RIP: Brother Yusef Lateef

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Yusef Lateef: Oct. 9, 1920 – Dec. 23, 2013

Brother Yusef has shuffled off this mortal coil. He was 93. Sadly, another death of a personal musical hero and champion.

Yusef Lateef (né Bill Evans, of all things) has always been one of my favorite musicians. I was shelling out precious coin back when I was surfing in Hawaii at 16, buying a new copy of  Jazz ‘Round the World at the Sears store, Ala Moana shopping center in Waikiki. Later, when I started playing flute, I listened to all his great LPs such as The Diverse Yusef Lateef (song was “Eboness”) and Into Something (song was “I’ll Remember April”). Yusef, like Hubert Laws and Herbie Mann, helped put the flute into the jazz repertoire.  He also brought many world music elements into his music, long before the term “world music” even existed. He was a great experimenter and innovator, but always had a solid musical command of whatever instrument he played.  He experimented with non-western modes and scales. He once played a 7-up bottle on a song called “Love and Humor”–how cool is that? A balloon on another cut. The most soulful oboe solo ever on “Blues for the Orient”. He was a good bassoon player as well as introducing non-western instruments such as the Indian shehnai and the Egyptian arghul.

Yusef Lateef got his start playing in Detroit’s big band scene in 1939. He had a big tenor sound that always reminded me of Dexter Gordon. Check out his version of Nat Cole’s “Straighten Up and Fly Right” from his album The Golden Flute on Impulse. He was, even before Ahmad Jamal, an early convert to Islam, hence the name change. And he outlived many of his contemporaries by abstaining from many of the bad habits that brought them down long ago.

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My signed copy of Blues For The Orient

I interviewed Yusef on Morning Becomes Eclectic years ago. He rarely came to LA except for performances with percussionist Adam Rudolf. Yusef was teaching at the University of Massachusetts with Archie Shepp and other famous musicians on the faculty. I wish he’d been teaching when I was in college! I still have a Prestige LP signed “Brother Tom, Peace and Love, Brother Yusef.”  What a wonderful way to remember such a sweet man and dedicated music original.

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I recommend the Yusef Lateef Anthology issued by Rhino in the early 1990’s. Among other gems on the 2 CD set, there is a joyful song called “Morning”.

Thank you brother Yusef for your music. You’ve given us a gift that will be with us forever.

Here is the song “Morning” from an early Savoy recording. Great playing by Hugh Lawson, piano

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