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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Arthur Blythe, Jazz Saxophonist Who Mixed Sultry and Strident, Dies at 76 - The New York Times

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"Arthur Blythe, whose brawny alto saxophone sound and independent spirit made him a standard-bearer of the New York jazz avant-garde in the late 1970s, died on Monday at a retirement home in Lancaster, Calif. He was 76.

The cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease, said his wife, Queen Bey Blythe.

When Mr. Blythe arrived in New York from California in the mid-1970s he was already well into his 30s, with a trenchant, vibrato-thickened saxophone style and a reputation that preceded him.

‘It was pretty much undisputed that Arthur Blythe was the best alto saxophonist out there on the West Coast,’ the tenor saxophonist David Murray said in a phone interview.

Mr. Blythe quickly became a leader of the newly ascendant loft jazz scene, centered on musician-run venues in Lower Manhattan. Within three years, he had a deal with Columbia Records, making him a spokesman for jazz’s Afrocentric vanguard at a moment when the music’s future was far from certain.

Continue reading the main story His first two albums with the label, both released in 1979, bespoke the breadth of his vision. On ‘In the Tradition,’ he performed compositions by Duke Ellington, Fats Waller and John Coltrane accompanied by a standard rhythm section of piano, string bass and drums. ‘Lenox Avenue Breakdown’ featured tuba, electric bass, flute and assorted percussion and consisted of four giddy, hotfooting originals that opened up into extended improvisations.

In 1982, the critic Francis Davis wrote that Mr. Blythe ‘may well prove to be the magic figure of reconciliation, the force for consensus, that modern jazz has been looking for in vain since the death of John Coltrane in 1967.’

That was not to be. Within a few years, a young crop of neo-traditional musicians had seized what spotlight remained for jazz. Mr. Blythe left New York at the end of the 1990s, and his playing career tapered off.

‘I would love for everyone to accept my music, and I would love to make money, but only by keeping my music on the cutting edge,’ he said in a 2000 interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Arthur Murray Blythe was born on July 5, 1940, in Los Angeles, the middle child of three sons. (A fourth brother died as an infant.) His father was a mechanic, his mother a homemaker and part-time seamstress.

His parents soon divorced, and when he was 4 he moved with his mother to San Diego. At 9, inspired by the rhythm-and-blues and swing records she often played, he asked her for a trombone. She gave him an alto saxophone instead.

He studied with Kirkland Bradford, who had played with the Jimmie Lunceford big band, and developed a trilling style reminiscent of postwar saxophone stars like Earl Bostic.

Mr. Blythe worked in R&B bands throughout his teens, learning to cut through the volume of electric guitars while maintaining a romantic lyricism. That mixture of sultry and strident came to define his style.

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MANAGE EMAIL PREFERENCES PRIVACY POLICY OPT OUT OR CONTACT US ANYTIME When he was 19, he moved back to Los Angeles, where he met the pianist and bandleader Horace Tapscott and became affiliated with the Union of God’s Musicians and Artists Ascension, Mr. Tapscott’s Pan-African alliance of innovators.

In 1974, frustrated with the Los Angeles jazz scene’s limitations, Mr. Blythe left for New York, determined to make his mark.

He arrived with a nickname that reflected his self-affirmation and his uncompromising spirit: Black Arthur. He was known in Los Angeles for his racial pride and his willingness to speak boldly on behalf of other black people, despite an otherwise understated demeanor. Mr. Murray recalled him standing up fearlessly to police officers who had hassled him.

Mr. Blythe embraced the nickname, even calling himself Black Arthur Blythe on the cover of a 1978 album, ‘Bush Baby.’

Soon after arriving in New York, he began assembling bands with unusual instrumentation. When not playing with a straight-ahead quartet, he favored chunky, percussive backdrops that offset his tuneful improvising.

In 1977, The New York Times critic Robert Palmer praised Mr. Blythe, writing, ‘He is sly; he teases the beat, toys with polyrhythms and leaves gaping holes in the fabric of the music, only to come roaring back in with plangent held tones or crisp, punching riffs.’

Even after signing with Columbia, Mr. Blythe insisted on creative autonomy, releasing nine albums across a range of styles. He continued to record and perform regularly, often with the tuba player Bob Stewart and the drummer Cecil Brooks III, after Columbia declined to renew his contract in 1987.

He moved back to California in 1998 to take care of his children after his second marriage ended. He performed less frequently but released a handful of albums on the Savant label in the early 2000s before failing health eventually forced him to stop performing.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Blythe is survived by his daughter, Odessa Blythe, and two sons, Chalee and Arthur Jr., all from his second marriage; two half brothers, Bernard Blythe and Adrich Neal; and a half sister, Daisy Neal. His first two marriages ended in divorce.

‘The music that I deal with has elements of bebop to ballad, swing to sweet, blues to boogie, and pop to rock,’ Mr. Blythe told the musician and oral historian Ben Sidran in 1986. ‘If I have the ability to do that, I should be able to do whatever I want to do in those areas — because I am dealing with the tradition, and my culture, and my heritage.’"

(Via.). Arthur Blythe, Jazz Saxophonist Who Mixed Sultry and Strident, Dies at 76 - The New York Times:

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Celebrating the life of the late drummer Mickey Roker. Joe Pass, Milt Jackson, Ray Brown & Mickey Roker - Grooveyard

Mickey Roker, Dynamic Hard-Bop Drummer and Philly Jazz Institution, Dies at 84 | WBGO

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"Mickey Roker, a soulful and deeply propulsive drummer who carried a torch for literate hard-bop in the decades after its commercial peak, died on Monday in Philadelphia, where he was a local jazz institution. He was 84.

His death was confirmed by his daughter, Debra Roker, who cited natural causes but noted that he had lung cancer and diabetes, among other health issues.

Though he was never a household name like Max Roach or Art Blakey, who were more than a decade his senior, Roker was held in high regard as a modern jazz drummer for more than 40 years. He’s probably most widely known for his nearly decade-long association, in the 1970s, with trumpeter and bebop paragon Dizzy Gillespie.

Roker can be heard on a handful of Gillespie albums from that era, including Afro-Cuban Jazz Moods, with Machito (1975), and Carter, Gillespie Inc., with saxophonist Benny Carter (1976). His entry in The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz includes a glowing endorsement from Gillespie: ‘Once he sets a groove, whatever it is, you can go to Paris and come back and it's right there. You never have to worry about it.’

Roker also had a highly visible tenure with the Modern Jazz Quartet, which he joined in the early 1990s as a sub for, and then a successor to, its longtime drummer Connie Kay. Roker appears, anchoring a battery of guests, on A 40th Anniversary Celebration, released in ‘93. But his core contribution to the band was as a road warrior..."

(Via.).  Mickey Roker, Dynamic Hard-Bop Drummer and Philly Jazz Institution, Dies at 84 | WBGO:

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Cécile McLorin Salvant’s Timeless Jazz - The New Yorker

Wynton Marsalis said, “You get a singer like this once in a generation or two.”



"On a Thursday evening a few months ago, a long line snaked along Seventh Avenue, outside the Village Vanguard, a cramped basement night club in Greenwich Village that jazz fans regard as a temple. The eight-thirty set was sold out, as were the ten-thirty set and nearly all the other shows that week. The people descending the club’s narrow steps had come to hear a twenty-seven-year-old singer named Cécile McLorin Salvant. In its sixty years as a jazz club, the Vanguard has headlined few women and fewer singers of either gender. But Salvant, virtually unknown two years earlier, had built an avid following, winning a Grammy and several awards from critics, who praised her singing as “singularly arresting” and “artistry of the highest class.”



Cécile McLorin Salvant’s Timeless Jazz - The New Yorker