Written by Kitty Savage
Sam Rivers lived a long life of jazz ‘n pizazz. As a soprano + tenor sax player (as well as clarinet, piano, harmonica and flute), the multi-instrumentalist visionary toured with Miles Davis, Cecil Taylor, Dizzie Gillespie and many more legends on the jazz scene in its prime. In a career spanning six decades, Sam managed to release over 22 albums, starting with 1964’s blues-tinged Fuschia Swing Song on Blue Note Records, and working up to his most current recordings to follow up 2006’s Aurora. Will his most recent sessions be released posthumously? We have yet to see. But let’s look back at Sam’s beginnings to understand what he brought to jazz from the get-go, and through the years.
“Fuchsia Swing Song, is widely regarded as a masterpiece of an approach sometimes called “inside-outside”. The performer frequently obliterates the explicit harmonic framework (“going outside”) but retains a hidden link so as to be able to return to it in a seamless fashion.” (Wikipedia)
Just listen to “Beatrice” from the Fuschia Swing Song album and you will feel the depth and candor Sam played with.
1976 was The Year for Sam, as he released six whole albums that year, some in collaboration with Dave Holland and a group of improvising performers. Here’s Sam in ’79 playing with the Sam Rivers Trio (skip to 1:15 for beginning)-
And the genius didn’t stop through the 80’s – Dig him on the keys in this special 1989 performance.
In the late 90’s, Sam again showed a consistent output, even recording two big band albums for RCA-Victor . Between 1999-2000, Culmination and Inspiration both received Grammy nominations, respectively. He also released an album honoring Dizzie, whom he spent time with personally and professionally on the musician’s final tour. Check out this all-star “Salute to the Saxophone” from 1992 (Sam is rocking a leather vest- the man had indisputable style).
Although there is a lapse of seven years before Mr. Rivers got tootin’ in the studio again, 2006’s Aurora holds the same genius as his first release. Recorded with the Rivbea Orchestra, the feel of the 70’s era free-jazz is still in full swing on this record.
Rivers had been recording his next album with the band in Florida, but passed after Christmas day, 2011.
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To hear more of the spontaneous creativity Sam unleashed throughout his career, invest in a box set of his complete Blue Note session recordings, or check out his website. At least sample some track, add this man to your music library & memory as one of the Greats in American music history.
Rest in Peace, Sam Rivers, and much love and condolences to your family who had to lose you during Christmas time. May we funkateering jazz lovers uphold your legacy.
(Please repost to spread awareness of the great man’s gifts and passing.)