Saturday, December 31, 2011

SAM RIVERS (1923-2011): Multi-Instrumentalist, Saxophonist, Bandleader, And Composer

Richard Termine for The New York Times
Sam Rivers in 2007

David Redfern/Getty Images


Another great and iconic African American musician and composer is gone--the internationally acclaimed multi-instrumentalist, tenor saxophonist, and composer Sam Rivers. Thankfully, I was privileged to see and hear Sam perform many times in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and Detroit from 1970 on. In 1972 he and the extraordinary bass player/composer Richard Davis (b. 1930) did an amazing year long artist-in-residency at my college alma mater in Michigan during my senior year there. During an astounding and highly varied six decade long career (!) Sam played and recorded with everyone from Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie to Billie Holiday, T-Bone Walker, Tony Williams, David Holland, Cecil Taylor,
David Holland, and Anthony Braxton among many others. He also organized and led a large number of his own ensemble groups in duo, trio, quartet, quintet, septet, octet, and orchestral big band settings. His legendary loft space for music and dance performance that he founded with his wife Beatrice in downtown Manhattan was called Studio Rivbea and was THE place to hear really original and dynamic avant-garde Jazz by a wide array of musicians and composers in New York in the mid and late 1970s and he also led a terrific anf highly influential Jazz orchestra of over 20 musicians throughout the '80s, '90s. and well into the 2000s. He was yet another real GIANT of the music in the post-1950s era. What an artist! What follows is an extended homage to and celebration of this man and his indelible music via words, visual images and of course SOUND. ENJOY! and RIP Sam...


Sam Rivers, Jazz Artist of Loft Scene, Dies at 88
December 27, 2011

New York Times

Sam Rivers, an inexhaustibly creative saxophonist, flutist, bandleader and composer who cut his own decisive path through the jazz world, spearheading the 1970s loft scene in New York and later establishing a rugged outpost in Florida, died on Monday in Orlando, Fla. He was 88.

The cause was pneumonia, his daughter Monique Rivers Williams said.

With an approach to improvisation that was garrulous and uninhibited but firmly grounded in intellect and technique, Mr. Rivers was among the leading figures in the postwar jazz avant-garde. His sound on the tenor saxophone, his primary instrument, was distinctive: taut and throaty, slightly burred, dark-hued. He also had a recognizable voice on the soprano saxophone, flute and piano, and as a composer and arranger.

Music ran deep in his family. His grandfather Marshall W. Taylor published one of the first hymnals for black congregations after emancipation, “A Collection of Revival Hymns and Plantation Melodies,” in 1882. His mother, the former Lillian Taylor, was a pianist and choir director, and his father, Samuel Rivers, was a gospel singer. They were on tour with the Silvertone Quintet in El Reno, Okla., when Samuel Carthorne Rivers was born, on Sept. 25, 1923.

Growing up in Chicago and on the road, Mr. Rivers studied violin, piano and trombone. After his father had a debilitating accident in 1937, he moved with his mother to Little Rock, Ark., where he zeroed in on the tenor saxophone. Joining the Navy in the mid-’40s, he served for three years.

Mr. Rivers enrolled in the Boston Conservatory of Music in 1947 and later transferred to Boston University, where he majored in composition and briefly took up the viola and fell into the busy Boston jazz scene.

He made an important acquaintance in 1959: Tony Williams, a 13-year-old drummer who already sounded like an innovator. Together they delved into free improvisation, occasionally performing in museums alongside modernist and abstract paintings.

By 1964 Mr. Williams was working with the trumpeter Miles Davis and persuaded him to hire Mr. Rivers, who was with the bluesman T-Bone Walker at the time, for a summer tour. Mr. Rivers’s blustery playing with the Miles Davis Quintet, captured on the album “Miles in Tokyo,” suggested a provocative but imperfect fit. Wayne Shorter replaced him in the fall.

On a series of Blue Note recordings in the middle to late ’60s, beginning with Mr. Williams’s first album as a leader, “Life Time,” Mr. Rivers expressed his ideas more freely. He made four albums of his own for the label, the first of which — “Fuchsia Swing Song,” with Mr. Williams, the pianist Jaki Byard and the bassist Ron Carter, another Miles Davis sideman — is a landmark of experimental post-bop, with a free-flowing yet structurally sound style. “Beatrice,” a ballad from that album Mr. Rivers named after his wife, would become a jazz standard.

Beatrice Rivers died in 2005. In addition to his daughter Monique, Mr. Rivers is survived by two other daughters, Cindy Johnson and Traci Tozzi; a son, Dr. Samuel Rivers III; five grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

Mr. Rivers pushed further toward abstraction in the late ’60s, moving to New York and working as a sideman with the uncompromising pianists Andrew Hill and Cecil Taylor. In 1970 he and his wife opened Studio Rivbea, a noncommercial performance space, in their loft on Bond Street in the East Village. It served as an avant-garde hub through the end of the decade, anchoring what would be known as the loft scene.

The albums Mr. Rivers made for Impulse Records in the ’70s would further burnish his reputation in the avant-garde. After Studio Rivbea closed in 1979, Mr. Rivers continued to lead several groups, including a big band called the Rivbea Orchestra, a woodwind ensemble called Winds of Change and a virtuosic trio with the bassist Dave Holland and the drummer Barry Altschul. With the trio, Mr. Rivers often demonstrated his gift as a multi-instrumentalist, extemporizing fluidly on saxophone, piano and flute.

Mr. Rivers tacked toward more mainstream sensibilities from 1987 to 1991, when he worked extensively with an early influence, the trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. While touring through Orlando with Gillespie in 1991, Mr. Rivers met some of the skilled musicians employed by the area’s theme parks, who persuaded him to move there and revive the Rivbea Orchestra. He lived most recently in nearby Apopka, Fla.

The music made by his band in the 1990s and beyond was as spirited and harmonically dense as anything in Mr. Rivers’s musical history. And the trio at its core — Mr. Rivers, the bassist Doug Mathews and the drummer Anthony Cole — also performed on its own, honing a dynamic versatility distinct from that of any other group in jazz.

Mr. Rivers’s late-career renaissance was confirmed by the critical response to “Inspiration” and “Culmination,” two albums he recorded for RCA in 1998 with a New York big band assembled by the alto saxophonist Steve Coleman. In 2000, Mr. Rivers led the Orlando iteration of the Rivbea Orchestra in a concert presented by Jazz at Lincoln Center. The next year he served as the fiery eminence on “Black Stars,” an acclaimed album by the 26-year-old pianist Jason Moran.

This year saw the release of “Sam Rivers and the Rivbea Orchestra — Trilogy” (Mosaic), a three-CD set featuring recordings from 2008 and 2009. His last performance was in October in DeLand, Fla.

In 2006. the Vision Festival, a nonprofit New York event aesthetically indebted to the loft scene, honored Mr. Rivers with a Sam Rivers Day program featuring both his bands. The names of two of the bustling pieces performed were, appropriately, “Flair” and “Spunk.”

Sam Rivers, jazz sax great who hosted Village concerts, dead at 88

New Yorker played with Miles Davis, Billie Holiday and T. Bone Walker

December 28 2011

Sam Rivers played saxophone with some of the all-time jazz and blues greats, including Billie Holliday, Miles Davis and B.B. King.

Sam Rivers, a legendary jazz saxophonist who threw raucous jam sessions in his west Village loft, died of pneumonia in Orlando on Monday. He was 88.

Rivers was born in El Reno, Oklahoma in 1923. He was heir to a musical legacy that began with his grandfather Marshall W. Taylor, who in 1882 published an early classic of African-American folk music, “A Collection of Revival Hymns & Plantation Melodies.”

Rivers’ mother and father played together in a local quartet and encouraged their son to study music from an early age.

By age 13, Rivers settled on the tenor saxophone as his instrument of choice. He stuck with the sax for more than 70 years, cutting 35 albums and playing countless gigs with many of the greatest artists in jazz.

After a stint in the Navy as a young man, Rivers enrolled in the Boston Conservatory, where he would begin his career as a professional musician.

By the mid-1950’s Rivers was backing up Billie Holiday on the sax and acting as musical director for a number of great R&B acts including B.B. King and T-Bone Walker.

In 1964 he moved to New York and joined Miles Davis’s quintet, with whom he recorded the seminal live record “Miles in Tokyo.” In that year Rivers also began recording his own groups for Blue Note, eventually releasing four records as a band leader for the famed jazz label.

In 1970, Rivers and his wife Beatrice opened a jazz and dance performance space called Studio Rivbea in their Bond Street loft.

The freewheeling venue was a fixture of the Village’s art and jazz scene until 1979 when Rivers and his wife relocated to New Jersey.

Rivers moved to Orlando in 1991 and continued to record and tour until his death.

Rivers is survived by five children, five grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. His wife Beatrice Rivers died in 2005.

His family is holding a private funeral service and plans are being made for a public memorial concert to be held in his honor.

With News Wire Services

Sam Rivers: A Compelling Force

by Kofi Natambu

Detroit Metro Times

August 29, 1984

“You don’t pin me down. I am as general as a musician can be, general and open. I have the scope of the whole thing and I really try to do it that way with every composition.

—Sam Rivers

Everything about Samuel Carthorne Rivers defies traditional attempts to blithely categorize or pigeonhole. In fact, his entire life history as a black creative musician suggests there is something seriously wrong with most general notions about what “jazz” is (or is supposed to be). A brilliant multi-instrumentalist and composer who excels with world-class proficiency on tenor and soprano saxophones, flute and piano. Rivers is a musician for whom the extraordinary is quite commonplace. It is Rivers’s extensive background in all the major styles and concepts of Afro-American music (which is the mainstream of all American music), that allows him to create freely in a multitude of settings.

Rivers was born Sept. 25, 1923 in El Reno, Oklahoma. The other significant fact about his birth is that it literally took place on the road. You see, Rivers comes from a family of very talented musicians. His grandfather, the Rev. Marshall W. Taylor, is famous for the publication of a volume of slave folk songs and gospel tunes. Sam’s very early years were spent in Chicago until his father died and the family moved to Arkansas when he was seven.

Sam’s extremely varied training in music began then. He studied and learned how to play several instru­ments, beginning with piano and then violin and alto saxophone. He also sang with his brother and two cousins in a group called—and you won’t believe this—the “Tiny Tims.”

After a stint in the Navy, Sam enrolled at the Boston Conservatory of Music. While there, Sam studied composition and viola, in addition to violin. At night Sam played tenor saxophone in an improvisational music setting at a small bar and grill. This was in Boston during the early 1950s, and it was jumping with great music and musicians—Jaki Byard, Charlie Mariano, Nat Pierce, Quincy Jones (then a trumpet player), Joe Gordon, Gigi Gryce and, of course, Cecil Taylor were a few notables on the scene. As Rivers described it: “There were three or four bands a night—never a dull moment. They’d start at noon and go to midnight. Two bands during the day and two at night. I was lucky—we played from seven to ten, but it was seven days a week”

During this period Rivers was also a regular member of a big band called ‘The Beboppers” that played the bop classics (Bird, Dizzy, Dameron et al). Despite this, Rivers’ main influences were, as he says: “Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins. Lester Young was my first influence, later Hawkins, Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis, people like that.” Even then Rivers, always an original and innovative stylist, did not imitate the styles of those he admired. He also consciously made a point of playing in a bebop vein without playing too many bop tunes.

The early 1960s marked a change in Rivers’ style and a turning point in his long career. He was still playing classical music and holding down a regular gig with blues groups and a Basie-like big band, but at the same time he was working with a new, more advanced group that included the then 16-year-old prodigy of the drums, the great Tony Williams. Hal Galper was on piano and Rivers on various reeds, Rivers took a never-look-back plunge into the so-called “avant-garde” of black creative music. Rivers states: “We were listening to Cecil Taylor’s music and Ornette Coleman’s music. So that opened the music up. It was a natural evolution for me.” Rivers had already been playing compositionswithout a preset chord structure before he heard Coleman and Taylor. Their bold innovations only confirmed the validity of his own experiments. Rivers considers this development in the music to be the most radical innovation in music in the last fifty years.

It was in 1964 after playing on the road with the legendary blues singer and guitarist T-Bone Walker that Rivers was first brought to the attention of a national audience when he was asked to play with the Miles Davis group. Though Rivers only played with Miles for six months, he made an indelible impression by playing some very fiery and wildly original tenor saxophone on a now-classic recording called Miles Davis Live in Tokyo (recently reissued by Columbia on a 1983 two-fer called Heard ‘Round the World). This recording identified Rivers as a major force to be reckoned with and put him in the upper echelon of saxophonists with the likes of John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and Rivers’ replacement with the Davis band, Wayne Shorter. Later, in 1970, Rivers opened what became a very famous and successful musicians’ loft Studio Rivbea. Named after Sam and his artist wife of thirty years, Bea Rivers, this studio became the spot to hear the new generation of innovative black creative musicians such as then unknowns Arthur Blythe, David Murray, Henry Threadgill, Olu Dara, Frank Lowe, and the dynamos from Chicago’s AACM: Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell, Leo Smith, Leroy Jenkins and others.

The loft and Rivers became central figures in what the media dubbed “Loft Jazz” as many similar sites. for playing contemporary black creative music began to spring up. In 1976 many of the major artists in the movement were documented on record in a five-album series for Douglas Records that Rivers co-produced called Wildflowers. Now out of print, this series is a real collector’s item. As a concert and rehearsal space, Studio Rivbea was a fantastic place to hear live music without any distractions whatever. Its absence (Rivers closed it in 1980) is sorely felt.

Throughout the 1960s, 1970s and into this decade. Rivers has recorded some amazing music. In the mid ­1960s, he did a series of classic recordings for Blue Note that featured a very fluid and dynamic style on tenor and a characteristically varied compositional approach. He also appeared as a sideman giving great perfor­mances on records led by Tony Williams, Larry Young and Andrew Hill. Rivers also performed and recorded with Cecil Taylor in the late 1960s, culminating in an exhilarating three-record set for wealthy European patron that was released in the U.S. as The Great Concert of Cecil Taylor, Rivers continued to play on and off with Taylor until 1973. After another brief stint with McCoy Tyner, Rivers really came into his own in the early 1970s.

It was during this phase that Rivers finally got an opportunity to record his orchestral music. Utilizing groups of between 10-25 pieces, Rivers extends the traditional big band concept through a distinctly melodic and rhythmic approach that relies on tonal density and textural richness to convey sound colors. There is a broad canvas of sounds to choose from in exploring the multidirectional movement of lines and rhythms. The first recorded evidence of this creative approach appears on a brilliant Rivers date for Impulse called Crystals from 1974. Since then Rivers has led outstanding large ensemble groups in various music festivals in the U.S., Europe, and Japan as well as continuing his unique uses of the small group idiom.

Ironically, despite the consistent high quality of Rivers’ work, he has only been able to make five recordings in America in the past eight years. Another glaring example of the music industry’s neglect of creative music. All of Rivers’ recent records (Duets 1 & 2 with the great bassist David Holland, Waves, Contrasts and his latest 1983 masterpiece for the Italian Black Saint label entitled Colours), are leading forces in contemporary creative music in the world today.

As Rivers says: “This music has developed at a very rapid pace over the last sixty years and has come to dominate the world music scene. The fine art music is jazz, now at its highest state, which we prefer to call creative music. We would like to change the name but the writers won’t allow it, they just keep saying ‘jazz.” I just let it go. It’s a category for me that covers all. I’ve played in symphony orchestras, blues bands, experimental groups, avant-garde groups, bebop groups, show bands; you name the music and I’ve pretty much done it. Saying that I’m a jazz musician means I play all kinds of music.”

On Friday, Aug. 31 at 8p.m., you will hear more than versatility, exquisite technical control and prowess, or even creative values at work. You will hear passion, strength, tenderness and love. What else can you expect from music?

Detroit Metro Times

August 29, 1984

Sam Rivers
By Kofi Natambu
Source: African American National Biography

Born: El Reno, Oklahoma, United States
25 September 1923
Activity/Profession: Saxophonist, Composer / Arranger, Pianist, Jazz Musician

Multi-instrumentalist (tenor, soprano, and alto saxophones, piano, and flute), composer, arranger, and teacher was born Samuel Carthorne Rivers in El Reno, Oklahoma, to a family of musicians. Rivers's grandfather the Reverend Marshall Wiliam Taylor published a famous book of hymns and African American folk songs in 1882 entitled A Collection of Revival Hymns and Plantation Melodies. His parents, both college graduates from Chicago, played and toured with the Silvertone Quartet, a gospel group in which his father sang and his mother accompanied on piano. When he was still an infant, Rivers and his family moved to Chicago, where from the age of four Rivers sang in choirs directed by his mother. He joined his father on excursions to famous South Side venues—namely the Regal Theatre and Savoy Ballroom—to hear the top African American big bands of the day, from Duke Ellington and Count Basie to Earl “Fatha” Hines. During this time Rivers also learned piano and violin, dropping the latter instrument a few years later to concentrate exclusively on piano.

After Rivers's father died in an automobile accident in 1937, his mother took a teaching position at Shorter College in Little Rock, Arkansas. Rivers continued to develop his musical talent, playing trombone in the marching band at age eleven, and two years later picking up a saxophone, which he found more to his liking and on which he then concentrated exclusively. By the time he graduated from high school in Little Rock at age fifteen, Rivers had learned the trombone, soprano saxophone, and baritone horn.

As a student at Jarvis Christian College in Texas, Rivers started improvising on the saxophone while learning the classic Coleman Hawkins tenor saxophone interpretation and improvisation on “Body and Soul” from transcription. Soon Rivers was fervently studying other major saxophonists, like Lester Young and Chu Berry. In the mid-1940s he heard the revolutionary innovations of “bebop” pioneers Charlie “Yardbird” Parker and John “Dizzy” Gillespie while working as a navy clerk stationed near San Francisco, California. He felt he had received his calling to become a professional musician. The 1945 Gillespie and Parker recording “Blue and Boogie” particularly intrigued Rivers. Rivers spent his off-hours moonlighting on gigs with singer Jimmy Witherspoon and participating in Bay Area jam sessions.

Inspired to further his musical training, Rivers enrolled in the Boston Conservatory of Music in 1947, studying composition and theory, and also attended Boston University. He occasionally worked with other artistically ambitious jazz musicians, including Jaki Byard, Nat Pierce, Charlie Mariano, Gigi Gryce, Herb Pomeroy, and Alan Dawson. In 1952 Rivers dropped out of Boston University, suffering from illness for the next few years. He spent some time composing, but he remained relatively inactive as a performing musician. After his recovery Rivers moved to Florida in 1955, working in Miami with his brother, bass player Martin Rivers, and touring the South with rhythm and blues bands. A few years later, he returned to Boston, supporting himself by writing advertising jingles before rejoining the Herb Pomeroy orchestra (1960–1962) and forming a quartet in 1959 with pianist Hal Galper, bassist Henry Grimes, and a phenomenal thirteen-year-old drummer named Tony Williams.

Williams and Rivers would meet again in the summer of 1964 when the saxophonist, upon Williams's ardent recommendation, joined the Miles Davis Quintet, replacing tenor saxophonist George Coleman. Rivers toured and recorded with the quintet in Japan and as part of the World Jazz Festival. After his six-month tenure was over, he discovered that most of his musical peers in Boston were so busy teaching and performing on their own that they could no longer play with him. Undaunted, Rivers decided to move to Harlem and signed a recording contract with Blue Note, making his 1964 debut as a bandleader with the recording Fuchsia Swing Song, which demonstrated his movement from a post-bop conception into “free jazz” playing. The recording was well received by critics, and Rivers followed this success with another Blue Note session, Contours, with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and pianist Herbie Hancock, which was much closer to mainstream jazz traditions. Rivers returned to free jazz in 1966 with Invocation.

Rivers grew increasingly interested in teaching, eventually conducting a workshop with his big band music at a Harlem junior high school. After touring and recording with the Cecil Taylor Unit Ensemble in 1969 (he played with the group from 1968 to 1973), and a six-month stint with pianist McCoy Tyner's group, in 1971 Rivers and his wife, Bea, opened Studio Rivbea, a performance and loft living space in lower Manhattan, for rehearsals and performances of his own original compositions as well as those of musicians interested in new, experimental work in the jazz tradition. One of the first major New York “loft spaces” to emerge during the 1970s, the studio became a nurturing ground and a live performance outlet for numerous improvisational musicians and composers in New York.

From 1972 to 1982, after working again with Miles Davis as well as Chick Corea's avant-garde ensemble Circle, Rivers performed and recorded regularly in duos, trios, quartets, quintets, and big bands, and he continued to foster and promote his studio. Throughout the 1980s Rivers composed for orchestral and smaller groups for Impulse Records and many minor labels. In 1991, after concluding four years of international touring with Dizzy Gillespie's quintet and big band, Rivers left New York to settle in Orlando, Florida, with his wife. While vacationing there, they had discovered a talented network of musicians working in theme parks and studios. Rivers formed his own record label (also called Rivbea) and wrote compositions for three Orlando-based ensembles: a sixteen-piece big band, an eleven-piece wind ensemble, and a trio, which was the orchestra's core rhythm section. He released two critically acclaimed albums for RCA, the 1999 Grammy Award–nominated Inspiration and 2000's Culmination. In the summer of 2000, Rivers released a double-CD on Rivbea, documenting his Orlando big band.

Further Reading

Davis, Francis. “At 75, a Maverick Has a Big Band ‘Talking,’” New York Times, 10 Oct. 1999.
Gettelman, Parry. “Rivers Keeps It Fresh,” Orlando Sentinel Tribune, 19 November 1999.
Hazell, Ed. “Big-band Bop: Sam Rivers's Inspiration,” Boston Phoenix, 5 Aug. 1999
Rubien, David. “Sam Rivers Jazz Original Reappears,” San Francisco Chronicle, 7 Nov. 1993.
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Dave Holland and Sam Rivers in Pisa , Italy 1980

Ending track from Sam River's "Fuchsia Swing Song" original album. Recorded at the Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey on December 11, 1964. Originally released as BST (84184)

Sam Rivers (tenor saxophone); Jaki Byard (piano); Ron Carter (bass); Tony Williams (drums).

Roots - "Lester Leaps In"
[Salute to the Saxophone (1992, Panorama)

With Sam Rivers 1984 === Hamburg, Germany @ Funkhaus
Cecil Bridgewater (tp), Odean Pope (ts),Sam Rivers (ts, ss, fl), Tyrone Brown (b), Max Roach (dr)

Sam Rivers Biography Timeline Born: September 25, 1923 | Died: December 26, 2011 Instrument: Sax, tenor

Samuel Carthorne Rivers (born September 25, 1923, El Reno, Oklahoma) is a jazz musician and composer. He performs on soprano and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet, flute, and piano. Rivers was previously thought to have been born in 1930.

Rivers's father was a gospel musician who had sung with the Fisk Jubilee Singers and the Silverstone Quartet, exposing Rivers to music from an early age.

Rivers moved to Boston, Massachusetts in 1947, where he studied at the Boston Conservatory with Alan Hovhaness. He performed with Quincy Jones, Herb Pomeroy, Tadd Dameron and others.

In 1959 Rivers began performing with 13-year-old drummer Tony Williams, who later went on to have an impressive career. Rivers did a brief stint with Miles Davis's quintet in 1964, partly at Williams's recommendation. This quintet was recorded on a single album, Miles in Tokyo. Unfortunately, Rivers' playing style was too free to be compatible with Davis's music at this point, and he was soon replaced by Wayne Shorter. Rivers was signed by Blue Note Records, for whom he recorded four albums as leader and made several sideman appearances. Among noted sidemen on his own Blue Note Records were Jaki Byard who appears on Fuschia Swing Song, Herbie Hancock and Freddie Hubbard. He appeared on Blue Note recordings of Tony Williams, Andrew Hill and Larry Young.

Rivers's music is rooted in bebop, but he is an adventurous player, adept at free jazz. The first of his Blue Note albums, Fuchsia Swing Song, is widely regarded as a masterpiece of an approach sometimes called “inside-outside”. The performer frequently obliterates the explicit harmonic framework (”going outside”) but retains a hidden link so as to be able to return to it in a seamless fashion. Rivers brought the conceptual tools of bebop harmony to a new level in this process, united at all times with the ability to “tell a story” which Lester Young had