Yusef Lateef

American jazz composer, saxophonist, flutist, oboe player and bassoonist (1920, Chattanooga - 2013, Shutesbury)

Partisan and key member of the Afro-American jazz, Yusef Lateef absorbed the colours and the influences of many foreign cultures and is therefore considered as one of the “jazz world” pioneers. During his career of 70 years, he also explored the “autophysiopsychic” music: it comes from the spirit, the body and the psychic. This prolific musician who also composed many pieces for orchestras and chamber ensembles recorded for several labels, such as Savoy, Prestige, Contemporary, Impulse, Atlantic and his own label YAL.

Born in Tennessee, Yusef Lateef and his family moved to Detroit in 1925, city rich of musical influences. He started to play the tenor saxophone when he was 18 with the trumpet player Teddy Buckner. Between 1938 and 1950, Yusef Lateef was the student of many great jazz artists, like Lucky Millinder, Hot Lips Page, Roy Eldridge, Herbie Fields and even Dizzy Gillespie. He also studied the flute and composition at the Wayne State University. Born William Emanuel Huddleston, he converted to Islam and changed his name in 1950 and became a partisan of the Ahmadiyya.

He entered in 1960 the Manhattan School of Music to pursue his musical education. At that same period, he became a member of the touring orchestras of Charles Mingus, Cannonball Adderley, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. Simultaneously, he founded his own ensemble and toured regularly. His interest in eastern music grew bigger over the years and fully accepted the influences he would find in that genre, so much so that he included Chinese instruments in his recording. That sound to particular influenced many artists later on, like John Coltrane with his “free jazz” recordings. Yusef Lateef composed in 1969 his first piece for orchestra: “Blues Suite”.

Between 1981 and 1985, he lived in Niger to do research on the “Fulani” flute at the Center for Nigerian Cultural Studies of the Ahmadu Bello University. In Africa, he worked with several musicians. Together, they created the album “Yusef Lateef in Nigeria” regarded as the best collaboration between American and African musicians.

Yusef Lateef would continue recording and producing albums and giving concerts until his death in 2013. 

Six landmark dates in the life of Yusef Lateef

1949: invited by Dizzy Gillespie to accompany him on tour as a member of his orchestra
1950: changed his name to Yusef Lateef and converted to Islam
1971: became a “autophysiopsychic” music professor at the Manhattan School of Music
1981: lived in Niger and recorded the album “Yusef Lateef in Nigeria”
1987: received a Grammy Award for his album “Yusef Lateef’s Little Symphony” on which he did all the vocals
2010: was awarded the “Jazz Master Fellowship Award” by the National Endowment for the Arts; it is considered as the most prestigious prize in the world of jazz