We had the good fortune of connecting with Dexter Story and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Dexter, how do you think about risk?
Life is risky. I owe my existence to the risk my parents took to raise a family in 1960s America. My life has been a constant push and pull with risk taking. And I’ve certainly failed many more times than I’ve succeeded. I’ve also avoided risk to my own disappointment and, perhaps, detriment. I think that the nature of human being is a survival dance, or a constant attempt at preserving or protecting oneself. Risk taking goes against all of that. It is a choice that demands letting go, dealing with the unknown, with uncertainty, having faith in the unseen. I remember taking an 8mm movie camera class in my adolescence in East Hollywood and, although the experience was enlightening, I played it very safe. I didn’t want to go outside of my comfort zone around those other kids. I have many stories like that, like being afraid to ask an attractive girl out, being afraid to raise my hand and or speak out about something, or being afraid to simply excel. On the other hand, I remember moments in high school where I didn’t allow anything to stop me from fully self-expressing. I risked looking good and being “well thought of” by my family and peers, and the outcomes are incredibly endearing in hindsight. I use these experiences in my present, and I now often consider the risk in NOT acting in the face of my fears. For example, I recorded and released my two latest albums Wondem and Bahir on Soundway Records after I turned 50 and they are my favorites. I could have easily talked myself out of that vulnerability.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My intention at my age is not to to set myself apart from others. I don’t have to try to be different. None of us have to try to be that. Instead, I’m doing my best to imitate the feelings in the music I’ve heard all of my life, on records, on the radio, at concerts, on the stage, on the internet. I’m usually excited about the finished product and how well I’ve expressed something that stands on its own. We know it when we hear it. I am excited about a new, stripped-down, low fi
duet record I just completed with Carlos Niño, who produces all of my albums. It is an experiment that I pray that others embrace. I am also happy about a new record that we are recording. I owe so many family and friends for the love they’ve given me. I’ve learned the importance of our community, our network, our village, and how we are always standing on someone’s shoulders. I want others to know that I gave my best… humbly.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I am Los Angeles-based so I would take them to the following neighborhoods and areas: Downtown LA, all around Leimert Park, Inglewood, Little Ethiopia, East LA, the Ink Well in Santa Monica, the Pacific Ocean, Venice Beach, Watts Towers, Little Tokyo, K-Town, Pasadena and Midtown.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
As a current Ph.D. student in Ethnomusicology at UCLA, I need to shout out the late and great ethnomusicologist Dr. Olly Wilson, my mentor at UC Berkeley when I was an undergraduate. I was in my last year at Cal and somehow I received a fellowship in a program called Students Engaged as Research Apprentices (I think the program is called Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program now). I don’t remember who nominated me for the Summer grant but I remember requesting Professor Wilson. He and I had bumped into each other many times in the hallway at the music school and had conversations about his research. I was fascinated by this confident and cordial Black man. He seemed to take an interest in me so when it came time to designate a mentor, I submitted Prof. Wilson who graciously accepted. Over the Summer following graduation, he had me read his and other writings while I worked on my own mini-thesis. I chose to look at the origins of jazz music in New Orleans in the late 19th and early 20th century and he delighted in talking to me about Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver and Congo Square. I’ll never forget all of the jazz-themed authors he assigned like Gunther Schuller, Marshall W. Stearns, Nat Shapiro and Nat Hentoff. I do remember that I really enjoyed To Be or Not to… Bop by Dizzy Gillespie and Notes and Tones by Art Taylor. A special shout out to Prof. Wilson for taking me under his wing before I knew I even wanted to be an Ethnomusicologist.