Pyschologist’s Practice Covers Many Relationships : Jazz: Noah Young’s career as therapist fuels his poetry and his music.

Share via

There was a man who wore a chemical collar around his neck, This man had about 50 different roles, And he had a custom-made mask for each of them. He began talking to himself, basically out of fear. --From “The Family Secret” by Noah Young

Like the man in this piece, Noah Young plays multiple roles.

A jazz bassist who has worked with pianist Paul Bley, vocalist-composer Tom Waits and saxophonist Lee Konitz, Young’s unlikely day job is that of psychologist, working with addicts and HIV patients.

He’s also a poet. His recent New Alliance release, “Freaks: No Fear of Contagion,” contains 15 poems that address everything from the music of saxophonist Albert Ayler to the magic of lingerie. Sprinkled through the reading are three jazz interludes that find the bassist leading a trio through impressionistic pieces that seem to spring from the subconscious.

But a closer look at Young’s life, or serious consideration of the work on “Freaks,” reveals how these three roles intertwine. Young’s career as therapist provides fodder for his poetry as well as his music. His original compositions are creations based on the interplay with fellow musicians and the interpersonal relationships of the sounds they generate. They pursue the kind of inner experiences that Young works to reveal with his patients.


“I’ve never been able to keep music separate from anything,” said Young, who leads a trio tonight at the Huntington Beach Art Center. “And I’ve always found music to work in ways that were healing for myself and others.”

The poems on “Freaks” illuminate details of Young’s life as well as provide a look into his thinking. Young, born in New York City in 1944, became a prodigy on the piano, playing Carnegie Hall at 10. But things were not always rosy. He admits that “The Family Secret,” a poem that contains “a collapsing house” where “no one ever visits the spare bedroom” is autobiographical.

“It’s a poem about a guy with a lot of jobs, a guy who’s a perfectionist who suffered child abuse early, not always physical abuse but emotional,” Young said this week from his San Fernando Valley home. “Our society is trained to recognize physical abuse, but emotional abuse can also be very destructive. That describes my own home.


“Unfortunately [the poem’s subject] has been born to this kind of family. And in this kind of situation, you’re stillborn unless you have some way to express yourself. With me, it was the piano because that was OK with my parents. ‘Oh, look,’ they’d say, ‘our kid is a child prodigy.’ But when I said I wanted to play jazz and the bass, they said, ‘No, we don’t play that in our family. That’s no way to make a living.’ ”

Young did turn to jazz and the bass while a senior in high school. He earned a degree at the University of Missouri’s College Conservatory of Music in Kansas City, then moved back to New York.

“I immediately began to work with [trombonist] Roswell Rudd and just fell in with that crowd.”


Before long, he was working with trumpeter Bill Dixon, saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre and pianist Bley, with whom he recorded. He led his own groups as well and spent time with improvisational explorer Konitz.

He was also teaching music in the Fort Apache section of the Bronx to children at the infamous Spofford Detention Center.


But the East Coast music scene of the early ‘70s was turning away from the creativity he was interested in.

“I really never got into traditional jazz playing and doing the standards. I was always more interested in listening to Bud Powell rather than re-creating his music. And formal music didn’t interest me unless it was Bach or Wagner or something like that.”

So he moved to Los Angeles in 1976 to pursue studio work. He made on-screen appearances in “Raging Bull” and with Neil Diamond in “The Jazz Singer.” He toured with Waits in 1980. But he found himself unable to fit easily into the music business.

“Maybe I just wasn’t doing enough cocaine,” he said, laughing. “But I didn’t fall into that music crowd or meet enough jingle contractors to get ahead.”


Young had done counseling in an L.A. methadone clinic after his tour with Waits. In turn, he was counseled for his own addictions and, thereafter, plunged himself into the study of psychology, earning a doctorate in clinical psychology in 1985. Besides his job as a clinical director at the Tarzana Treatment and Psychiatric Hospital, he is adjunct professor at Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Psychology.

But all this activity doesn’t mean he has abandoned music.

The three selections on “Freaks,” played with saxophonist Lanny Alpanalp and drummer Fred Stofflet, reflect the explorations of the avant-garde from Young’s perspective. His appearance at the art center, in a turnaround from the album, will concentrate on music, with spoken word playing a lesser role.

Guitarist Woody Alpanalp (brother of saxophonist Larry Alpanalp who appears on “Freaks”) and drummer Billy Mintz will make up the trio. As always, the performance will mirror Young’s unique, psychology-based approach to improvisation.

“My group is called Erotic Zone, but I don’t want to limit its approach just to the sexual. It’s something sexual, inspirational and spiritual. The Hindus talk about these awakening centers in the body called chakaras. The music I’ve composed is done with a feeling to open up as many of these centers, these energy vortexes as possible, so that people will come away moved, so that they can be touched by the musicians and we can be touched by them.”

* Noah Young ‘s Erotic Zone appears tonight at the Huntington Beach Art Center, 538 Main St., Huntington Beach; 7:30 p.m. Free. Spoken word artists Elizabeth Belile and Willy Sims are also on the bill. (714) 374-1650.