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Mixashawn’s 'An American Songbook' Transcends Geography, Time And Musical Genres

Lee “Mixashawn” Rozie is a multi-instrumentalist who fuses jazz with the music of many cultures, especially Indigenous people. His latest work, An American Songbook, gets its world premiere Saturday in West Hartford.

The title may be misleading to some. Rather than a celebration of popular music from the first half of the 20th century, Rozie’s interpretation of the phrase is quite literal.

“The word ‘American’ is so misunderstood,” said Rozie. “When I say ‘American,’ I am thinking of all the Americas. All of the Americas and all of the music of the Americas -- it goes beyond boundaries of time and geography.”

An American Songbook freely explores music from all the Americas -- funk, indigenous music, ragtime and many more, played through the musical lens of a jazz quartet.

“It’s not just Latin American music, or just North American music. Even jazz. Where did jazz start? Well, of course it started in New Orleans. Yes, the North American style of jazz started in New Orleans. But improvisational music started in the Caribbean and South America long before they had the blues up here in North America. So we are misunderstanding the whole thing here,” said Rozie.

Rozie is Native American -- he traces his roots to what became known as the Windsor Indians, a collective of members from various tribes that used to live near the Connecticut River in the northern part of the state.

Over the years, the Hartford resident has distilled his notion of the universality of music into something he calls “hemispheric principles.”

“Hemispheric principles is the understanding that everything in the universe boils down to a wave. Whether it’s a water wave, a trend, a physical wave, a mountain,” explained Rozie. “It just takes the duration of those waves, and the atmospheres that determine how it will play out. So everything being in a wave makes you realize that there’s a universality that all waves have. Yet there are infinite amounts of variation within those waves. But understanding what the variants are, and what the universal qualities are, will help you surf through life. And that’s how I look at music.”

Joining Rozie on the stage will be his brother, bassist Rick Rozie, Warren Byrd on keys and Pheeroan Aklaff on drums.

An American Songbook by Lee “Mixashawn” Rozie premieres Saturday night at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford. 

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series Where Art Thou? Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of Morning Edition, and later of All Things Considered.

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