Born on May 25, 1939, in Indianapolis, IN. Education: Graduated from Arsenal Technical High School. Addresses: Record company--Wide Hive Records, P.O. Box 460067, San Francisco, CA 94146, website: http://www.widehive.com. Website--Phil Ranelin Official Website: http://www.ranelin.com. Efirstname.lastname@example.org.
Trombonist Phil Ranelin launched his career playing with guitarist Wes Montgomery, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, and others in his hometown of Indianapolis. He moved to Detroit in 1968 and, with clarinetist Wendell Harrison, began to pioneer his own projects as a founder of the Tribe, a multi-functional collective of artists who produced a magazine and ran a record label in addition to performing together. Since 1977 Ranelin has been a mainstay of the Los Angeles jazz scene, performing regularly with Hubbard and leading his own outfits, the Phil Ranelin Jazz Ensemble and Phil Ranelin & Tribe Renaissance. The latter group was formed to celebrate the style of Ranelin and Harrison's collective, whose music has enjoyed a resurgence due to several reissues and compilations on the Hefty and Soul Jazz labels.
Ranelin was born on May 25, 1939, to Kenneth and Velaer Ranelin in Indianapolis, Indiana, and graduated from Arsenal Technical High School. He supported a variety of musicians, including former schoolmates Montgomery and Hubbard, at Indianapolis clubs like Hub Bub, while holding down a day job. "In Indianapolis, there was very little work for me, being a trombone player, and then there were racial issues, because the other people had all the work. So there weren't many opportunities for me to play," Ranelin recalled in a Michigan Chronicle article by Dee Dee McNeil. Working with Montgomery was a highlight, Ranelin told McNeil: "I had the good fortune at a very early age of meeting and being accepted by Wes Montgomery. So that still sticks out in my mind as one of the greatest experiences ever, sitting in with Wes. He was just a wonderful human being."
Ranelin met Detroiter Sam Sanders at the Hub Bub in 1968, and the saxophonist convinced him to relocate to Detroit, assuring him he would find work. Ranelin moved in short order, and in addition to joining pianist Harold McKinney's The Creative Profile and performing with local musicians like trumpeter Marcus Belgrave and drummer Roy Brooks, he found work supporting Stevie Wonder, the Temptations, and other artists associated with the city's famous Motown record label. Ranelin also hooked up again with Harrison, a native Detroiter who had returned to his hometown from New York City. In 1971 the pair formed the Tribe, a musicians' collective in the same vein as the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music in Chicago, the Black Artists Group in St. Louis and the Underground Musicians' Association in Los Angeles. In addition to Ranelin and Harrison, the group included McKinney and Belgrave, pianist Kenny Cox, drummer Doug Hammond and trumpeter Charles Moore. The members of the collective performed together, released their work on their own record label, and produced a quarterly magazine, all with an eye toward promoting progressive sounds as well as a growing black political consciousness. "Tribe stamped 'Made in Detroit' deeply into every bar of music it made," noted Jim Dulzo in Jazz Times. "There were bebop lines up top, perched on a big funk bottom. In between were all sorts of freewheeling jazz with enough edge to grind the chrome off a Cadillac. ... Tribe's sound was miles away from the increasingly slick sounds dominating the national jazzscape. These Detroiters eschewed tons of technique in favor of in-your-face expressions of deep feelings, ranging from peace and love to unabashed political rage."
Harrison and Ranelin released the first Tribe recording, Message from the Tribe, in 1971. Ranelin recorded two solo LPs for the label as well, The Time Is Now in 1974 and Vibes from the Tribe, the label's final release, in 1976. All three albums challenged mainstream musical and political ideas. Raw, loosely structured compositions bear such titles as "The Time Is Now for Change" and "Black Destiny," and Ranelin's occasional lyrics as well as his liner notes contain explicit political messages. "The time is now, for unity among the people! The time is now, for all men to be able to control their own destinies! The time is now, for oppression, racism, greed, hate and poverty to end! The time is now, for revolution!" Ranelin wrote in the liner notes to The Time Is Now. Detroit Mayor Coleman Young awarded the collective a key to the city in 1974, and in 1976 Tribe was selected to represent the United States at the World Music Festival in Lagos, Nigeria. Ranelin told Jazz Times that he did not recognize the significance of Tribe until later in his career. "At the time it was natural, it was a movement, but we didn't fully realize it," he said. "But all around the country things like that were taking place, maybe not to the degree of guys establishing magazines or record companies, but there were collectives where people were getting together and putting on concerts. Those organizations were like survival kits, really."
By the late 1970s, various members of the Tribe began pursuing individual projects and the collective disbanded. Ranelin moved to Los Angeles in 1977, where he reconnected with Hubbard and became a regular member of his ensemble. He did not release another solo LP until 1986, when he recorded Love Dream for Harrison's Rebirth label. Another decade passed until the 1996 release of his next solo album, A Close Encounter of the Very Best Kind, on Lifeforce. Throughout this time, Ranelin continued to perform live with a number of artists, including Hubbard, vocalists Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn, and saxophonist Art Pepper. He also led his own Phil Ranelin Jazz Ensemble.
Ranelin has enjoyed a renewed public interest in his early recordings since Chicago's Hefty Records reissued The Time Is Now and Vibes from the Tribe in 2001, remixed and remastered by John McEntire of the experimental rock outfit Tortoise. The resurgence was further spurred by Tribe anthologies issued by the British label Soul Jazz and the Japanese label P-Vine. In an artist's statement included in Vibes from the Tribe, Ranelin contended that his 30-year-old sounds would appeal to a new generation. "I strongly feel that the young people on the planet will really groove on these 1970s tracks," he wrote. In the same essay, he reflected on the impact of his former collective. "Tribe was more than a Band, a Record Company and a Magazine Publication," he wrote. "It was a Movement of Black Pride and Self-determination. People who had given up on their childhood dreams were rediscovering them."
To promote the releases, Ranelin formed the nine-piece outfit Phil Ranelin and Tribe Renaissance. The reissues, he told Jazz Times in 2001, have inspired him to continue promoting Tribe's philosophies. "I'm 62, but I feel like I am 42," he said. "I'm ready to go out on the road and present this music to the people and continue the concepts that were developed through Tribe. Traveling the world playing some music is really what I thrive on."
Ranelin also plays with several L.A.-based outfits, including the Horace Tapscott Sextet, the Pan Afrikan Peoples' Arkestra, the Michael Session Sextet, and The Tambau International Ensemble. In 2004 he released Inspiration on the San Francisco-based hip-hop label Wide Hive. The album features original compositions dedicated to McKinney, pianist Tapscott, saxophonist John Coltrane, reed player Eric Dolphy, and trombonist J.J. Johnson, among others. In an interview discussing the album on the All About Jazz website, Ranelin said he believes his instrument, long relegated to a supporting status, is starting to garner more respect. "We're still overlooked, but I think we're making progress in terms of being acknowledged as an instrument that doesn't just have to play whole notes and backup to the rest of the section," he remarked. "It is a melodic instrument and has great beauty. It is an instrument that can give you some of everything and is still being explored."
by Kristin Palm
Phil Ranelin's Career
Began playing with Wes Montgomery, Freddie Hubbard, and others in Indianapolis; relocated to Detroit and became studio musician for Motown, 1968; established Tribe collective with clarinetist Wendell Harrison, 1971; relocated to Los Angeles and joined Hubbard's ensemble, 1978; as frontman, released Love Dream on Rebirth, 1986, A Close Encounter of the Very Best Kind on Lifeforce, 1996, and Inspiration on Wide Hive, 2004; continues to lead and perform with Phil Ranelin Jazz Ensemble and Phil Ranelin & Tribe Renaissance.
- Selected discography
- Message from the Tribe Tribe, 1971.
- The Time Is Now Tribe, 1974; reissued, Hefty, 2001.
- Vibes from the Tribe Tribe, 1976; resissued, Hefty, 2001.
- Love Dream Rebirth, 1986.
- A Close Encounter of the Very Best Kind Lifeforce, 1996.
- Inspiration Wide Hive, 2004.
- Jazz Times, September 2001.
- Michigan Chronicle, February 20, 2002.
- Recorder (Indianapolis, IN), December 21, 2001.
- "An Interview with Phil Ranelin," All About Jazz, http://www.allaboutjazz.com (May 16, 2005).
- "Phil Ranelin," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (March 8, 2005).
- Phil Ranelin Official Website, http://www.ranelin.com (May 16, 2005).