Eddie Harris was born on October 20, 1934 in Chicago, Illinois to a Cuban father and New Orleans mother. He studied music at DuSable High School, then Roosevelt University becoming proficient on piano, vibraphone and tenor saxophone and playing professionally with Gene Ammons.
After graduating and a stint in the 7th Army Band playing alongside Leo Wright, Don Ellis and Cedar Walton, he worked in New York City prior to his Chicago return. He signed with Vee Jay Records and released his debut “Exodus To Jazz” and his jazz arrangement of the theme to Exodus was so heavily played on radio, it became the first jazz record ever to be certified gold.
Throughout his career he recorded for Columbia and Atlantic Records, ventured into electric piano and Varitone saxophone mixing jazz with funk on albums like “The Electrifying Eddie Harris” and crossing into rhythm and blues markets. By 1969 he would perform with Les McCann at Montreux with an unrehearsed band that produced the seminal work Swiss Movement that became one of the best selling jazz albums ever.
In the early to mid ‘70s Harris experimented with altering instruments like his reed trumpet with a sax mouthpiece, saxobone with a trombone mouthpiece and guitorgan, a guitar/organ combination. He also forayed into singing blues, played with jazz-rock, and comic R&B consisting of mostly stand-up comedy all of which ultimately declined his popularity.
He would work with Horace Silver in the ‘80s, record regularly well into the 1990s, tour and perform in Europe and return to hard bop. His move to Los Angeles in the mid-1970s allowed him the opportunity to provide much of the music for The Bill Cosby Show.
Eddie Harris, tenor saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist and composer of “Freedom Jazz Dance” popularized by Miles Davis in the Sixties and also the tune “Listen Here”, passed away from bone cancer and kidney disease at the age of 62 on November 5, 1996.
Samuel Carthorne Rivers was born September 25, 1923 in Enid, Oklahoma, the son of a gospel musician who sung with the Fisk Jubilee Singers and the Silverstone Quartet which exposed a young Sam to music at an early age. By 1947 he was in Boston studying Alan Hovhaness at the Boston Conservatory.
Active in jazz since the early 1950s, by the end of the decade he was performing with then 13 year-old drummer Tony Williams. In the mid Sixties he held a short-lived tenure with Miles Davis, producing the album Miles In Tokyo. He went on to sign with Blue Note leading four dates, his first being Fuschia Swing Song and contributing many more as a sideman.
A multi-instrumentalist, Rivers who plays soprano and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet, flute, harmonica and piano, is also a composer. Rooted in bebop and equally adept at free jazz he has performed and recorded with the likes of Quincy Jones, Herb Pomeroy, Tadd Dameron, Jaki Byard, Freddie Hubbard, Herbie Hancock, Andrew Hill, Larry Young and many others.
The 70s saw the rise of the loft era and Rivers ran RivBea in New York’s NoHo district where numerous performance lofts emerged. He continued to perform and record for a variety of labels including several albums for Impulse Records, two big band albums for RCA Victor, and joined Dizzy Gillespie’s band near the end of the trumpeter’s life.
With a thorough command of music theory, orchestration and composition, Rivers has been an influential and prominent artist in jazz music. He performs regularly with his RivBea Orchestra and Trio and is currently recording new works. Sam Rivers, who played soprano and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet, flute, harmonica and piano in the avant-garde and free jazz arenas, passed away on December 26, 2011 in Orlando, Florida at age 88.
Ken Vandermark was born September 22, 1964 in Warwick, Rhode Island but grew up in Boston, Massachusetts. Mostly a self-taught musician, the saxophonist studied intermittently under George Garzone in the early 80s. He performed and led groups while in high school and at McGill University in Montreal, graduated in 1986.
Returning to Boston Ken co-led the groups Lombard Street, Mr. Furious and Barrage Double incorporating “suite forms” into his arrangements and composing pieces dedicated to other Boston bands, thus, developing broad, free-ranging charts as his signature especially in large ensemble settings.
Vandermark moved to Chicago in 1989 and has performed or recorded with many musicians such as Fred Anderson, Joe Morris, Fredrik Ljungkvist and Yakuza to name a few. He first gained widespread attention working with the NRG Ensemble from 1992 to 1996, went on to co-lead DKV Trio, Free Fall, Territory Band, the Vandermark Five and some six more groups, collaborated with Joe Harriott, released his album Furniture Music in 2002 marking his debut as an accomplished soloist and has since concentrated on his own compositions.
A fixture on the Chicago music scene Vandermark plays tenor and baritone saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet and has received critical praise for his performing multilayered compositions that typically balance intricate orchestration with passionate improvisation. He was awarded a 1999 MacArthur Fellowship, won the Cadence magazine poll for Best Artist and Best Recording. He continues to perform and record.
Steve Coleman was born on born September 20, 1956 in Chicago, Illinois and grew up in the musically rich Southside. As a child, he was in little singing groups, imitating the Jackson 5, singing in church and he started playing alto saxophone at the age of 14. About three years later he began to study the music of Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane and other masters.
He spent two years at Illinois Wesleyan University, transferred to Roosevelt University to concentrate on Chicago’s musical nightlife, having been introduced to Chicago premier saxophonists Von Freeman, Bunky Green and Sonny Stitt are just a few names from whom he learned.
Moving to New York in 1978 he joined the big bands of Thad Jones/Mel Lewis, Slide Hampton, Sam Rivers, and Cecil Taylor and was soon recording as a sideman with David Murray, Doug Hammond, Dave Holland, Mike Brecker and Abbey Lincoln. During this period he was playing the club circuit and putting a band together that would evolve into the Five Elements. He would go on to cofound the M Base movement with Cassandra Wilson and Greg Osby.
Influenced by Parker and Coltrane, gleaning improvisation from Von Freeman, composition from Sam Rivers and conceptual thinking from Doug Hammond, the alto saxophonist has added to his arsenal West African music, non-western cultures, Black American rhythm and blues and even nature by studying the flight patterns of bees. Steve Coleman continues to perform, record and tour and compose within the construct of contemporary jazz.
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Oliver Lake was born in Marianna, Arkansas on September 14, 1942 but was raised in St. Louis, Missouri. He began playing percussion followed by alto saxophone. His piercing, bluesy, biting sound is his trademark and his explosive unpredictable solos are akin to Eric Dolphy.
During the 1960s Oliver taught school, worked in several contexts around St. Louis and led along with Julius Hemphill and Charles “Bobo” Shaw, BAG, the Black Artists Group.
In 1972 Lake moved to Paris for two years working with his colleagues from BAG, returned to New York and immersed himself into the then burgeoning jazz loft scene.
By 1977 he co-founded the World Saxophone Quartet with David Murray, Julius Hemphill and Hamiet Bluiett. Over the next two decades the group crossed over to new audiences, in part, due to their late 80s albums of Ellington and popular R&B tunes. Lake has recorded for Freedom, Black Saint, and Black Lion, Novus, Gramavision, Blue Heron Gazell, Soul Note and other record labels.
Oliver Lake, alto and soprano saxophonist, flutist whose mainstay in the avant-garde and free jazz realm continues to create, perform, record and tour as a member of the WSQ and as a leader.