Yusef Lateef, R.I.P.


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The roll call of distinguished jazz artists leaving us seems to grow longer by the day. Now comes news of the passing of Yusef Lateef, who died today in Detroit. He was 93. As a youngster in Detroit, Lateefmastered several reed instruments and early in his career became a respected performer, composer and educator. He was an inspiration and model for a generation of young Detroit musicians who in the 1950s moved to New York and themselves became influences in the burgeoning jazz scene of that decade. Lateef was an early innovator in what became known as world music, melding his deep understanding of and emotional connection to the blues with concepts derived from his study of Middle Eastern music

In addition to performing and recording prolifically with his own groups, Lateef had tenure with two enormously influential leaders—early in his career Dizzy Gillespie’s 1940s big band, in the 1960s the Cannonball Adderley Sextet. In this 1963 clip, we hear Lateef playing oboe with the Adderley group; Adderley, alto saxophone; Nat Adderley, cornet; Joe Zawinul, piano; Sam Jones, bass; Louis Hayes, drums. Cannonball named the piece for John Coltrane, his former colleague in the Miles Davis Sextet.

Mark Stryker, the music critic of The Detroit Free Press, has covered Lateef for years and written extensively about him. For Mr. Stryker’s summary of Lateef’s career, please go here. But before you do, don’t miss this astonishing 1972 performance by Lateef on tenor saxophone with Kenny Barron, piano; Bob Cunningham, bass; and Albert “Tootie” Heath, drums. Heath also plays wood flute. Following the performance is a brief disquisition in French.

To hear and see more from that Lateef quartet, go here and here.

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This story appears courtesy of Rifftides by Doug Ramsey.
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