Pheeroan akLaff was born in Detroit, Michigan January 27, 1955, and named Paul, by his parents in honor of Paul Robeson one of their favorite musicians. Though his parents did not play instruments they enjoyed dancing with the Lunceford, Basie, Eckstein, and Ellington bands. His mother, distantly related to Wings Over Jordan choir director Glenn T. Settlle, was a fan of classical repertoire. His father is a Jazz fan and audiophile. This spawned a musical household in which all seven children had music lessons at some stage of their development. Eric, the eldest became a concert pianist and choir conductor.
Largely an autodidact, with some years at Eastern Michigan University, Pheeroan studied privately with Randall Hicks (New Jersey Symphony Orchestra), and "Pistol" Allen (Motown). Arranger Travis Biggs, at Eastern Michigan University enlisted him for statewide performances, and facilitated his first recording date; a 45rpm for local R&B singer Major Lasky titled Remember Me Always (1973), a favorite of Detroit's radio station WGPR.
In 1975 he relocated to New Haven Connecticut. Auditing the African Art class of Robert Ferris Thompson, akLaff established a connection with drummer of John Coltrane Rashied Ali. He kindled the band DejaVu with his peers, and initiated a 40 year tenure with 2012 pulitzer finalist composer Wadada Leo Smith. Moving to New York in 1978 brought on worldwide performances and recordings with many creative composers, including Oliver Lake, Anthony Davis, Henry Threadgill, Sonny Sharrock, Andrew Hill, Cecil Taylor, Yamashita Yosuke, Amiri Baraka, Liu Sola, Tom Pierson, and Anthony Braxton.
As a young exploring artist Pheeroan akLaff toured several countries of Africa, Asia and Europe. He embarked upon an independant music immersion in Abidjan, Cote D”Ivoire in 1981, with the Marie Rose Guiraud dance troupe, and in Lagos Nigeria, with Dr. Frank T. Fairfax III, at University of Akoka, where he met Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Sonny Okosun, and Steve Rhodes. He made a cameo television appearance on the Steve Rhodes show. He toured for the U.S. State Department (USIS) In 1982 with the Oliver Lake and Jump Up, band; Malawi, Swaziland, Cote D'Ivoire Togo and Liberia, and in 1985 with Jay Hoggard Quintet; Morocco, Syria, Jordan, Sudan, Egypt and India. Afterwhich he produced a wave of African,Funk and Reggae influenced performances and recordings.1984 he played the Jazz Yatra in Mumbai and New Delhi with the Henry Threadgill Sextet. In 1988 he became part of The Yosuke Yamashita New York Trio, with bassist Cecil McBee, a trio that has annually toured Japan ever since.
In the 1990's Pheeroan presented his ensemble music at the Willisau festival of Switzerland, the Sju festival of the Netherlands, the Montsalvat festival of Australia, the Moers, and the Nurnberg festivals of Germany. He also led the Double Duo ensemble, which consisted of two saxophonists; Mixashawn and Ravi Coltrane, and two drummers; akLaff and his mentor Rashied Ali.
Pheeroan akLaff believes that his engagement in the arts has been an evolutionary and humanitarian edification. His non-profit organization Seed Artists encorages education, mentorship and enlightenment through selective arts presentations. With Creative Director Chris Napierala he has recently presented music festivals and symposiums at William Patterson University, and Montclair State University, childrens writing workshops and community concerts at The Montclair Public Library, and community concerts at local galleries. In 2016 he began serving as curator at Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning in Jamaica, Queens, NY.
Since 1991. Mr.akLaff has taught drums and creative music to University students at New School University in New York, and at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.
Ensemble Leader Recordings
The Willisau Concert - Modern Masters 2014
Live in Japan Volume One - Modern Masters 2012
Brooklyn Waters -2000 - Michael Cain, Florian Feuser
Global Mantras, - Modern Masters - 1997
Sonogram - Mu 1989
Fits Like A Glove - Gramavision 1983
Drumßet Variations - Modern Masters 2010
Drumset Variations - Mu 2001
House of Spirit; Mirth -1981 Passin’ Thru Re-released in 2011 by Souljazz
Brooklyn Waters, 1999, with Michael Cain
Revolutionary Quill, 2003, with Anthony Braxton
Selected Recordings as Accompanist
Geri Allen: • Maroons (Blue Note, 1992) Ray Anderson: • What Because (Gramavision, 1989) Anthony Braxton: • The Charlie Parker Project ( Braxton House 2017) Live Piano Quartet (Leo, 1995) • Seven Standards (Knitting Factory, 1995) Don Byron: • New Gospel Quintet, (Verve 2010) Tuskegee Experiments (Elektra/Nonesuch, 1989) • Bug Music (Nonesuch, 1990) Baikida Carroll: • Shadows and Reflections (Soul Note, 1982) • Door of the Cage (Soul Note, 1995) Dorothy Cowfield- No Broken Dreams (Street Meeting 2008), Cows in the Sky (Street Meeting 2004), I'm A Cowgirl ( Street Meeting 2000), Anthony Davis: • Of Blues and Dreams (Sackville, 1978) • Hidden Voices (India Navigation, 1979) • Episteme (Gramavision, 1981) • Hemispheres (Gramavision, 1983) • Ghost Factory (Gramavision, 1987) • X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X (Gramavision, 1992) • The Enemy of Light, Marty Ehrlich: • The Welcome (Sound Aspects, 1984) Fool Proof: • No Friction (Mesa Blue Moon, 1988)Craig Harris: • Shelter (JMT, 1986)Jerome Harris: • Algorithms (Minor Music, 1986) Jay Hoggard: • Love Survives (Gramavision, 1983) • Riverside Dance (India Navigation, 1984) • Love is the Answer (Muse, 1994)Michael Gregory Jackson: • Gifts (Arista/Novus, 1979) • Heart and Center (Arista/Novus, 1979) Oliver Lake: • Holding Together (Black Saint, 1976) • Life Dance of Is (Jive/Novus, 1978) • Shine (Jive/Novus, 1978) • The Prophet (Black Saint, 1981) • Clevont Fitzhubert (Black Saint, 1981) • Jump Up (Gramavision, 1981) • Plug It (Gramavision, 1982) • Compilation (Rhino, 1982) • Expandable Language (Black Saint, 1984) • Gallery (Gramavision, 1986) • Impala (Mesa Blue Moon, 1988) • Again and Again (Gramavision, 1991) • Virtual Reality: Total Escapism (Gazell, 1991) • Live at Willisau (Hat Art, 1995) Amina Claudine Myers: • Song for Mother Earth (Leo, 1979) David Murray: Karmen Gei • Quartet Live at the Village Vanguard, Yonn De New Air: • Live at the Montreux International Jazz Festival (Black Saint, 1983) • Air Show No. 1 (Black Saint, 1986) James Newton: • African Flower (Blue Note, 1985) • Romance and Revolution (Blue Note, 1986) Charles Papasoff: • Papasoff (Red Toucan, 1993) Tom Pierson: •The Hidden Goddess, Left Right, Planet of Tears , (Auteur ) Rob Reddy: • Post-War Euphoria, Songs You Can Trust (Songlines, 1996) Michelle Rosewoman: • The Source (Soul Note, 1984) Sonny Sharrock: • Seize the Rainbow (Enemy, 1987) • Live in New York (Enemy, 1989) • Into Another Light (Enemy, 1996) Fred Simmons: • Going Forth (1996) Wadada Leo Smith: • National Parks Suite ( Cuneiform 2016) Ten Freedom Summer (Cuneiform 2012) Spiritual Dimensions ( Cuneiform 2010) Hearts Reflection (Cuneiform 2009) Song of Humility (KaBel, 1977) • Spirit Catcher (Nessa, 1980) Liu Sola • Haunts (Also 1998) Live in Beijing (Also 1999) Apparitions (Also 2000) Paul Sullivan: • Visit to the Rockies (River Music, 1987) Henry Threadgill: • When Was That? (About Time, 1982) • Just the Facts and Pass the Bucket (About Time, 1983) • Subject to Change (About Time, 1984) • You Know the Number (Jive/Novus, 1986) • Easily Slip Into Another World (Jive/Novus, 1987) • Makin’ a Move (Sony, 1995) Mal Waldron: • My Dear Family (Evidence/Alfa, 1993) Carlos Ward: • Live at The Bug • Faces, Gunther Wehinger • Cry Flute, (Pao 1995) As Promised (Pao1992) Reggie Workman: • Summit Conference (Postcards, 1994) Yosuke Yamashita: 30th Anniversary ( Verve 2017) Delightful Contrasts, (Verve 2011) Triple Cats, (Verve 2008) Winds of the Ages • (Verve 2006) Field Of Grooves (Verve 2005), Pacific Crossing (Verve 2004) • Ways Of Time (Verve 2003) • Canvas in Vigor • (Polygram,2000) Dazzling Days (Polygram, 1994) • Spider •(Verve 1996) Dazzling Days (Verve 1993) Kurdish Dance (Antilles, 1992) Sakura Live ( Antilles 1991) •Plays Gershwin • (Verve 1990)Sakura (Antilles 1989)•Crescendo (Kitty 1988)