge Eminent Artist, a lifetime award. He still performs regularly, but concentrates mostly on education.

To sweeten an extraordinary week, the guest artists will join longtime Detroit Free Press journalist, Mark Stryker, author of the recent history “Jazz From Detroit” for a discussion on the city’s jazz history Wednesday at 5 p.m.

Wendell Harrison and Phil Ranelin with MSU Jazz Octets


Fri., Nov. 8, 8 p.m.

MSU Fairchild Auditorium

542 Auditorium Road, East Lansing

(517) 353-5340,

Discussion: “Jazz From Detroit” w/ Mark Stryker, Phil Ranelin, Wendell Harrison


Wed., Nov. 6, 5 p.m.

Music Practice Building, Room 103

345 W. Circle Drive, East Lansing



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