In 1975, Pheeroan akLaff made his first music on the New York stages and began a recording career that has produced hundreds of recordings with innovative composers. He is the man behind the set of countless revolutionary artists, contributing four decades of a drumming language crafted to buoy the sensibilities of musician and listener alike. akLaff’s own projects as a leader have included rock trio, jazz quartet, and large ensemble formats, as well as numerous solo performances.
Inspired by drummer and John Coltrane collaborator Rashied Ali, having been introduced by leading historian Robert Ferris Thompson, Pheeroan made his initial music in New York and on international festivals with Wadada Leo Smith, Oliver Lake, Anthony Davis, Henry Threadgill, Amina Claudine Myers, as well as genre-stretching mentors Cecil Taylor, Dewey Redman, Andrew Hill, Tom Pierson, and Yamashita Yosuke.
A native Detroiter, Pheeroan has used elements of his vast personal and professional experience to inform his drum and cymbal orchestrations. He has lived and worked in the African nations of Ivory Coast and Nigeria, and has extensively toured Japan for over three decades. “What I have heard is broad yet it does not limit what I can imagine,” says akLaff. “I am leading with the intent to discover, though, and in, the pantheon of great artistic drummers, so I have yet to absorb any complement.“
Modern Drummer said that “akLaff's influences are as varied as the types of music he has mastered. Noted for his light and airy style, Pheeroan can adapt his free-form jazz approach to the genres of funk, swing and third-world music.” Musicologist Robert Palmer wrote in the New York Times, “the exceptionally sensitive drummer, Pheeroan akLaff (was) free to provide cross-rhythms and textural elaborations…” and that “Pheeroan Ak Laff is so many band leaders' drummer of choice, he's likely to turn up almost anywhere. He is fastidious, a percussive perfectionist who plays with crisp, pinpoint definition and always goes for the groove.”
akLaff currently teaches at Wesleyan University and leads workshops worldwide. He is Co-Founder and Executive Director of the non-profit arts organization Seed Artists which was formed while raising his daughter in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Now living in Montclair, NJ, he has worked with Creative Director Chris Naiperala, the Montclair Public Library, Montclair State University, William Patterson University, 73 See Gallery, and National Jazz Museum of Harlem where he produces events to stimulate and inform an inter-generational community.
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)