One of the visionaries of Detroit's modern jazz scene, saxophonist, flutist, composer, and poet Faruq Z. Bey faithfully carried on in the post-John Coltrane era as a unique and original performer, enduring cultural, sociological, and physical difficulties that would have stifled a individual of less strength and fortitude. Bey was born Jesse Davis in Detroit, Michigan, on February 4, 1942, and his parents were vocalists in church and gospel choirs, his father a city bus driver, his mom a stay-at-home housewife. His cousins Charles Rowland and Sherrell Rowland were also musicians. The eldest of five children, Bey grew up in the Conant Gardens district and was educated in the public school systems, attending Holy Ghost and Atkinson secondary schools, and Pershing and Wilbur Wright high schools. He studied existentialism at Wayne County Community College and was a disciple of the Moorish Science Temple. He was originally trained on the upright string bass, and one of his music instructors in school was pianist James Tatum. A neighborhood influence was legendary rhythm & blues singer Eddie Floyd when he was with the Falcons.
He heard the John Coltrane/Pharoah Sanders ensemble at the Drome Lounge in 1966, a year before Coltrane passed away, and it profoundly changed his life. So did the infamous race riots in the summer of 1967. Bey was a serviceman in the Air Force, and upon release, changed his name to Malik, then Faruq Zinji Bey. In the late '60s and early '70s Bey emerged as a member of the developing progressive jazz scene, and participated in concerts sponsored by the Detroit Artists Workshop and the Creative Arts Collective. As a member of the Bey Brothers with Sadiq Muhammad and Jalil Bey (all of whom adopted the surname), they played regularly at the Concept East Theatre. He performed prominently with drummer Roy Brooks, the Sun Ra Arkestra, and various bands like Black Choreology, the First Afrikan Primal Rhythm Arkestra, As (Is), the World Space Ensemble, and Onyxz.
Originally established in 1972 with Elreta Dodds, Kenn Thomas, and Kofi Patrice Nassoma, the seminal progressive jazz ensemble Griot Galaxy were founded by Bey. The group changed to sport a three-horn front line with David McMurray and Anthony Holland, supported by guitarist A. Spencer Barefield, bassist Jaribu Shahid, and drummer Tani Tabbal. As Detroit's answer to the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Griot Galaxy stood club and concert audiences on their collective ears with a fiery, passionate, and driven multi-layered and polyrhythmic music that was revolutionary for its time in the 1980s.
But health and physical issues due to a serious motorcycle accident plagued Bey, and when Griot Galaxy were disbanded in 1991, the saxophonist, in recovery, was determined to forge new pathways for expressionism. He formed a partnership with the Northwoods Improvisers from mid-Michigan, merging their world fusion sound with his creative concepts. The combination added saxophonists Mike Carey and Skeeter Shelton to revive the three-saxophone collective that made Griot Galaxy such a potent band. As Bey's health allowed, he also formed several new groups including the Conspiracy Winds and Speaking in Tongues. Bey accompanied M.L. Liebler's Magic Poetry Band, Hakim Jami's Street Band, Kindred with keyboardist Kenneth Greene, Ajaramu, and bluesman Robert B. Jones, and was a member of the Odu Afrobeat Orchestra. Bey published the poetry compendiums Year of the Iron Sheep and Etudes in Wanton Nasses, and the theory instructional Toward a Rational Aesthetic. Faruq Z. Bey died at his home on June 1, 2012 at 70 years of age.