‘Bronx Jazz’ celebrates music, history, connection

Sep 17, 2019

A UMass Dartmouth professor and his son filled the Wareham Free Library with live music on Thursday night during a performance of “Bronx Jazz: A Conversation Between Father and Son.”

The performers, tenured professor Mwalim — known on the UMass Dartmouth campus as “Da Phunkee Professor” — and his 16-year-old son, the ZYG 808, led the audience on a tour through the history of jazz and related genres in the Bronx.

In addition to his work as a musician, at the university Mwalim teaches English, Black Studies, communication, and folklore, and he is also one of the founders of the Oversoul Theater Collective.

During the gig, history was interspersed with original songs and conversations about making music, telling stories, and growing up.

The pair’s stage manager, Eddie Ray Johnson of Wareham, occasionally played drums while his young son, Little Bill, sang harmony from the side of the stage.

The performance, which combines theater with live music, felt like a natural next step for the father-son duo.

“We have our conversations about musical history — that doesn’t happen with a lot of parents,” said the ZYG. “I like it because it’s bonding.”

He said that the performance is based on the conversations he regularly has with his father about music and what is going on in each of their lives.

The ZYG said he hoped audience members would leave the show inspired to bridge the gap between generations.

Mwalim said that the performance felt like a natural fit.

He raised his son largely as a single parent, and bought the ZYG a drum kit to keep him occupied when he was a young child. The ZYG’s first credit as a studio musician came when he was only seven years old and played percussion for a record Mwalim was working on in his home studio. Mwalim said his son seemed to have the rhythm of the piece down, so he gave him headphones and asked him to play along.

The ZYG 808’s first solo album, Boombap Jazz, will be coming out in the next few months.

Johnson, Mwalim, and the ZYG 808, along with Richard Johnson, are the Groovalottos, a multi-Grammy nominated soul, funk, and blues band. The Groovalottos are also working on a new album.

Mwalim will be publishing a novel, The Land of the Black Squirrels, in February.

To find out more, go to www.thezyg808.comwww.daphunkeeprofessor.com, or www.thegroovalottos.com.