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Yusef Lateef R.I.P.

Yusef Lateef,  Grammy Award-winning multi-instrumentalist, composer and educator who brought the sounds of world music to jazz and became one of the first jazz musicians to convert to the teachings of Islam,  died. He was 93.

 

Lateef initially was best known as a dynamic tenor saxophonist with a big tone and a strong sense of swing, but his persistent creative and intellectual curiosity led him to the discovery of an array of other instruments as well as a fascination with various international forms of music.

He was an early advocate for the flute as a credible jazz voice, and  his performances on the oboe as early as the ’50s and ’60s were definitive – and rarely matched – displays of the instrument’s jazz capabilities.

He searched the globe for more exotic instruments, while mastering, among others, the bamboo flute, the Indian shenai, the Arabic arghul, the Hebrew shofar and the West African Fulani flute.

 

Tall and shaven-headed, his powerful presence offset by a calm demeanor and the quiet, articulate speaking style of a scholar, Lateef combined thoughtfulness and a probing intellectual curiosity with impressive musical skills. Early in his career, he established his role as a pathfinder in blending elements from a multiplicity of different sources.

 

His first recordings under his own leadership, released on the Savoy label in the mid-’50s, already revealed a fascination with unusual instruments: In addition to tenor saxophone and the flute, he also plays the arghul. Several of Lateef’s original compositions on those early albums also integrated rhythms and melodic styles from numerous global musical forms.

 

“In any given composition,” wrote Leonard Feather in The Times in 1975, “there may be long passages that involve classical influences, impressionism, a Middle Eastern flavor, or rhythmic references to Latin America.”

 

Like a number of musicians – from Duke Ellington to his contemporaries, Max Roach and Sonny Rollins – Lateef objected to the use of the word “jazz” to describe his work. He preferred, instead, the phrase, “autophysiopsychic music,” which he defined as “music which comes from one’s physical, mental and spiritual self.”

 

He also acknowledged the importance of the blues, in his music and elsewhere.

 

“The blues,” he said in an NPR interview in 2003, “is a very elegant musical form which has given birth to wonderful compositions. I recognize the blues. In fact, if the African had not been brought to America as a slave, the blues would never have been born.”

 

Lateef’s desire to pursue his own musical path — as a performer, a composer and an educator — led, in 1981, to his refusal to perform in nightclubs. For the next four years, he lived in Nigeria as a senior research fellow at Ahmadu Bello University. Returning to the U.S., he taught at the University of Massachusetts and Amherst College.

 

In the succeeding decades, Lateef performed in concert halls, colleges and music festivals in Japan, Russia, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the U.S. He often led seminars and master classes outlining his belief in the presence of autophysiopsychic music principals in cultures around the world.

 

“To me,” he told the LA Times in 1989,” it feels as though there’s a kind of aesthetic thread running through the improvisational musics of the world. If you’re alive and your heart is beating, you’ll find it, and that’s what makes the relationship between you and the world.”

 

Yusef Lateef was born William Emanuel Huddleston on April 9, 1920, in Chattanooga, Tenn. When he was 3, he moved to Lorraine, Ohio, with his parents. In 1925 they relocated to Detroit. Music was a constant presence in his early family life.

 

He is survived by his wife, Ayesha Lateef; his son, Yusef Lateef; a granddaughter and great-grandchildren.

Source – LA Time, 24 Dec 2013

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Almanac – February 17

1600 –  Giordano Bruno  burned alive, for heresy, at Campo de’ Fiori in Rome.

Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician and astronomer. His cosmological theories went beyond the Copernican model in proposing that the Sun was essentially a star, and moreover, that the universe contained an infinite number of inhabited worlds populated by other intelligent beings.

The free-thinking Roman Catholic church naturally embraced such views with the  same sort of enthusiasm that they now reserve for condoms, and, after the  Roman Inquisition  found him guilty of heresey,  he was burnt at the stake.

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1864 – Banjo Paterson born. Australian bush poet, journalist and author, he wrote many ballads and poems about Australian life, focusing particularly on the rural and outback areas, including the district around Binalong, New South Wales, where he spent much of his childhood.

Paterson’s more notable poems include “Waltzing Matilda”, “The Man from Snowy River” and “Clancy of the Overflow”.

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1909 – Geronimo died. Prominent leader of the Bedonkohe Apache who fought against Mexico and the United States for their expansion into Apache tribal lands for several decades during the Apache Wars.

“Geronimo” was the name given to him during a battle with Mexican soldiers. His Chiricahua name is often rendered as Goyathlay or Goyahkla in English.

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1982 – Thelonious Monk died. American jazz pianist and composer considered one of the giants of American music.

Monk had a unique improvisational style and made numerous contributions to the standard jazz repertoire, including “Epistrophy”, “‘Round Midnight”, “Blue Monk”, “Straight, No Chaser” and “Well, You Needn’t”.

Monk is the second-most recorded jazz composer after Duke Ellington, which is particularly remarkable as Ellington composed over 1,000 songs while Monk wrote about 70.

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Almanac – December 28

1734 – Rob Roy MacGregor died.  Scottish folk hero and outlaw of the early 18th century,  sometimes known as the Scottish Robin Hood. Rob Roy is anglicised from the Scottish Gaelic Raibeart Ruadh, or Red Rober – he had red hair, though it darkened to auburn in later life.

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1879 – The Tay Bridge Disaster: The central part of the Tay Rail Bridge in Dundee, Scotland collapsed as a train passes over it, killing around 75.

On the evening of 28 December 1879, a violent storm (10 to 11 on the Beaufort Scale) was blowing virtually at right angles to the bridge. At 7.13 a train from the south slowed to pick up the baton from the signal cabin at the south end of the bridge, then headed out onto the bridge, picking up speed. The signalman turned away to log this and then tended the cabin fire but a friend present in the cabin watched the train: when it had got about 200 yards (183 m) from the cabin he saw sparks flying from the wheels on the east side , this continued for no more than three minutes, by then the train was in the high girders; then “there was a sudden bright flash of light, and in an instant there was total darkness, the tail lamps of the train, the sparks and the flash of light all … disappearing at the same instant”

 The signalman saw (and when told believed) none of this  but when the train didn’t appear on the line off the bridge into Dundee he tried to talk to the signal cabin at the north end of the bridge, but found that all communication with it had been lost.

Not only was the train in the river, but so were the high girders, and much of the ironwork of their supporting piers. Divers exploring the wreckage later found the train still within the girders, with the engine in the fifth span of the southern 5-span division.

 56 tickets for Dundee had been collected from passengers on the train before crossing the bridge; allowing for season ticket holders, tickets for other destinations, and for railway employees 74–75 people were believed to have been on the train. There were no survivors; there were 60 known victims, but only 46 bodies were recovered, two not until February 1880.

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William McGonagall wrote his (in)famous poem The Tay Bridge Disaster about it –

 It begins:

    “Beautiful railway bridge of the silv’ry Tay
    Alas! I am very sorry to say
    That ninety lives have been taken away
    On the last sabbath day of 1879
    Which shall be remembered for a very long time.”

And  ends:

    “Oh! Ill-fated bridge of the silv’ry Tay
    I now must conclude my lay
    By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay
    That your central girders would not have given way
    At least many sensible men do say
    Had they been supported on each side with buttresses
    At least many sensible men confesses
    For the stronger we our houses build
    The less chance we have of being killed”

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1932 – Nichelle Nichols born.  American actress, singer and voice artist. She sang with Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton before turning to acting. Her most famous role is that of communications officer Lieutenant Uhura aboard the USS Enterprise in the popular Star Trek television series, as well as the succeeding motion pictures, where her character was eventually promoted in Starfleet to the rank of commander.

Her Star Trek character was groundbreaking in U.S society at the time, and civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. personally praised her work on the show and asked her to remain when she was considering leaving the series.

In her role as Lieutenant Uhura, Nichols famously kissed white actor William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk in the November 22, 1968, Star Trek episode “Plato’s Stepchildren”. The episode is popularly cited as the first example of an inter-racial kiss on United States television.

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