Think back fifty years to the days portrayed on the TV series Mad Men. In 1961, John Kennedy and Billboard's Easy Listening Chart were inaugurated, a freedom riders bus was fire-bombed in Alabama, Rock Hudson was on the big screen, and Doris Day was selling albums.
As teenagers and their swinging parents were twisting their brains out to Chubby Checker or the "authentic music by the King Curtis Combo," East German communists began construction of the Berlin Wall, the Beach Boys formed in California, and The Beatles performed, for the first time, at the Cavern Club in Liverpool.
At this time, saxophonists Yusef Lateef and John Coltrane were pioneering an approach to music that transcended convention, cultures, borders and labels; concomitantly, Robert E. Brown, a young professor of ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University, coined the term "world music."
September 5, 2011 marked the 50th anniversary of Lateef's groundbreaking album Eastern Sounds (Moodsville, 1961), engineered and mastered by the legendary Rudy Van Gelder. Although this column will generally be a conversation about the blues, it seems fitting to launch it by commemorating this classic album, arguably one of the first commercially viable examples of world music.
Seen in its historical context it was an extraordinary achievement. When this album was released, Lateef was in a supporting role in Cannonball Adderley's group. He had been given a chance to record a session under his own name on the Moodsville label, and obviously the label expected something that could be played at a party hosted by Don Draper. For his part, Lateef had been immersing himself in the music of many cultures, and was eager to explore these influences on an album, something not even John Coltrane had done at this point.