“Yusef Lateef is an artist in the purest form of the word.” —Jazz Weekly
is a Grammy Award–winning composer, performer, recording artist, author, educator, and philosopher who has been a major force on the international musical scene for more than six decades. A virtuoso on a broad spectrum of reed instruments, he is universally acknowledged as one of the great living masters in the African American tradition of autophysiopsychic music—that which comes from one’s spiritual, physical, and emotional self. In a rare appearance—his first visit to the Twin Cities in more than a decade—Lateef and longtime collaborator/hand percussionist Adam Rudolph join forces with Twin Cities-based composer/instrument builder Douglas Ewart and longtime Art Ensemble of Chicago saxophonist/composer Roscoe Mitchell for an evening of free-wheeling duets, trios, and full quartet performances on Saturday, December 6, at 8 pm in the Walker Art Center’s William and Nadine McGuire Theater. Lateef was one of the first in jazz, nearly 50 years ago, to deeply study musical traditions from diverse continents and stir them into his compositions, helping to lead the way for many of today’s global jazz and world music fusions. Copresented with Northrop Jazz at the University of Minnesota.
Yusef A. Lateef was born William Emanuel Huddleston in 1920 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and moved with his family to Detroit in 1925. In Detroit’s fertile musical environment, he established long-standing friendships with such masters of American music as Milt Jackson, Tommy Flanagan, Barry Harris, Paul Chambers, Donald Byrd, the Jones brothers (Hank, Thad, and Elvin), Kenny Burrell, Lucky Thompson, and Matthew Rucker. Proficient on tenor saxophone while in high school, he began touring professionally at age 18 with swing bands led by Hartley Toots, Hot Lips Page, Roy Eldridge, Herbie Fields, and later with Lucky Millender. In 1949 he was invited to perform with the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra.
In 1950 Lateef returned to Detroit to study composition and flute at Wayne State University, receiving his early training in flute from Larry Teal. He also converted to Islam in the Ahmadiyya movement and took the name Yusef Lateef. From 1955–1959 he led a quintet featuring Curtis Fuller, Hugh Lawson, Louis Hayes, and Ernie Farrell. In 1958 he began studying oboe with Ronald Odemark of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
Back in New York in 1960, Lateef undertook further studies in flute with Harold Jones and John Wummer at the Manhattan School of Music, where he received his Bachelor’s Degree in Music in 1969 and his Master’s Degree in Music Education in 1970. Later, as a member of the school’s theory department in 1971, he taught courses in autophysiopsychic music. From 1972–1976, he was an Associate Professor of Music at the Borough of Manhattan Community College.
Lateef first began recording under his own name in 1956 for Savoy Records, and has since made more than 100 recordings as a leader for the Savoy, Prestige, Contemporary, Impulse, Atlantic, and YAL labels. His early recordings of such songs as Love Theme from Spartacus and Morning continue to receive extensive airplay. In the 1960s he toured and recorded with the ensembles of Charles Mingus, Cannonball Adderley, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Babatunde Olatunji.
As an instrumentalist with his own ensemble, Lateef has performed extensively in concert halls, colleges, and music festivals throughout the United States, Europe, Japan, and Africa. His touring ensembles have included such master musicians as Barry Harris, Kenny Barron, Hugh Lawson, Albert Heath, Roy Brooks, Ernie Farrell, Cecil McBee, Bob Cunningham, Adam Rudolph, Charles Moore, Ralph Jones, and Frederico Ramos.
Lateef’s first major work for large orchestra was his Blues Suite, also known as Suite 16, premiered in 1969 by the Augusta, GA, Symphony Orchestra, performed in 1970 with his hometown Detroit Symphony Orchestra at the Meadowbrook Music Festival, and recorded by the WDR Orchestra in Cologne. In 1974 the NDR Radio Orchestra of Hamburg commissioned him to compose and perform the tone poem Lalit, and he later premiered and recorded his Symphony No.1 (Tahira) with the same orchestra.
For four years beginning in 1981, Lateef was a senior research Fellow at the Center for Nigerian Cultural Studies at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria, where he did research into the Fulani flute. Sarewa is the generic name for the Fulani flute. He formed his own label, YAL Records, in 1992 to record and distribute his works and those of other artists, including the Eternal Wind Quintet. One of his first recordings on the label, co-composed with percussionist Adam Rudolph, was The World at Peace, an extended suite for 12 musicians, including Eternal Wind, which has received repeated performances throughout the United States.
In 1993 the WDR Orchestra producer Ulrich Kurtz commissioned Lateef’s most ambitious work to date, The African American Epic Suite, a four-movement work for quintet and orchestra representing 400 years of slavery and disfranchisement of African Americans in America. David de Villiers conducted the premiere performance and recording with the WDR Orchestra. The suite has also been performed by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra under Yoel Levi as a centerpiece of the National Black Arts Festival in 1998 and by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra under Thomas Wilkins in 2001.
Through his publishing company, Fana Music, Lateef has contributed extensively to the lexicon of performance and improvisational methodology with such works as Yusef Lateef’s Flute Book of the Blues, A Repository of Melodic Scales and Patterns, and 123 Duets for Treble Clef Instruments. Fana has also published numerous works for chamber ensembles, stage bands, duos, wind ensemble, or symphony orchestra.
Roscoe Mitchell (b. August 3, 1940 in Chicago, Illinois) is an African American composer, jazz instrumentalist and educator, mostly known for being a technically superb—if idiosyncratic—saxophonist. Mitchell grew up in the Chicago area where he began playing saxophone and clarinet at age 12 surrounded by many musical styles while growing up.
In 1965, Mitchell was one of the first members of the nonprofit organization Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), along with Jodie Christian (piano), Steve McCall (drums), and Phil Cohran (composer). The following year, Mitchell, Lester Bowie (trumpet), Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre (tenor saxophone), Favors, Lester Lashley (trombone), and Alvin Fiedler (drums), recorded their first studio album, Sound, which incorporated such “unorthodox devices” as toys and bicycle horns, a departure from the more extroverted work of the New York-based free jazz players.
The group went through changes again in 1967 and 1969, both in name (changing first to the Roscoe Mitchell Art Ensemble, then the Art Ensemble, and finally the Art Ensemble of Chicago) and personnel (inclusion of Phillip Wilson on drums for short span before he joined Paul Butterfield’s band). This group and its incarnations was regarded as arguably the most highly acclaimed jazz band in the 1970s and ’80s.
In the 1990s, Mitchell began experimenting with classical music performing with composers/artists Pauline Oliveros, Thomas Buckner, and Borah Bergman, the latter two forming a popular trio with Mitchell called Trio Space. Buckner was also a member with Mitchell and Gerald Oshita of Space in the late 1990s. He then conceived the Note Factory in 1992 with various old and new collaborators as another evolution of the Sound Ensemble.
Mitchell maintains collaborations with younger musicians including trumpeter Corey Wilkes, bassist Karl E. H. Seigfried, and drummer Isaiah Spencer.
In 2007, Mitchell was named Darius Milhaud Chair of Composition at Mills College in Oakland, California. He currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
Douglas Ewart was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1946. At age six, he became acutely aware of different materials and textures around him and wanted to manipulate them for his own use. He began to experiment with the automotive parts and lumber in his backyard, building first a wooden scooter with ball bearings for wheels and moving on to large two-seater vehicles. He also built colorful “fighter kites” that he could manipulate to cut the string of an opposing kite-flyer when challenged. At age 10 he began to experiment with sound and designed musical instruments—tin cans were altered to become hand drums and pieces of wood were fashioned into rattles. When his family bought a rug rolled around a large piece of bamboo, he seized on the bamboo as a potential flute. Thus began what has become today a high art practiced by Ewart alone—the construction of sonorous “totem flutes”—colorful as bamboo rainbows, adorned with wood burned designs and haunting images.
Ewart emigrated to the United States in 1963, and until 1967, studied tailoring at Drake and Dunbar Vocational schools. While developing the tailoring skills that stand him in good stead now in his costume-making, he plunged back into the musical world, studying theory, composition, saxophone, and clarinet at the AACM School of Music. His teachers, pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, and reed players Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman, inspired him with their creative drive and their view that “music was a life-or-death matter.”
For Ewart, music as a life-or-death matter means music as a bridge between cultural traditions and between activities ranging from instrument building to such entrepreneurial ventures as his own recording label, Aarawak Records, which he founded in 1983, and on which he has released Red Hills and Bamboo Forest. His constantly evolving suite, Music from the Bamboo Forest, comprises six movements and employs a cornucopia of instruments, many of them handmade, such as bass and alto flutes, shakuhachi, panpipe, and nay flutes, blocks, bells, gongs, and bamboo, which is a double-reed horn with a voice-like sound. In line with Ewart’s view that the audience should participate in a musical performance, bamboo is passed from hand to hand during the playing of Music from the Bamboo Forest, so the audience can hold the source of the music. The Bamboo Forest evolves, of course, as Ewart travels, playing his own music and studying the music around him. In addition to performing and recording with master musicians such as Abrams and Henry Threadgill, Ewart has performed original compositions across America and in venues around the world.
Having become a master himself, Ewart is now in demand as a teacher. The interest his AACM instructors showed in the creative development of their students and the inclusion of their students in their original works inspire Ewart now in his own teaching. In his workshops, Ewart often guides students in building and learning to play flutes, whistles, shakers, and other instruments. Of the students, most of whom had never been introduced to crafts, he says “it reaffirms their belief in themselves.” His workshops, lectures, and exhibitions have been attended by enthusiastic students and patrons at venues such as the Contemporary Art Center (New Orleans); the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum of Natural History, the Du Sable Museum of African-American History, and Urban Gateways (Chicago); the Creative Music Studio (Woodstock, NY); the Museum of Contemporary Craft and the Langston Hughes Center (New York City); the University of Illinois (Champaign); Norfolk State University; the Riverside Museum (Baton Rouge); and the Washington Performing Arts Center and the National Museum of American History (Washington, DC). He has served on advisory boards and panels for various cultural organizations, such as the National Endowment for the Arts, Meet the Composer, and the Arts Midwest Meet the Composer program. In 1987, Douglas was awarded the U.S.-Japan Creative Arts Fellowship by the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission, which enabled him to spend a year in Japan studying the art of making and playing the shakuhachi flute.
Originally from Chicago, composer and handrummer/percussionist Adam Rudolph has, for the past three decades, appeared at festivals and concerts throughout North America, South America, Europe, Africa, and Japan. In 1988, he began his association with Lateef, resulting in 14 albums, including the large ensemble collaborations The World at Peace (1995), Beyond the Sky (2000), and 2003’s In the Garden with Rudolph conducting his Go: Organic Orchestra. He has performed worldwide with Lateef in ensembles ranging from their acclaimed duo concerts to appearing as guest soloist with Koln, Atlanta, and Detroit symphony orchestras.
Since the 1970s, Rudolph has been developing his unique syncretic approach to hand drums in creative collaborations with many masters of cross-cultural and improvised music such as Sam Rivers, Pharaoh Sanders, L. Shankar, and Fred Anderson. He is known especially for his innovative small group and duo collaborations with Don Cherry, Jon Hassel, Wadada Leo Smith, and Omar Sosa.
In 1990, Rudolph was commissioned by the LA Festival to create and lead the Vashti Percussion Ensemble with percussionist masters from Bali, Iran, India, Lebanon, and Java. He has been artistic director of “World of Percussion” under the auspices of the World Music Institute in New York, since 1992, has led his own performing ensemble, Adam Rudolph’s Moving Pictures, featuring drummer Hamid Drake, Ralph Jones, and Venice-based Butoh dance innovator Oguri. The group has performed in both Europe and the United States, and has released several CDs featuring Rudolph’s compositions. In 1995, he premiered The Dreamer, an opera based on Friedreich Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy. Rudolph has received grants and compositional commissions from the Rockefeller Foundation, Meet the Composer, Mary Flagler Cary Trust, the NEA, Arts International, Durfee Foundation, and American Composers Forum.
Tickets to Yusef Lateef are $35 ($30 Walker members) and are available at walkerart.org/tickets or by calling 612.375.7600.