R&B and jazz music filled the air as more than 300 head-bopping, finger-snapping inmates took in the sounds of two inmate bands performing on the Lower Yard of San Quentin State Prison.
Inmates crowded near the stage to hear Bread and Roses guitarist Gail Muldrow join in with the bands on Aug. 16. Two weeks before, Muldrow played at San Quentin’s Day of Peace celebration. She first played at San Quentin during the 2012 Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.
“It’s just like at home — I kind of fit in,” Muldrow said about playing at San Quentin. “I got into music because my older brother kept a lot of records, and I’d play them all the time. But I didn’t start playing the guitar until after Jimi Hendrix died.”
Muldrow has her own band, The Gail Muldrow Band, but also plays with The Brides of Funkenstein and Painiacs.
“Blues run deep in my family,” said trumpeter Larry “Popeye” Faison. “Playing with Gail took me back to my roots.” Faison has played with the jazz band Just Came to Play since 2008.
“The yard show was very enlightening,” said Allen “Squirrel” Ware, keyboardist for Just Came to Play. “I’ve played jazz with Reggie for years and other artists throughout my many years of incarceration. But today playing with and listening to Gail play and sing was truly uplifting.”
Walter Ridley said he has been at San Quentin for 13 years and has seen dozens of yard shows. “I’m 53 years old, and these bands are playing the kind of music I grew up with. I can appreciate this music,” Ridley said. “I’ve seen Jim Brown, Louis Farrakhan, Ron Carter, E-40 — all kinds of celebrities at San Quentin. This is the best show of all of them.”
New Syndicate of Funk drummer, Charles King, said he grew up playing drums in the church. “It’s fun and enjoyable to see some of the guys come out to see us play,” King said.
“I’m glad to hear that more money is going to Arts in Corrections. Hopefully, it will give some of the younger guys something positive to do while doing their time”
“Playing music is a stress reliever for me,” said conga player Jimmy Rojas for the jazz band Just Came to Play. “It’s a way to express myself and bring a positive feeling.”
Arts programs in 14 state prisons are getting $2.5 million during the next two years from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, administered through the California Arts Council.
“I’m glad to hear that more money is going to Arts in Corrections,” said Eric Wilson, keyboard player for R&B band New Syndicate of Funk. “Hopefully, it will give some of the younger guys something positive to do while doing their time,” Wilson said. “I came from a level four prison. We couldn’t have yard shows like this.”
Just Came to Play member Reggie Austin said, “This group has been playing together for about a year. Having someone like Gail play so well with us after so little practice shows her level of professionalism. I look forward to working with her on the streets.”
“It was a great experience, playing with Gail,” bass player Darryl Farris said. “She’s easy to work with. We were just playing off the top of our heads.”
Farris said he has played every genre of music, from R&B to punk. “The way I grew up in the South, there wasn’t very much black music on the radio,” he said. “So I listened to a lot of rock.”
Farris said that he advises younger musicians to get out of their comfort zone so that they might appreciate music more.
Muldrow said she looks forward to teaching a guitar workshop at San Quentin in the fall.
New Syndicate of Funk: Wilber “Rico” Rogers, Joe Demerson on saxophone, Darryl Farris on bass, Lee Jaspar on guitar and bass, Eric Wilson on keyboard and Charles King on drums.
Just Came to Play: Reggie Austin on keyboard, Jimmy Rojas on congas, Greg “Dee” Dixon on guitar, Dwight Krizman on drums, Allen “Squirrel” Ware on keyboard and Lee Jaspar on bass.