Thomas Sayers Ellis: spoken words
James Brandon Lewis: tenor saxophone
Alexis Marcelo: piano, synthesizer
Poet, Photographer, Professor, Thomas Sayers Ellis is the bandleader and a co-founding member of Heroes Are Gang Leaders. He is the author of “The Maverick Room,” “Skin, Inc. Identity Repair Poems” and “The Corny Toys,” a chapbook length poem. His work has appeared in The Paris Review, Poetry, The Nation, Tin House as well as numerous anthologies. He has taught at numerous Universities and is the recipient of a Mrs. Giles Whiting Writers Award and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for Poetry in 2015.
Saxophonist and composer James Brandon Lewis have received accolades from cultural tastemakers such as Ebony Magazine, who hailed him as one of the “7 Young Players to Watch” in 2013. Lewis has shared stages with icons such as Benny Golson, Geri Allen, and Dorinda Clark Cole, as well as William Parker, Hamiet Bluiett, Ravi Coltrane, Jimmy Heath, Jamaaladeen Tacuma and many others. Lewis attended Howard University and holds an MFA from California Institute of the Arts.
Thomas Sayers Ellis and James Brandon Lewis met in 2011 at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida, where Ellis was teaching poetry and Lewis was studying with jazz pianist Matthew Shipp. Interested in exploring each other’s ideas of creativity, the two began performing together at various Universities and Conferences, culminating in Ellis appearing on “Divine Travels,” Lewis first recording for Sony’s Okeh label and in an opportunity for the duo to open for the legendary poet-activist Amiri Baraka at St. Mark’s Church / The Poetry Project in New York City. Shortly thereafter Baraka died and Ellis and Lewis recorded the anti-elegy “Vernacular Owl” for the Poetry Foundation in Chicago and in 2014 the poem was awarded the prestigious Levinson Prize by Poetry Magazine. Vowing to widen their tribute TSE and JBL invited other poets and musicians to participate in honoring Baraka. They called this gathering of artists Heroes Are Gang Leaders, taking the name from the title of a short lyric fiction by Baraka from his critically acclaimed collection “Tales.”
Since, its official founding in 2014, the Ellis / Lewis led free jazz literary troupe has released four CDs: “The Avant-Age Garde I AMs of the Gal Luxury” (2015) / dedicated to Bob Kaufman; “Highest Engines Near / Near Higher Engineers” (2016) / Dedicated to Gwendolyn Brooks; “Flukum” (2016) / Dedicated to Etheridge Knight and “The Amiri Baraka Sessions” (2019). A new project, “Artificial Happiness Button,” is forthcoming in March 2020.
The Dead Lecturers: TSE / JBL , Saxophone / Poetry Duo is an exchange between two artists who took a detour to discover their debt and kinship to living and passed ancestry. The duo’s vibe is full of the accidents and aims of the breathing as it comes in contact with (not follows) the motion of The All. It is their continuous effort to evaporate, creatively, all of the false boundaries that have been inserted into Tradition. This duo does not attempt to pick up where they left off, pre Heroes Are Gang Leaders, This duo is Now, is the complete present and already after-beyond tomorrow! (Pressetext)