Unknown to the mainstream, Denis A. Charles was a legend on the Avant-Garde Jazz scene.
Born in 1933 in St. Croix, Virgin Islands in a family of musicians, Denis A. Charles started touring with a local band called the Rhythm Makers at age 8. "My father played, I knew my grand father played; there was always music in the house".
In 1945, Denis A. Charles moved to New York City where he reunited with his mother who had emigrated 8 years prior. By 1947, Bebop was everywhere in Harlem; so was heroin. Denis fell in love with both, he was 13 years old. By 1951, Denis A. Charles was sentenced to a two-year prison term for participating in a petty theft. "You need a rest from your environment" said the judge eager to save Denis.
In 1954, Denis A. Charles met Cecil Taylor. "That's what saved me, really". His drumming caught the attention of many innovative musicians on the Downtown Avant-Garde Jazz like Thelonious Monk, Steve Lacy, Archie Shepp, Jimmy Giuffre, Gil Evans, Don Cherry, Sonny Rollins and many others. Yet drug addiction would keep Denis A. Charles out of the music scene for a large part of the 60's and the 70's. To the delight of a new generation of musicians, Denis A. Charles made his comeback around 1978 and remained an active musician until his sudden death on March 26, 1998.
"Denis A. Charles: An interrupted conversation" illustrates the power of an artist's spirit and the grit of human experience. Performances shot during the last two years of his life, in venues across New York City interspersed with anecdotes told by Denis A. Charles himself, family members and fellow musicians illustrate Denis's cling to music while waging a battle to simply survive.
Denis A. Charles left the scene without warning. He died in his sleep on March 26, 1998, shortly after returning from a five-week tour across Europe. He was sixty four years old. A fixture in the New York Avant-Garde Jazz scene for over forty years, Denis A. Charles proved that devotion to music can provide transcendence in the midst of hell.