Arthur Blythe possesses one of the most distinctive tones in jazz. His alto sax attack is as large and legendary as the man, who’s world-renowned for gifts as a composer and soloist. His sound is even more powerful in person. Tonight at the Canterbury House, Blythe will be accompanied by some of Ann Arbor’s finest musicians – the University’s Creative Arts Orchestra and a special guest, bassist Nick Rosen.
Blythe plans to begin the concert by playing duets with Rosen, a student at California Institute of the Arts. In addition to being an excellent bassist, Rosen is also the man responsible for bringing back legendary bassist Henry Grimes to the Los Angeles scene after a 30-year absence.
Following the duets, Blythe will perform with a septet consisting of himself and Rosen, as well as Music sophomore Yosef Dosik on alto saxophone, Music junior Matt Endahl on piano and Music senior Chad Hochberg on drums as well as Music faculty members Prof. Ed Sarath on flugelhorn and instructor Mark Kirschenmann on trumpet. The concert will conclude with Blythe joining the Creative Arts Orchestra, a large ensemble that plays completely free improvisations.
Blythe was born in Los Angeles in 1940 and began playing the alto saxophone at age nine. Influenced by Charlie Parker, Johnny Hodges, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane, Blythe developed a distinctive sound, trademarked by his wide vibrato and forceful phrasing. In the ’60s, Blythe joined up with Horace Tapscott and the Pan African Peoples Arkestra and made his debut as “Black” Arthur Blythe on Tapscott’s 1969 Flying Dutchman release, The Giant Has Awakened.
In the ’70s, Blythe’s popularity reached an apex when Columbia signed him and began hyping him as jazz’s next big thing. Perhaps a little too “out” for the masses, Columbia preemptively dropped their publicity campaign and instead chose the more marketable Wynton Marsalis to replace Blythe.
Despite Columbia’s lack of confidence, Blythe’s debut for the label, Lennox Avenue Breakdown, was a critical and commercial success. He continued to showcase his talents as a composer and as a leader through the ’80s, playing with jazz luminaries such as James “Blood” Ulmer, Chico Freeman, Cecil McBee and the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Lester Bowie, with whom he formed supergroup The Leaders.
Most recently, Blythe has been touring North America and Europe with the celebrated tuba player and long-time collaborator Bob Stewart. He’s also been doing residencies in Germany and Paris.
Tonight’s program, brought to Ann Arbor by the University’s Jazz and Contemplative Studies program, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to catch a jazz legend considered one of the best of his generation in an intimate setting. It’s a rare chance not only to hear some of Blythe’s own compositions but also to experience the astounding improvisatory chops that continue to place him at the forefront of jazz.