Saturday, September 14, 2013

Oliver Lake (b. September 14, 1942): Innovative Alto Saxophonist, Flautist, Composer, and Poet



OLIVER LAKE (b. September 14, 1942) is an outstanding alto saxophonist, flautist, arranger and composer who began his professional career in the early 1960s in St. Louis, Missouri and has gone on to become one of the seminal and most creatively versatile musicians and composers of the last 40 years. An original co-founder of the critically acclaimed and now legendary World Saxophone Quartet (along with his longtime cohorts and colleagues David Murray, Hamiett Bluiett, and the late, great Julius Hemphill) Lake has also led many ensembles of his own in duo, trio, quartet, quintet, septet, octet and large orchestral formats, as well as playing a pioneer role and excelling in solo improvisational settings. As a longtime devoted fan and supporter of Oliver's highly eclectic and always dynamic music(s) in both avant-garde and more traditional context, I have been fortunate to witness how Lake has played a pivotal role in the creative development and global expansion of contemporary black creative music in many different genres and styles that is always solidly rooted in Oliver's fierce and joyous commitment to the very highest standards of the music.

Lake's music was also integral to a twice weekly radio program that I founded, hosted and worked as a DJ for which featured contemporary black creative music on Detroit's public radio outlet WDET-FM from 1978-1983 called SOUND PROJECTIONS. My theme song for the program was none other than the title track's extraordinary composition 
"Heavy Spirits" by Lake that he played with his amazing ensemble of the mid and late '70s period. Produced on the Arista label this 1975 recording was played on every single program for the entire five year period of the show and never failed to elicit a wide range of deeply appreciative reactions and responses from listeners (especially painters, poets, other musicians, and dancers). Thus in the spirit of SOUND PROJECTIONS and all that it stood for (and tried to stand for) I share with you the following link to one of the tracks of the recording entitled "Owshet" as well as an image of the beautifully designed original artwork that adorned the cover of the Arista LP.  ENJOY...




Reggie Workman-bass
Andrew Cyrille-Drums
Oliver Lake--Alto saxophone

(b. 1942)

Oliver Lake: "It's all about choices," states modern Renaissance Man Oliver Lake to explain his expansive artistic vision. An accomplished poet, painter and performance artist, Lake has published a book of poetry entitled Life Dance, has exhibited and sold a number of his unique painted-sticks at the Montclair Art Museum, and has toured the country with his one-man performance piece, Matador of 1st and 1st. But it's his extraordinary talents as composer, saxophonist, flautist and bandleader that have brought him world-renown. Although his greatest reputation exists in the world of jazz, Lake's amazingly eclectic musical approach is best expressed by his popular poem SEPARATION: put all my food on the same plate!

Whether composing major commissioned works for the Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra and the Brooklyn Philharmonic; creating chamber pieces for the Arditti and Flux String Quartets, the Amherst Sax Quartet and the San Francisco Contemporary Players; arranging for pop diva Bjork, rocker Lou Reed and rap group A Tribe Called Quest; collaborating with poets Amiri Baraka and Ntozake Shange, choreographers Ron Brown and Marlies Yearby, Native American vocalist Mary Redhouse, Korean kumongo player Jin Hi Kim, and Chinese bamboo flute player Shuni Tsou; doing unique performances with MacArthur Award recipients, actress/author Anna Devere Smith and writer/law professor/political commentator Patricia Williams; sharing the stage with hip-hop artist Mos Def and pop star Me'shell Ndegeocello; or leading his own Steel Quartet, Big Band and cooperative ensembles the World Saxophone Quartet and Trio 3; Oliver views it all as parts of the same whole: dixieland, be-bop, soul, rhythm & blues, cool school, swing, avant-garde jazz, free jazz, rock, jazz rock


Extremely few artists could embrace such a diverse array of musical styles and disciplines. Lake is not only able to thrive in all of these environments, but does so without distorting or diluting his own remarkable artistic identity. Part of this is due to his experience with the Black Artists Group (BAG), the legendary multi-disciplined and innovative St. Louis collective he co-founded with poets Ajule and Malinke, and musicians Julius Hemphill and Floyd La Flore over 35 years ago. But in reality, Oliver's varied artistic interests go back even further than that.

Born in Marianna, Arkansas in 1942, Oliver moved to St. Louis at the age of two. He began drawing at the age of thirteen (and paints daily, using oil, acrylics, wood, canvas, and mixed media), and soon after began playing cymbals and bass drum in various drum and bugle corps. At 17, he began to take a serious interest in jazz.
Like many other members of BAG and its Chicago-based sister organization, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), Lake moved to New York in the mid-'70s, working the fertile ground of the downtown loft scene and quickly establishing himself as one of its most adventurous and multi-faceted artists.

A co-founder of the internationally acclaimed World Saxophone Quartet with Hemphill, Hamiet Bluiett and David Murray in 1977 (and recently celebrating its 26th anniversary with an album of Jimi Hendrix pieces for Justin Time Records), Oliver continued to work with the WSQ and his own various groups - including the groundbreaking roots/reggae ensemble Jump Up - and collaborating with many notable choreographers, poets and a veritable Who's Who of the progressive jazz scene of the late 20th century, performing all over the U.S. as well as in Europe, Japan, the Middle East, Africa and Australia.

While he has continued to tour regularly with his own groups, collaborations and guest appearances - in the last three months of 2003, he performed in Europe, Japan and various U.S. cities - Oliver recognized the changing trends and new challenges facing creative artists, especially those working in the jazz tradition. Always a strong proponent of artist self-empowerment and independence, in 1988 Lake founded Passin' Thru, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit, dedicated to fostering, promoting and advancing the knowledge, understanding and appreciation of jazz, new music and other disciplines in relation to music.

Under his artistic direction, Passin' Thru has commissioned new works, sponsored performances by emerging artists, documented works by prominent artists, and has established on-going educational activities not only in its home base of New Jersey and New York, but also in Florida, Minnesota, Arizona and Pennsylvania, along with occasional activities in other locales all over the U.S. The organization also operates Passin' Thru Records, which has recently issued its 12th recording (Dat Love by the Oliver Lake Steel Quartet). In addition to Oliver's albums, ranging from solo to big band, Passin Thru has also issued recordings by the late, legendary multi-reed master Makanda Ken McIntyre, piano great John Hicks and the first recording by Lake's mentor, St. Louis tenor sax giant Freddie Washington. A 13th album by renowned trombonist Craig Harris is scheduled for release in the spring of 2004.

A recipient of the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship, Lake is one of the most heavily commissioned composers to emerge from the jazz tradition. He's the most-commissioned composer in the history of the eminently respected organization Meet The Composer, most recently completing a three-year project funded by its New Residencies Program that resulted in six new musical works, a theater piece, three dance pieces and extended educational residencies in New Jersey and Tucson, Arizona; along with the establishment of Common Thread, an annual series of concerts featuring gifted female artists.

Other commissions have been received from the Library of Congress, the Rockefeller Foundation ASCAP, the International Association for Jazz Education, Composers Forum, the McKim Foundation, the Mary Flagler Cary Trust and the Lila Wallace Arts Partners Program. In addition to the ensembles mentioned earlier, others who have commissioned works are the Wheeling Symphony, New York New Music Ensemble, and Pulse Percussion Ensemble of New York. Oliver is often specially cited for his numerous endeavors with female artists and performers, to the extent of being called "The Feminist Composer" in an arts course taught at Wesleyan University.

Currently, in addition to performing and touring with his Steel Quartet, his Big Band, the WSQ and Trio 3, Oliver continues to collaborate with Mary Redhouse, Anna Devere Smith, Patricia Williams, Craig Harris and various artists in many disciplines. He is currently developing a symphonic piece that draws upon elements from his African, Native American and European heritage, and is in the midst of an extensive residency in Tucson, Arizona, partially sponsored by Chamber Music America, and a two-month multi-arts residency in Minneapolis.

Oliver Lake
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Oliver Lake (b. Marianna, Arkansas, September 14, 1942) is an American jazz saxophonist, flautist, composer and poet. He is known mainly on alto saxophone but also performs on soprano saxophone and flute.[1]

During the 1960s Lake worked with the Black Artists Group in St. Louis.

In 1977 Lake co-founded the World Saxophone Quartet, with David Murray, Julius Hemphill and Hamiet Bluiett.
Lake is a resident of Montclair, New Jersey.[2] His son is jazz drummer Gene Lake (b. 12 January 1966).


1 Discography
1.1 As leader
1.2 As sideman
2 Awards
3 References
4 External links


As leader

1971: Ntu: The Point From Which Freedom Begins (Freedom Records)
1974: Passin' Thru (Passin' Thru)
1975: Heavy Spirits (Freedom)
1976: Holding Together (Black Saint)
1978: Shine (Arista Novus)
1978: Life Dance Of Is (Arista Novus)
1979: Zaki (hat Art)
1980: Prophet (Black Saint)
1981: Jump Up (Gramavision)
1981: Clevont Fitzhubert (Black Saint)
1982: Plug It (Gramavision)
1984: Expandable Language (Black Saint)
1986: Gallery (Gramavision)
1987: Impala (Gramavision)
1989: Otherside (Gramavision)
1991: Again and Again (Gramavision)
1992: Virtual Reality (Gazell Records))
1992: Zaki (Hat-Hut Records)
1994: Edge-ing (Black Saint)
1996: Dedicated to Dolphy (Black Saint)
1996: Matador Of 1st & 1st (Passin' Thru)
1996: Movements, Turns & Switches (Passin' Thru)
2000: Talkin' Stick (Passin' Thru)
2001: Have Yourself A Merry (Passin' Thru)
2003: Cloth (Passin' Thru)
2004: Dat Love (Passin' Thru)
2005: Oliver Lake Quartet Live (Passin' Thru)
2008: Plan (Passin' Thru)
2010: Oliver Lake Quartet Live (Passin' Thru)
2011: For a little Dancin' (Intakt Records)
2013: Wheels

As sideman

With World Saxophone Quartet
Title Year Label
Point of No Return 1977 Moers Music
Steppin' with the World Saxophone Quartet 1979 Black Saint
W.S.Q. 1981 Black Saint
Revue 1982 Black Saint
Live in Zurich 1984 Black Saint
Live at Brooklyn Academy of Music 1986 Black Saint
Plays Duke Ellington 1986 Elektra / Nonesuch
Dances and Ballads 1987 Elektra / Nonesuch
Rhythm and Blues 1989 Elektra / Nonesuch
Metamorphosis 1991 Elektra / Nonesuch
Moving Right Along 1993 Black Saint
Breath of Life 1994 Elektra / Nonesuch
Four Now 1996 Justin Time
Takin' It 2 the Next Level 1996 Justin Time
Selim Sivad: a Tribute to Miles Davis 1998 Justin Time
Requiem for Julius 2000 Justin Time
25th Anniversary: The New Chapter 2001 Justin Time
Steppenwolf 2002 Justin Time
Experience 2004 Justin Time
Political Blues 2006 Justin Time

With Anthony Braxton
New York, Fall 1974 (Arista, 1974)
With Michael Gregory Jackson
Karmonic Suite (1978, Improvising Artists)
With James Blood Ulmer
Are You Glad to Be in America? (1980. Artists House)
Awards[edit source]

Guggenheim Fellowship (1993)
Melon Jazz Living Legacy Award (2006)


Jump up ^ Allmusic biography
Jump up ^ The State of Jazz: Meet 40 More Jersey Greats, The Star-Ledger, September 28, 2004
External links[edit source]

Official Oliver Lake website
Passin' Thru website
Portraits of Oliver Lake by Dominik Huber /