Yusef Lateef: The Plum Blossom

24 Dec

Yusef Lateef was born in the final months Woodrow Wilson was president; he died this week in the first year of the second term of the first African-American president, 93 years later.

Lateef’s life spanned 17 presidents, his music spanned the globe. Born William Huddleston in Tennessee, he died Yusef Lateef, his last name meaning gentle or kind, in Massachusetts, having migrated by way of Detroit in the ’20s (Coolidge).

Lateef, according to a 2006 (Bush II) Ottawa Citizen article by Doug Fischer, said “Islam has a saying that life from the cradle to the grave should be a search for knowledge.” Lateef’s was, as his listeners know.

Lateef released his first album as a leader in 1957 (Eisenhower); his most recent in 2012 (Obama), 55 years later. He converted to Islam in the early ’50s (Truman) and twice made a pilgrimmage to Mecca; musically he explored the globe.

From the late Gil Scott-Heron’s song Plastic Pattern People off the 1970 album (Nixon) Small Talk at 125th and Lennox:

“The third world arrives, with Yusef Lateef, and Pharaoh Sanders.
With oboes straining to touch the core of your unknown soul.”

Lateef didn’t always idenitfy himself as a jazz musician, but as an “autophysiopsychic” musician. He played tenor sax, flute, oboe, bassoon and instruments from around the world which he learned about in his musical travels. “He played world music before world music had a name,” wrote Peter Keepnews in his New York Times obit Wednesday.

In 1980 (Carter) Lateef stopped performing in clubs where alcohol was served. ““Too much blood, sweat and tears have been spilled creating this music to play it where people are smoking, drinking and talking,” he told the Boston Globe in 1999 (Clinton), according to Keepnews’ story.

In Lateef’s own words, from his website: “When the soul looks out of its body, it should see only beauty in its path. These are the sights we must hold in mind, in order to move to a higher place. Time after time in our hearts and soul we find love. No static, no pain – so pure, so happy to be alive. Waves of love consume us. We find no hatred – just love for all.”

The link above is from Lateef’s 1961 (Kennedy) album Eastern Sounds; Lateef plays a Chinese flute on the piece.


One Response to “Yusef Lateef: The Plum Blossom”

  1. LondonJazzCollector December 25, 2013 at 9:42 am #

    Coincidentally the mighty JazzWax Marc Myers posted on Yusef Lateef today

    A common cause perhaps.


    Seasonal best regards.

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