Fred Moten & Harmony Holiday on the Sounds of Friendship

In the latest episode of frieze’s Autumn Sessions, the two play and discuss records that embody their friendship 

BY Evan Moffitt, Fred Moten AND Harmony Holiday in Opinion | 17 DEC 20

It’s getting colder in much of the world, with winter weather and COVID-19 lockdowns making it harder to get out and see friends. For the third and final episode of frieze’s Autumn Sessions, poet, scholar and cultural theorist Fred Moten and poet, performer and jazz archivist Harmony Holiday discussed the textures of friendship in their favourite music, from Charlie Parker’s Just Friends (1949) to Erykah Badu’s Love of My Life (An Ode to Hi-Hop) (2002). The two friends considered what the bonds between musicians might tell us about inspiration and creative exchange. Many of the recordings they played were love songs, an important reminder of what constitutes the core of lasting friendships. We could all use more of that now.

The full recording and track list can be found below. In the immortal words of Parliament, ‘Let the vibes flow through.’

Three Deuces
Charlie Parker, Tommy Potter, and Max Roach, photographed at Three Deuces, New York, 1947, by William P. Gottlieb. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Jazz Friendships

'I thought a lot about jazz friendships and the depth of them and how I can kind of trace my favourite music through who was friends with whom, when.' – Harmony Holiday

'I love to hear stuff where you can really hear the friendship between the musicians. And maybe it feels like they’ll pull one over on you, but even if it's true, you don't want to know.' – Fred Moten

Pharoah Sanders 2013
Pharoah Sanders performing at Deutsches Jazzfestival, Frankfurt, Germany, 2013. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/Oliver Abels

Shared Trauma

'I interviewed Pharoah Sanders once, and just hearing him talk, his modesty was kind of heart-breaking. There's a level of close softness that seems like he was wounded or something. In that same album, he talks about donating blood and sleeping on park benches in New York. It’s everything they had to do to make the music. There's a wordless bond when you’ve gone through that. I don’t feel there are any stronger friendships than those when you’re both invested in something that other people think is ridiculous, making very abstract crazy music.' – Harmony Holiday

'A great friend and teacher of mine named David Lloyd knew the great trumpeter and linguist Jacques Coursil, who would tell a similar story to Pharoah Sanders: he worked at Slugs as a dishwasher. The musicians came into the club through the kitchen.' – Fred Moten

The Acoustics of Play

'I think a lot about the acoustics of childhood friendships versus adult friendships, and how things sound as a kid – and the actual joy of play as a kid versus all the talk as an adult. Especially now, there's so much stillness in maintaining friendship. It's a matter of sitting somewhere and looking into these digital windows, since we can't go out and play.' – Harmony Holiday

Sly and the Family Stone
Sly and the Family Stone, Greatest Hits, 1970, album cover. Courtesy: Epic Records

Live vs. Recorded

'Maybe we don’t know enough about the workshop atmosphere that Sly [Stone] was in… So much of his process was only possible in a recording studio, because it had to do with mixing and being able to manipulate different takes. But how do you combine that with the sense of a jam session?' – Fred Moten

Mean Old Ella

'My mom had a friend, Gwen Weeks, from New Jersey, who lived in Las Vegas. Her husband was a pit boss in one of the hotels…his name was Harry Rainer. Jewish guy. They couldn't live across town where white people lived in Las Vegas. She was very involved in politics with my mom, and she had been a singer. She knew everybody – when Sarah Vaughan came to Vegas, she would go to Miss Gwen’s house, and they would sit and talk so much shit about people. I'll never forget it: they were talking about how mean Ella Fitzgerald was, but then Ella would come on the record player singing with Duke Ellington, and however much they couldn’t stand Ella as a person, the music was so good that they had to forgive her.' – Fred Moten

Ella Fitzgerald at Schiphol Airport.
Ella Fitzgerald at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, 1965. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons


'Hip hop is another friendship-based art form.' – Harmony Holiday

'The intros in early hip-hop make you think of that thing people did, especially in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, where they would record the studio chatter and noise almost as a lead into the song. The friendship, the sociality of that space was folded into the song as a way of letting you know where it was all coming from.' – Fred Moten

Listening with Fred Moten and Harmony Holiday. Episode 3: Friendship

Track List

Aretha Franklin & Mavis Staples – 'Oh Happy Day' (1987)

The Staple Singers – 'God Bless the Children' (1969)

Charles Mingus – 'Hope So Eric' (1964)

Pharoah Sanders – 'In the Beginning' (1963-64)

Parliament – 'P. Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)' (1975)

Sly and the Family Stone – 'Thank You for Talkin’ to Me, Africa' (1971)

Carmen McRae, Betty Carter – 'Am I Blue?' (1987)

Marvin Gaye, Tammi Terrell – 'Ain’t No Mountain High Enough' (1967)

Biz Markie – 'Just A Friend' (1989)

Erykah Badu, Common – 'Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip-Hop)' (2002)

Sade – 'I Will Be Your Friend' (1984)

Betty Carter – 'Girl Talk' (1969)

Billie Holiday – 'Just Friends' (1955)

Main image: Sly and the Family Stone, Greatest Hits, 1970, album cover. Courtesy: Epic Records

Evan Moffitt is a writer, editor and critic based in New York, USA. 

Fred Moten is an American philosopher, poet and scholar whose work explores critical theory, Black studies, and performance studies. He is based in New York, US. 

Harmony Holiday is a poet and performer. Her books include Reparations (2020) and A Jazz Funeral for Uncle Tom (2020). Her latest book Maafa will be released later this year.