Photo: David Murray plays Nat King Cole “En Español”, Antwerp, Belgium, 2009. | Bruno Bollaert/Flickr. Creative Commons licensed. Some Rights Reserved by photographer.
The next show will air on Sunday, December 28, 2014 from 11:00 PM – 1:00 AM Monday Eastern Standard Time on WBAI, 99.5 FM in the NYC metro area or streaming online at wbai.org. This broadcast features an interview with tenor saxophonist and bass clarinetist David Murray. You can hear a short preview below.
Few musicians in jazz history have proven more vigorously productive and resourceful than David Murray. During the past 40 years, from the moment he first visited New York as a 20-year-old student, playing in a walkup loft, in 1975, Murray has careened forward in a cool, collected, rocket-fueled streak. He has released over 150 albums under his own name and appears on around a hundred other recordings as a guest artist. Yet more impressive than the numbers is the constancy of two abiding achievements: as a tenor saxophonist, he has perfected an instantly recognizable approach to improvisation that even in its freest flights acknowledges the gravity of a tradition he honors more than most; and he has altered the context for his improvisations as an infinite mosaic of musical challenges and explorations. David Murray goes down as a worthy successor for some of the biggest names in jazz, and he is now contributing to the rise of young talents such as Lafayette Gilchrist, Nasheet Waits, and Orrin Evans.
The son of Baptist parents, Murray discovered the Negro spiritual style in the time of Coltrane and during Albert Ayler’s best period. Before setting off on his musical journey, Murray jumped the gun somewhat for a jazz musician. Born in Oakland, he grew up in Berkeley and studied with Catherine Murray (his mother, an organist), Bobby Bradford, Arthur Blythe, Stanley Crouch, and many others until 1975 when he left Ponoma College in Los Angeles for New York, which he made his base.
In New York, he met many new musicians and musical styles: Anthony Braxton, Don Cherry, Julius Hemphill … Within Ted Daniels’ Energy Band, he worked with Hamiett Bluiett, Lester Bowie and Frank Lowe. In 1976, after a first European tour, Murray set up one of his mythical groups, the World Saxophone Quartet with Oliver Lake, Hamiett Bluiett and Julius Hemphill. From Jerry Garcia to Max Roach, via Randy Weston and Elvin Jones, David Murray continued working with ever more artists and making ever more recordings. From 1978 onwards, he entered into a period of intense creativity, one flexible grouping of musicians following on from another.
By the end of the 1990′s, Murray was referred to in terms of fusion, of world music, and even of Pan-Africanism, ever since he took on a backwards tour through the Caribbean and the ‘little’ Americas, via South Africa and Senegal.
At the same time, he was writing film music (W Dubois (1989), Dernier Stade (1996), and Karmen Gaye in 2000), working with the ‘Urban Bush Women’ dance company (Crossing Into Our Promise Land, 1998) and regularly working with Joseph Papp of the New York Public Theatre (Photograph, 1978 and Spell Number in 1979) and with Bob Thiele, founder of Impulse and Red Baron, who became his producer in 1988 and signed him with Columbia. Thiele produced more than ten of Murray’s albums on Red Baron up until his death in 1997.
Murray also likes rearranging the works of great composers, as in his 1997 project The Obscure Work of Duke Ellington (arranged for a big band and a 25-piece string orchestra) or his 1990 re-transcription of a Paul Gonsalves solo work in Tribute to Paul Gonsalves (with the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra).
In addition to this, he has written two operas: The Blackamoor of Peter the Great in 2004 for strings and voices, based on a selection of twenty poems by Pushkin, and The Sysiphus Revue, his 2008 bop opera sung by a gospel choir on an Amiri Baraka libretto.
In 2006, his Black Saint Quartet was reborn with Sacred Ground, featuring vocals by Cassandra Wilson. The album’s compositions pay tribute to one of his most auspicious periods with the mythical Italian label Black Saint, and to the republishing of this entire catalogue in digital format on the major digital download sites.
The Devil Tried to Kill Me (2007) with the Gwo Ka Masters features Blues great Taj Mahal.
David Murray Plays Nat King Cole En Espanol (Motema, 2011) is one of his most improbable and effective projects: an interpretation of two albums that Nat King Cole recorded in Spanish in 1958 and 1962, performing melodies from Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Rio de Janeiro, and Buenos Aires. It demonstrated a tremendous leap in his approach to a world of music that has long fascinated him. The arrangements are imaginative, compelling, and wily, especially in the integration between winds and stings. The band is as tight as a fist and the recording is a high spot in his massive discography.
Murray’s career has been documented on screen in Speaking in Tongues, which follows him for ten years from 1978 to 1988; Jazzman (1997); and Saxophone Man (2007), which follows a year in his life from New York to Pointe-à-Pitre, via Oakland and Paris that reflects the David Murray of today: a citizen of the world.
Murray’s most recent work is a collaboration with Macy Gray. Following their work within the musical project Questlove Afro-Picks (including Tony Allen, Questlove from The Roots, Amp Fiddler), Gray asked David Murray to rearrange a cover song (“Love Lockdown”) from Kanye West for her album Covered. Murray reciprocated by inviting Macy Gray to sing with his big band on Be My Monster Love (Motema Records).
Show engineered, produced, hosted, and edited by Joyce Jones. Listen for our On the Bandstand segment with NYC metro area appearances of Suga’ guests at the end of the first hour with Associate Producer Hank Williams.
The next opportunity to see David Murray LIVE will happen during the marathon nights of the 2015 Winter Jazz Festival on January 9-10, 2015. We’ll have a preview and will be covering the fest on our blog.
Watch Murray perform live in Poland with the World Sax Quartet in 1998.
Watch Murray and the Black Saint Quartet perform live in Berlin in 2007.
Watch Murray and his Infinity Quartet perform Duke Ellington’s “Solitude” live with Macy Gray.
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