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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 – October 15

1764 – Edward Gibbon observed a group of friars singing in the ruined Temple of Jupiter in Rome, which inspired him to begin work on The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

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1844 – Friedrich Nietzsche born.  German philosopher, poet, composer, cultural critic, and classical philologist. He appears in the following video – can you spot him ?

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1881 – P. G. Wodehouse born. English humorist, whose body of work includes novels, short stories, plays, poems, song lyrics, and numerous pieces of journalism. He enjoyed enormous popular success during a career that lasted more than seventy years and his many writings continue to be widely read.

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1888 – The “From Hell” letter sent to investigators of the Jack the Ripper murders. Postmarked on 15 October 1888, the letter was received by George Lusk, then head of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, the following day.Though hundreds of letters claiming to be from the killer were posted at the time of the Ripper murders, many researchers argue that the “From Hell” letter is one of a handful of possibly authentic writings received from the murderer.

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1917 – Mata Hari died. Margaretha Geertruida “Margreet” Zelle, better known by the stage name Mata Hari, was a Dutch exotic dancer, courtesan, and accused spy who was executed by firing squad in France under charges of espionage for Germany during World War I. It’s quite possible that she was used as a scapegoat by the French military authority to obscure the failing of the French military operations at the front.

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1938 – Fela Kuti born. Nigerian multi-instrumentalist musician and composer, pioneer of Afrobeat music, human rights activist, and political maverick.

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1965 – The Catholic Worker Movement staged an anti-Vietnam War rally in Manhattan including a public burning of a draft card; the first such act to result in arrest under a new amendment to the Selective Service Act.

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1966 – Black Panther Party was created by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale.

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Almanac – July 13th

1527John Dee born – English mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, occultist, navigator, imperialist  and consultant to Queen Elizabeth I. He devoted much of his life to the study of alchemy, divination and Hermetic philosophy.

1793John Clare born – English “peasent poet”,  the son of a farm labourer who came to be known for his celebratory representations of the English countryside and his lamentation of its disruption. His poetry underwent a major re-evaluation in the late 20th century and he is often now considered to be among the most important 19th-century poets. His biographer,  Jonathan Bate.  states that Clare was “the greatest labouring-class poet that England has ever produced. No one has ever written more powerfully of nature, of a rural childhood, and of the alienated and unstable self”.

 

1793 – Journalist and French revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat is assassinated in his bathtub by Charlotte Corday, a member of the opposing political faction.

1863 – Riots broke out in New York City in protest against the drafting of men to fight in the American Civil War. The start of  three days of rioting which were  later regarded as the worst in United States history.

1923 – The Hollywood Sign is officially dedicated in the hills above Hollywood, Los Angeles, California. It originally reads “Hollywoodland but the four last letters are dropped after renovation in 1949.

1934 – Birth of Wole Soyinka,  Nigerian writer, notable especially as a playwright and poet; he was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature, the first African in Africa and the diaspora to be so honoured.

1936 – Assassination of Spanish politician Jose Calvo Sotelo, triggering the military uprising that led to the Spanish Civil War.

1936 –  Birth of Albert Ayler, American jazz saxophonist and singer

 

 

 

1951 – Death of Austrian  composer Arnold Schoenberg . Schoenberg’s approach, both in terms of harmony and development, is among the major landmarks of 20th-century musical thought; at least three generations of composers in the European and American traditions have consciously extended his thinking or, in some cases, passionately reacted against it. During the rise of the Nazi Party in Austria, his music was labeled, alongside jazz, as degenerate.

1955Ruth Ellis was hanged for murder – the last woman to receive the death penalty in the UK.
Mr. Frankenstein
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