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recordings as leader:

time changes, with blood drum spirit ensemble (2019)

bds CD booklet-Cover

disc 1 75:10
1 hits 7:16
2 donno ntoaso 5:23
3 freedom jazz dance 7:38
4 the betrayal 4:11
5 drum solo for mr. adams/mr. mcbrowne/mr. roach/mr. jarvis/mr. blackwell 1:47
6 james and hazel 13:25
7 bewaa 7:45
8 silent spaces 2:40
9 if only……… 5:16
10 fɔntɔmfrɔm suite 7:41
11 naima 12:06

disc 2 76:17
1 circle of creation/adzohu suite 16:36
2 dancing on the drums 4:38
3 longing (a boy and a beauty) 10:44
4 penteng 1:53
5 the look 5:38
saint louis blues suite 16:48
6 blues for mister charlie and miss ann 6:01
7 st. louis blues 10:47
8 lift every voice and sing 7:31
9 syrinx 4:56
10 high fly 7:31


Time Changes double CD release by Blood Drum Spirit February 1, 2019
Contact: royal hartigan, 508.993.2580,; Featuring: David Bindman, tenor and soprano saxophones, Wes Brown, contrabass, royal
hartigan, drums, Art Hirahara, piano
On February 1, 2019, the jazz quartet Blood Drum Spirit, led by drummer royal hartigan, unveils its double CD, Time Changes. The quartet’s third double CD – the previous, BDS Live in China, was released in 2008 – coincides with the debut of the group’s award-winning documentary film We Are One: Blood Drum Spirit.
Incorporating specific aspects of world music traditions, including Indian modes and time cycles, Chinese melodies, Native American song, and West African rhythms and melodies into original compositions, the group’s members have created a body of work and performance style that both draws on tradition and yet is on the exploratory edge of 21st century music.

Time Changes exemplifies the group’s dedication to live performance interactions. Several of the album’s tracks incorporate West African rhythms and instruments, while others include originals by the group’s members, free improvisations, and new interpretations of jazz classics. Multi-sectional suites highlight the soloists, with dramatic shifts in rhythm and harmonic movement; free improvisations create abstract textures; time and its many permutations are explored throughout.

Bassist Wes Brown, saxophonist David Bindman, and hartigan met at Wesleyan University in the early 1980s. Pianist Art Hirahara joined the group in 2003. Together and individually the quartet’s members have performed and conducted educational workshops around the world.

We Are One: Blood Drum Spirit, directed by Sara Pettinella, documents the group’s decades-long journey, beginning with royal, Wes, and David studying and working with Ghanaian teachers in the USA, continuing with royal’s studies in Ghana over many years, and finally the group traveling to the same villages where royal learned many of the rhythms and songs that he had brought home for the quartet to arrange and perform. The film shows the deep historical and aesthetic connections between jazz and West African music, and by extension, with the peoples of the world. In 2017, the US State Department brought the ensemble back to Ghana to screen the film at universities and performance venues throughout the country.

Blood Drum Spirit draws on the spirits of ancestors, on traditions passed along by teachers, and on members’ experiences across jazz’s eras and genres. The group’s name describes its mission: blood, the heart and connection we all share through the ancestors; drum, the metaphorical heartbeat/rhythm felt by all musicians, physical/psychological existence of the universe, and all people (‘if you can walk, you can dance…’ an African proverb); and spirit, transcendence toward something larger than ourselves.

Distribution: CDs and downloads will be available from CD Baby, Amazon, Bandcamp, and iTunes.
released February 5, 2019 


By Karl Akwermann

Royal Hartigan & Blood Drum Spirit: Time Changes 

Drummer, pianist, and composer, Royal Hartigan, first encountered bassist Wes Brown and saxophonist David Bindman at Wesleyan University. The three were instrumental in the early development of the Ghanaian-American group Talking Drums and recorded Blood Drum Spirit (Innova) in 1993 with Kevin McNeal on guitar. The ensemble’s follow up, Blood Drum Spirit: Royal Hartigan Ensemble Live in China—also on Innova—was not released until 2008, when pianist Art Hirahara had replaced McNeal. Time Changes is Hartigan’s fourth double-CD as a leader and his third with the Blood Drum Spirit ensemble.

Hartigan’s ties to the drumming culture of West Africa are indestructible. So too are his bonds to the people he has lived with on and off for years; people who have experienced famine, homelessness and the genocide in their post-colonial struggle for self-determination. The music of the region reflects circumstances that encompass everyday tasks, ceremony, simple pleasures, and ongoing pain.

The inspirations of West Africa are felt in the traditional rhythmic creations “Bewaa” and “Circle of Creation/Adzohu Suite” based on the dance drumming of the Dagara and Ewe peoples of the region. The quartet puts very unique spins on standards such as Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance,” John Coltrane’s “Naima,” “St. Louis Blues ” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” It’s always a pleasure to hear Hartigan solo, and on Time Changes the master drummer takes over on five tracks—”Drum Solo for Mr. Adams, Mr. McBrowne, Mr. Roach, Mr. Jarvis,” “Fontomfrom Suite,” “Dancing on the Drums,” “Penteng” and “Blues for Mister Charlie and Miss Ann.”

Whether the band is covering classics, improvising original pieces, or interpreting the drum dancing music, the aesthetic is almost always rooted in West Africa. “We Are One!” is a companion piece movie that goes behind the scenes with the group, in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, and in Ghana. A dance teacher in the Asanti region relates “You cannot detach our dances from who we are, the dances tell a story. The dance itself is the culture.” Time Changes relates those stories, in a variety of styles, and is compelling listening throughout. 

Track Listing: Disc 1: Hits; Donno Ntoaso; Freedom Dance; The Betrayal; Drum Solo for Mr. Adams, Mr. McBrowne, Mr. Roach, Mr. Jarvis, Mr. Blackwell; James and Hazel; Bewaa; Silent Spaces; If Only………; Fontomfrom Suite; Naima. Disc 2: Circle of Creation / Adzohu Suite; Dancing on the Drums; Longing (A Boy and a Beauty); Penteng; The Look; Blues for Mister Charlie and Miss Ann; St. Louis Blues; Lift Every Voice and Sing; Syrinx; High Fly.

Personnel: David Bindman: tenor and soprano saxophones, flute; Wes Brown: contrabass; Art Hirahara: piano; Royal Hartigan: drum set, donno, hourglass drum.

blood drum spirit live in china


Blood Drum Spirit: the Royal Hartigan Ensemble Live in China is a new double compact disc from this unique quartet’s recent tour of China. Its tracks include original and standard pieces in the African American tradition, informed by music cultures of Asia, West Africa, and the Caribbean.

Anlo Kete and Asante Adowa are based on traditional songs and dance drumming of the Ewe and Asante peoples of West Africa, while Gati Shadows Within is based on the drum rhythms of India. Flowing Stream, a love song from Yunnan province, is connected to Charles Mingus’ blues requiem for saxophonist Lester Young, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.

Hartigan, a percussionist who travels, lives, and performs in Asia, Africa, and other parts of the globe, has brought cultural and musical insights into this album, offering an original style of jazz interaction and performance with three of today’s most creative and experimental musicians, contrabassist Wes Brown, pianist Art Hirahara, and saxophonist David Bindman.

Multi-sectional compositions in asymmetric time cycles with 7, 11, and 15 pulses move through funk, reggae, and Afro-Latin grooves, and yet swing in a new feel: Crisis in (Now’s The) Time, Threads, and High Definition Truth are extended works that form a trilogy composed by Bindman and center on the themes of political consciousness and global human interdependence. Hartigan’s DreamfiresWaking is joined to an arrangement of the standard Invitation over 11-pulse idioms adapted from West Africa, Cuba, and bebop. Hirahara’s Peace, Unknown is dedicated to the victims of the Middle East’s unending conflicts while the Generations Suite honors the elders of society. Song For Your Return is an experimental dialogue among the four performers.

Blood Drum Spirit’s music is rooted in tradition yet brings jazz and other world traditions to a new place in creative music.



Good things sometimes fly under the radar; sometimes they are great things. This has never been more the case than with Royal Hartigans’s Blood Drum Spirit, a jazz masterpiece that has languished in obscurity since its 1993 recording to its eventual 2004 release. 

It remains largely unrecognized six years later. Jazz, especially in the US, can be almost religiously hierarchical and introducing an unknown quantity to the ranks of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, or Anthony Braxton may well be viewed as profane or pretentious. However, the benefit to fans of good music outweighs the potential backlash. This qualifies as a classic desert island, end of the world as we know it, entry.

Hartigan is jazz Renaissance man. An author, educator, and student/teacher of world music, he has incorporated the sounds, native instruments, and cultural nuances of West Africa and Southeast Asia into a two-disc collection where the emphasis is strongly toward jazz rather than the world music that subtly influences it. Like Collin Walcott’s earlier efforts, Cloud Dance (ECM, 1976) and Grazing Dreams (ECM, 1977), Hartigan has found that elusive ground that emphasizes the pure innovative nature of jazz without excluding the unique attributes of the cultures Hartigan has closely studied and been influenced by. Some time back, Esbjorn Svensson Trio was dubbed the “future of jazz.” Had Royal Haritgan been known at that time, he may have deservedly shared the mantle.

If Blood Drum Spirit has a centerpiece, it is “Eve,” a 28-plus minute epic composed of solo, duo, trio, and quartet formats that easily flow into and out of each phase. Suffice to say, “Eve” is worth the price of admission. In many ways it represents the democratic nature of Hartigan’s collective style and world philosophy. Guitarist Kevin McNeal’s deceptively simple chords and David Bindman’s opening saxophone sets a bluesy pace that carries throughout. By the time Wes Brown’s bass and Hartigan’s kit transition into a rhythmic African extended duo, a hypnotic effect has established itself and it is not easily broken. Hartigan’s percussion work is as musical, or more so, than most of the percussion greats who have gone before him. His versatility could be imagined as a solo percussion work, much the way the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s drummer Don Moye is.

To single out tracks is counter-productive here; this is a work of symphonic structure. Hartigan’s quartet exerts equal effort and finesse across the spectrum of tunes here and selectivity would be nitpicking as the work that builds and develops across the entire program. Each band member is given more than ample opportunity to solo and in every case they are stellar performances. Why Royal Hartigan is unfamiliar to many jazz fans is a subject for another debate. What is clear is that Blood Drum Spirit is a collection that will endure for many years to come. – Karl Ackermann



Ancestors is the story of royal hartigan’s personal and global family, enshrined in music, poetry, tap-dancing and reminiscences. This diverse collection is united in his own existence and musical pathways. He writes:

I began working on our Ancestors double compact disc after the death of my mother, who was the last person in my immediate family to pass away, leaving only myself to continue on life’s paths.

It occurred to me that most of us have people in our families or meet on our journeys for whom we have a deep bond. Their departure in my view makes them all ancestors, and this album is to honor these forebears, with my personal experiences as one gateway to an expression for us all in the human family.

In a parallel way, the paths of world cultures from ancient times to the present are the ancestors of the world’s family on its journey through time and space. My idea is to express that heritage through traditional and cross cultural compositions and improvisations.

We have recorded a diverse group of duets, trios, quartets, and solos that center on my work with master artists from global cultures and cross cultural styles: West African master drummer C. K. Ladzekpo, Philippine kulintang master Danongan Kalanduyan, Chinese guzheng artist Weihua Zhang, African American vocalist Baomi, Persian American saxophonist and flutist Hafez Modirzadeh, violinists Sandra Poindexter and Yu Fuhua, banjoist Timothy Volpicella, Japanese shakuhachi artist Masaru Koga, and Philippine percussionist Conrad Benedicto. I contribute percussion, drumset, piano, and tap dance to this musical story.

The music here does not fit a single commercial category. Its genesis and final form are based on the deepest feel and sense my musical colleagues and I have of life, death, remembrance, loss, and transcendence.

Our music attempts to bring our ancestors to life and speak to a universal human condition we all share. We hope you are moved by our music.


These two releases present a lot to take in. Both are double CD sets and in both cases the styles of music presented are far reaching and complex. In an era when most musicians tend to stay within a specific genre and play with familiar musicians and friends, Royal Hartigan easily stands out from the pack…mainly because he is playing by his own set of rules. And the rules are obviously rather loose and unpredictable. Hartigan is a percussionist whose interests and influences spread all over the map and back. On these double disc sets, Hartigan plays with whomever he happens to be with at the time…and plays whatever style of music happens to be the weapon of choice at any particular moment. As such, there is a wonderfully unique spontaneous feel to his music. Instead of hearing one predictable song after another, with these discs you simply never know what will pop up next. And we would bet that Royal gets a major rush out of delving into such diverse terrain. As we mentioned earlier, there is a lot to take in here. Ancestors presents a whopping 34 tracks while Blood Drum Spirit boasts 17. This is probably too diverse and odd for the casual listener. But our guess is that more esoteric music fans will really appreciate this wildly inventive stuff… (Rating: 5) 

– Babysue

Top 10 Cds of 2008

– Bill Barton, CODA

On paper, combining the musical influences of West Africa, America and Asia can appear a bit overwhelming. That’s not the case at all on Royal Hartigan’s Ancestors. The pianist/percussionist’s trilogy—Blood Drum Spirit (Innova, 2004), Blood Drum Spirit Live in China (Innov a, 2008), and now Ancestors—reflects a universal viewpoint without being neatly categorized as world music. Jazz is pervasive throughout this collection, and the various musical ethnicities serve as reminders of where the genre came from and where it could go. 

Ancestors was born out of Hartigan’s sense of loss. It is a catharsis without closure and an acutely personal exploration of life, death, afterlife and, mostly, family, in the immediate and universal sense. “Flight/Homecoming” opens the set with saxophonist Hafez Modirzadeh covering a spectrum of emotions including keening a brief mourning. Baomi’s wordless vocal improvisation continues the theme of movement and transition, before Modirzadeh returns to transport the vocalist to a spoken word suite reaffirming the continuous cycle of life beyond the physical form. Throughout this opening segment, Hartigan alternately augments and drives the music, using bells, dondo, bass drum and hi hat before moving to piano.

Within the two-disc set, Hartigan’s own family emerges as a Greek Chorus. A poem by his grandfather is carried by Sandra Poindexter’s poignant violin work, while Hartigan’s tap danced “Waltz Clog” is a tribute to both his uncle and mother and in a much lighter vein. Pop standards of past generations, as well as Tchaikovsky’s “Violin Concerto,” appear as favorites of Hartigan’s parents, adding personal insight in the midst of more multicultural styles. Hartigan’s piano brings to mind Jelly Roll Morton on “Hazel’s Dance” and “Five Foot Two.”

Haritgan is masterful at tying complex themes into a story, but more than that he brilliantly conveys human emotion through the music. Ancestors accepts sadness and loss as a reality, but also celebrates ongoing rebirth and treats time as an elastic continuum. Musically, he manages to incorporate instruments and styles as diverse as stride piano, Turkish bendir and Chinese zither in a collected work that is both universal and tangible at the same time. Ancestors is a blend of musicology and genealogy that is quite unique and memorable.

– Karl Ackermann, All About Jazz

blood drum spirit


One Sheet:

Massachussetts just came a little closer to West Africa. A whole village of percussion at his limbs, hartigan wrote the book on African drumming.

Leader Royal Hartigan ranks among the absolute greatest of contemporary percussionists. Thoroughly familiar with nearly the entire scope of world drumming and percussion musics–everything from Native American, to East Asian, to South Pacific, to West African, to South Indian–Hartigan has found a group of players entirely sympathetic to his massive world music canvas and produced a landmark disk. Of course, it helps that he has spent a lifetime studying and playing everything from bebop to funk to blues to gospel to reggae to hip-hop to African to Afro-Latin styles.

Seeking to situate a varity of native percussive musics in their natural state, yet overlain with a sophisticated jazz-world vibe, Hartigan has produced a disc of uncanny depth and spirituality.

Weilding a startling variety of percussion instruments, including drums, cymbals, rattles, gankogui, axatse, dondo, kulintang, babandir, agung, and dabakan, Hartigan weaves a thoroughly mesmeric sound signature, which his playing mates–Kevin McNeal (guitar), David Bindman (tenor and alto sax, flute, clarin



Listen. This is one of the, if not THE, greatest music discoveries I’ve ever made. If you have even the slightest affinity for hip, sophisticated world-jazz, you MUST listen to this unbelievably transcendent music.

Absolute highest recommendation. – Jan P. Dennis


Hartigan is a great drummer and band leader. Prior to recording this he had spent about ten years studying ethnomusicology at Wesleyan and, more importantly, in his own words, investigating “with Master Artists, into the percussion traditions of West Africa, South India, Java, Sumatra, Philippines, China, Japan, Ireland, Persia, Turkey, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Native America, and the African-American Diaspora” (Quoted from his on-line resume). What is really amazing is not only how he has mastered and incorporated all of the traditional drums into his drum kit but also how he has brought that knowledge of traditional non-Western drum traditions and put it to use within the context of jazz drumming. He actually wrote the book on it (See the Amazon listings for Hartigan’s drum textbooks). So Jan is right when he says that Hartigans work is a true world jazz.

But since I come from a different earset than Jan I contextualize what I hear differently. Where Jan hears world jazz I hear straight ahead post-bop. One of the things that most strikes me about this CD is the work on David Bindman on the wind instruments and Kevin McNeal on the guitar. McNeal had worked with Greg Osby and the M-Base collective before this recording. Bindman is a member of the Brooklyn Sax Quartet and has played with Kevin Norton, Joe Fonda, Wadada Leo Smith and Anthony Braxton. So in both cases, you expect to hear modernist music.
And you do but I swear to you that when they are feeling soulful that Bindman sounds like Stanley Turrentine and McNeal like early George Benson. Sometimes this CD reminds me of a CTI date without all the hideous overproduction. Other times it sounds as thoughtful as 60s Wayne Shorter. And behind it all is that vastly powerful universal drum experiment that is Hartigan. In short this is the sort of powerful straight ahead jazz CD that makes people like me love jazz.
This is a superb CD and one that deserves to be more widely heard. These are first rate musicians playing with a passion, intelligence and a social purpose. Jan is right. This one is not to be missed. – Greg Taylor


time changes, with blood drum spirit ensemble (2019)

Water Prayers for Bass Clarinet (2018) with the Paul Austerlitz Ensemble 

Ten Billion Versions of Reality (2017) with the David Bindman Sextet 

Skins (2016) with the Nana Simopolous’ ensemble, Na Records

Post Chromodal Out! (2012) Pi Records, with Hafez Modirzadeh’s ensemble

Sunset Park Polyphony (2011) with the David Bindman Sextet

The Sweet Science Suite (2011) with Fred Ho’s Green Monster Big Band, Innova

The Music of Cal Massey: A Tribute/Black Liberation Movement Suite (2011), with Fred Ho’s Green Monster Big Band, Innova

Year of the Tiger (2011), with Fred Ho’s Green Monster Big Band, Innova

Big Red (2011) Innova with Feed Ho’s Afro-Asian Music Ensemble

NYFA Music/Sound Fellows  The NYFA Collection: 25 Years of New York New Music (2010) Innova

Celestial Green Monster (2009) Mutable Music, New York, NY, with Fred Ho’s Green Monster Big Band

Journey (2008) with Paul Austerlitz’ Afro-Universal Jazz Merengue ensemble, Innova records 

blood drum spirit: the royal hartigan ensemble live in china, double CD, Innova Records, St. Paul, MN, May (2008)

ancestors double CD, with numerous master world artists, Innova Records, St. Paul, MN, (2008)

Deadly She-Wolf Assassin at Armageddon! (2006) Innova with Fred Ho’s Afro-Asian Music ensemble

Suraghati (2006) with Global Phatness, Dan Newman, and Hafez Modir, San Francisco, CA 


Big and Little Instrus, parts 1 and 2; with Michael Heffley, 2003 AND 2007, Middletown, CT, Hefley records with Michael Heffley ensemble

Classical Stretch (2005) with the soundSFound Orchestra, San Francisco, CA 

Voice of the Dragon Part II: Shaolin Secret Stories (2004) Innova Records, St. Paul, MN with Fred Ho’s ensemble

blood drum spirit double CD (1997) Transparent Records, Albany, NY/reissue (2004) on Innova Records, St. Paul, MN, including a Quick Time video, Eve (1997)

Black Panther Suite (2003) with Fred Ho’s Afro-Asian Music Ensemble

Voice of the Dragon Part I, Once Upon a Time in Chinese America (2001) with Fred Ho’s 

Night Vision (2000), Koch International, New York, with Fred Ho’s Afro-Asian Music Ensemble

By Any Mode Necessary (1999) XDot 25 Music, Berkeley, CA, with the Hafez Modirzadeh ensemble

Warrior Sisters (1999) with Fred Ho’s Afro-Asian Music Ensemble

Yes Means Yes, No Means No! Whatever She Wears, Wherever She Goes! (1998) with Fred Ho’s 

Collaborations with Dead and Living Males and Females from Different Gene Pools; Fishy Scales, Fuji Scaled (1998) Hefley records with Michael Heffley ensemble

The Mystery of Sama (1998) AsianImprov, with Hafez Modirzadeh ensemble

Turn Pain into Power! (1997) O.O. discs, with the Fred Ho 

Monkey Epic, Part 2 (1997) with the Fred Ho Monkey Orchestra

Nava-ye Mardom/The People’s Blues (1996) X DOT 25, with Hafez Modirzadeh ensemble

Iliana’s Dance (1996) with the David Bindman ensemble

Monkey Epic, Part 1 (1996) with the Fred Ho Monkey Orchestra

Strick: Song of the Andoumboulou 16-25 (1995) Spoken Engine, Nashville, TN, with Poet Nathaniel Mackey and Hafez Modirzadeh

Contemporary Compositions Recital by Soprano Chen Hongyu: Six Times Solitude (1994) China Record Corporation

Strawman Dance (1994) with the Tyrone Henderson-David Bindman Project

In Chromodal Discourse (1993) AsianImprov, with Hafez Modirzadeh’s Paradox ensemble

Underground Railroad to My Heart (1994) with Fred Ho’s Afro-Asian Music Ensemble

Happy Feet audiocassette (1991) with Lucinda Ellert and her Happy Feet Orchestra, Duke Ellington – Fletcher Henderson style large ensemble music of 1919-35, Boston, MA

A Song for Manong record (1988) AsianImprov, San Francisco, CA, with Fred Ho’s Afro-Asian Music Ensemble

We Refuse to be Used and Abused! (1987) with Fred Ho’s Afro-Asian Music Ensemble

Some Day Catch Some Day Down (vinyl 1987) with African traditional and African Jazz group Talking Drums, Shanachie Records; reissued as an enhanced CD 26 July 2011 (Innova)

Look on the Rainbow record with the Juba ensemble (self-produced 1987) original compositions in the African American tradition

Talking Drums (audio cassette, self-produced 1985), with the Talking Drums traditional and African Jazz ensemble 19 July 1985 as Talking Drums TDCS 1000; reissued in enhanced CD 26 July 2011 in album Someday Catch Someday Down (Innova)

In The Dreamtime (1982 vinyl, 2008 CD) with electronic music composer Michael William Gilbert, Amherst MA

The Call (1980 vinyl, and 2008 CD) with electronic music composer Michael William Gilbert, Amherst MA

Brahms Requiem, vocalist with the St. Michael’s College Glee Club, William Tortolano, Director, and Boston Civic Symphony Orchestra, Kalman Novak, Conductor, 1967

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