About Doug Carn
Doug Carn is an American jazz musician, multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger, and producer. He is best known for four recordings on the Black Jazz label between 1971 and 1973, including Infant Eyes, Spirit of the New Land, and Revelation, with his then-wife Jean Carn on vocals. These recordings, and 1974's Adam's Apple, are considered classics for their signature meld of spiritual jazz, progressive soul, post-bop, and improvisation. He converted to Islam, and in 1977 issued the jazz-funk outing Al Rahman! Cry of the Floridian Tropic Son, on which he mixed his African-American musical roots in soul and jazz with facets of Muslim culture. He then spent time as a sideman, composer, and producer for other artists. In 1990, he resumed recording as a leader on Virgo with vocalist Terri Davis. In 2001, he issued A New Incentive: Firm Roots on the reinvigorated Black Jazz label. Carn formed the West Coast Organ Band and issued the live My Spirit and Free for All in 2015 and 2019, respectively. In 2020, he teamed with producer/instrumentalists Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge to release the collaborative Doug Carn JID005.
Carn was born in Saint Augustine, Florida in 1948. His earliest musical influences included his mother, who taught music in the city's public school and was a formidable pianist and organist who had gigged with Dizzy Gillespie and was close to Stanley Turrentine and Shirley Scott. Further influencing him was an uncle who was a jazz DJ and an aunt who taught him to play boogie woogie on the piano's black keys when he was three. As a child and young teen, he was deeply influenced by the hard-swinging sounds of blues-based jump bands from the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind that followed in the wake of Ray Charles' student tenure there. Carn studied winds, reeds, organ, and piano in high school and played in the band. He led a group called the Nu-Tones, who played a variety of dances, proms, and club dates during high school. On occasion they would back traveling acts such as Little Willie John or open for groups including the "5" Royales and the Chantels. After graduation, Carn furthered his music studies at Jacksonville State University for two years, majoring in oboe and composition. He completed his degree at Georgia State College in 1969.
Over the next few years, Carn's ability on the Hammond B-3 organ grew exponentially, due to the fact that he literally sat at the feet of virtually every traveling jazz organ master who toured Florida. Deeply influenced by the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and the Black cultural revolution, his music took on political and spiritual characteristics without forsaking soul. Carn was an in-demand sideman at home and signed to Savoy before he was 18. His debut album, The Doug Carn Trio, was issued in 1969. After the record's release, he met and soon married Sarah Jean Perkins, who was studying at Morris Brown College. As Jean Carn, she signed on as a vocalist with the Doug Carn Trio. Gifted with perfect intonation, her elastic phrasing folded soul, gospel, and melismatic improvisation into Doug's developing musical ideas for expanding the jazz vocal tradition with more contemporary musical forms. His inspirations included Horace Silver, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, and others. The pair migrated to Southern California in 1970. They took up residence in an apartment building that also housed Earth Wind & Fire, Mandrill, the Chambers Brothers, Janis Joplin, and comedian Ruth Buzzi of Laugh-In fame (the latter often babysat for the Carns).
Their relationship with Earth Wind & Fire blossomed; the couple contributed to the band's first two albums for Warner Bros. in 1971. That same year, Carn signed a deal with Gene Russell's Black Jazz label and issued Infant Eyes with a septet that included not only the Carns but also bassist Henry Franklin, drummer Michael Carvin, and saxophonist George Harper. The set was an underground hit that reached the lower rungs of the charts. They followed with the more expansive Spirit of the New Land in 1972, which featured flügelhornist Charles Tolliver, drummer Alphonse Mouzon, and trombonist Garnett Brown. While Carn wrote four of the set's six tracks, the album also included innovative readings of Miles Davis' "Blue in Green" and Lee Morgan's "Search for the New Land." It charted even higher, placing in the upper rungs of the jazz charts at Cashbox, and expanded the Carns' fan base overseas.
1973's Revelation marked the final release by the Carns as a married couple. The set featured six of Carn's compositions and well-received covers of Coltrane's "Naima," McCoy Tyner's "Contemplation," and Rene McClean's "Jihad." McClean also played saxophone on the set alongside trumpeter/vocalist Olu Dara, bassist Walter Booker, guitarist Nathan Page, and others. By the time Carn released the seminal, internationally charting Adam's Apple in 1974, his first Black Jazz album without Jean, he had already made his debut at Carnegie Hall and played a gig at the Village Vanguard that boasted its largest audience up to that point. That same year, he played on Melvin Van Peebles' A&M album As Serious as a Heart-Attack.
In 1977, he converted to Islam and changed his name to Abdul Rahim Ibrahim and released Al Rahman! Cry of the Floridian Tropic Son on his own Tablighi Records label. The set proved to be the last album issued under Carn's name for more than a decade.
For the next 13 years, he focused on organizing and participating in community revitalization projects in St. Augustine. He spent the remainder of the decade and all of the 1980s working as a sideman on tours and recordings by Stanley Turrentine, Hank Crawford, Charlie Rouse, Junior Cook, Nat Adderley, Monk Montgomery, Houston Person, Marlena Shaw, and Frank Morgan.
In 1990, in association with vocalist Terri Davis and a jazz quartet, Carn independently issued Virgo, recorded by Jacquire King. Carn toured with Davis and continued working as a sideman. In 1995, he re-emerged as a leader with In a Mellow Tone, a collection of standards done in his inimitable style. 1996 saw his profile rise again with the Soul Jazz/Universal Sound compilations Higher Ground: The Best of Black Jazz Records 1971-1976 and The Best of Doug Carn. He then toured the U.K. and Europe with his own band. In 1997, he was one of four organists on the Essence All Stars' Bongobop; the others included Joey DeFrancesco, Lonnie Smith, and Reuben Wilson. Idris Muhammad, Jorge Sylvester, and Michael Urbaniak.
In 2001, Carn released A New Incentive: Firm Roots on the briefly reinvigorated Black Jazz label; the set drew rave reviews from across the global jazz community. He also continued to work in the studio and on the road with a wide range of artists. In 2003, he was recruited for producer/DJ Carl Craig's Detroit Experiment. The following year, he contributed two compositions to Intuit's self-titled debut and also played on it. He played piano on trombonist Curtis Fuller's Savant 2005 release Keep It Simple. In 2010, he was the organist on drummer Cindy Blackman's, Another Lifetime, a tribute to the Tony Williams Lifetime and worked in Wallace Roney's electric Miles Davis tribute band. That year, he and Jean began working together again. They started playing small U.S.-based dates, but by 2012 were headlining weekend dates at Ronnie Scott's in London, Jazz at the Lincoln Center, The Iridium in N.Y.C., and the Savannah Jazz Festival. Carn also found time to play on Roney's modal fusion date Home.
In addition to his occasional touring dates with Jean, Carn formed a new quartet called Doug Carn & the West Coast Organ Band with saxophonists Teodross Avery and Howard Wiley, and drummer Deszon Claiborne. They issued the acclaimed live album My Spirit in 2015. Carn performed at the Aretha Franklin Memorial Concert in 2018 in Detroit where he led Franklin's band in a reading of her 1973 hit "Until You Come Back to Me." The following year, his West Coast Organ Band issued Free for All; their second outing on Doodlin', the set garnered some of the most complimentary reviews of his career.
In 2020, Carn teamed with producer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalists Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad. Though they were toddlers when the pianist issued his seminal Black Jazz sides, the two were nonetheless deeply influenced by those recordings when creating their jazz-funk/noir/hip-hop hybrid. They co-wrote and cut 11 original tracks with a cast of studio players at Linear Labs Studios. It was issued as Doug Carn JID005 in December. ~ Thom Jurek