'Bona fide' musician channels healing sound
Raven Wolf C. Felton Jennings II plays a multitude of instruments to create spiritual jazz.
Street musician Raven Wolf C. Felton Jennings II taps his foot to the beat of his saxophone on the sidewalk. Cars driving down Ninth St. honk and wave at the performer as he howls, “How hooooow,” back at them. An old woman walking past greets him by name and gives him a hug. Switching to drums, he varies the tempo and volume, echoing the sounds down the street. Not a single person walks by without a smile, fist bump or wave from the musician.
Welcome to the “Magical Mystical Meditation Concert.”
Every Friday, he performs this concert outside of Lakota Coffee in downtown Columbia.
“He came to us about four or five years ago and asked to play out front,” Lakota Coffee General Manager Andrew Ducharme says. “He said he played jazz and blues. We said, ‘Yeah, we will see how it goes.’ The customers seem to really like it; we really like it.”
Since that time, Jennings hasn’t missed more than one Friday, Ducharme says.
“Some folks say that I am a fixture,” Jennings says. “They continue to say keep going. The community reaction to me has been positive and definitely encouraging and fortifying.”
Jennings’ debut album “Spiritual Jazz … On South 9th Street” was inspired by these weekly concerts and featured the “spiritual jazz” genre that Jennings performs. He says that a number of people have purchased the album and enjoyed it.
“Spiritual jazz is not humanly possible; it’s a healing sound,” Jennings says. “It’s my body and my understanding of music and creation all channeling at the same time all happening at the same moment, the same instance. It’s co-created. I channel music; I channel healing sound; that’s what spiritual jazz is.”
This spiritual jazz resonated with Columbia resident Nick Patton so much that for some years he came every Friday for several hours.
“Every time that I am here, I experience what he is doing,” Patton says. “I have felt relief from physical issues in the past, emotional sense of joy and upliftment. He is a very humble person, but I personally view him as on par with many of the modern-day saints. The dedication that he has to his practice and ethics that he stays so committed to, serving people through his focus and playing music, is definitely a good example that I have looked up to for a long time and served to be an inspiration for my own path.”
Jennings comes from a family of musicians. Growing up, Jennings watched his older sister Lois play the flute and later learned that his uncle Wesley, who died before he was born, was a saxophone player.
“I think I got the vibes from (my uncle Wesley), I think hearing my sister ignited it; she showed me how to play a little bit and now here we are,” Jennings says.
Like his sister, the first instrument Jennings learned to play was the flute. Although Jennings was never formally educated in music, he can now play 13 instruments. He says that he’s in the process of learning several more.
“When I say I play, I mean at a professional level,” Jennings says. “One where I can record with that instrument as opposed to, ‘Oh I can play, I can dabble.’ A lot of people say that, and I’m like, ‘No, this is legit, it’s bona fide.’”
Jennings changes among his many instruments during his street performances. Some of the songs he plays are borrowed from one of his five albums, but he says he is also inspired by the energy and spirit moving through and around him.
“There are vortexes near here, energy sources here,” Jennings says. “There’s one over there and a vortex here, which is the ground. I am in between the one that gives and the one that grounds, I don’t get tired."
Jennings performs at many locations around the St. Louis area including Vintage Vinyl and Soulard Farmers Market.
"I play seven to 17 hours a day just about every day in five different cities. It was seven different cities so there’s a lot of windshield time that I drive 315,000 miles on my car.”
Jennings’ permanent residence of 16 years is in St. Louis as well, but recently there has been the threat of foreclosure.
Due to a harsh winter, which led to less performing days, an unexpected auto repair and other expenses, Jennings fell behind on payments. In order to raise the $11,300 required to reinstate his home loan, Jennings created a GoFundMe campaign on April 2, which closes April 17.
“This is not easy for me, it has taken so much of my inner strength, to share my appeal for your help and support,” Jennings wrote on his GoFundMe site. “I have worked very hard, very long hours, to ‘get it done’ and not trouble my family and friends. This is, without exception, the most painful truth that I have ever had to make myself face, that I cannot do this by myself. I ask this of each of you in all of the communities that hold me dear to your heart.”
This financial hardship has not stopped Jennings from continuing to work on his music. Jennings plans to release five more albums in June or July of this year.
“The albums do and will continue to do what they have been crafted, guided and enspirited to do — heal,” Jennings says. “That is heal the world one heart at a time, cause it’s a hard thing, it’s a real thing, it’s spiritual jazz.”