Yusef Lateef, R.I.P.

The roll call of distinguished jazz artists leaving us seems to grow longer by the day. Now comes news of the passing of Yusef Lateef, who died today at his home in Massachusetts. He was 93. As a youngster in Detroit, Lateef Yusef-Lateefmastered several reed instruments and early in his career became a respected performer, composer and educator. He was an inspiration and model for a generation of young Detroit musicians who in the 1950s moved to New York and themselves became influences in the burgeoning jazz scene of that decade. Lateef was an early innovator in what became known as world music, melding his deep understanding of and emotional connection to the blues with concepts derived from his study of Middle Eastern music

In addition to performing and recording prolifically with his own groups, Lateef had tenure with two enormously influential leaders—early in his career Dizzy Gillespie’s 1940s big band, in the 1960s the Cannonball Adderley Sextet. In this 1963 clip, we hear Lateef playing oboe with the Adderley group; Adderley, alto saxophone; Nat Adderley, cornet; Joe Zawinul, piano; Sam Jones, bass; Louis Hayes, drums. Cannonball named the piece for John Coltrane, his former colleague in the Miles Davis Sextet.

Mark Stryker, the music critic of The Detroit Free Press, has covered Lateef for years and written extensively about him. For Mr. Stryker’s summary of Lateef’s career, please go here. But before you do, don’t miss this astonishing 1972 performance by Lateef on tenor saxophone with Kenny Barron, piano; Bob Cunningham, bass; and Albert “Tootie” Heath, drums. Heath also plays wood flute. Following the performance is a brief disquisition in French.

To hear and see more from that Lateef quartet, go here and here.

Thanks to the YouTube uploader known as uvisninewnew for providing those Jazz Harmonie videos.

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  1. Valerie Bishop says

    I believe we can all take some lessons from the way Brother Lateef lived his life. Not only did he share his musical/educational knowledge with millions of people but his spiritual treasures as well. He was an incredibly generous man. May he rest in peace. As Sonny Rollins said, “He did his work.”

  2. Wayne Tucker says

    I always liked Lateef (birth name William Evans, I believe) and thought him underrated. I had a couple of his strong Atlantic lps back in the 60s, with “Detroit” standing out as especially strong. I still have a couple of cds, and “Live at Peps” is a favorite. Thanks for the notice and the videos.

  3. Don Conner says

    There’s a cliche that states that bad luck comes in threes; well that’s happened in the last few days with the deaths of Jim Hall, Herb Geller and Yusef Lateef. I only had seen Mr.Lateef once at a weekly gig at Jimmy Connoly’s club in the south end of Boston. This was in the sixties. I can only remember two members of his group, Richard Williams on trumpet and Hugh Lawson on Piano. Mr. Lateef was was a remarkable and versatile player. I also have the DVD with Cannonball that was released on the Reelin’ In The Years series. Doug Thanks for your forewords on many of these priceless series. Are there any more more in the can?

    Mr lateef, RIP

  4. Fred says

    Many years ago I had the honor of interviewing Yusef for my college newspaper. I was a skinny sophomore at Tulane University, and, having just arrived for the fall semester, notice that he had a gig scheduled at a local club. I made a few inquiries with the newspapers editors, and before I knew it, the “meeting” was arranged. Wow. I knew some of his music, a little of his genesis as a jazz player, and much about his reputation as one of the lesser-known giants of jazz. But I was, and still am, a jazz fanatic, so why not jump at the chance to hang with one of the greats?

    So I spent the day prepping for the interview, reviewing his music and his unusual biography. Did you know he had a Phd in sociology? That he was a writer, essayist, and a vegetarian? What the hell was I going to ask him?

    To be brief: he was very personable, well spoken, and learned in his musical and worldview, especially in areas far beyond the limitations of a college sophomore. I recall very clearly a rather grievous error I made when I referred to some of his musical influences (he had many…) as being from the genre of “classical music”. Yusef stopped me, just about in mid sentence, and asked: What do you mean by “classical” music?

    It’s not very easy to conduct an in depth interview when you’ve really never done one before (the truth of it be known); its a guaranteed anxiety stimulant when the interviewee turns the table and starts asking you the challenging questions. And it kind of sucked that I really didn’t have an answer for him, other than some lame response like, “Uh…you know it when you hear it”.

    Mr. Lateef (as I addressed him at the time) corrected me with the following definition: if you are referring to music that is composed in the sonata allegro form, then that’s classical music. But the other examples you gave—I really don’t know what you mean”. He then politely explained that many so-called “classical composers” incorporated elements of improvisation into their work- wouldn’t they be therefore be considered “jazz musicians”.

    Suffice it to say that I learned a valuable lesson: when interviewing someone, be very careful of not only what you know, but especially what you think you know.

    Having said that, we spoke for awhile, the interview taped on a cheap cassette recorder, later transcribed and published in the Tulane Hullabaloo. He signed my interview pad with a gracious paragraph, that began with “Dear Brother Fred,” and concluded with the blessing to always find peace in the loving kingdom of God,” and signed : Brother Yusef Lateef.

    He was a gentleman, a consumate musician, scholar, and one of the few people I’ve ever interviewed who set me straight when I least expected it.

  5. says

    Thanks for sharing these videos, Doug. I hadn’t seen or heard either one before. I had the urge to give Mssrs. Lateef and Heath a hearty l’chaim during their tenor-wood flute duet. :-)

    On another note, I will mention that Bro. Yusef was a tremendous influence on me and many others who studied with him at UMass. An anecdote: I recall starting out many lessons having walked into his teaching room, with Yusef seated at the piano striking a chord over and again. Before exchanging greetings, Bro. Yusef would show me this new scale-to-chord relationship he has stumbled upon. The striking thing about these moments is that he was showing me something interesting that he just found, and wanting to share it with me, almost as if we were schoolmates sharing a cool new lick we learned. But we weren’t schoolmates: he was, by that point, a 70-year-old giant of the music, and I was just a college-aged saxophonist.

    I’ll stop there – the other remembrances you cite say it better than I can.

    I’d say RIP, but the truth is: Bro. Yusef always seemed at peace.