The West Coast saxophonist known for his associations with the masterful quintet led by trumpeter Clifford Brown and drummer Max Roach in the mid-50's and with the internationally acclaimed quintet he co-led with Bobby Hutcherson in the late '60s. He engaged in an individualistic style and an expressive tone, mixing compelling melody readings with alluring improvisations.
Land, born in Houston and raised in San Diego, moved to Los Angeles in the early '50s. In 1954, he joined the famed Brown-Roach quintet, with which he toured the United States and recorded several albums for EmArcy (all of which are available as reissue CDs). After two years with the ensemble, Land felt the need to be closer to his family, which was in Los Angeles, and so he returned and resided there ever since.
He soon began to establish himself as one of the most singular and powerful of jazzmen, making albums with bassists Red Mitchell and Curtis Counce and then, in 1958, making his solo debut (he had recorded four selections in 1949 that were released by Savoy). “Harold in the Land of Jazz,” was issued on Contemporary Records, and was followed a year later by “The Fox,” which many consider his best early recording. He did an impromptu date in the spring of 1960, rising star Wes Montgomery was living in San Francisco and the Cannonball Adderley Quintet—with its Barry Harris/Sam Jones/Louis Hayes rhythm section was all brought in for a classic blowing session that resulted in “West Coast Blues.”
He also began performing with Gerald Wilson's orchestra, and with pianists Hampton Hawes and Carl Perkins, becoming an essential element in the Los Angeles jazz scene. Nonetheless, the saxophonist didn't really get much exposure outside LA until he formed a quintet with vibes player Bobby Hutcherson in the late '60s. The band recorded for Blue Note and toured the US and Europe.
Also during the '60s, Land, like so many saxophonists, became enamored with John Coltrane, and he found that both his smooth sound and his approach to improvising changed during this period. "John definitely inspired me with his intense spirit, and I usually say that spirit moved me so much that I became a little more intense in my own musical presentation," says Land. "At the same time, I was trying to maintain a certain individuality that I hope I have managed to do."
In the late '70s and '80s, Land joined the Timeless All-Stars, which also included Higgins, Hutcherson, Cedar Walton (piano), and Curtis Fuller (trombone). In and around performances with the Timeless band, Land fronted fine quintets that featured trumpeters Blue Mitchell (their “Mapenzi,” on Concord Jazz, is a classic) and Oscar Brashear (documented on “Xocia's Dance” on Muse). Land remains one of the most impressive and deep improvisers in jazz.