September 16, 1940 – October 4th 2018
The most prominent baritone saxophonist of his generation, Bluiett combines a blunt, modestly inflected attack with a fleet, aggressive technique, and (maybe most importantly) a uniform hugeness of sound that extends from his horn’s lowest reaches to far beyond what is usually its highest register. Probably no other baritonist has played so high, with so much control; Bluiett’s range travels upward into an area usually reserved for the soprano or even sopranino. His technical mastery aside, Bluiett’s solo voice is unlikely to be confused with any other. Enamored with the blues, brusque and awkwardly swinging — in his high-energy playing, Bluiett makes a virtue out of tactlessness; on ballads, he assumes a considerably more lush, romantic guise. Like his longtime collaborator, tenor saxophonist David Murray, Bluiett incorporates a great deal of conventional bebop into his free playing. In truth, Bluiett’s music is not free jazz at all, but rather a plain-spoken extension of the mainstream tradition.Bluiett was first taught music as a child by his aunt, a choral director. He began playing clarinet at the age of nine. He took up the flute and bari sax while attending Southern Illinois University. Bluiett left college before graduating. He joined the Navy, in which he served for several years. He moved to St. Louis in the mid-’60s, where he met and played with many of the musicians who would become the musicians’ collective known as the Black Artists Group — Lester Bowie, Charles “Bobo” Shaw, Julius Hemphill, and Oliver Lake, among others. Bluiett moved to New York in 1969; there he joined Sam Rivers’ large ensemble, and worked free-lance with a variety of musicians. In 1972, Bluiett’s avant-garde garrulousness and his competency as a straight-ahead player gained him a place in one of Charles Mingus’ last great bands, which also included pianist Don Pullen. Bluiett stayed with Mingus until 1975. In 1976, he recorded the material that would comprise his first two albums as a leader, Endangered Species and Birthright.
In December of ’76, Bluiett played a one-shot concert in New Orleans with Murray, Lake, and Hemphill. That supposedly ad-hoc group continued to perform and record as the World Saxophone Quartet, which in the ’80s became arguably the most popular free jazz band ever. The WSQ’s early free-blowing style eventually transformed into a sophisticated and largely composed melange of bebop, Dixieland, funk, free, and various world musics, its characteristic style anchored and largely defined by Bluiett’s enormous sound. Bluiett continued to record and tour with the WSQ through the ’80s and ’90s; he also led his own ensembles and recorded a number of strong, progressive-mainstream albums for Black Saint/Soul Note. By the mid-’90s, Bluiett was recording and supervising sessions for Mapleshade records.
— Chris Kelsey, All-Music Guide
Hamiet’s Set Up: