Detroit-raised flutist, oboe player and tenor saxophonist Bill "Yusef Lateef" Huddleston (1920), who had briefly played with Dizzy Gillespie (1949-50), converted to Islam in the 1950s (as was fashionable in those days) and moved to New York in 1959 to study flute. By then he had already become a sensation in Detroit in a sextet with trombonist Curtis Fuller (plus piano, bass, drums and percussion), and a pioneer of world-music thanks to his passion for Middle-Eastern and Indian music. Lateef played tenor, flute, argol (an India double reed wind instrument) and "scraper" on Stable Mates (april 1957), containing his ballad Ameena, and established himself as a sophisticated composer on the twin release Jazz Mood (april 1957), playing flute in the eight-minute introduction, Metaphor, and penning the extended blues meditations Yusef's Mood and Blues in Space as well as the ten-minute exotic-sounding Morning. Lateef's lyrical post-bop melodies were beginning to migrate into a dimension beyond jazz music.
Known for his innovative blending of "Eastern" music with American jazz, Lateef's main instruments are tenor saxophone and flute, but he is one of few to play oboe or bassoon in jazz, and also plays various world music instruments, notably bamboo flute, shanai, shofar, arghul, sarewa, and koto.
He was less creative in the quintet with Wilbur Harden on flugelhorn and Hugh Lawson on piano that recorded Jazz and the Sounds of Nature (october 1957), containing the six-minute Seulb, and its twin release Prayer to the East (october 1957), containing the 13-minute Endura (but most pieces were either covers or Harden compositions), and then (one day later) The Sounds of Yusef (october 1957) and its twin release Other Sounds (october 1957), containing the nine-minute Minor Mood. The instrumentation included turkish finger cymbals, rabat/rebob (a one stringed Arabic violin) and Chinese gong.
An euphonium-piano quintet recorded The Dreamer (june 1959), with Moon Tree and Valse Bouk, and its twin album Fabric of Jazz (june 1959), with Arjuna, The Dreamer and Oboe Blues. Lateef also played the oboe with the trumpet-piano quintet of Cry Tender (october 1959). But he was distracted by several conventional hard-bop albums.
After he moved to New York, Lateef drifted away from hard-bop and refined an exotic and sometimes abstract blues music that was only his own. The ensemble music of The Centaur and the Phoenix (june 1961) for a nonet, such as Iqbal, led to Eastern Sounds (september 1961), on which Lateef played a variety of reed instruments backed by a traditional rhythm section of piano, bass and tabla-like percussion, with pieces such as Plum Blossom (for a Chinese clay flute), Snafu (for tenor sax), Blues For The Orient (for oboe).
If he never quite regained the compositional power of Jazz Mood, and frequently stumbled into the predictable jazz of releases such as Into Something (december 1961) and The Three Faces (january 1962), Lateef had found a new mission in the contemplative world-music of Jazz Round The World (december 1963), a parade of ten brief ethnic pieces. The milestones of this journey were Medula Sonata, off Psychicemotus (june 1964), an album that emphasized the sound of the bamboo flute, and 1984, off the piano-based quartet session 1984 (february 1965). Unfortunately, the quality of his albums (mostly collection of covers) decreased rapidly, with larger and larger doses of funk and soul music leading to the trivial fusion of Autophysiopsychic (october 1977). Typical of the least worse is the live double-LP Ten Years Hence (august 1975), a quartet date with Lateef on tenor, flute, oboe, shenai (an Indian double reed instrument), African thumb piano and percussion.
In parallel, Lateef became an ambitious classical composer. Orchestral works included: Suite 16/ Blues Suite (1969), the tone poem Lalit (1974), the Symphony No 1/ Tahira, The World at Peace, a suite for chamber ensemble co-composed with percussionist Adam Rudolph, the four-movement suite The African American Epic Suite (1993) for orchestra and quintet.
His music found a new audience in the era of new-age music, his best album of the time being perhaps the four-movement Lateef's Little Symphony (june 1987) on which he played all instruments.
Metamorphosis (december 1993) was a summa of Lateef's styles, particularly the longer Metamorphosis and Biography of a Thought. Sonata Fantasia (january 1997) introduced digital arrangements.
Like most prolific musicians, Lateef recorded an amazing amount of junk. It takes a lot of patience to listen to his recordings.
Early life and career
Lateef was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but his family moved to Detroit, Michigan in 1925.
Throughout his early life Lateef came into contact with many noted Detroit-based jazz musicians, including vibraphonist Milt Jackson, bassist Paul Chambers, drummer Elvin Jones, and guitarist Kenny Burrell. Lateef was a proficient saxophonist by the time of his graduation from high school at age 18, at which point he launched his professional career and began touring with a number of swing bands.
In 1949, Lateef was invited by Dizzy Gillespie to tour with his world-renowned orchestra. At this time, Lateef was still known by the name William Evans, thereby making him one of three well-known jazz musicians (besides the pianist and the tenor saxophonist) bearing this name. Notably, all three played with Miles Davis during their careers.
In 1950, Lateef returned to Detroit and began his studies in composition and flute at Wayne State University. It was during this period that Lateef converted to the Islam.
Lateef first began recording as a leader in 1957 for Savoy Records working with musicians such as Wilbur Harden, a non-exclusive association which continued until 1959; the earliest of Lateef's album's for the Prestige subsidiary New Jazz overlap with them.
By 1961, with the recording of Into Something and Eastern Sounds, Lateef's dominant presence within a group context had emerged. His "Eastern" influences are clearly audible in all of these recordings, using instruments like the rahab, shanai, arghul, koto and a collection of wooden Chinese flutes and bells along with his tenor and flute. Even his use of the western oboe sounds exotic in this context as it is not a standard jazz instrument but still the whole thing remains approachable for most Western ears. Indeed the tunes themselves are a mixture of jazz standards, blues and film music played with a piano/bass/drums rhythm section. Along with trumpeter Don Cherry, Lateef can lay claim to being among the first exponents of the world music jazz subgenre. Lateef also made numerous contributions to other people's albums including his time as a member of saxophonist Cannonball Adderley's Quintet from 1962-64.
Lateef's sound has been claimed to have been a major influence on the saxophonist John Coltrane, whose later period free jazz recordings contain similarly "Eastern" traits. For a time (1963-66) Lateef was signed to Coltrane's label, Impulse. He had a regular working group during this period, with trumpeter Richard Williams and Mike Nock on piano. They enjoyed a residency at Pep's Lounge during June 1964; an evening of which has been issued on CD.
In the late 1960s he began to incorporate contemporary soul and gospel phrasing into his music, still with a strong blues underlay, on albums such as Detroit and Hush'n'Thunder.
Lateef has expressed a dislike of the terms "jazz" and "jazz musician" as musical generalizations. As is so often the case with such generalizations, the use of these terms do understate the breadth of his sound. For example, in the 1980s, Lateef experimented with new age and spiritual elements. His 1987 album Yusef Lateef's Little Symphony won the Grammy award for Best New Age Album. His core influences, however, are clearly rooted in jazz, and in his own words: "My music is jazz."
In 1992, Lateef founded YAL Records, his own label for which he records today. In 1993, Lateef was commissioned by the WDR Radio Orchestra to compose The African American Epic Suite, a four part work for orchestra and quartet based on themes of slavery and disfranchisement in the United States. The piece has since been performed by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
Education and teaching
In 1975, Lateef completed his dissertation on Western and Islamic education and earned a Ed.D. in Education from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Lateef has written and published a number of books including a novella entitled A Night in the Garden of Love and the short story collections Spheres and Rain Shapes. Along with his record label YAL Records, Lateef owns Fana Music, a music publishing company. Lateef publishes his own work through Fana, which includes Yusef Lateef's Flute Book of the Blues and many of his own orchestral compositions.
Autophysiopsychic Music refers to music which comes from one's spirituality or beliefs. Lateef has written extensively on the topic and includes it in his book Yusef Lateef's Flute Book of the Blues.
It is mainly used as a means of composing spiritual folk music, however Lateef incorporated such elements into his own jazz compositions.
Autophysiopsychic Music has not been widely used by other musicians, due to its highly personal and experimental approach to composition and instrumentation. The complexity and lack of rhythmic and compositional consonance make it a hard style of music to approach and is therefore quite inaccessible. It is for this reason little reference is made to it and therefore little is known about the actual method of practicing this style of music.
The Sounds of Yusef (1957)
Other Sounds (1957)
Jazz Mood (1957)
Prayer to the East (1957)
Cry! - Tender (1959)
The Three Faces of Yusef Lateef (1960)
The Centaur and the Phoenix (1961)
Into Something (1961)
Eastern Sounds (1961)
Live at Pep's (1964, Impulse! Records)
Psychicemotus (1965, Impulse! Records)
The Golden Flute (1966, Impulse! Records)
1984 (1966, Impulse! Records)
The Blue Yusef Lateef (1968) - Kenny Burrell, Blue Mitchell and Cecil McBee
The Diverse Yusef Lateef (1970)
Hush 'N' Thunder (1972)
The Gentle Giant (1972)
Part of the Search (1974)
The Doctor is In... And Out (1974)
Ten Years Hence (1975)
Every Village Has a Song (1976)
Concerto for Yusef Lateef (1986)
The World at Peace (1997)
Beyond the Sky (2000)
Go: Organic Orchestra: In the Garden (2003)
The Doctor is In and Out (2005)
The Complete Yusef Lateef (2005)
The Blue Yusef Lateef (2005)
B-Flat recordings with Lionel and Stéphane Belmondo (2005)
10 Years Hence (2008)
Images of Curtis Fuller (1960; Savoy Records)