With salty water in my eyes and winter sadness in my heart…it is with profound soul-ache that I report the Tuesday evening (Sept. 8) passing of founding Kool & The Gang member, KHALIS BAYYAN a.k.a. RONALD BELL (68). As a self-taught saxophonist, composer, arranger, producer and multi-instrumentalist, Brother Bayyan was as a “Scientist of Sound / Mathematically Putting it Down.” From the funkiest stuff and the straight ahead jazz vibrations of the band’s 1969 beginnings as The Jazziacs to the world-unifying soul-pop they delivered in the `80s to the spirit that fortified them to go on tour with Van Halen in 2012, Brother Bayyan was right there, smack in the center of it all, touching the world. I saw the band many times across the decades since I was introduced to Kool & The Gang in the De-Lite Records `70s heyday. I was always impressed by their balance of Muslim faith, universal positivity and hybrid musicality. All together, Songwriter Hall of Famers Kool & The Gang amassed global sales of over 70 million records.
Two things I want to share. First, I saw and reviewed Kool & The Gang, celebrating its 50th anniversary, at last year’s Playboy Jazz Festival. They were in the prime time Saturday evening slot and when I tell you it was THE BEST time I ever saw the band, I am not exaggerating. AND one of THE HIGHLIGHTS of the whole set was a saxophone duel between o.g.’s Khalis Bayyan and Dennis “D.T.” Thomas on an extended version of “Get Down On It” – Playboy Jazz 4 REAL!! It shot me straight back to when these cats were strictly about that Funk/Jazz Nexus and brought a brutha to his feet with joy.
The final thing I would like to share is that Ronald Bell is the primary composer of what is, perhaps, Kool & The Gang’s deepest song of all: “Here After” (from Light of Worlds – 1974). It speaks of embracing the ideology and inevitability of what happens to us when we depart this planet. Sequenced directly after their contemporary jazz classic “Summer Madness” (on which Khalis also played its world-renowned ARP synthesizer melody and solos), the two songs brought Light of Worlds to a soul-soothing resolution that is always a comfort in times of need.
Khalis Bayyan joins Kool & The Gang brethren guitarist Charles “Claydes” Smith and keyboardist Ricky West in the Great Beyond. Ronald/Khalis is survived by his wife, Tia, his children as well as older brother, Robert “Kool” Bell.
Sending deepest condolences to the Bell family, all members of Kool & The Gang past and present, and all of their fans worldwide. May the Black Pool of Genius spread her calming waters wide and envelop our brother in peace, serenity and eternal love. Utmost Respect.