The Arthur Blythe Quartet this weekend. Performing live at the Jazz Festival in Berlin on November 1, 1980 and preserved for posterity by RRB Radio in Berlin.
Blythe may not be a household name to many casual Jazz listeners, but to those in the know, he was one of the more important figures on the Jazz scene in the 1970s.
Here is a little bit about him, via his New York Times Obit, from March 30 of last year:
Arthur Murray Blythe was born on July 5, 1940, in Los Angeles, the middle child of three sons. (A fourth brother died as an infant.) His father was a mechanic, his mother a homemaker and part-time seamstress.
His parents soon divorced, and when he was 4 he moved with his mother to San Diego. At 9, inspired by the rhythm-and-blues and swing records she often played, he asked her for a trombone. She gave him an alto saxophone instead.
He studied with Kirkland Bradford, who had played with the Jimmie Lunceford big band, and developed a trilling style reminiscent of postwar saxophone stars like Earl Bostic.
Mr. Blythe worked in R&B bands throughout his teens, learning to cut through the volume of electric guitars while maintaining a romantic lyricism. That mixture of sultry and strident came to define his style.
When he was 19, he moved back to Los Angeles, where he met the pianist and bandleader Horace Tapscott and became affiliated with the Union of God’s Musicians and Artists Ascension, Mr. Tapscott’s Pan-African alliance of innovators.
In 1974, frustrated with the Los Angeles jazz scene’s limitations, Mr. Blythe left for New York, determined to make his mark.
He arrived with a nickname that reflected his self-affirmation and his uncompromising spirit: Black Arthur. He was known in Los Angeles for his racial pride and his willingness to speak boldly on behalf of other black people, despite an otherwise understated demeanor. Mr. Murray recalled him standing up fearlessly to police officers who had hassled him.
Mr. Blythe embraced the nickname, even calling himself Black Arthur Blythe on the cover of a 1978 album, “Bush Baby.”
Soon after arriving in New York, he began assembling bands with unusual instrumentation. When not playing with a straight-ahead quartet, he favored chunky, percussive backdrops that offset his tuneful improvising.
In 1977, The New York Times critic Robert Palmer praised Mr. Blythe, writing, “He is sly; he teases the beat, toys with polyrhythms and leaves gaping holes in the fabric of the music, only to come roaring back in with plangent held tones or crisp, punching riffs.”
Even after signing with Columbia, Mr. Blythe insisted on creative autonomy, releasing nine albums across a range of styles. He continued to record and perform regularly, often with the tuba player Bob Stewart and the drummer Cecil Brooks III, after Columbia declined to renew his contract in 1987.
He moved back to California in 1998 to take care of his children after his second marriage ended. He performed less frequently but released a handful of albums on the Savant label in the early 2000s before failing health eventually forced him to stop performing.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Blythe is survived by his daughter, Odessa Blythe, and two sons, Chalee and Arthur Jr., all from his second marriage; two half brothers, Bernard Blythe and Adrich Neal; and a half sister, Daisy Neal. His first two marriages ended in divorce.
“The music that I deal with has elements of bebop to ballad, swing to sweet, blues to boogie, and pop to rock,” Mr. Blythe told the musician and oral historian Ben Sidran in 1986. “If I have the ability to do that, I should be able to do whatever I want to do in those areas — because I am dealing with the tradition, and my culture, and my heritage.”
Now that you have some background, check out the man and his sound. This performance features his Quartet – consisting of: Bob Stewart, Tuba – Abdul Wadud, cello and Bobby Battle, drums.
Crank it up and relax – or continue recovering from celebrating St. Patrick’s Day yesterday.