Haunting Music

Daniel Foose ('05, '07 M.M.) (Photo by Evan Felts)In 2003, Daniel Foose ('05, '07 M.M.) went on a UNT ethnomusicology study abroad trip to Ghana that stayed in his mind for years.

Steven Friedson, University Distinguished Research Professor of music and anthropology -- whose research focuses on musical experience in African ritual -- had arranged for a soothsayer to meet with the students.

"The soothsayer sat me down and said that I needed to atone for my maternal grandfather's role in the slave trade," says Foose, who also was told of a ceremony to perform on his ancestor's grave to help in the atonement process.

That moment led the New York City bassist to compose the recently released CD Of Water and Ghosts on Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records, which has been featured on NPR and Downbeat magazine.

Foose had not known much specific about his family's history but, after the trip, his mother confirmed that his great-great-great-grandfather had owned a plantation. While Foose was on tour in 2012 in Natchez, Miss., he visited his ancestor's grave in the local cemetery on his day off. He played the drums and poured whiskey on his grave, as he had been instructed.

"It felt kind of cathartic," Foose says. "It wasn't the end of the process but the beginning of a longer process of reconciliation."

In 2015, he spent a month near the plantation in the Mississippi Delta writing a suite of music based on the arc of the story. Along with work on the CD, Foose has performed with several groups, including the funk soul band The Gold Magnolias. He also toured with Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett for their jazz show, and has played with Stevie Wonder.

Foose says he has been heartened with the reaction to the CD.

"People who live out there in the Delta told me that I've captured something about the spirit of the place," he says. "I hope that it opens the door to some conversations that are sorely lacking in the divisive environment we find ourselves in these days."