DownBeat March 2021

INDIE LIFE ALONZO DEMETRIUS T rumpeter Alonzo Demetrius’ thirst for social justice is evident on his lead- er debut, Live From The Prison Nation . “Movements transform people from individu- als to a collective”: Those words from journal- ist and activist Mumia Abu-Jamal are incorpo- rated into “Mumia’s Guidance,” an ambitious, nine-minute track on the album. The disc reflects many lessons Demetrius learned while earning both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Berklee College of Music in Boston. But they went much deeper than licks and chords. In the wake of the deaths of Black citizens Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland (who each died while in police custody during 2015), Demetrius attended a number of protests in Boston, which provided pivotal experiences. “The initial con- cept for the album was around police brutali- ty, but as I was doing my research, I dove into Angela Davis’ work on the prison-industrial complex,” he said. “It became apparent tome that I needed to have her as a feature, even if it’s just to give some context.” The album’s powerful open-

Music Fueled by Activism

er, “Expectations,” includes a recording of Davis. The album’s title itself was inspired by the sig- nature signoff Abu-Jamal—a podcaster who’s been imprisoned for four decades: “From the prison nation, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.” Demetrius chose to sample a recording of Abu- Jamal because he said it expresses “the power that communities have when they come together to make really lasting change.” Demetrius wanted the album to inspire action. He crafted teaching tools to accompa- ny the music, working with his mother, Latrice Torres, who has years of experience developing adult-education workshops and curricula. The pair created the Music To Action page on his website, which has discussion resources asso- ciated with four of the six songs on the album. Additionally, Demetrius offers facilitated work- shops to spark discussions about prison reform. The trumpeter and his quintet, dubbed The Ego, recorded Live From Prison Nation in 2019 at Berklee. One of Demetrius’ key mentors, drummer and Berklee educator Ralph Peterson,

released the album on his independent label, Onyx Productions. “[Peterson] tookme under his wing and real- ly empowered me with the idea that what I have to say, my musicality, is important,” Demetrius noted. In explainingwhy hewanted to release the album through Onyx, he cited Peterson’s con- nection to drummer/bandleader Art Blakey and “the legacy of uplifting and providing a platform for younger, up-and-comingmusicians.” In a separate interview, Peterson explained that he was impressed by Demetrius’ “social jus- ticemessage asmuch as hismusical message.”He added, “The fact that Alonzo’s music has today’s edge on it is exactly what I wanted for the label.” Prison Nation is one of only two titles in the Onyx catalog that are not credited to Peterson or one of the bands he leads. (The other is sing- er Lainie Cooke’s 2015 release, The Music Is The Magic , which, unlike Demetrius’ album, features Peterson on drums.) He explained that he views artists as “the conscience of society,” adding that making


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