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John-Carlos Perea was born on the Jicarilla Apache Reservation in Dulce, New Mexico. He learned the Northern-style Indian singing tradition while studying with Barney Hoehner-Peji (Lakota) and singing with the Blue Horse Singers, a pow-wow drum group. In 2005, Paul Winter was working towards an album entitled Crestone, celebrating the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and San Luis Valley of southern Colorado. He very much wanted to have a strong Native American voice to represent the heritage of the first peoples who had passed through this valley for thousands of years. At the home of a friend in northern California that summer Paul heard John-Carlos’ riveting voice on an anthology of contemporary Native American music, and wanted to ask if he would consider being part of the album. Paul wanted to learn more about his music, and also ask if he would be open to singing a Native American song that has fascinated him for years, entitled “Witchi Tai To.”

“Witchi Tai To” is a traditional healing song in the Native American Church. In the early 1970s, Indian jazz saxophonist Jim Pepper adapted this old Comanche chant he had learned from his grandfather, and added the English words: “Water spirit feeling springin’ round my head/Makes me feel glad that I’m not dead.” Jim Pepper’s recording of it with his band became famous, and it was one of those rare, timeless songs that just seem to travel on, making its way around the world. A succession of jazz musicians took up the song, among 18 Disc I 4 4 Disc I 19 them Don Cherry, who taught it to Norwegian saxophonist Jan Gabarek, whose recording of it was heard by the members of the quartet Oregon, in whose repertoire it has lived for many years, featuring the oboe of Paul McCandless.

Paul’s first and only experience of playing “Witchi Tai To” had been in a grand jam session in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 2000, in the finale of the Native American Music Awards (the “NAMMYS”). Jim Pepper was being honored posthumously, with the NAMMY Hall of Fame Award, and Paul had been invited to come to present the award to Jim’s mother, Floy Pepper. Bassist Ed Schuller, who had been in Jim’s band when they made their famous recording of “Witchi Tai To,” was there, and he taught the song to the eclectic group of presenters who were to perform it together at the end of the night, including singer Rita Coolidge, drummer Mickey Hart, and Paul Winter. They played “Witchi Tai To” for a very long time, with a myriad of solos and repetitions of the chant, and Paul remembers being so swept up in it that he felt they could have gone on all night. After that, he wondered if he might some day play it with the Consort. When Paul met John-Carlos, he asked him if he was familiar with “Witchi Tai To,” and he laughed and said: “Yes, I am. It happens that I’m doing my doctorate in ethnomusicology at U.C. Berkeley on the music of Jim Pepper.” But he expressed his wish that if they were to record this song, that we do it in some new way, different from Jim Pepper’s original version. Paul suggested they try it with a rhythm from the Northeast of Brazil called “baião,” and when he was in São Paulo he made a demo with a Brazilian rhythm section. John-Carlos was enthusiastic when he heard this, so this is how they performed it.


from Everybody Under the Sun: Voices of Solstice (The Singers), released December 6, 2019
John-Carlos Perea / voice
Paul Winter / soprano sax
Paul McCandless / oboe
Eugene Friesen / cello
Oscar Castro-Neves / guitar
Webster Santos / guitars
Sizão Machado / bass
Renato Braz / percussion


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Paul Winter Litchfield

Paul Winter is a seven-time Grammy-winning saxophonist, whose sextet was the first jazz group to perform at the White House in 1962. His second group, the Paul Winter Consort, interweaves sounds from the natural world with classical and ethnic traditions, and the spontaneous spirit of jazz. Their annual Winter Solstice Celebrations and Earth Mass are among the most popular events in New York. ... more

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