Yusef Lateef's iconoclastic chamber music

In the 1950s a number of prominent jazz musicians converted to Islam, including Ahmad Jamal, Art Blakey, Sahib Shihab, and Yusef Lateef, while the very personal heterodox cosmology of the most celebrated jazz musician of that period John Coltrane was influenced by the beliefs of his first wife Naima, who was a Muslim convert.

In the photo above multi-instrumentalist Yusef Lateef is playing saxophone at the age of 92 in New York with Adam Rudolph. Yusef Lateef (1920-2013) left a rich recorded legacy which mixed Western and other music traditions in pioneering albums such as his 1961 Eastern Sounds. This iconoclasm is also evident in his seminal book Repository of Scales and Modal Patterns which is an anthology of tonal DNA from Europe, Asia and Africa. As an African-American Muslim Yusef Lateef was an active member of the schismatic Ahmadi movement and had a deep interest in both philosophy and physics. This found expression in what he termed his autophysiopsychic music, the creation of which he attributed to a synthesis of physical, mental and spiritual powers.

Although a master of the art form, Yusef Lateef denounced the term 'jazz' because of what he perceived as its vulgar connotations. His genre-defying output included an African-American Epic Suite for quintet and orchestra, a percussion concerto written for Adam Rudolph, and chamber music. Below is a video of the first movement of his Second String Quartet and a posthumous performance of his Third Quartet can be viewed via this link.

Header photo by Alan Nahigian is from the official Yusuf Lateef website. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.


Graeme said…
Duke Ellington was not keen on the term "jazz" either. I suspect that a lot of music from Western conservatoires that calls itself "jazz" might not have met with his approval either. It seems to be disorganised modal music to me.

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