Derf Reklaw is a multi-faceted, multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger, vocalist, dancer, playwright, poet and inventor.
Derf was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois and is considered one of the most multi-talented individuals on the planet. At four years old he was a child actor performing in religious plays at the Shield House and workshop plays at the South Side Boys Club on 39th Street and Michigan Avenue. An extremely bright young boy he was dubbed "Mr. Encyclopedia" by his classmates and friends. He appeared on the front page of the Chicago Defender newspaper with boxing great Archie Moore at 4 years old.
When Derf was ten he used to beat on his mother's metal kitchen cabinets so much that his cousin, a professional dancer, gave him a pair of bongos. On his 11th birthday, Derf's brother Delano bought a record called "Hammond Gone Cha Cha" by organist Jackie Davis and within two weeks Derf had memorized the entire bongo parts on the record. At that point, Derf knew he could play that instrument but his desire was to play the saxophone. Derf's brother Mack heard jazz giant James Moody play flute and this prompted Mack to purchase a flute and take lessons. Mack was drafted into the army a nd when his stint was over he never took up the flute again and gave a 13 year old Derf his flute. Derf took flute lessons from Mr. John Garnet Hauser Jr. and 8 months later Derf was playing in Mr. Hauser's classical orchestra. Hauser's orchestra performed on Sundays at the Abraham Lincoln Center on Oakwood Boulevard. One Sunday the great Sonny Stitt played with the orchestra.
In High School, Derf won a junior achievement award with his slogan "Keep the Scene Clean" which later was seen all over town on billboards and posters. At sixteen Derf created a dance called "The Woodbine Twine" and he and some his friends danced for WVON DJ Herb Kent the "Kool Gent" at St. Bernard's on the Southside on Fridays and St. Phillip's on the Westside on Sundays. A few months later Alvin Cash of the Step Brothers recorded the song "Twine Time" and this record launched Alvin Cash's career for Alvin went on the Ed Sullivan show and Dick Clark's American Bandstand doing a watered down version of the "Twine". The Twine was a Midwest urban dance craze for about two years.
When Derf was twenty he started a band called the "Black Spirits" and this band of mainly African drummers with Derf on flute played for many activist rallies and conferences with speakers such as: Dick Gregory, Jesse Jackson, Lawerence Landry, and poets Don L. Lee, Sonia Sanchez and Carolyn Rogers. In the fall of 1967 Phil Cohran opened the AFFRO-ARTS theater and invited the "African Look" revue to perform at the theater for a special New Year's Eve celebration. The "Black Spirits" were the drummers for the "African Look" revue and impressed Phil Cohran so much that he hired the Black Spirits to play with his band on a show Phil called "The War of the Worlds. After a two-week run of the War of the Worlds, Phil asked Derf to join his band the Artistic Heritage Ensemble. This was March of 1968 and Derf joined Phil Cohran's Artistic Heritage Ensemble at 21 years of age, his first professional job. Two months later Derf was in a Chess Records recording studio playing an African drum on the first Afro-Sheen commercial with Minnie Ripperton. Later on that year Derf worked with Phil Cohran's group in shows with Sammy Davis Jr. and musicals with Oscar Brown Jr. Phil Cohran left the AFFRO-ARTS theater in the fall of 1968 to teach at Malcolm X College and the musicians remained at the theater to keep the idea of cultivating the creative arts in the community. Most of the band members at that time: Charles Handy, Pete Cosey, Master Henry Gibson, Don Myrick and Louis Satterfield were studio musicians at Chess Records and along with Maurice White and Fred Humphries (Ramananda) performed around the Chicago club circuit as Chuck Handy and the Pharaohs. At Pete Cosey's suggestion, the AAFRO-ARTS-theater band became the legendary Pharaohs. Charles Handy asked Derf to be a part of the Pharaohs and Derf came aboard. Before Phil Cohran left the theater, he taught Derf a valuable lesson in polyrhythms and polymeters and that concept has helped in making Derf one of the most rhythmic, creative and groove conga players and percussionist in the world today.
Derf went on to play and or record with countless artists in the Chicago area such as Howlin' Wolf, Gene Ammons, Ahmad Jamal, Jerry Butler, Gene Chandler, Freda Payne, Barry White, Phil Upchurch, Eddie Harris, Dorothy Donegan, Syl Johnson, Lionel Hampton, Katherine Dunham, Donny Hathaway, Jack McDuff, Tyrone Davis, Walter Jackson, Shirley Scott, Etta James, The Ohio Players, The Chi-lites, The Voices of East Harlem, Natalie Cole, The Brighter Side of Darkness, Della Reese, Ronnie Dyson, Leroy Hutson, Ruby Andrews, General Crooke, Judy Roberts, Ramsey Lewis, Geraldine Hunt, The Natural 4, Terry Callier, Betty Everett, Operation Breadbasket Band and three bands of his own, all before moving to Los Angeles in the fall of 1979.
After arriving and settling in Los Angeles, Derf toured with Aretha Franklin before joining Canadian rocker Burton Cummings in a tour of all of Canada including a movie with Paul Sorvino and Glynnis O'Connor. Derf began to work with several of the top LA dance companies and did Master classes for Alvin Ailey and Katherine Dunham and showcases with Hinton Battle. His creativity enabled him to compose music for the live soap opera "Blues Song'. Derf was also part of the band and orchestra for several musicals including "Showgirls", "Swan", "Nifty 50's", "Sleep No More" "What is to be Done?". "Voices", "A Black Woman Speaks", "Book of the Crazy African", "Wings and Things", "T.K.O." and many more. In the mid 80's Derf joined trumpeter Leslie Drayton's big band and small group called the Fun band and recorded on four of Leslie's albums.
In 1984, Derf was hired as an accompanist and composer for Santa Monica's Theatre Arts Department were he stayed for 16 years. In the Fall of 1988 Derf was hired as a senior musician, composer, lecturer and percussion workshop teacher at UCLA Dance and World Arts and Cultures Department where he composed music for many graduates thesis and also performed and even danced on stilts in some of the university's concerts. During this time, Derf also recorded and worked on many LA projects including Tavares, Della Reese, George Kirby, Fred Wesley, Janet DuBois, Betty Davis (Miles ex-wife), Kimiko Kasai, Stephanie Spruill, Rahmlee Davis, Joe Turner, Noel Pointer, Beah Richards and others.
In 1983, an earlier recording of one of Derf's Chicago groups "Ship of the Desert" was released and one of Derf's compositions "Hepty, Baby" from that album was used as a theme song for the newly founded BET program "Video Soul". Later, another of Derf's songs from that album the title song "Oasis", was used by UCLA's School of the Arts and Architecture in their video presentation. In 1991, Derf reconnected with one of his mentors, the great Eddie Harris and toured Europe with Eddie through 1993. Around this time Derf formed his own band "DaCuzmo" and performed regularly at a Hollywood club the "Nucleus Nuance" In 1996 Derf moved to Leimert Park, which has been called a Mecca for Los Angeles creative artists and began working with poet Kamau Daaood and vocalist Dwight Trible. Derf soon went back to his roots of Jazz, Funk and World Music and in 1998 Ubiquity records released Derf's first solo album "From The Nile" to favorable reviews around the World. This record was a best seller, was nominated for record of the year and on many magazine charts. Songs from this album have been used on MTV's Real World, PBS' movie for TV Condition Black, a Sony commercial and in the documentary "Leimert Park" by Jeannette Lindsey.
In 2002, Derf became an important part of filmmaker and photographer B+ (Brian Cross) project "Keep in Time", a collaboration of legendary drummers and Hip Hop DJ's. What started out as a photo session has to this date released three films; "Keep in Time", "Keep in Time, A Live Recording" and "Brasilintime Batucadas Com Discos" which also adds Brasilian legendary drummers Wilson DeNeves, Joao Parahyba, Ivan Conti and DJ Nuts, among drummers and Hip-Hop DJ's including Earl Palmer, Roy Porter, James Gadson, Paul Humphries, JRocc, DJ Numark, Madlib, Cut Chemist, Babu and Shortcut. In October of 2005 this movie had a screening in New York and there Derf performed at Carnegie Hall for Redbull Music Academy's prestigious "Concerto for Turntables". The movie made its West coast Premiere in July of 2007 at The American CinematequenTheatre.
Derf has a new solo album that will drop later in the year. Derf remains one of the most sought out performers of this day. Catch him whenever you can.