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Saxophonist Yusef Lateef dies at age 93 in MA

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Grammy-winning musician Yusef Lateef, one of the first to incorporate world music into jazz, has died. He was 93 years old.

Lateef died on Monday in western Massachusetts, according to the Douglass Funeral Home in Amherst.

The musician and composer was a tenor saxophonist known for his impressive technique. He was also a top flutist, a jazz soloist n the oboe and played bassoon. He introduced different types of flutes and other woodwind instruments from many countries into his music and is credited with playing world music before it was officially named.

He said in a 2009 interview for the National Endowment for the Arts that he believes all humans and cultures have valuable, musical knowledge.

"Each culture has some knowledge. That's why I studied with Saj Dev, an Indian flute player. That's why I studied Stockhausen's music. The pygmies' music of the rain forest is very rich music. So the knowledge is out there. And I also believe one should seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave. With that kind of inquisitiveness, one discovers things that were unknown before," he said.

Lateef composed music for soloists, bands and choirs. His longer pieces have been played by symphony orchestras throughout the United States and in Germany. In 1987, he won a Grammy Award for his new age recording "Yusef Lateef's Little Symphony," on which he played all of the instruments.

He was named an NEA Jazz Master, the nation's highest jazz honor, in 2010.

Lateef had an international following and toured extensively in the U.S., Europe, Japan and Africa. His last tour was during the summer.

He received his bachelor's degree in music and master's in music education from the Manhattan School of Music. From 1987 to 2002, he was a professor at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, from which he was awarded a doctorate in education.

He also created his own music theory called "Autophysiopsychic Music," which he described in the NEA interview as "music from one's physical, mental and spiritual self, and also from the heart."

Born William Emanuel Huddleston in Chattanooga, Tenn., in 1920, Lateef moved to Detroit with his family when he was 5 years old. By the time he was 18, he was touring professionally with swing bands led by Lucky Millinder, Roy Eldridge, Hot Lips Page and Ernie Fields.

In 1949, he was invited to perform with the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra, which was playing be-bop. He took the name Yusef Lateef after becoming a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, and twice made the pilgrimage to Mecca.

He became a fixture on the Detroit jazz scene in the 1950s leading his own quintet. In 1960, he moved to New York and joined Charles Mingus' band. Lateef would go on to perform with some of jazz's best talent, including Cannonball Adderley, Donald Byrd and Miles Davis.

Lateef formed his own label, YAL Records, in 1992, which released an extended suite, "The World at Peace," co-composed with percussionist Adam Rudolph. He also wrote a four-movement work for quintet and orchestra, "The African American Epic Suite," which was commissioned and performed by the WDR Orchestra in Germany in 1993.

He is survived by his wife, Ayesha Lateef; son, Yusef Lateef; granddaughter and great-grandchildren.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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