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JazzTimes – Overdue Ovation – Tisziji Muñoz: At Peace, But Never At Rest

July/August 2015, Brad Farberman

Review Page 1, Page 2 and Cover

Wondering Sound – Tisziji Muñoz: The Guitarist Who Quit Music and Became a Yogi

6/27/14, Richard Gehr


For it is music that seduces/ and rapes the worldly/ just as it is materialism which rapes/ the moderately creative of their greatest powers/ Such music cannot touch the spiritual/ For to touch the spiritual is to be burned by its Fire!
— Tisziji Muñoz, The Diamond of Heart-Fire-Sound

On January 1, 1972, Tisziji Muñoz turned his back on music as a profession. By that time, the greatest electric jazz guitarist you’ve never heard had already been a child-prodigy Latin drummer, a baritone-ukulele player in the one-hit (“Canadian Sunset”) teen doo-wop group the Arrogants, and a promising young guitar slinger in Toronto’s small but intense early-’70s jazz milieu. But then he had an epiphany: “The music scene was just another form of death.”

Instead, Muñoz rededicated his life to “the way of spirituality, yogic development, karma-transformation, and self-transcending purificational spiritual practice.” Music was no longer his focus – it was a side project. Muñoz had a more fundamental — even hereditary — calling: as a spiritual master.

Since then, Muñoz has appeared on about four dozen albums, mostly on his own Anami label, with another 20 or so in the pipeline awaiting release. The secret to this non-musician’s productivity is that he neither practices nor rehearses, neither for gigs nor recording sessions, and rarely touches his guitar, except when he’s trying to build up calluses in the weeks leading up to one of his rare shows. That said, he has performed and recorded with Pharoah Sanders, McCoy Tyner, Rashied Ali and Ravi Coltrane, among other luminaries. Paul Shaffer, his longtime friend and sometime music director, considers Muñoz his jazz mentor and performs alongside the guitarist in the Tisziji Muñoz Quartet with an exploratory spirit never hinted at on The Late Show With David Letterman.

From his 1976 solo debut, Rendezvous With Now to his most recent releases, a trilogy of albums with keyboardist John Medeski, Muñoz’s sound has been as immediately identifiable as Parker’s saxophone. He recorded only sporadically throughout the ’70s and ’80s, achieving warp speed in the ’90s on albums such as Present Without a Trace, Spirit Man, and Death Is a Friend of Mine. By the end of the decade, he had cleared most of the Coltrane out of his system.

It’s not as though Muñoz intended to become a musical secret or clandestine cult flavor, though; it just kind of happened naturally, inevitably. “Not entertainment, inner-attainment” promises his website, which contains his books, music, videos, rants and much more. And while I can’t say I’m familiar enough with his primary calling to judge, I suggest that if he’s anywhere near as effective a spiritual teacher as he is a guitarist, then come let us adore him.

With his long graying hair, often worn in a topknot, his bushy mustache and soul patch, Muñoz resembles many of the yogis and Asian mystics he has so arduously studied over the years. He favors scarves, vests and long, loose shirts. When I meet him at his six-acre compound in the town of Wallkill, New York, he reminds me of a gentleman farmer in Rajasthan, Nepal, or some other lost horizon. The farmhouse he shares with his wife, Nancy, and whichever of his children happen to be in town, also contains a recording studio. A long, two-story converted barn on the other side of their vegetable garden is divided into studio space, Muñoz’s office, and rooms for visiting pilgrims or patients in need of spiritual healing.

But before he could help others, the practitioner first had to heal himself. Tisziji Muñoz was forged in a crucible of pain in Brooklyn Heights. His early life consisted of a series of unfortunate events. When he was five, a cousin pushed him through a window, severing the artery in his left wrist and causing permanent nerve damage that has made chording extremely painful. As a result, he developed a distinctive single-note style of playing — a keening, singing sound that evokes cosmic winds, Indian ragas and screaming saxophonists. (Pharoah Sanders, in whose band Muñoz played for five years, mistook his guitar sound for a horn upon hearing it for the first time.)

“I almost lost a hand,” he says of his early accident, “but I had the greatest music lesson in the world: my mother screaming, with blood all over both of us. She had my head up against her breast. She was absolutely lamenting, ‘Please help me! My baby’s dying!’ That scream is now part of my scream.”

Muñoz’s life, as recounted in his authorized biography The Master Dance (co-written by his wife), is an accretion of catastrophes, coincidences and meetings with remarkable men. He was born Michael John Augustine Muñoz in 1946. He and his extended Puerto Rican clan, which included saints, alcoholics and practicing spiritualists, shared a cramped “shack” near the Brooklyn waterfront. He witnessed his father beat his mother (she “talked like a longshoreman, but her heart was pure”) and took solace in the Latin music he heard over the airwaves (“the radio was my Messiah, so to speak”) and in what he calls “drum fever,” beginning with the tiny trap set he started playing at three.

Other near-death experiences included a severe gang beating (resulting in his becoming leader of Puerto Rican street toughs the Black Diamonds), an overturned jeep that almost killed him in the Army, and a mid-air parachute collision that cost the life of a fellow paratrooper. It was while running nightlong escape-and-evasion maneuvers in Frankfurt, covering long distances in the dark without food in simulated life-or-death conditions, that Muñoz says he received his first real spiritual training. “I realized that the less I ate, the stronger I was. So I began fasting during the military.”

He tried to go to Vietnam (eventually declaring himself a conscientious objector), but ended up a full-time member of Fort Bragg’s 440th Army Band — “my Juilliard” — where he discovered the music of John Coltrane, the sonic spiritualist to whom he is most frequently compared. A group of Coltrane devotees among the bandmembers were even known as the Church of A Love Supreme, thanks to their incessant chanting of the refrain to Coltrane’s 1965 masterpiece.

In 1969, Muñoz’s five-year military service ended with a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest-style incarceration in Fort Bragg’s psychiatric ward. Assigned to prep troops heading to Vietnam, he found his own blossoming Buddhist beliefs at odds with the government’s ongoing atrocities. As his objections to the war intensified, he was forced to “rest” in the facility and medicated with tranquilizers. Something about military discipline nevertheless touched Muñoz in a way that helped him systematically undertake his subsequent spiritual studies.

Inspired by a dream concerning a “city by the lake,” Muñoz, his first wife and their two children moved to Toronto and lived there for much of the ’70s. He learned from, and sparred with, other questing guitarists, including the eclectic Bill Evans devotee Lenny Breau and Sonny Greenwich, a charismatic, spiritually inclined Coltrane-ian whose initial friendship with Muñoz turned into rivalry. Muñoz performed in off-Broadway productions of Hair and, along with Paul Shaffer, Godspell. He chanted with the city’s Hare Krishna community during what he calls “the happiest time of my life, while knowing I didn’t want to be with them.” Nor did he want to be with anyone else.

Until 1983, that is, when he experienced the breakthrough that confirmed his calling as a karmically chosen, if reluctant, guru himself. Muñoz undertook a “grand tour” of Buddhism, Hindu, and more esoteric spiritual masters, which included meetings with the teachers Hazrat Inayat Khan, Kirpal Singh and Sri Chinmoy as well as literary studies of Gurdjieff, Ramakrishna, Paramahansa Yogananda and Meher Baba. Muñoz’s syncretic philosophy isn’t particularly complicated in theory but, like all good things, takes plenty of practice.

“I developed a parallel form of teaching that evolved into what I call Hu-dism,” he explains. “Not awakening by way of scripture,” like enlightenment, “but an awakening by way of sound — ensoundment. You don’t create it — it happens. And music is the key. Music is the religion and meditation practice. That’s how I woke up,” he says with a hearty laugh. “It’s the source of your own being. They call it true nature; I call it Hu nature — sound nature.” He demonstrates a meditation technique, sounding “Hu,” he exhales slowly. He recommends that I do this a dozen times in a row. When I do so at home the next day, Muñoz’s recipe for entering “Zero Heart-space” tranquilizes me briefly with pharmaceutical efficiency.

“I wrote the book No Self, No Thought, No Mind Equals No Problems — or NSNTNM=NP. I call it the Great Equation,” he says. “You should do it on a regular basis to prevent neuroses building up. We can chase the ghost of our own self-creation away. The tone begins to polarize and align the atoms in the body, slowing the brain down, creating alpha waves.”

Although he’s a teacher with several musician followers, this, I learn, is about as close as Muñoz gets to actually teaching music. “I don’t give any music lessons,” he says. “I’m not a guitar player, so I don’t have any theory about guitar — that’s a fact. It just comes rollin’ right out of the cooch — raw, right out of the womb. But I’m a medium, so it’s easy for me. It’s not easy for other players, I guess.”

I’d take issue with Muñoz’s claim not to awaken by scripture. Tisziji testifies through his guitar, and isn’t recorded music a documented reflection of one’s inner state? Precious few gurus, shamans, priests and other spiritual professionals offer actual evidence of what they teach, preach, feel and believe. What is this “Fire-Sound” of which he speaks in books such as The Diamond of Heart-Fire-Sutra? For Muñoz, Fire-Sound signifies a transcendent musical act that literally burns away karma. Can it really “initiate the spiritual rotations necessary for your levitations above the earth”? Listen to “Purification By Fire #2″ on Mountain Peak and hear the notion made manifest. His hollow-bodied Carlo Greco guitar, played with a metal pick through an amp set a surprisingly low volume, delivers an authoritatively soaring, very electric sound.

Although he tends to travel the spaceways, Muñoz is not immune to the pleasures of melody. His 1995 album Spirit Man contains ecstatic versions of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and “If I Only Had a Brain,” and you can hear similarly stellar interpretations of “My Favorite Things,” “Giant Steps,” and “Kind of Blue” elsewhere. He has recorded most of his music alongside his longtime rhythm section of pianist Bernie Senensky, drummer Ra-Kalam Bob Moses and bassist Don Pate, although he’s explored many other configurations as well. Last year he released Heart to Heart, a deep and remarkably emotional session with pianist Marilyn Crispell, and a conceptual trio of albums — Beauty as Beauty, Beauty as Ugly and Ugly as Ugliest! — with Medeski Martin and Wood keyboardist John Medeski. The latter album consists solely of Muñoz speaking over the band. “I talked about what I was playing about,” he says. “I put it into words.”

In 1986, Muñoz declared himself the Bhagavad Guitar Player — “One Who, born Awake to Being the Sound of Light and the Light of Sound, Is Now Awake as the very Soul and Mind, Feeling and Heart-Source of Music, as That may Represent or Express the simple yet profound Love, Thought, Feeling-Tone and Free Action of One Who Is Its Own Sound” — and wrote a manual of the same name with chapters like “Transcendent Sameness” and “What to Practice Without Practicing.” The advice probably boils down to “be yourself,” but Muñoz would add that there’s no such things as “being” or “self.”

As we spoke in his studio about his siblings, who struggled to understand both his artistic and spiritual callings, Nancy Muñoz interrupted us, beckoning Tisziji into the main house, where a visitor waited. He excused himself and returned a few minutes later. “I had a quick healing,” he explained, “almost like a laying on of hands.” Devotees of his music might well say the same.

Guitar Moderne – Pioneer: Tisziji Muñoz

4/10/14, Henry Kaiser

To read this interview with added videos and photos, please see: http://www.guitarmoderne.com/pioneer/pioneer-tisziji-munoz

In addition to sharing his own story with Guitar Moderne, Henry Kaiser was kind enough to conduct an interview with the wildly, underappreciated Tisziji Muñoz. A true pioneer of modern guitar. Though fleetingly mentioned here, in addition to his many accomplishments in the world of spiritually driven music Tisziji Muñoz served as a mentor to Paul Shaffer (yes that Paul Shaffer). That fact will become less surprising when you come across the traces of humor in his extensive discourse on music and the spirit. Prepare to meet Mr. Muñoz.

To use the jazz terminology: Tisziji Muñoz is about the heaviest cat that I know of playing electric jazz guitar today. Folks can make comparisons to other guitarists influenced by John Coltrane, i.e. McLaughlin, Holdsworth, Santana, etc., but Tisziji  has been in a class of his own for more than 40 years. Perhaps because he taps directly into the same cosmic energy that Coltrane channeled; who knows?

He’s appeared on more than 50 albums, many of them on his own Anami Music label. He’s played and recorded with many well-known jazz luminaries: Ravi Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Marilyn Crispell, Rashied Ali, Bob Moses, Dave Liebman, John Medeski—the list is long. But somehow he remains almost a secret; hardly known in the world of guitar.

I’ve known and enjoyed Tisziji’s music for decades and first contacted him in the late ’80’s through the contact info on his Visiting This Planet double LP. I was surprised that his main gig seemed to be as a spiritual teacher. Years later I met Tisziji and recorded an album with him. We have stayed in-touch and I buy every recording of his, as soon as it’s released. I get something special from each one. Ali Akbar Khan used to talk about music being food for the soul. That’s one thing I get from listening to him.

This interview contains language that you don’t usually see in guitar interviews. Give it a chance; there are many things to find in here that could be super useful. Tisziji means it when he says,

“At first, you just hear the guitar.
You discover the paradoxical mystery it is.
The guitar is no guitar.
Its music is not guitar music!
Then, you realize the mountain my guitar is you must climb.
Having climbed the mountain, the great leap is taken.
Finally, you just disappear into the sky of vast, clear Heart-mind.
The Hu-dha’s music is from the Heart’s ecstatic Sound Stream.”

From Ornette Coleman to Sun Ra to Anthony Braxton, many musical masters of the 20th century found their own ways to express the inexpressible with the English language, and that’s what you will find in this interview. Tisziji is not afraid to mince words, and not afraid to use a lot of them. See how the voices inside you respond to what Tisziji has to say.

But first, if you haven’t already, take a look at the video above and hear what he says through the guitar—or through the no-guitar, or not through the no-guitar.  Whatever it is that Tisziji is doing in this video, it’s not something that you can argue with; it’s as heavy as any music can be.

What’s the biggest musical surprise that you have experienced in your life?

The joyous surprise was that, as an infant, music (relative to certain drum techniques and patterns relevant to Afro-Rican dance music) and levitation (suspension of breath and consciousness outside of the body) were practically synonymous. Hence, began a lifelong yogic process in the form of an intuitive musical practice of unfoldment (expansion of awareness and insound knowing) born of musical sound revealed through a malady I call “Drum Fever”—having to not stop playing drums. I was playing drums and being out of the body at the same time. I played to get and stay out.

“He takes you out there and leaves you there.”—Paul Shaffer

While we all know that drums are primarily about time and rhythm, my experience, as a child born to spiritualist healers, was that of an acknowledged collapse of the time/space, rhythm/no rhythm, matter/energy, paradox/paradigm relative to the physical body and being left as a child to explore the middling, thus, not dark, astral planes of light (aka Kundalini-psychic chakra) energy. After several years of this, my Aunt Gracie was called in by my mother, Sat-janami, for confirmation, psychic knowledge, and sympathetic support for whatever I seemed to be going through at the time. In my case, this was a direct form of musical education, in no way unique to me. This was not just “out” music but also “out in-space music.” We are the out-in space. This is Avant or savant-garde drum-sound, time and etheric space training for the eagle-eyed, elephant-eared and alligator-skinned warriors of Fire-Sound training. This is for us, Henry.

You are a spirit player. Inclusive in that is that playing music is a prayer in the spiritual sense. What kind of prayer? Asking, celebrating, thanking? What else? Any advice to players on mindset, or no-mindset, when playing?

Yes, I am called a spirit player but, in fact, you mean first Fire-Born, and then Heart-Blood and Spirit-played. It is not merely a prayer process relative to the self-thought mind-body, but a progression more along the lines of psychic or subtle effects generating grace-waves from the always existing Heart of Itself, which creates a body-mind healing for those who receive or resonate with this music/sound, or in those who are close to me in Spirit, or who need this type of creative sound medicine. Everyone has free, but qualified, access to this same Heart reality, if they know how to open to it as “what is true” for oneself at the pure Spirit level.

My intention and practice (the very core of all true prayer) is to live as an ongoing healing force for all beings in all worlds, bar none, high, low, indifferent, knowable and unknowable. In Buddhism, you are what you think you don’t think. However, in my HUdha teachings, as the HUdha of primordial Radiant-Sound and HEART-EAR music, you, the well-trained or self-taught musician, ordinarily and unconsciously play what you are cultured or prone to play in any and every way, shape, or form of the duplicitous masks of superficial culturing, which is being Appearance Only. What is played is what one does and not who one is. In other words, you’re not what you play or what you know. So you play culture and culture plays you, unless or until you awaken beyond all such self-thinking, self-limiting, self-defining, Spirit-inhibiting cultural forms of illusion and, too often, from plain ancestral delusion.

Musicians, stop abusing your minds and misusing your ears. The material/scientific world of effects is not the true source of this music, only silence is. Plenty of room for “know nothing” Zen practice, hear? Those of you mechanical players and “creative” musicians who believe/perceive you have it all together, play and groove on. Let it rip, or rip you into your idea of bliss. Reading Heart-Blood can open some readers to what I call the treacherous walk of genius; the walk of aloneness, no friends, no fans, no family, no competition, no applause, no awards, no crutches, no excuses, no safety net, no school, no teachers, no problems, no one better, no one worse, no hesitation, just plunge into the deep and know the always here, already gone for yourself.

The are many stages with many steps on the recovery path to the Heart of one’s potential True Genius, if one can conceive of or withstand such a force or state of ecstatic liberation-reality within, for, or as oneself. Put into basic paradoxical terms, to get to this Far Out Into Here you need to learn what to unlearn.

This process, in my work, is called The Burn.
You need to play to not play or not to play to play.
You need to perform to not perform or not to perform to perform.
You need to know to not know not to know to know.
You need to be to not be or be not to be… not to be that who or what is not true for you as Soul.
You asked this basic question so you receive a friendly response heart to heart.

Furthermore, from what I call the Heart-Mind, if you can reside therein and there-as, and know its essence as love itself, then you live as a prayer, let alone play as a beginner from, or by, a mere form of prayer, for the spiritual healing, upliftment and happiness of all beings within, on and off of EARth. This is good practice and can lead to another dimension of deep-feeling music, beyond ordinary fear-based religious parameters and beliefs—just another step along the infinite universal Heart path. This leap out-into is from, about and for the advancement, thus deepening, of human-born awareness (that is, The All Hu-Man Being), which is equally born of infinite creative intelligence (beyond mere specific species of beings).

Musicians, please live from the highest of intentions, aspirations and good will. Then play from this self-transcending Heart opening inspiration regardless of what you have to play. Here, it is less about what you play and all about from where you play what you play, for whom at what level of reality. Always be grateful for your gift of music and your special gift of being able to play anything for others for their healing, education, entertainment, emotional comfort and joy. We are charged to do the very best we can in this broad, diversified, competitive and ruthless field of dreams and woes we respectfully call our beloved music: that water-soul, space-breath and spirit fire of the inner life. It is all right here-now with each of you as a Heart-First, then artist next.

Are you synesthetic? Do you see music visually within your mind’s eye when you play or listen? If so, anything special to remark about that?

If you mean seeing, hearing or knowing things as a direct result of what I hear when I am playing, my answer is, “Absolutely yes.” I don’t play just to hear myself play, or talk just to hear myself talk, or eat just to eat, or sleep just to sleep. In my case, it is much deeper and, at times, spookier than that. I enter a sound-trance; healing occurs and goes out with the music. This resonance directly affects certain people and the spirit of it seems to affect the whole space I am playing in. This is a meditative process beyond thinking, seeing, hearing, and perceiving music. I can say I am overwhelmed by the deepness of this process which, even though it happens in real time, seems to take longer to hear, as if the sound is coming up from the Earth as much as down into my body slowly, as if by time warp perception of multiple time-worlds. This is also accompanied by a sense of truth and urgency, mysteriously exuding a silent presence of wisdom, a wisdom message without words—sound wisdom, the wisdom of silent Heart-sound.

In my family I was recognized as a psychic musician, one who sees and feels the spirits, one who talks to them through this music, not by mere word. This is generally accomplished by bringing spiritual presence to the people/audience for their opening and healing. My Aunt Gracie said, “Tisziji, you are the old wise man who brings the blessings down to the people like rain from above.” She put a lot of responsibility on me.

My son, Reb, whose pitch is perfect, hears pitches in colors [synesthetic]. I see and hear by psychic emotion and feeling. I play exactly what and how I feel beyond musical sound and devices. This comes from my early life on the time-track and working through the drums for release from the world of mind and sorrow. Along with this healing arises a deep meditation on opening to seeing things not known before and knowing things before they happen. For many who come to sit with me or to hear my concerts, it is a special and often spiritual event. In many cases, people into jazz do not understand this music but say they got a healing feeling from this level of music they find incomprehensible. Many of my melodies are sweet, but where they go from there enters a healing by burn process which transcends the form, the sound and even the space the music occurs in. Some might say this is jazz, a free jazz, but it is not. There is a free jazz or out music mind and then there is the no mind, the True In Heart-music of healing by self-transcendence only.

Ordinary musical feelings, self-knowledge, and self-consciousness tend to obstruct this process of healing-transmission. Just playing what one hears and playing with undisciplined feelings and thoughts tend to obstruct this music as well. Ordinary entertaining music brings some healing, no doubt, to certain people, but falls short. Ordinary jamming doesn’t cut it. Masturbating mechanical musical chops don’t cut it. Just feeling good or high doesn’t cut it. These forms are too superficial, regardless of how loud or powerful or meaningful the experience is for the self and others. Such an effort may be a good starting point, but that’s all it is. To get beyond acrobatics, the self as B.S. has to be gone beyond, period. The psychic heartwheel has to be open beyond emotion and unconscious self-clinging/attachment. This requires an intensity of conscious penetration momentum into the spacious fire silence is, which produces Heart-radiance.

While you were in Canada, several decades back, you heard and played with guitarists Lenny Breau and Sonny Greenwich?

In 1969, I was fresh out of the 44th US Army General’s Band at Fort Bragg, North Carolina—which was my Juilliard—at 22 to 23 years of age. I was passing through Canada when Sonny Greenwich asked me, “Do you see the light?,” and I said, “No, I hear the Sound of light.” I realized then we were related as opposites. Upon hearing me blow on “Giant Steps,” he asked me to play with him. I played several times in the Greenwich Band, once as a bassist, and mostly as a drummer and beginner guitar player on some of his gigs and recordings. Greenwich, in turn, sat in with my bands during 1970 and 1971. I am very happy to have played with the Greenwich Band at Massey Hall, opposite the Miles Davis Band in 1971.

When Lenny Breau attended one of my concerts in Toronto, afterwards he came up to me and said, “You are a genius,” which I assumed was a joke. I told him, “Lenny, in your company I already feel as bad as a baby on the guitar, you don’t have to rub it in.” Smiling, he said, “Muñoz, that’s what I mean. You don’t know where what you’re playing comes from. Man, what I heard you play didn’t come from you. It came from heaven.” Lenny knew what I was doing and what I was not doing at the beginning. He tapped into the spiritual side of my effort. After that, I held Lenny in the highest spiritual esteem, even though, for many who didn’t know him, it seemed he was living his life to the contrary. In his case the flesh was not an obstruction to Soul as clear awareness.

Besides playing a set with my band at an outdoor music festival at Toronto’s City Hall in the summer of 1971, Lenny Breau and I played a duet at the Ronnie Parks Memorial Session, in Toronto in 1971. Moe Koffman, Jim Heineman, Glen McDonald and Dougie Richardson were playing saxophones with Mike Malone on trumpet, among many other Canadian jazz artists crying through their instruments.

Tell me more about how you think about drumming?

Playing drums is experiencing a time-machine, but you need to know how to make it work. Time-machines, by nature, take you forwards, backwards, up, down, and enable you to explore the present to the left and to the right, above and below the body and even the Earth if you choose. The Earth, as a living being, time-machine, and slave, is a reference point for the forces of gravity, which reveal evidence of relative time’s control-function pervading infinite atomic space. There is a full circle, a complete cycle of creation here on Earth as in the solar system and beyond, as a revelation of a perfect beginning/ perfect ending paradox-continuum and the profound level of creativity it requires. Such is the “step up and out” progression of birth, life, death, post-death into life after death and the ultimate, on the spot, recovery of true Spirit nature.

We both fell through windows and had the arteries and the left median nerves of our left wrists severed at 5 years of age. That’s unusual to have in common. I got off easy—no lasting bad effects, just a big scar. You had partial paralysis and lasting nerve damage that has been a challenge for guitar playing in the traditional sense; I have heard this is why you, like a sax or trumpet player, generally don’t play chords and stick to single lines. Do you think not having to spend time playing chords let you see singles lines in a different way? How do you think of single lines?

Yes. Simple question, simple answer. Single lines are messages. What kind of message? It depends on the line and what it is about. Who knows for sure? The silent nature of music makes it nearly impossible to interpret its unconscious or super conscious spiritual creations.

Single lines are single lines. Therefore, single lines are not single lines. In a sense, I can’t hear a note without hearing a symphony, so to speak. I can’t hear a few notes without hearing harmonies, and I can’t hear harmonies without seeing visions of life as a cosmic rollercoaster of feelings, so in a strange way I may have a form of synesthesia. That’s why I can’t hear other people’s music. I’m too sensitive to their karma, and that makes it hard for me to listen to certain classical music, jazz or even my own music.

I am definitely handicapped (limited) and gifted (liberated) in accordance with my creative function and spiritual life mission.

In my early life, and then later on with the Krishna devotees to an ultimate level, I played drums and sang. I chanted my deepest wishes, ideas and melodies of sadness and joy. In this context, drumming represents the primordial Heartbeat engine of and for liberation of body, speech and mind. This has been my practiced realization from the earliest days of life. Singing and single lines are one. I Sing the Heart Electri-fried. I Sing the Heart-Fire Sound, loudly, compassionately and silently. Not anybody’s lines, but those that arise from this process of selfless native meditation on the sound, the inner Soul sound, not merely the “music.” Where I come from and am is the All Melody, not scales; All Feeling, not intellectual or mathematical knowledge, classical, jazz or musical structure, or mere scales of the things songs and melodies are made of, by, for, or from. I don’t have to see, hear or play audible harmonies to already hear and know them. My feelings are already known as harmonies. My thoughts are already known as melodies. I already hear melodies to any chords set before me. This point goes back to being introduced to Pharoah Sanders by Calvin Hill, at the Village Vanguard in 1974 where and when Pharoah challenged me to put a melody on a set of his changes in front of a standing room only house to open his next set. After he heard what I played on his changes, he hired me right on the spot.

Subjective accounts are all the students of music can go by. You have to believe in the beginning, until it is proven otherwise for the individual. Music is proving it to yourself. The guitar is its own voice in the mix of instruments regardless of the fact that guitar maestro Segovia said, “electric guitars are not guitars” and “rock and roll is not music,” from his classical vantage point—a voice from the pure school of the crazy ancients.

Henry, I asked you last year about your own childhood hand injury to prove a point about karma, family and friends. Our relationship is born of relatively similar tragic circumstances, disability, insanity, music and a broken-hearted need to express musical beauty to balance darkness and painful emotions by way of creative and blissful guitar playing. This links us to what I call the Broken Heart-Healed Tribe of those who earn their playing by way of blood loss and being seriously wounded at the River of Blood (family) level. My playing is not just about fun. It is about going ever deeper towards compassion, profound Heart feeling, resonant sympathy with suffering, forgiveness, letting go of suffering, and living to play about it with dignity and gratitude in the spirit of universal service to all who hear in these ways.

Having a handicap or damaged hand has been an outright joyous drag at times, like playing during the early days with cats like you, Marilyn Crispell, Paul Shaffer, Pharoah Sanders, Ravi Coltrane, Rashied Ali, Ra-Kalam Bob Moses, Don Pate, Dave Liebman, John Lockwood, Hilton Ruiz, Dr. Art Davis, Cecil McBee, McCoy Tyner, Joe Henderson, Stanley Clark, Lennie White, Elvin Jones, Nick Brignola, Bernie Senensky, and now Lam Sobo John Medeski, to name a few of the many great spirits I have had the honor to play with or lead in my bands.

I am here to spiritualize a spot in the musical field, which, in terms of excellence, requires us all to do our best to bring healing light and sound to this world now, as it prepares for up and coming transformational cataclysms. Whether one plays guitar or anything else, the Heart needs to be heard, felt, opened, expressed and given freely to others for their recovery, healing, empowerment, ensoundment and happiness.

I recorded Auspicious Healing with you, Marilyn Crispell, Mark Dresser, and Lukas Ligeti, back in March of 2000. I was surprised to find you achieved your searing and soaring guitar tone while playing your hollow-body Fender D’Aquisto in the main studio room, with your Mesa Boogie amp in an isolation room. That’s not unusual; what surprised me was the volume you had the amp set: not much louder than a clock radio at someone’s bedside. How did you come to the quiet amp thing in the studio, with the gain up and the master volume down so low? Do you still work that way in the studio?

Auspicious Healing is a great record. You needed to be with me at that recording to believe or know it for yourself. I can’t handle physical volume at certain levels. Maybe it’s hearing or weakness, ignorance or whatever—no balls? Maybe it was just the sound of my guitar at the time? I’m a soft and sweet kind of guy. The volume is not the sound. You have to feel and hear and even imagine your spirit voice properly in order to achieve the right quality of beauty, pressure/intensity and soulfulness of sound, which lifts you into its ecstatic bliss. It is a “do to die” matrix channel of create or be destroyed. There is no escaping it. Anything less hides behind a mask of mediocrity laying bare the cancer of averageness. Yikes. Just kidding.

I still love the Mesa Boogie Mark II, which I still when I am moved or need to play for a gig or a recording. I’ve received a Mesa Boogie Mark V from a dear musician/friend/Sound yoga student who felt I needed to come out of the Stone Age. It is a great amp. But I prefer the Mark II’s Stone Age balls and their krkrkrkrkshshshkrunch. My Mark II is so noisy it keeps even the worst demons away from me. The Mark II minus its severe crunch function has very workable quality sound to it. However, the Mark V’s sound is elegant, gracious and classy. Its sound scope is just vast. They are both great investments with a lot of power. I dig them. They are much more than I can handle.

You have written/said that each must become masters of their own fate; that each must awaken the Master within them. What common pitfalls do you think inhibit musicians from discovering and following such a path?

Henry, this can’t be a short one line answer. Better to be good humans first and from there be a truly great artist, or at least working on becoming somewhat of a good human being. If you prefer to be or are a sub-human and a great virtuoso, you have plenty of company in your world. You are a great artist by certain virtuoso and technical standards but can you rise as high as a great and kind human being who is also a truly great artist? Does this make sense, or is it really better to be a no good rotten piece of shit? No one is being put down here, but it is always wise to reach higher for better advancing both as a virtuoso musician and a basically good human being. Creative genius is at least as much about grace as it is disgrace.

Regardless of wherever you come from or whatever tradition you are aligned with or beholden to, the best way to not be an unnecessary burden to others is to be master of your own self, thought, mind, body, music and world. Who digs being a needy, whining, neurotic, no solutions “everything is a problem” slave? My books: The River of Blood, Divine Agreement, Moon-Vision, Transmission of Mission, Heart Blood, I Am Silence, and The Fyr of No-Music are offerings of insight for all educated, intuitive, Heart-driven musicians who are in search of steps into basic self-mastery and self-realization techniques, direction and insights for their journey to now, hereafter and beyond.

The pitfalls for musicians are the same as the pitfalls of other beings functioning outside of the grand and often heroic field of music. Ego-serving, self-building, self-indulgence at the physical, emotional, memory, mental, intellectual, creative and genius levels of functioning is a huge barrier for those on the path to liberation beyond the above mentioned dimensions and functions of normal and even extraordinary human beings. Extraordinary beings, for their own reasons, are free to ignore universal spiritual factors, realities, and religious limitations imposed on them from birth. I say why be just a Christian or a Buddhist or whatever kind of seeker for attaining elsewhere-ness? Go deeper, here-now:

Be the Christ consciousness.
Be the Buddha realization of transcendence, the awakened one.
Be, and keep it real now and walk not the path of regrets.

Imitation, beyond a point, is a big curse and a dark alley, an easy way into self-defeating shallow waters. Beware of such a demon friend. Learn all you need to learn, but translate, if you can, your own emotions and experiences into your music as lyric, melody, harmony and rhythm, and may its brightness be with you and even brighter in days ahead of you.

How much mastery is one willing to assume, to produce such or any great results? How pure a person or individual is one willing to be in order to best help or serve humanity by way of their creating music, beauty, song, dance, theater, writing, poetry, painting, loving, healing, designing, inventing, revealing or teaching whatever needs to be taught or demonstrated for the enlightenment-creation and liberation of other beings here, there and everywhere? Could some be nowhere and get this all done as well? Why not?

If a musician or guitar player was going to read one of your books about music, what would be a good place to start and why?

I would recommend The Bhagavad Guitar Player, The Transmission of Mission, The Fyr of No-Music, and/or Heart Blood as a first step to going deeper into what genius, as free, intelligent, awakened creativity, is or could be. These books are great stepping stones to the infinite.

I like the titles of a recent series of albums that you released recently with John Medeski on piano: Beauty As Beauty, Beauty As Ugly, Ugly As Ugliest. Tell us some things about beauty and ugliness and music?

Henry, what many beings, including musicians, need is balance. One goes to therapy for some sense of balance and thus the ability to do those things we most deeply want and need to do without our self-mechanisms, past karma and obvious complications we reinforce and create for ourselves to get in the way of creativity producing, self-transcending, Heart-opened balance. One plays music for balance, while another has sex or does yoga for balance.

John Medeski (Lam Sobo) approached me in 2008 expressing his need to play and study with me. I needed a pianist and Lam Sobo is a very fine one who, needing some spiritual/musical balance, agreed we should play. I came up with the idea of recording some music to use for his study of what I play, how I play it, and let it happen. I decided on a trilogy (triangle) presented as three creative steps to the fullness of here-now. The classical or melodic step in the form of Beauty As Beauty; the jazz step in the form of Beauty As Ugliness—taking a simple melody and opening it up to its extensions, its implications and inner logic beyond itself as form: and the transcendent or top step into the universal wisdom-mind from which all relative forms and structures arise and disappear into the true No-One matrix of creative beingness itself, the Ugly As Ugliest as the most unconventional, incomprehensible and undesirable form of all: Talking The Guitar. This proved to be a wise approach for us to demonstrate my point and vision in a way that educates and illuminates the process for others.

On one of your live albums, when introducing the band, for  yourself you say, “No Guitar, No Guitar On Stage Tonight.”

Precisely. No Guitar player here tonight or today. I am the No Guitar Player, Henry. What was really present wasn’t just a guitar or a bass or the drums. Beyond all instruments is the presence of the Heart, the always here and now of True Heart Love. I was and still am, in my heart-mind, a drummer who drums out Heart-melodies through the guitar. Ask the drummers I know about this fact. I teach drummers how to play this Anami Music of Heart-Fire Sound. It is a form of Sound-yoga. In life, on and off the stage, we need to know what to completely get rid of now in order to stand Free and Wild as the wind and Fire are. Not just for a random sighting or hearing of it, but knowing this radical Freedom as the Is Real always Is.

I know that you don’t think of yourself as a guitarist in the sense that most folks who read guitar magazines think of themselves as guitarists.

Thinking “I am a guitar player” is great. It is a rare gift to play the guitar with two good hands, which I don’t exactly have. But these one and three quarters hands, with and without nerve pain, arthritis and whatever, are relatively adequate for what I have done or have yet to do with them. Use what you’ve got and be totally grateful for the little you may have left, and from and through that offer your good heart and song, your good mind and jazz to others.

Am I correct in assuming that, like me, you don’t really pick up the guitar much unless you are performing live or recording in the studio? Has it always been that way for you and why?

I often have musicians staying with me and in every case they are astonished as to how little I listen to music or play it. Weeks and months can go by and nada, zero. Of course, the topics and processes of music and spiritual creativity continually arise. Unless I have a gig of course, then I need a coat of callouses on my finger tips to protect my nerves. A couple of hours of prepping the tips are useful and necessary.

The world is slowly becoming aware of my conversations among a slightly expanding circle of knowledgeable, gracious and gifted friends and visitors. Some of our interactions are now being made public for all to see and hear as needed. Now that I have gotten a certain amount of my intended work done, I am somewhat more open to possibilities offered now but ignored in the past, due to an urgent need to serve certain beings in quite specific individual ways.

Tell us a quick and illuminating story about music?

Music lived and performed freely, creatively from the Heart is Divinity Realized. Don’t forget this.

Nippertown.com – LIVE: Tisziji Muñoz Quintet @ the Sanctuary for Independent Media

6/1/12, Andrzej Pilarczyk

Standing without much fanfare and feverishly playing the electric guitar, virtuoso musician-composer Tisziji Muñoz contorted the fingers of his left hand through a wild succession of chord structures at the top of his instrument’s fret board.

Shooting a lightning-fast glance at bassist Don Pate and keyboardist John Medeski, Muñoz nodded hard, and the rhythm turned on a dime, causing his fingers to cascade with blistering speed through a myriad of frantic, complex scales right down to the base of the guitar’s neck.

The pulsating rhythmic onslaught of drummer Tony Falco and percussionist Adam Benham propelled Muñoz’s fingers to attack each of the strings in unison with his right hand’s hammering pick.

The guitar notes flashed in all directions like sparks from a welder’s torch musically lighting up the room.

It seemed fitting that a 19th century former church was the setting, as Muñoz and company reached deep into their cosmic bag to combine music and spirituality for an evening that truly transcended the musical spheres.

Check out Tisziji Muñoz & John Medeski’s “Beauty As Beauty” on Anami Music Inc. to hear the rest – and it’s all good!

Metroland.net – Tisziji Muñoz Quartet featuring John Medeski – Sanctuary For Independent Media

6/13/12, Josh Potter

My ears told me there was a saxophone onstage but my eyes told me otherwise. Whether or not this confusion was deliberate on the part of free jazz veteran and former Schenectady resident Tisziji Muñoz, it’s a trick that fit well with the guitarist’s performance of exploratory improvisations and cosmic adlibbing. The longtime Pharaoh Sanders collaborator and proponent of sonic “inner attainment” rather than entertainment is like a free-jazz Yoda, teaching spiritual lessons through his music, speaking in cryptic paradox only when the audience needs the crutch and preferring to demonstrate the power of the force through blistering fretwork belying his ever-serene countenance.

Behind him on the Sanctuary stage were bassist Don Pate, drummers Tony Falco and Adam Benham, and keyboard Jedi John Medeski. No saxophonist. Yet, when Muñoz took his first solo, the earthy growl so perfectly simulated John Coltrane’s tenor sax (with little more than some overdrive and sustain), it warranted a double-take. Despite having suffered nerve damage in his left hand when he was a child, Muñoz plays with incredible velocity, yet his linear approach and fairly clean absence of bends, hammer-ons and other guitar-god filigree situate his style less within chordal instruments and more with his brass and woodwind brethren.

“You may not believe me,” Muñoz intoned after having delivered a lengthy guitar passage, “but you’re just visiting this planet.” The sentiment falls in a rich tradition of cosmic, space-travelling free jazz born of the luminous Sun Ra, yet Muñoz’s musical/spiritual philosophy/practice makes its home on a planet much closer to Earth with strong currents of Zen and Yoga informing his teachings. “The heart is the universe, the universe is the heart,” he continued, as his band vamped. It’s a tradition that Medeski too has spent considerable time in, having garnered many comparisons to Sun Ra himself when situated at an organ or synthesizer. At the piano Friday night, though, his playing was more reminiscent of Thelonious Monk, comping angular chords underneath Muñoz before stretching out on his own atonal explorations. Judging by the extemporaneous yelps and exclamations from the crowd, the approach was working.

While many “free” ensembles thrive on dissonance, zealously ripping open chord progressions to access the primordial chaos underlying harmony, Muñoz’s band seemed content to vamp over simple progressions while the melodic instruments soloed, following the soloists into more complex rhythmic and convoluted harmonic territory only if it fit the moment. “Do the right thing at the right time—now!” Muñoz instructed the audience during one piece, just as he might have been commanding his band. Rather than command them, though, he made subtle gestures to the back line when needed, calling on an instrument to solo or urging the volume up and down with Tai Chi-like hand motions.

“The universe is all sounds, frequencies, silence,” he chanted during one sonic “meditation,” but, more importantly, he seemed to demonstrate this truth with a solo that slowly exercised the full spectrum of his fretboard and sonic territory well outside the parameters of the composition. With eyes closed and a soft expression, the solo deftly circled the “one suchness, 10,000 notes,” to paraphrase the Zen expression. “All of us are capable of peaceful simplicity,” he explained as he landed the solo back on Earth, suggesting we might be able to do with our thoughts what he and his band so clearly demonstrated through sound.

All About Jazz – John Medeski: Mad Science – The Stone in the East Village, NY

1/1/10, Graham L. Flanagan

“Medeski seemed most enthusiastic about an evening he has dubbed “Concert of the Secret Guardians,” which boasts an ensemble featuring guitarist Tisziji Muñoz, who Medeski describes as a “guru and spiritual master” who plays “healing fire-music.” ”

Gibson.com – 10 Guitarists You Need To Hear

1/19/09, Ted Drozdowski

“Mixing transcendentalist jazz with spiritualism, Tisziji Muñoz makes some of the most high-flying fusion since the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s ‘70s heyday. He is a self-taught player with a bold tone and a bent for harmony and melody that has earned him the musical camaraderie of Pharoah Sanders, Rashied Ali and other jazz heroes. Muñoz’s masterwork is 2001’s double-disc The Hu-Man Spirit, a freewheeling fusion session full of blazing improvisation. For a complete overview of his work visit www.tiszijimunoz.com.”

The Boston Globe – Drummer’s Birthday Show Displays Jazz Guitarist’s Gifts

1/30/08, Kevin Lowenthal

Drummer’s Birthday Show Displays Jazz Guitarist’s Gifts

“Drummer Rakalam Bob Moses has played with Charles Mingus, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and Pat Metheny, among many others, and his late-’60s band, Free Spirits, was among the pioneers of jazz/rock fusion. He also teaches at New England Conservatory. Yet for his 60th “b’earthday,” as he called it, rather than celebrating his own achievements, Moses chose to showcase electric guitarist Bhapuji Tisziji Muñoz, whom he considers to be among the greatest and least- known living musicians.

“Muñoz’s music evokes the cosmic free jazz of John Coltrane’s later work. Like a saxophonist, Muñoz plays only one note at a time, yet he can play with such velocity that the notes blur, akin to Coltrane’s “sheets of sound.” Unlike Coltrane, who embodied the struggle toward transcendence, even at his most intense Muñoz remains serene, the struggle recalled in tranquility.

“Monday night, a substantial crowd of Moses’ students, colleagues, and fans filled Jordan Hall. When the band took the stage, cries of “happy birthday” and “Rakalam” arced over the applause. Moses spoke briefly, calling Muñoz “my teacher, my guru,” before yielding the stage to the guitarist.

“Opening the first set, “Spirit Path” began with lone guitar, displaying Muñoz’s luminous tone and breath-like phrasing as he limned the simple melody. Pianist John Medeski joined in with rippling consonant chords, then the two bassists provided some undertow, with John Lockwood plucking and Don Pate bowing. Only then did the self-effacing Moses chime in with gentle cymbals and snare.

“As Muñoz ramped up the velocity and dissonance, the band built to a volcanic rumble over which the guitarist swooped, soared, and screamed. The piece evolved like a force of nature until it returned to its songlike opening tune.

” “No Self, No Thought, No Mind” opened with Medeski playing staccato chords and Muñoz chanting the title along with them, equal parts Thelonious Monk and Zen koan. “Ode to Shompa” was Muñoz’s bittersweet dedication to the passing of Moses’ father. Medeski played Muñoz’s “Motherhood” as a solo piano lullaby. Then a familiar 6/8 vamp announced the Coltrane adaptation of “My Favorite Things,” with Muñoz playing the melody straight with a searing, bell-like tone before launching into the stratosphere.

“The second set began with “Love Is A Prayer,” sung from his wheelchair by Muñoz’s son Rebazar in an unpolished voice brimming with the joy of making music. The majestic, mountainous “We Meet Again In Spirit” had the band reach perhaps the peak of its intensity.

“Over the course of the evening, Lockwood and Pate held up their end superbly, shining in two inventive duets. Medeski ranged from Keith Jarrett delicacy to Cecil Taylor fire. And Moses sat back, supporting them all, stepping out for two brief solos with the freshness of a child at play.”

New York Post – Cool Sounds From The Underground – Village Underground

1/13/03, Cindy Adams

Cool Sounds From The Underground

“My uptown Neanderthal bones schlepped downtown to the tiny basement Village Underground. Tables smaller than the pinky rings at Le Cirque. Mobbed, jammed, it was. It wasn’t the menu of only onion rings, mozzarella sticks, French fries, chicken wings. Wasn’t the ambience, since air is nonexistent and the décor’s early brick wall. Wasn’t the crowd, since it included a newborn with his pacifier and parents who were burping him.
What was it?
Tisziji Muñoz.
Per David Letterman’s music man Paul Shaffer, who was walking around nursing a beer there that night: “I’m something today only because of this guy. He’s my mentor. I produced his new album, ‘Divine Radiance,’ on the jazz label Dreyfus Records because I want to bring him to the surface. I love him.
See, in 1969, I was an undergrad at the University of Toronto taking sociology but my soul was into R&B. I was always depressed. I didn’t belong there. I was trying to be a lawyer but being an academic wasn’t for me.
So I’m on the streets this one time in the wee hours after pulling an all-nighter and this guy’s sitting on the curb playing guitar. I did a 180 and walked back to listen to his music. I’d never heard sounds like this before. We found a piano someplace and I played with him all night. It changed my life.”
Right. OK. So about this wateverhisnameis. He’s an avant garde electric jazz guitarist. Also he has a day job as a spiritualist and philosopher. Also he was jamming that night with a marvelous group, including pianist Hilton Ruiz and John Coltrane’s sax-playing son Ravi.
I left about 10:30. The newborn baby was still there.”

Jazz Times – The Village Underground

Tisziji Muñoz & Friends,
Village Underground,
New York City

“Who is this shamanistic cat with the pyrotechnic chops? And where’s he been all my life? Guitarist Tisziji (pronounced tis-see-gee) Muñoz has been flying below the radar for the past 30 years, documenting his fleet-fingered, six-string take on latter-day John Coltrane in the company of such kindred spirits as drummers Rashied Ali and Bob Moses, saxophonist Dave Liebman, bassist Don Pate, pianist Marilyn Crispell and guitarist Henry Kaiser on the tiny independent Anami label. Imagine if Carlos Santana had never strayed from the intensely searching, spiritual path of Love, Devotion, Surrender and you get the picture.

“Although his name was brought to my attention a few years ago by ubiquitous taper and record-store owner Bruce Gallanter (proprietor of the Downtown Music Gallery, New York’s premiere emporium for prog rock and the avant-garde), it was not until this recent record release party for Divine Radiance, Muñoz’s debut on the higher profile Dreyfus label, that I actually first set eyes on the over-the-top ax slinger. Appearing in the intimate confines of the Village Underground with his dream band–a sextet featuring the twin tenors of Pharoah Sanders and Ravi Coltrane, Rashied Ali on drums, Don Pate on bass and Paul Shaffer (yes, of Letterman fame) on keyboards–this holy man of the fretboard ignited a set of transcendent music with his infinite sustain, mad machine-gun picking and unbridled passion. Visions of Sonny Sharrock in flight–broken strings dangling in the air as he thrashed away–danced in my head as Muñoz dug in with the heightened intensity of latter-day Trane, blowing “sheets of sound” alongside the former colleagues and son of his main inspiration. His sheer abandon and visceral intent rubbed off on the rest of the musicians to the point where the sextet was practically levitating a foot above the bandstand by the encore. And the audience, packed in shoulder-to-shoulder like straphangers on a runaway rush hour train, took it all in with awed delight.

“The tunes were all vehicles for exploration (launching pads, really) that developed out of simple melodic motifs. Pate’s upright bass anchored the proceedings with deep-toned ostinatos and droning pedal-point work while Ali’s drums provided waves of rolling, rhythmic energy underneath, freeing up the principal soloists to chase cosmic tones with impunity. Shaffer, whose keen ears and instincts are tested on a nightly basis as musical director of the David Letterman show, knew intuitively when to switch from block chords on the piano to droning organ mode, or when to lay out altogether. In subtle ways, his presence helped shape the surging music, providing a kind of harmonic nudging, if you will, in the midst of the sonic fray. On the mesmerizing, aptly-named “Initiation by Fire,” he summoned up his finest McCoy Tyner imitation with a forceful left hand while feeding the soloists provocative chordal voicings.

“Sanders, the 62-year-old avant-garde icon, began the set in a placid state, playing from a seated position on a stool, but by the time they launched into the extended “Divine Radiance,” he was on his feet, up on his toes, caught up in the spirit of this intense music and overblowing with hurricane force like the 25-year-old man he was on Coltrane’s fabled Live at the Village Vanguard Again!

“Ravi Coltrane, indelibly connected to this music by birthright, rose to the occasion with some inspired fire-breathing tenor work of his own on “Divine Radiance.” With forceful tones and a deliberate but probing quality, he authoritatively navigated the psychedelic swirl of Sanders’ rampaging tenor, Pate’s frenzied bowing and Muñoz’s shrapnel-spewing guitar work. This kind of collective improvisation–overlapping conversations, really, rather than the neater and more orderly approach of individual soloists stepping out from the ensemble one by one to “tell their story”–reminded me of just how much the avant-garde has in common with early New Orleans jazz.

“Shaffer has made no secret of his admiration for Muñoz and the musical debt he owes the man. As the story goes, Tisziji lived in Toronto during the early 1970s and became a musical mentor for Paul in his formative, pre-“Saturday Night Live” stage. In return, Schaffer has coproduced and played on various Muñoz recordings over the years, and just a few days before this Village Underground showcase had the guitar guru appear with the CBS Orchestra on the Letterman show. As Paul said of Muñoz on the air that evening, “He takes you out–and he just leaves you there!” Letterman took that up as an oft-repeated mantra through the rest of the show to great comedic effect. Some patrons leaving the Village Underground a few days later could be heard muttering the same thing after an inspired, goose pimply set by Muñoz and his all-star sextet.”

Downtown Music Gallery – Muñoz & Pharoah Deliver! – The Village Underground

6/10/03, Bruce Gallanter

“Holy shit! Tisziji Muñoz’s all-star sextet completely erupted and unleashed their dense cosmic forces on the sold-out crowd at the Village Underground this past Tuesday, June 10th!! The front-line of Pharoah Sanders & Ravi Coltrane on tenor saxes and Tisziji on electric guitar blasted with their Trane-like fury and devastated all in attendance with one amazing solo after the other, as well as backing each other as the solos soared into the heavens. The incredible rhythm team of Paul Shaffer on keyboards, Don Pate on acoustic bass and Rashied Ali on drums also were in fine form navigating the turbulence down below! The entire room was levitated and hurled into space and many felt that this was indeed the most exciting gig of the year! Tisziji’s new cd ‘Divine Radiance’ was released the same day and includes the very same personnel plus Cecil McBee added on bass.”

San Francisco Gate – A Love Supreme Santana’s not the only guitarist Indebted to jazz giant John Coltrane

3/2/00, Derk Richardson

“An Unknown Legend And in Schenectady, NY, an obscure musician-philosopher-astrologer named Tisziji Muñoz, the single living guitarist who most embodies the Coltrane sound and spirit, has been cranking out one astounding recording after another on his own Anami Music label. I first learned of Muñoz several years ago from Oakland guitarist Henry Kaiser (the Yo Miles! mastermind who did his own Coltrane turn on the master’s “India” on his 1993 CD The Psychedelic Guitar Circus, with Harvey Mandel, Steve Kimock and Freddie Roulette). Now 53, the Brooklyn native has been recording on his own since 1978. His collaborators have included Paul Shaffer (yes, that Paul Shaffer), jazz veterans such as pianist John Hicks, drummer Bob Moses, bassist Cecil McBee and saxophonist Dave Liebman, plus Coltrane sidemen like pianist McCoy Tyner, Sanders and Ali.

“Tisziji Muñoz, a seriously unknown giant of the guitar, and another disciple of Coltrane. When he’s not playing guitar, Muñoz is likely to be dispensing wisdom to his followers in Schenectady’s Illumination Society. Here’s a representative quote from his web site: “May the whole world of appearances be shocked beyond its superficial eyes, ears, faces, hearts and minds into awakening to God Fire, source of all real and make-believe worlds.”

“Dat Ole Mysterium Eternalis When he is playing — as on mind-boggling, passion-drenched recordings like the 1996 double CD Death Is A Friend of Mine, the 1997 trilogy The River of Blood, Present Without a Trace and Spirit World or the brand new Alpha-Nebula: The Prophecies and Tisziji Muñoz Live! Great Sacrifice — Muñoz makes his notes float glowing in mid-air, streak like comet-tailed meteorites across a pitch black sky and disappear over the distant horizon of feedback. He brings to life such song titles as “Live To Give Heart-Love,” “Spirit-World Contemplation” and “The Dance of Visionaries” through his dense, superheated-lava tone and unchecked outpourings of emotion. I’m sure you will never see Muñoz stepping on the stage to accept a Grammy for his powerful recorded work. Could he care less? “The music itself has always been fulfilling because it is the Truth for me,” Muñoz has written on his Web site. “In a certain sense, I’ve not really wanted to make it because I’ve already made it.” In a fine January 1999 Village Voice piece about Muñoz, “Bhagavad Guitar: Tisziji Muñoz’s Spatial Projects,” Richard Gehr wrote: “Like John Coltrane, in whose tradition he most definitely lies, Tisziji’s cable connection plugs in directly to the source, the mysterium eternalis, the inner mounting flame from which music doth flow.” Carlos Santana, who has likewise invested his Latin rock with a commitment to pure expression from the earliest days of the Santana band in 1969 through the present, couldn’t have said it better. Indeed, whether on 1970’s “Black Magic Woman” or 1999’s “Smooth,” Santana has always said it best in the molten “cry” of his guitar solos. Nonetheless, in the booklet to his 1995 three-CD box set, Dance of the Rainbow Serpent, Santana notes: “So my goal is always to play the guitar, or any instrument, really, from the heart. When I’m able to do that I don’t feel like I’m playing, I feel like I’m transmitting. And I welcome this spirit. This is the spirit that takes the music beyond earthly tones. And so to play the guitar is learning to transmit, actually to both receive and transmit something beyond all of this.” In other words, “Long live John Coltrane.” ”

The San Francisco Guardian – Tisziji Time – Edgewise

1/22/99, Derk Richardson

“The ongoing record industry implosion into one big unhappy family may make it even more difficult for independent labels to secure bin space in your local CD supermarket, let alone coverage in Entertainment Weekly, but that’s never been the issue for Tisziji Muñoz. “Tisziji who?” you ask, as I certainly did the first time Henry Kaiser slid one of the New York guitarist’s tapes into his car cassette player and cranked up the volume until the superheated electric guitar riffs, McCoy Tyner- and Cecil Taylor-esque piano eruptions, and thundering drums threatened to shred his speaker cones. However, once you’ve heard the way his notes dance in boggling original configurations, stretch in taffylike lines around oddly romantic melodies, hover in midair, glowing at the edge of feedback, and then race like red blood cells in “Hemo the Magnificent,” you’ll wonder why the entire world hasn’t rallied round Tisziji Muñoz.

“Last year marked the 20th anniversary of a solo recording career that began in 1978. Hardly anyone noticed, other than guitarist Kaiser, who celebrated the 52-year-old Muñoz with an appreciation in Guitar Player magazine and continued to force-feed his friends (including Village Voice writer Richard Gehr) with such astonishing recordings as the 1996 double CD Death Is a Friend of Mine and the 1997 releases Present Without a Trace and Spirit World, another double CD, featuring pianist Bernie Senensky, bassist Don Pate, drummer Rashied Ali, and saxophonist Pharoah Sanders (playing the way his “scream to me” fans want to hear him).

“Muñoz’s choice of collaborators, his original titles, and above all, his fuzzy-/molten-toned, self-surrendering performances attest to the same Coltrane inspiration that motivated guitarists Sonny Sharrock, John McLaughlin, Carlos Santana, and others. His spiritual pursuits, manifested in metaphysical-philosophical liner notes and a self-devised astrology practice he calls “Time-Mastery,” have become as inseparable from his musical expression as breathing in from breathing out.

” “I am not a person living on the fuel of any kind of ambition,” Muñoz writes on his Web site. “Music has been too natural for me to have a certain quality of ambition or aggressiveness attached to its practice. The music itself has always been fulfilling because it is the Truth for me. In a certain sense, I’ve not really wanted to make it because I’ve already made it.” Sony can you hear me?”

The Village Voice – BHAGAVAD GUITAR: Tisziji Muñoz’s Spatial Projects

1/13/99, Richard Gehr

“Where does music come from? Musicians are like radio receivers, proposes one theory, transforming sounds already zipping through the ether into the sculpted air that eventually tickles our tympanic membranes. Turn ’em on, tune ’em in, and stand back. But besides emanating a certain false modesty, doesn’t this theory subtly shortchange the individual creative spirit? I used to think so, until a friend directed my own antennae toward guitarist Tisziji Muñoz.

“A self-taught guitarist who practices rarely, if ever, Tisziji (pronounced tis-see-gee) Muñoz’s musical signature can be recognized clearly in about three notes. It’s an ecstatic yet slightly scratchy singing voice of a guitar sound that borders on feedback like a harmonic disturbance interfering gently with the aforementioned cosmic radio waves. Like John Coltrane, in whose tradition he most definitely lies, Tisziji’s cable connection plugs in directly to the source, the mysterium eternalis, the inner mounting flame from which music doth flow.

“Coltrane was the first major Western player to adjust his internal rabbit ears to the universal broadcast spectrum. Guitarists John McLaughlin, Carlos Santana, and Allan Holdsworth all eventually hopped on the Trane, extending his modes and metaphysics in a variety of contexts, while the late Sonny Sharrock took Coltrane’s methodology to the harmonic outskirts of an altogether different country. But none of these guitarists’ music ebbs and flows as naturally out of the void, pure spirit, whatever you want to call it, as Tisziji’s.

“Most of the time you’ll find Tisziji Muñoz teaching astrology and serving as spiritual guide to a Schenectady sect known as the Illumination Society. “The Bhagavad Guitar Player,” Muñoz wrote in one of his many tracts, “is One Who, born Awake to Being the Sound of Light and the Light of Sound, Is Now Awake as the very Soul and Mind, Feeling and Heart-Source of Music, as That may Represent or Express the simple yet profound Love, Thought, Feeling-Tone and Free Action of One Who Is Its Own Sound.” Muñoz is only invisible insofar as he has managed to avoid critical radar. Since recording Rendezvous With Now for India Navigation in 1978, he has released eight albums and four cassettes. During the past two years, he has been dropping by Rashied Ali’s Survival Studio in Soho, recording hours of material with fellow Coltrane acolytes: drummer Ali, saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, bassist Don Pate, and pianists John Hicks and Bernie Senensky. He recently released a trio of albums— River of Blood, Present Without a Trace, and Spirit World— from these sessions (on his own Anami Music label: P.O. Box 712, Schenectady, NY 12301; www.tisziji.com). He expects to release five more in the near future.

“A Nuyorican born in Brooklyn in 1946, Muñoz joined percussionist Mongo Santamaria’s rhythm posse at age 13. After leaving the army in the early ’70s, he lived for a while in Toronto, where he became a musical mentor to keyboardist Paul Shaffer, who phoned me unexpectedly on Tisziji’s behalf. “Tisziji’s the real deal,” attests Shaffer, who is all too familiar with the other kind. Muñoz played in Pharoah Sanders’s band for several years during the ’70s. And although he has performed live only sporadically since moving from New York City to Schenectady in 1984, he has gigged since then with the likes of McCoy Tyner, Dave Liebman, Idris Muhammed, and Cecil McBee.

“Muñoz’s music hits the ground running. “Ready or not,” says someone at the outset of Present Without a Trace‘s “Dearly Responsible,” as the group erupts into a free-time, “Ascension”-like orgy. Tisziji has described his music as a “divine catastrophe” for good reason: his ultimate goal is to unhinge himself from structure and cruise on undiluted energy. His early recordings pick up where Coltrane left off, eventually circling back in the early ’90s to recapitulate such standards as “My Favorite Things,” “Giant Steps,” and “Kind of Blue.” Having transformed such standards as “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and “If I Only Had a Brain” into tension-and-release pleasure bombs on 1995’s Spirit Man, Muñoz returned the following year with the portentously titled Death Is a Friend of Mine. My favorite Muñoz album to date, this double CD bids a fond adieu to the past (i.e., other people’s music), most notably in an epic meditation on Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Dindi,” while setting the stage for whatever the hell he’s doing now.

“His three new albums contain 25 Muñoz originals spread over four discs (Spirit World‘s a double), most of which he reportedly scribbled down in the studio just prior to the three intense sessions in which they were recorded. River of Blood‘s title refers to the “racial stream” that provided Muñoz with his affinity for Afro-Cuban and salsa rhythms (he plans to record with pianist Hilton Ruiz soon), and much of the album can be heard as a struggle to escape even those loose fetters. Muñoz spills clusters, often bushels, of rapid notes, which even with his metal pick retain a warmth that quickly rises to a searing sustained heat Ali’s flowing polymetrics dissipate smoothly. The other band members— even Sanders, sounding as though he cares— play solid tech crew to Tisziji’s extended space walks. He’s a man on a mission, and I feel grateful knowing Tisziji Muñoz is out there in the catastrophic cosmos, generating countless megawatts of spiritual power on our collective behalf.”

Guitar Player – Metaphysical Graffiti

11/1/97, Henry Kaiser

“A warmly sustained, lightly distorted guitar dances over a modally inflected jazz rhythm section. For a few moments it seems familiar, a sound common to the last three decades of electric jazz. Yet something is very different: The notes and intervals fly by in patterns that don’t equate to the usual fingering configurations. The rhythms breathe in a strange way that isn’t quite swing. Lightning-fast torrents of notes are slurred or bent to odd, microtonal intervals. The longer you listen, the more unique it sounds.

“Like Carlos Santana, John McLaughlin, Sonny Sharrock Allan Holdsworth and Sonny Greenwich, Tisziji Munoz has drawn musical and spiritual inspiration from the great jazz saxophonist John Coltrane. The aforementioned players are known for their individuality, vibrant improvisational style, technical mastery and spiritual depth. In these respects Muñoz stands shoulder to shoulder with his more famous colleagues. While he undeniably sounds like a “Coltrane guitarist,” Tisziji has taken the approach to a new place that is simultaneously in and out of tradition.

“On the six CDs and several cassette releases from Muñoz’s own Anami label,{Box 712, Schenectady, NY 12301}, Tisziji’s electric guitar playing explores spaces outside the usual confines of jazz. With such collaborators as Pharoah Sanders, Rashied Ali, Bob Moses, Paul Shaffer, Dave Liebman, Nick Brignola, Bernie Senensky and Don Pate, Muñoz has produced some of the most striking and original electric jazz of the past 15 years.

“How can such a great player be virtually unknown? The answer lies in the story of Tisziji’s life, which is as singular as the music it has produced. In addition to his musical career, Muñoz is a spiritual teacher who has written more than 50 books of metaphysical/esoteric knowledge. He has studied all the major world religions, practiced several forms of yoga and Tibetan Buddhism, and developed his own system of astrology, which he calls Time-Mastery.

“Tisziji was born in Brooklyn in 1946. At age three he received his first set of drums and began to master traditional Afro-Cuban rhythms. In 1968, while serving as drummer in the 440th U.S. Army Band, he began to teach himself guitar and jazz harmony. He lived in Canada and New York City after leaving the service in ’69. In the late ’70s he met Pharoah Sanders and played in his band for six years. He soon stopped listening to other guitar players and other music in general—while continuing to develop his own style. In 1978 he recorded his first album for the India Navigation label, Rendezvous with Now. He moved to Schenectady in 1984, where he lives in relative seclusion and rarely performs. But he continues to record and release fine albums.

“A totally self-taught player, Muñoz makes his musical choices according to feeling and intuition. Despite having once severed the artery in his left wrist, resulting in severe nerve damage and persistent pain, he operates at a very high technical level. His non-musical activities allow little time for practice, and he rarely gets a chance to play. But when he does, he makes every note count.

” “I’m more of a space than a time player,” he says. “I’m a spirit in this dimension playing from a realization of heart-sound representing total consciousness. I’m not an ‘in’ player or an ‘out’ player, but as a free spirit I have to assume certain forms to communicate with other beings on any number of planes. All the planes of the universe coexist, and I’m in the physical plane playing both from and into the spirit plane of silence.”

“On the newly released Death Is a Friend Mine, Muñoz plays a Fender D’Aquisto strung with D’Addario half-wound light jazz strings through a Mesa/Boogie Mark II and Peavey Bandit amps. He uses a metal pick and attains a rich, singing tone with no pedals or effects. The new recording features standards by Miles Davis and John Coltrane as well as original compositions. Muñoz describes the album as “a musical experience contemplating fearlessness, love and humor regarding death. I’m offering the listener a broad selection of musical forms: ballads, medium-tempo modal pieces, swing interpretations, very contemplative pieces.” Another recent project is River of Blood, a collaboration with onetime Coltrane drummer Rashied Ali.

“Muñoz says his music is founded on “the freedom to explore the many levels of human spirituality and reality for each musician in their own individual way.” Perhaps he transcends the mundane specifics of guitar technique and equipment to create music that lies beyond the limits of conventional theory and practice.”

Times Union – Page Hall, Albany, N.Y

9/19/94, Greg Haymes

Muñoz’ heady free fall through free jazz: Into orbit and out of this world

“ALBANY — Jazz guitarist Tisziji Muñoz makes his home in Schenectady, but at times it seems as though he is just “Visiting This Planet,” as he titled his 1989 double-album.

“On Sunday afternoon, Muñoz brought his Visionary Jazz Quartet with special guest saxophonist Dave Liebman to the University of Albany’s Page Hall for the latest installment of his Jazz Masters Concert Series.

“The concert was titled “A Celebration of Creativity: Music Beyond the Self-Mind,” and certainly there was no shortage of creativity issuing forth from the stage.

“While not widely known outside of the insular jazz circles, Muñoz is indeed a heavyweight guitarist, and on Sunday, he took his hollow-body electric guitar into orbit for two hour-long sets of vibrant, angular free jazz. Backed by his stellar band, which featured pianist Bernie Senensky, bassist Don Pate and drummer Bob Moses, Muñoz pushed the envelope and then some.

“You won’t find Muñoz and his band playing at local jazz clubs primarily because, no matter how you cut it, his music demands the full attention of the audience. On Sunday, it was dense, occasionally impenetrable and oh so outside-the-lines. Muñoz’s music asks difficult questions and provides no easy answers.

” “The music, at times, will sound ferocious”, Muñoz cautioned early in the show, “and it is.” Unfortunately, that was about the only hint that Muñoz — who is also a spiritual teacher and founder of the Illumination Society — gave the small but appreciative crowd. He offered no other signposts or roadmaps, preferring to let his music speak for itself.

“After opening with an exploratory foray into a work-in-progress, “Pyramid,” Muñoz was joined by soprano saxophonist Dave Liebman, and the five musicians launched into Muñoz’s ambitious composition “Fatherhood” and a free-for-all version of Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere”. “Although almost everyone has heard this song in one form or another,” Muñoz explained, “it’s not usually heard in this context”. He wasn’t foolin’. Two minutes into the song, the melody was utterly unrecognizable. Adventurous? Yes. Exciting? Yes. But was it “Somewhere”? Who could tell?

“The same could be said of another Broadway tune, “My Favorite Things,” which, as the centerpiece of the second set, was stretched past the point of no return until it seemed to snap completely.

“Muñoz wisely saved his best for last with a closing rendition of his “Spiritual Reunion (A Platonic Love Song)”, an insinuating Latin-tinged tune that veered into the realm of free jazz without completely losing its roots in the melody and chord changes of the song.

“Although Sunday’s show was not as successful or rewarding as his concert collaboration with McCoy Tyner at the Troy Music Hall in ’89, Muñoz is to be commended and encouraged for taking serious musical chances.

“The next Jazz Master Concert Series performance will find Muñoz teaming up with Nick Brignola at Page Hall on Nov. 12 and 13.”

Metroland Magazine – Muñoz Rising

5/4/89, Sarge Blotto

Area jazz guitarist Tisziji Muñoz joins forces with McCoy Tyner this weekend

“I am not a person living on the fuel of any kind of ambition, so to speak,” states Tisziji Munoz. “Music has been too natural for me to have a certain quality of ambition. The music itself has always been fulfilling. In a certain sense, I’ve not really wanted to make it because I’ve already made it. I’m happy with my music, even though I play relatively infrequently for public purposes.”

For years now, jazz guitarist Munoz has been one of the best-kept secrets of the Capital Region music scene, but that’s all about to change in a big way this weekend. On Saturday and Sunday nights at 8 PM Munoz will perform with the internationally acclaimed McCoy Tyner Trio in concert at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall.

Both Munoz and pianist Tyner have forged their considerable reputations on forceful, uncompromising musicianship and highly charged emotional power. Although both musicians had long known of each other’s work, it wasn’t until this past January that they actually met, introduced by a rather unlikely source.

“Naturally, McCoy has enjoyed as much visibility as any jazz player can have, and I remember seeing McCoy and Elvin Jones in the audience when I used to play with Pharoah Sanders in the ’70s back in the Vanguard days.” explains Munoz, referring to the Village Vanguard, a Manhattan jazz club. “So he was at that point familiar with some of my efforts to develop a style of playing that worked well in a musically free environment.

“But we had not talked until Paul Shaffer, a dear friend of mine from the early ’70s, asked me to rendezvous with him at the David Letterman show in January. There Paul introduced me to McCoy as the individual who introduced him to McCoy’s music.

“That meeting enabled McCoy and I to establish a conversation about music, creativity, McCoy’s efforts, my efforts and my relationship to the music scene. And it quickly became evident to me and McCoy that we should play together. It seemed to establish a clear green light in terms of the possibility of us merging on the bandstand and providing people with a rare event, if I may use the word.”

“He and I have not played together before, but he can certainly handle all the musical freedom that I can handle and then some, and I look forward to this kind of challenge. Once we get together in our own element, it should be a very ecstatic meeting. I’m especially delighted because this is one of the few times when I won’t have to discuss harmony with the keyboard player. McCoy is one of those players who, just at the signal of the sound; will know what to do with it and make it wonderful.

“So for me it should be a very easy gig in some respects and then a very demanding one. I will utilize this opportunity to get as deep as possible into the music so that the people who attend will remember it all the more with lasting quality. I have this theory that the deeper the music, the longer it will be useful to the listener. There will be that many more layers of its own onionness to peel.”

Although Munoz has lived in the Capital Region for the past five years, his area performances have indeed been rare. ”There was an attempt to meet what appeared to be a demand to play in 1986,” he says, “when I felt OK about playing and trying to establish contact with some of the local players. However, the only players who seemed to have a high compatibility reading with what my intentions and concepts were happened to be Nick Brignola and his drummer at the time, David Calarco, who is a very game and powerful musician. David and I did a number of gigs with various other musicians in the Albany area, particularly at Justin’s.

“We definitely had very bright and high moments, but it seemed that at that time musicians as well as other people didn’t really understand why I was playing the way I was playing. There was nothing wrong with the way I was playing from my point of view,” he says with a laugh, “but playing this kind of open, creative music in a restaurant atmosphere is not always conducive to the experiences of either playing or dining. Eating requires a certain amount of relaxation. The music was quite fun and exciting but very possibly too strong for the environment and the circumstances.”

Munoz’s music is, in fact, very powerful. It’s intense and energetic, certainly not the kind of mellow background music to dine or flirt by. It almost demands active participation by the listener.

“In its purest form music is a celebration that includes society,” Munoz explains. “A communion of spirits is ultimately what it’s for, playing for the sake of the tribe, the listening tribe. That to me is the ultimate level. of what music is about. The highest function of music is to serve other beings and to give other beings a creative part in the music.”

Left without a local venue for his probing musical self-expression. Munoz has decided to offer his music to the listening tribe via recordings, and his debut double album Visiting This Planet has just been released on his own record company Anami Music (PO Box 712, Schenectady, NY 12301).

“The album is the first production of an intended series of recordings which captured for the most part spontaneous events-the musicians showed up, and the music happened,” Munoz states almost matter-of-factly, “There were no rehearsals in any case. Even on the tunes that are structured there was just a talk through, and in some cases music was provided simply to open the doors to focus the vibrations of sound. That was it. We went for broke, and some things of magical quality happened.”

He’s being overly modest–there’s a plethora of magical musical moments on this double dose of Munoz. Seven of his stunning original compositions and two John Coltrane tunes (“Equinox” and “To Be”) are buoyed by Munoz’s own inspirational playing and stellar contributions by such jazz greats as bassist Cecil McBee, drummer Idris Muhammed, saxophonists Pharoah Sanders and Dave Liebman, and yes, even Paul Shaffer.

“In terms of jazz concepts that I use, minimal limitation or minimal suggestion is all that’s necessary, along with maximum freedom and trust in the individual musician’s creative powers.” he says of his open-ended approach to composition. “Their spirit determines what choices and decisions they make in any particular musical operation or rite. Whatever the celebration requires.”

“In terms of selecting the material for the album, the concept that I used was to give the listener the opportunity to hear the use of structure with melody predominating and then to progress from that to a freer use of artist’s discussion, which makes the music apparently more complex. It is this freedom that is granted the players in order to express themselves at this depth that makes various levels of perception accessible.”

His relentlessly questioning, creative music is in many ways a forum for Munoz to discuss the mysteries of life with his audience. And if you take the time to listen, he will touch your life. Or as drummer Bob Moses wrote about Munoz in the liner notes to Visiting This Planet: “What’s he sound like? Some Coltrane, some Santana. That sound that stuns the Laser Beam of Love….”

The Boston Herald – Muñoz Content To Stick With Low-Key Priorities

7/8/87, Bob Young

Sad as it may be, many first-rate musicians toil unnoticed by the jazz public for as much as a lifetime. Even major figures occasionally slip through the cracks, often attaining only regional acclaim. If they’re fortunate, a larger national light shines on them while they’re still alive.

Guitarist Tisziji Muñoz is one such major player, a true original who has never been in the broader jazz spotlight. And he doesn’t mind it a bit.

A member of Pharoah Sanders’ band for several years during the 1970s, Muñoz has played and recorded with the likes of Elvin Jones, Charles Lloyd, Stanley Clarke, Cecil McBee and Joe Henderson. The path traveled by more commercially successful guitarists like Stanley Jordan, Pat Metheny and James “Blood” Ulmer has been open to him, yet Muñoz has been content to stick with a set of priorities that has kept him out of the mainstream.

He leads a group that includes drummer Bob Moses, pianist Donald Brown and bassist John Lockwood in a rare area appearance this Friday at the 1369 Club.

“I’ve never really tried to ‘make it’ in a certain context of the word,” the 40-year old Brooklyn-born Muñoz said from his home in Schenectady. “I’ve been pretty much happy as an underground musician. I’ve been involved in a lot of typically spiritual activities. I’m sort of semi-retired up here and finishing up writings that are very important to me before I get back into music, probably for my last lap.”

The father of four, Muñoz runs a sort of philosophical/spiritual group out of his home and teaches astrology at Hudson Valley Community College. Music, however, remains a significant part of his life. He recently started a record company that will release his own music. Friends like Moses, Sanders and pianist John Hicks will be featured.

In an appearance at the 1369 Club last year, Muñoz displayed a sonorous electric guitar voice that ranged from jaggedly tension-filled to soothingly lyrical to downright ethereal. Although, like a 1980s Thelonious Monk, he roams on and off stage after his solo flights, his playing is nonetheless sharply disciplined whether on originals or tunes like Miles Davis’ “My Funny Valentine.”

“I’d tend towards opening it up more, getting into deeper creative levels in the spirit of some of the freer things that Trane did later on,” he said, referring to saxophonist John Coltrane.

“When I open it up so it becomes a creative event for everybody, we’re all surprised,” he continued. “In that sense, my spiritual background is clearly related to my musical concepts in terms of being free of certain mental limitations, which are translated into sound forms. I like to throw away what I know so I can be played by the unknown.”

Muñoz, who grew up in a household where Afro-Cuban drumming was an important ingredient of family life, hasn’t cut himself off totally from outside projects. He’ll be recording in September with a group that will include Moses, Jerry Bergonzi and Dave Liebman.

— — —

“Tisziji Muñoz is an American treasure. His ideal can take your breath away!”
—Bob Young
Boston Herald

Schenectady Gazette – Guitarist Combines Jazz Tradition, Creativity

6/7/85, John Marcille

Tisziji Muñoz – not an ordinary name in the Capital District. But then, Muñoz is not an ordinary man.

The 38-year-old guitarist, living here since last fall, is one of a relatively small number of people who use the term “creative music” to describe, or at least label, what they do. Some such players live in the Woodstock area, but few are to be found this far north.

Muñoz is articulate about his art, which he dislikes to call jazz but which many people would recognize as arising out of jazz.

Others might call it fusion music or space music. Often it has an other-worldly quality. He also calls it “conceptual music” and lists John Coltrane, who died in 1967, as a primary influence on him. Someone familiar with jazz styles would bear similarity between some of Muñoz’s music and what Coltrane was doing in his last two or three years.

Muñoz has worked with several notable players, including Elvin Jones, Pharoah Sanders (with whom he also recorded) and Charles Lloyd, and has studied with others. He has one album out on the India Navigation label, and has, he said, enough recordings “in the can” to put out five albums. Self-financed, they include an impressive group of sidemen: saxophonists Pharoah Sanders and Dave Liebman, drummers Adam Nussbaum, Bob Moses and Idris Muhammed; percussionist Guillerme Franco; bassists Art Davis and Cecil McBee; and pianists Hilton Ruiz and John Hicks. And on those tapes, Muñoz also plays synthesizers and conga drums.

In his spacious Nott Street studio he played examples, and the music showed considerable variety, including standards such as “Climb Every Mountain” and “My Funny Valentine,” but mostly his own compositions which vary in mood and often have unusual harmonic progressions.

His sound on guitar is much like Carlos Santana’s; definitely an electric sound, not typical of jazz guitarists. But while on the surface the sound is like a rock player’s, the musical content is far from that.

“Much of what I do is very logical,” he said, meaning accessible to a listener with some exposure to jazz or sophisticated pop music. “It will have more commercial appeal than my ‘crazy wisdom music,’ as I like to call it.”

The music – he must find a record label willing to issue it, not a simple task – still needs to be remixed, and Muñoz said he hopes to do it somewhere upstate, although that will depend on locating a studio with the digital tape equipment he needs.

Born in New York of Puerto Rican parents, Muñoz was always musical and mystical. “I started playing very young – 1 or 2 years old – and I got involved in Latin music. I was hanging out with people from Mongo Santamaria’s band when I was 12 and 13.”

But Salsa was not to be his thing. “When I was 13 years old, playing the ukulele, I managed to record with the Tokens, believe it or not, right after their first big grand slam – “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” I think I got paid $30 for doing a guitar track in a Brooklyn studio. Right after that I made my first record, I was 13 years old, it’s supposedly still selling today. The group was called The Arrogants and we had very advanced harmonies for local kids.” This time, he was playing drums. Backed by The Marketts, they did a version of “Canadian Sunset” that he said was a regional hit in the 1960s.

“We never signed anything, so whatever money they made, they made off of our ignorance.” The Arrogants also toured with the Beach Boys in California, he said.

Muñoz went into the Army in 1964, at age 17, wanting to be a helicopter pilot. “I stayed in long enough to be approved to go to flight school [but] I started to question what was going on in Vietnam.” He wound up in the 440th Army Band at Fort Bragg, N.C. “This time I didn’t have it in me to get into the drums. What seemed to be necessary for me was to get melodic expression. I stayed in the military band for about a year, and then I was out of the service. I was in the concert band as a percussionist; I was in the stage band as a Latin percussionist, and at the same time studying the guitar.

“I met a lot of good players there. The war and the conscription policy at that time brought together a lot of talented people.” Among them were players who had worked with Eric Dolphy, a highly influential woodwind player in the early 1960s.

“In 1969 I managed to get up to Canada and met Don Thompson, who I played with and who introduced me to Sonny Greenwich, the legendary jazz guitar player of Canada. Don Thompson [at present the bassist with pianist George Shearing) was the key that led me to [the late] Lenny Breau. He and I became very good friends, and once I started to get my act together, I subbed for him [played engagements that Breau had to miss]. I also subbed for Ed Bickert. These individuals helped to shape my direction to some degree. “I had a intuitive feeling with the music … my creative urges are more right-brain oriented.”

Muñoz music can range from straight-ahead, garden variety modern jazz to works that depend on unusual harmonic progressions that can have sustained high tension levels. What he plays in public, he said, depends on where he is and what the public expects.

“I have not based my music on an academic or theoretical basis. I have approached my music from a conceptual basis. This has been good for making music with some individuals, and absolutely undermining” with others.

Muñoz wants collaborators “who can psychically tune into the energy field and work with this energy”, provided they have the musical background to begin with. “I don’t intend on sounding like anyone else. I’d rather try to express as much as I can the ideas and feelings I have about some aspects of reality.”

A Muñoz composition may be more a starting place for group improvisation or exploration than the typical jazz or pop tune; that is, less restrictive in structure. That, he said, requires more empathy among the players.

“We work with concepts and certain laws relative to harmony that dictate the kind of playing that comes out. Now, this may be considered a relatively primitive approach, however it is also a very sophisticated approach. If you have a musical education behind you and you want to find something more creative, what do we do? We work with concepts and we bring out own musical ability to them just as a writer or an artists were to work with an image or a subject.”

So each piece may be realized differently. “I would definitely sketch something out, but nothing that would be too inhibitive, nothing that would be too dictative. I want to give people an opportunity to express themselves. Jazz is supposed to do that. I’m speaking in terms of a wide open concept: It is harmonically left up to the individual to express himself and rhythmically left up to the band, the unit, to work in sympathy.

“I seldom come out with a statement that I feel I have to control by notation. Many of the composition I play are basically doors into a state or realm of possibilities, and I really feel that what is important is to get the other artists experience. Rather than dictate, I will suggest.

“If there is just a melody line, yet the concept does include the intensity of various rhythms, the drummer must meditate to a degree, or contemplate on the melody, and fill in the time-space with rhythmic patterns. The intensity is determined by the amount of rhythm and the complexity of rhythms that the drummer plays. A psychic basis is really essential. Where there is not much [written] music determining where the notes are supposed to be played, then you need a very strong psychic element – then you need big ears, as the players say. The players need to intuit … I like a simple approach where the most can be gotten out of the least.”

Muñoz stands away from mainstream American life, both in his music and in his views about many things. There are words that crop up again and again in his speech: psychic, spiritual, conceptual, beauty, healing. So it isn’t too surprising to learn that he is also a professional astrologer.

“I’ve had a very mystical life experience. At a very early age I would have what they call today an out-of body life experience. I didn’t control them then. I was raised in a spiritualist family – seances, mediums, that sort of thing, and playing Afro-Cuban trance music on the drums, I became aware at a very early age that music was basically a form of meditation in order to move or expand consciousness to states that are outside the usual state of being. It hasn’t been a drug-oriented approach. So I’ve always sought to find musicians with these kinds of principles. I’ve often felt I was a kind of reincarnated Atlantian with an intuitive understanding of what sound is and how important it is for us to play certain tones.”

He has, he said, used Yoga to increase his breathing capacity (he plays a double-reed instrument called a shenai or shanai – there appears to be no English word for it – that is nearly impossible to keep in tune; and also plays the Indian tamboura (a drone instrument) and keyboards as well as guitar), and used biomagnetic techniques to cure an arthritic condition.

Muñoz said he has performed in New York night clubs, including the Village Vanguard when he worked with Pharoah Sanders, but that the conditions, particularly the physical atmosphere, were more than he could stand at the time. “I was not feeling up to the punishment on the circuit, the hard hours which can be fun but are also psychically exhausting and can wear you down on all levels.”

Here, he divides his time among astrology readings, his writings, music, and certain philosophical inquiries, he explained. What he would like to do, he said, is to connect with other musicians who share some of his approaches, or possibly to attract students with open minds.

“I would like to stay here indefinitely; I’d like to work weekends [in local clubs], establish a rapport with the audience, and then bring some of my own musical ideas to a standard jazz gig.”

Although some of his recordings would be considered “far out” by the average listener, Muñoz says his approach on stage is to “give due respect to the needs of the audience to not feel disintegrated.” In other words, he plays what they may need to hear.

Daily News, New York City – Hail Pharoah – Village Vanguard

8/11/77, Stan Mieses

“There was a moment Tuesday night at the Village Vanguard when I felt like yelling out loud and launching head-first through the ceiling – that’s the kind of feverish pitch that Pharoah Sanders and his group hit me.

“Sanders has regained an intensity on his saxophones that made him a real jazz happening a few years back when his albums “Karma” and “Jewels of Thought” propelled him to the forefront: his new group is just the best he’s played with as a leader. They have to be seen and heard to be believed.

“For a number of years. Sanders seemed to have left his Coltrane-inspired saxophone religion in favor of a lot of mumbo-jumbo and bell-shaking. Leon Thomas, a fine singer whose melodic yodeling complemented Pharoah’s wild shrieking very well, had left the group, and Sanders adopted a percussive accent that unfortunately overwhelmed his playing.

“Now, in electric guitarist Muñoz (he goes by that one name only), Sanders has found the best soloist he’s ever had in his bands. Munoz’ carefully wrought attacks are outstanding, placed next to Sanders’ instant intensity. Together, especially when Sanders plays his East-toned soprano sax, they have come up with a singular wailing sound. The whole ensemble cooks. Steve Neil really works his bass, and Greg Bandy on drums is no less energetic or tasteful.

“Sanders took off right away with his tenor on “My Favorite Things,” a tip of his mid-cap to Coltrane, with whom he once played, and got so loose he began blues-shouting on the finale, “Love Will Find a Way.” What a rush! You can catch him at the Vanguard through Sunday.”

The Guerrilla, Toronto – The Hall

2/1/71, Doug Goodeve

“There is a very talented musician in Toronto who qualifies for the moment as an underground specialty. Muñoz has played countless free gigs everywhere, most notably a series of Sunday nights at the Hall, and is an enormous favorite. A superlative guitarist, he turns up regularly at the benefits and even a few demonstrations, and has earned a loyal and growing following.

“What makes him inspiring is that he is two things most musicians aren’t completely, personally dedicated, and non-commercial. One of his intentions is to create new expression in music. Another is to help stimulate underground musicians. He’s not in it to make money. He and his quintet are therefore sociologically important. Imagine if he could make the idea spread that you play music for the good it does your own and other people’s heads!

“Tisziji Muñoz’s guitar speaks to me of two things- pain and faith. He has a mission that he is trying to fulfill through his playing. Some of the words he used to talk about this were: “I feel my music was given to me as a child to express things. What I play corresponds to my being. It helps me to search for God inside myself.”

“You get the feeling that he’s had a lot of pain and shocks and that he’s playing for the good of his soul. He has been utterly and completely into music all his life.

“The amazing thing about him is that, at 24, he has been playing guitar for less than three years. From New York City, he began the drums at age two. At 21, he found himself drumming in a US Army band when someone suggested he switch to guitar. He had ideas and melodies in his head that he couldn’t express through drums, so he made a switch to the guitar. To see his progress, it’s not hard to get the suspicion that he is a little of a musical genius.

“When his quintet plays at the Hall it has often turned into a magical, fine, beautiful experience. One time that I saw them there were hundreds of people swaying and listening to his gentle yet dramatic songs and watching the dancers that accompany them there.

“Muñoz and his wife Ellen live with their two children in the 14th floor commune in Rochdale, where he jams frequently. They are unpretentious and gentle people, and extraordinarily friendly.

“Muñoz deliberately has no commercial plans. No records to plug, and no commercial engagements he could think of except the Meat and Potatoes on Easter Weekend, along with an Easter church concert. A lot of musicians could learn from him in a lot of ways.”

All About Jazz.com – Love Everlasting

April 5, 2000 by Mark Corroto

Love Everlasting – Bob Moses / Tisziji Muñoz (Amulet)

“I hope I’m still alive in the year 2026. Like last year with Duke Ellington and this year honoring the 100th anniversary of Louis Armstrong’s birth, 2026 will mark John Coltrane’s centenary. Coltrane, who bore so many musical descendants, will surely be pleased with the various tributes to come. One early contribution to that upcoming year is the spiritually driven Love Everlasting, released recently but recorded thirteen years ago. While you do the math, I’ll thank Medeski, Martin, and Woods’ drummer and Amulet label owner Billy Martin for releasing this session and also re-releasing Bob Moses’ classic free-psychedelic Bittersweet In The Ozone, with Dave Liebman, Billy Hart, Howard Johnson, Eddie Gomez, Randy Brecker, and Jeannie Lee from 1975.

“The “wow” factor is elevated by the co-leaders Moses and Muñoz tribute to post-Love Supreme Coltrane. Think of the Coltrane bands plus Pharoah Sanders and you have located this recording. Garzone and Bergonzi, two devout subjects, shoulder the front lines of this session. But it is the drumming of Moses and Ben Wittman and the propulsion of Muñoz’s guitar that creates the character. Like Coltrane, the fury Moses and Muñoz bring is not about anger, but love. It is a sacred creative music born out of improvisation and a search for beauty. In the last ten years it has been rare for a band to reach for these heights. Maybe it is the self-centered age in which we live or that the measuring stick placed by the great one was at such a high level. But 2026 is coming and let’s hope we are ready.

“Track List: Love Everlasting; The Lioness; Elephant Song; Earth Changes; Fatherhood; Naima.

“Personnel: George Garzone – Saxophone; Jerry Bergonzi – Saxophone; John Medeski – Piano; Brad Hatfield – Keyboards; John Lockwood – Bass; Wesley Wirth – Bass; Bob Moses – Drums; Ben Wittman – Drums; Tisziji Muñoz – Guitar.”