Yusef Lateef (1920-2013)

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Yusef Lateef, a saxophonist and flutist who was one of the last surviving members of Dizzy Gillespie's 1949 big band and who helped pioneer spiritual jazz in the mid-1950s, soul-jazz in the 1960s with Cannonball Adderley, and metaphysical jazz starting in the 1980s, died on December 23. He was 83.

Yusef was among the first black jazz musicians to covert to Islam in 1948 through the Ahmadiyya Muslim movement and in later years eschewed the word “jazz"—viewing it as derogatory and belittling of the improvisational art form. In recent years, he created a revolutionary way of approaching music through the use of what he called “autophysiopsychic intervals."

On the tenor saxophonist, Yusef had a deep, smoky sound that was laced with African themes and thought. On the flute, Yusef adapted Eastern influences but he also enjoyed playing melodically, as if swept away by the instrument's natural charm. But ultimately, Yusef was on a mission to find his own voice. As he told me in 2008: “In 1960, when Coltrane left Miles [Davis], a Swedish interviewer said his solos sounded like he was angry. Coltrane said, 'No, no I’m not angry. I'm just trying many different things to find myself.' People like John Coltrane, Gene Ammons, Dexter Gordon—we all believed we should find our own."

Yusef not only found his own voice, he changed minds along the way, and I won't forget his humility, generosity and warm personality during our chats. Yusef wasn't interesting in wining anyone over to his way of thinking, just having his say and playing his way. He was one heavy cat.

Here's my three-part interview with Yusef Lateef in 2008: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

JazzWax clips: Here's Yusef with the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band in 1949 on Dizzier and Dizzier...



Here's Yusef with Dizzy on Jumpin' With Symphony Sid...



Here's Yusef singing on Happyology, from his Jazz for the Thinker in 1957...



Here's Yusef on Judyful, from Images of Curtis Fuller (1960)...



Here's one of Yusef's favorite albums, The Centaur and the Phoenix (1960)...

 

Here's Yuself with Cannonball Adderley on Jessica's Brithday in 1963...



Here's Yusef on flute in 1972 playing Yesterdays...



And here's Yusef with Adam Rudolph last year...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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