Heroes Are Gang Leaders is an avant-garde/experimental jazz band comprised of twelve dynamic interdisciplinary artists looking to redefine the concept of music/sound and its relationship to instrument and literary text.

There are several narratives running through the vein of HAGL, it is comprised of 12 musicians, poets and singers, each having made significant contributions in their respective fields.



“If you want to / You can spin in lunar soil / Galactic ears of corn / If you want to / You can fake a climate chill pill / Baby / Crazy as a monthly bill / Crazy as a monthly bill / ( forthcoming from “The Day We Gave the Globes Back”). TSE 2019



Poet, Photographer, Professor, Thomas Sayers Ellis is the bandleader and a co-founding member of HAGL. He is the author of “The Maverick Room and Skin, Inc. Identity Repair Poems” (Graywolf Press) and his work has appeared in The Paris Review, Poetry, The Nation, Tin House as well as numerous anthologies. He has taught at numerous Universities and is the recipient of a Mrs. Giles Whiting Writers Award and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for Poetry in 2015.

Saxophonist and composer James Brandon Lewis have received accolades from cultural tastemakers such as Ebony Magazine, who hailed him as one of the “7 Young Players to Watch” in 2013. Lewis has shared stages with icons such as Benny Golson, Geri Allen, and Dorinda Clark Cole, as well as William Parker, Hamiet Bluiett, Ravi Coltrane, Jimmy Heath, Jamaaladeen Tacuma and many others. Lewis attended Howard University and holds an MFA from California Institute of the Arts.

Randall Horton is the recipient of the Bea Gonzalez Poetry Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Literature (Poetry), and most recently GLCA New Writers Award for Creative Nonfiction for “Hook: A Memoir” (2015). Horton is also a senior editor at Willow Books, an independent literary press he helped found in 2006. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, he now resides in New York City.

Nettie Chickering is a Brooklyn based singer and actress. New Hampshire native Nettie studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse. She has performed at The Rubin MuseumLa MaMa Etc, Dixon Place, and The NYC Poetry Festival. In 2015, she was a part of the championship award winning production of Patience, at the International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival, in Harrogate England. Nettie recently portrayed Mama Nadi in Ruined at the John Barrymore Theater in Brooklyn. 

Jenna Camille, Is A Young Singer-Songwriter From Accokeek, Maryland Whose Original Music Draws Inspiration From Pop, Soul, R&B, Funk, Jazz, Hip-Hop And Electronica Using Modern Production Techniques. Growing Up, Jenna Received Formal Training In Piano, Later Majoring In Jazz Studies At Both Michigan State University And The University Of The District Of Columbia. Jenna CamilleIs Currently Working On An Album Entitled “FREE” – A Celebration Of Newfound Creative Liberation In Her Mid-20s.

Heru Shabaka-Ra is a musician, writer, and physicist based in Philadelphia. Primarily a trumpet worker, he has been a contributor to the city’s “free jazz”, improvised music, and afro-futurist scenes for almost a decade. Currently, he is a student of Marshall Allen, legendary saxophonist and director of the Sun Ra Arkestra, and is one of the youngest members of this sixty-years old institution. He has worked with artists of other disciplines, from poet Anne Waldman to DJ/producer King Britt, to dancer/choreographer Faustin Linyekula. Heru is the leader of his own units, Basquiat Blues, a “free jazz” chamber ensemble, and Sirius JuJu, an ensemble wielding the philosophies and training of Sun Ra, the mathematics of Thelonious Monk and Eric Dolphy, and the martial essences of Wu Tang Clan and MF Doom, into a sound-vision that can be called “street bop”, “free punk”, and “liberation music”. Having studied African/African American literature and literary criticism at Hampton University, his current research focuses on the energy dynamics of human culture, using ‘language’ and ‘bebop culture’ to build a model of the cosmos, its function, composition, and origin.

Devin Brahja Waldman is a New York saxophonist, drummer, synthesizer player, and composer. He has performed with Patti Smith, Malcolm Mooney, Thurston Moore, Lydia Lunch, Daniel Carter and Sam Shalabi.   He has accompanied his aunt, the poet Anne Waldman, since the age of ten. He plays in Heroes Are Gang Leaders (founded by poet Thomas Sayers Ellis and saxophonist James Brandon Lewis) and leads an NYC/Montreal-based band called B R A H J A.   As a young’un he was mentored by pianist Paul Bley. With Anne Waldman and his cousin Ambrose Bye, Waldman co-directs Fast Speaking Music—a music and poetry label which has released the works of Amiri Baraka, Meredith Monk, CA Conrad, Clark Coolidge, Eileen Myles and many others.

Multi-instrumentalist Luke Stewart is a prominent figure in Washington DC’s music community and is a key concert organizer. His regular ensembles include Trio OOO. He is also a member of experimental electronic group MOM^2 (Mind Over Matter, Music Over Mind), with whom he was invited to perform and lecture at the University of South Carolina, as well as being invited to perform at the Sonic Circuits Festival of Experimental Music. He also is a solo performer, having presented original material and improvisations throughout the East Coast.

Warren G. Crudup III “Trae” comes from a family of musicians. Since the age of 3, he has had a passion for the drums. He has played, recorded and performed with many artists such as Edward “Butch” Warren, Grammy nominee Cheick Hamala Diabate, Tarus Mateen, David Ornette Cherry and much more. Warren was a member of the UDC Big Band at the University of the District of Columbia where he had the opportunity to share the bandstand with some phenomenal players such as Bruce Williams, Allyn Johnson, and much more.

Brandon Moses is a guitarist more known for performing and writing in the historic DC punk scene. Playing shows with the likes of Ian Mackaye (Fugazi), Ted Leo, and RDGLDGRN. Brandon has been supporting and performing in any number of scenes from experimental harsh noise, ambient, to pop, hip hop, and R&B. Brandon also has releases as diverse. No matter what the type of music he’s playing he hopes to bring uniqueness and diversity to the stage.

Ambrose Bye is a musician, engineer, and producer living in New York City. He is a co-founder of Fast Speaking Music with Anne Waldman. Working primarily with poets and experimental musicians it makes sense that he would end up as HAGL’s engine(h)er(o).  Since 2009 he has been involved with the Summer Writing Program at Naropa University, helping lead collaborative poetry/music workshops in the recording studio.  This is where he joined forces with HAGL in 2015 to record The Avant-Age Garde I Ams of the Gal Luxury which also features Thurston Moore and Lydia Lunch. He continued on to engineer the next three HAGL Albums out of his studio in NYC. A frequent collaborator and producer, he has been involved with many other recordings and projects that include Amiri Baraka, Meredith Monk, Cecilia Vicuna, Eileen Myles, CAConrad, Daniel Carter, Ha-Yang Kim, Clark Coolidge, Will Alexander, Marty Ehrlich, and many others. He has help lead workshops and performed at Masnaa and the Ecole de la Literature in Casablanca, The New England College MFA program, and Casa Del Lago in Mexico City. Other performances include:  Vicenza Jazz Festival, Le Maison de Poesie in Paris, the festival Maelstrom in Brussels, Tennessee Tech, Old Dominion, Pensacola State College, The New School, Butler University, the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, and with Pathway to Paris both at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC and at Montreal POP 2015.  In 2017 as part of Casa Del Lago he engineered an eight speaker surround-sound installation in Chapultepec Park with Thurston Moore, Eva Prinz, and the Ecstatic Peace Library.

Melanie Dyer (Viola) has an extensive background in improvised, chamber and orchestral music.  She trained with Bill Lincer, John Jake Kella, Lee Yeingst and Naomi Fellows.For 2 decades she was a side-musician for Salim Washington’s Roxbury Blues Aesthetic and Harlem Art Ensemble, and did a 7-year weekly stint at St. Nick’s Pub in Harlem as a side-musician for pianist Donald Smith. She’s performed with Joe Bonner, Henry Grimes, Reggie Workman, Howard Johnson, William Parker, Nona Hendryx, Hakim Jami, Makanda Ken McIntyre, Kuumbaa Frank Lacy, Gwen Laster, Charles Burnham, Marlene Rice, Jason Kao Hwang, Tomas Ulrich, Nioka Workman, Patricia Nicholson, Tomeka Reid and others in improvising and orchestral ensembles in Europe, South Africa and across the U.S.

Bonita Penn, a Pittsburgh poet, member of Pittsburgh Black Feminist Reading Group, Managing Editor of the Soul Pitt Quarterly Magazine. Her poem “When Lightning Rides Thunder Bareback” was chosen as the Solstice Editors’ Pick, for their 2018 issue Solstice: A Magazine of Diverse Voices; in addition, her works have appeared in JOINT.Literary Magazine, Hot Metal Bridge JournalThe Massachusetts Review, “The Skinny” Poetry Journal, Women Studies QuarterlyVoices from the Attic Anthology. She is also curator of poetry events, and co-curator Common Threads: Faith, Activism, and the Art of Healing exhibit. Her poetry chapbook “Every Morning a Foot is Looking for My Neck” is forthcoming from Central Square Press in Spring 2019. 

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