The seeds for Bluiett’s most famous association, the World Saxophone Quartet, were laid in 1974-75, following a record date with Anthony Braxton, Oliver Lake, and Hemphill [New York, Fall 1974, Arista]. As Bluiett puts it, “Ed [Kidd] Jordan came from New Orleans to do a sabbatical, and by that time the loft scene had started in New York. He heard us and said, ‘why don’t you come down to New Orleans and play?’ He asked me and Oliver and David Murray. But in terms of starting that group, Kidd asked us to come down and we played with a guy named London Branch on bass, Alvin Fielder was on drums, and the concert was a total success. Wynton and Branford Marsalis were there as young kids. After we were through, Alvin Batiste told me that Branford came up to him and said, ‘we don’t want to play like that; we want to play changes. Show us the changes.’ They took a different direction, but also the Dirty Dozen Brass Band started, and a lot of bands started after they heard us because they wanted to do something different. We called ourselves the New York Saxophone Quartet, and when we got back to New York, we found out there was another group by that name, so we started calling ourselves the Real New York Saxophone Quartet.” Of course, that didn’t stick long, and the World Saxophone Quartet was born.
Bluiett’s mission, however, is something separate from his associations, however much they figure into the elevation and evolution of the baritone. One of the most important factors, other I mean a real legitimate hit, and when that happens, the horn will be all over. Everybody will want than a technique that extends the language of the horn, is the paucity of compositions written with the baritone in mind. Bluiett is trying to change that, however: “Duke Ellington was one of the best writers for baritone, and he wrote Harry Carney into the melody. I’d take the melody and listen to it, and say ‘whoa, Harry Carney always has the melody!’ You listen to tunes like “Sophisticated Lady”, and those are the tunes that the baritone can excel on because it’s written for the instrument. What we need are some hits on baritone, like “Body and Soul” was a hit [for the tenor]. to play it, and that’s what I’ve been working on lately, just trying to do something that will propel the music forward.” He has over 150 compositions registered at this point, and it doesn’t look like the pace will be slowing any time soon.
For Bluiett, far and above bringing his horn to the fore is the importance of making music that, like all good music, “goes up in you.” The true mission of every creative musician is summed up by this concert experience: “I played with the Barbeque Band and we had a couple of people at the concert that they had wheeled in on wheelchairs and set right beside the stage. The concert was out of sight, and when we got through with it, we did a Marvin Gaye tune. I asked Donald Harrison ‘do you know “What’s Goin’ On”’ and he said yes, and when we got through it, he said ‘people in the audience were singing with me while I was playing.’ They gave me the solo, and I went crazy. People were just screamin’, and it was a total success; it was outdoors in the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. When we got through playing, this guy in a wheelchair grabbed me and said, ‘young man, come here. I’ve been in this wheelchair a long time; I’ve been in it so long it used to frustrate me. But I finally made up my mind I would be in here for the rest of my life and I was satisfied with it. Man, when you started playing, I wanted to dance.’ Tears came to my eyes, it was one of my biggest compliments. I said ‘man, thank you,’ and cried because I didn’t ask him; that’s what he came and told me.” It can safely be said that Bluiett has infused both his horn and the music with the creative spirit it needs.