Of attempts to label him, pianist Don Pullen observes, "Periodically, someone will write something about me that seems to be so dated, really out of tune."

It is little wonder. The Roanoke born and raised Pullen, who will turn 40 on Christmas Day, played piano and organ in church as a youngster, accompanied the high school choir, played in local dance bands and on the road in R & B combos, backed up vocalists and, before he was out of his teens, came under the wing of Chicago's avant-garde Association for the Advancement of Creative Music and its founder Muhal Richard Abrams. Today Pullen's music is earthy, traditional and bluesy. He will bring his quintet to d.c. space Friday and Saturday as part of District Curators' Fall Jazz Series. Jack Walrath will be on trumpet, Hamiet Bluiett on baritone saxophone, Andy McCloud on bass and Bobby Battle at the drums.

"A person should play from his own experience -- that's the only thing your music can talk about," says Pullen. "I had an organ group for years," he adds, "and I don't really play any differently than I did except in terms of growth and understanding . . . Because of the freedom that it offered, the avant-garde opened the door for a lot of people to enter the musical world who otherwise could not have been in it. But that door closed in front and behind them and they didn't have anywhere to go. Those who survived are the real musicians from that period who are able to keep the music moving and growing and relating to the people."