The history of jazz is full of mallet maestros like Bobby Hutcherson, Milt Jackson, Roy Ayers, Gary Burton and more, who’ve applied the vibraphone’s rich, dulcet tone to some seriously funky and experimental grooves. Angelo Outlaw’s latest album Axis Of Time puts a contemporary spin on the classic sound of jazz vibraphone. Backed by the Eraserhood Sound house band, Axis Of Time feels as communal as it is cosmic. We caught up with Outlaw to talk about his Philly roots, his time in Nashville and the making of one of the best jazz albums of 2024.

John Morrison: Can you tell me a little bit about your background, where you’re from and how you grew up?

Angelo Outlaw: So, I’m originally from Delaware County, and I went to Upper Darby High School, and that’s where I found mallet percussion. I was a musician all my life. My mom played violin, so I was playing violin and I was taking piano lessons. And then I got into drum class in elementary school at the same time. But then when I got to high school is when I found mallet percussion, and so I did that for four years. I also was in Drum Corps International. And so I got a lot of training through [that,] I was doing that in high school. And then I actually moved to Nashville, Tennessee to go to school. I was teaching music and playing music down there for 10 years and then I moved home to Philly probably in late 2017, early 2018.

JM: Nice. I’m curious about Nashville. You go down there, you go to school. Where’d you go to school? And I’m assuming you were gigging with local bands at the time. Was that a thing?

AO: So, I went to Middle Tennessee State University, and that’s in Murfreesboro. It’s a suburb of Nashville. And I wasn’t actually gigging, I was more so marching in [the Winter Guard International] percussion ensemble and I was teaching in the high school system. I was more of a music teacher at that point. I didn’t really start gigging until I moved back home to Philly.

JM: What made you want to come back up and stay in Philly?

AO: It was mainly family. I moved away from my house when I graduated high school. So, after being in Nashville for 10 years, I thought it was worth me coming back home to just spend some time with my family. After 10 years, a lot of things happen with your family life. You miss birthdays, I was getting to spend Mother’s Day with my mom for the first time in 10 years. Like some of those important family moments I was missing. So, that’s what really drove me to come home.

JM: How’s that been for you?

AO: It’s been great. Outside of music, I really have built up my relationship with my family a lot more, which is something that I value and I didn’t realize how much I valued it until I got back home. So, my relationship with my family is getting a lot better. When I’m in Nashville, I’m a teacher. I’m not like a gigger. I don’t gig around.

Eraserhood Sessions - Angelo Outlaw "Free My Mind"

JM: So, when you’re in Philly, you’re in a different mode as a musician, you’re gigging a lot. Who have you been playing with?

AO: So, when I first came back to Philly, I was kind of just gigging on the street by myself. And then I met up with a drummer who I knew from the drum corps scene. His name’s Eric Proctor.  I’ve played with him a lot in the scene.  Fawziya Heart and Candice Johnson, they had a series called The Heartbeat that was at The Boom Room in Fishtown. I was playing in The Heartbeat house band for like a full year as they were doing those weekly sessions. A lot of musicians came through that, and that was incredible. But then during COVID, I  put out a bunch of videos and then got signed to Eraserhood Sound. At that moment, I had gotten a lot of collabs — like one of my biggest collabs with Prefuse 73. I released an album with him in 2021 [The Failing Institute of Drums & Other Percussion].

JM: How was that, working with him? I’m a fan of his music and yours. I know he comes from the beat world and sampling and all that. Can you walk me through that process?

AO: So, I love Prefuse 73. He’s probably my favorite musician period. We talked for maybe like five years before that collab. It was just like “Hey, maybe we should do something in the future.” And I’m like, “yes, absolutely.” [laugh] I think COVID really opened up a lot of time for everyone to do those collabs. So that’s when that kind of got initiated. He would just send me samples or send me tracks that I would then just play over them.  He would go back in and mix it and cut it up and do kind of whatever he does with it. It was more just like a back and forth over the internet type thing and that’s how we created that album.

JM: Listening to your album Axis Of Time, I know the influences that I think I see, but I want you to  talk a little bit about some of the records you were listening to or some of the other stuff that influenced you. What’s the sauce for this record?

AO: I’m kind of always listening to hip-hop and electronic music and some soul music. Those are the three things that are constantly in my rotation. And so through the two years of making this album, I listened to a lot of soul. One artist who’s definitely up there is Roy Ayers. And a lot of Pharaoh Sanders actually. A lot of the more open sort of concept songs on there are definitely Pharaoh Sanders inspired.

And we really wanted to highlight the Philly Soul scene. I think I wanted to kind of pay homage to that because Philly has such a history with Soul and that was really a huge inspiration, just the synth and soul classic 70s to 80s sound. That was really the inspiration was really tapping into that classic synth and soul texture and sound and making it more modern.

JM: That’s interesting you brought up Philly Soul ’cause I hadn’t thought of that while listening to your record, but it makes sense. I’m thinking of Vince Montana Jr., the guy that played vibes and did the arrangements and stuff on a lot of those Philly soul songs. I hadn’t even thought of that.

AO: Yeah, growing up, that’s like my parents’ generation. They really showed me that music growing up. And so of course my parents loved the album. [laugh] When I was getting inspiration, I was kind of talking to my parents about it. Like, “what are some of your favorite artists? What are you listening to right now?” So, that was kind of the sauce and the ingredients going into it.

JM: What’s next for you? Any shows or releases coming up?

AO: I’m playing a festival on May 5th. The Harmonic Hope And Healing Festival. The Wallflower Observer is putting on this festival and it’s a beautiful lineup. A Lot of women featured, woman based, woman led artists, so I absolutely think Philly needs to get on this tip. What I’m gonna be doing at the festival is playing during a yoga session led by one of my best friends, Kate. May 31st, I’ll be playing at the Philadelphia Museum of Art at the Grand Staircase. I’ll be playing there and that, that’ll be the night before the June 1st, Johnny Brenda show. Also, look out for the live album I’m gonna be putting out. And then my Christmas single.

Hear Angelo Outlaw’s music on Bandcamp and follow him on Instagram at @angelo_outlaw_, and find more about him at his Linktree. The Wallflower Observer will be raffling off Axis of Time on vinyl for anyone who pre-orders a ticket to the Harmonic Hope and Healing Festival on May 5th; tickets are available at