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Yusef Lateef

Yusef Lateef was exploring fusions of jazz with Asian and Middle Eastern rhythms, instruments and concepts without fanfare long before "worldbeat" or world fusion was in vogue. A hard-blowing bebop and hard bop tenor saxophonist, Lateef expanded his stylistic menu, doubling on many non-Western instruments and moving beyond straight jazz into a wide range of styles and sounds. A gifted player, Lateef's tenor had a hard, full, and robust sound. His flute playing was lyrical, moving and fluid. Lateef mastered such unconventional instruments as the argol (double clarinet that sounds similar to a bassoon), shanai (a North Indian oboe), algaita (West African oboe), and many flutes, among them the homemade bamboo and pneumatic bamboo. Lateef added the regular oboe and bassoon. He also published technical playing manuals, became a painter, and wrote compositions for everything from jazz combos to chamber ensembles. His family moved from Chattanooga to Detroit when Lateef was five. He began playing tenor at 18, and studied with Teddy Buckner. During the mid-'40s, Lateef worked with Lucky Millinder, Hot Lips Page, Roy Eldridge, and Herbie Fields. Following a move to Chicago, Lateef worked with Dizzy Gillespie in 1949 and 1950. He then returned to Detroit, where he studied flute and composition at Wayne State University. He changed his name from Bill Evans to Yusef Lateef in the mid-'50s, and co-led quintets with Curtis Fuller and Wilbur Harden in the mid- and late '50s. He also worked with Kenny Burrell, who encouraged him to play flute more often, in 1958. Lateef moved to New York in 1959, where he played and recorded with Charles Mingus, Grant Green, and Donald Byrd. Lateef joined Cannonball Adderley's band in 1962, and remained until 1964. He performed as a leader into the '80s, when he temporarily left America to teach in Nigeria. Lateef's recording career as a leader began with a session for Savoy in 1957. He continued on Prestige/New Jazz, Argo, and Savoy in the late '50s. Lateef co-led quintets for Vee Jay sessions in the '60s, and recorded on the Charlie Parker label. Later came dates for Riverside, Prestige, Impulse!, and Atlantic. Lateef continued on Atlantic and CTI in the '70s, before taking a hiatus from the studio. He returned in 1983 with the album In Nigeria on Landmark. Lateef again recorded on Atlantic in the late '80s, and continued to lead or collaborate on sessions in the '90s and into the new millennium, with a good selection of dates and classic reissues on CD. The holder of an M.A. and doctorate in education, Lateef taught at CUNY in New York City and also became an instructor at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. He died at his home in Shutesbury, Massachusetts in December 2013; Yusef Lateef was 93 years old.
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