One of the (gentle) giants of American music, the career Brother Yusef Lateef stretches way back to the '40s and he has played with many greats and inspired many others. The man played tenor sax, flute, oboe, basson, shenai, koto and many other obscure or Eastern instruments, as well as electronics. He was an early fusionist of "world music" and jazz. His base was very bluesy, and his music also touched on funk, new age, film music, gospel, avant-garde, bop, electro-acoustic, European classical and various Eastern and African forms.
He was born in Chattanooga but grew up as William Evans in Detroit. In his early career he played locally with Paul Chambers and Elvin Jones and played in the swing orchestras of Lucky Millinder, Hot Lips Page and Roy Eldridge. He toured with Dizzy Gillespie in '49 and converted to Islam in '50.
In '57 he started recording for Savoy and soon had albums on New Jazz, Argo and Riverside as well. In the early '60s he delved into the world music stream, incorporating all kinds of exotic instruments and influences. Around this time he took part in both Art Blakey's African experiments and Olatunji's work.
With John Coltrane as a huge admirer, Lateef signed to Impulse! in the mid-'60s and with Atlantic after that. Starting in the '70s he worked as an educator, mostly in NYC, Western Massachusetts and Nigeria. He won a Grammy in '87 and in later years had amazing collaborations with percussionist Adam Rudolph.
He has played as a sideman or co-leader with Cannonball Adderley, Art Farmer, Charles Mingus, Archie Shepp, Von Freeman, Roscoe Mitchell, Les McCann, Grant Green, Donald Byrd, Randy Weston and many more. He was also a writer of short stories and novellas, as well as his autobiography The Gentle Giant. He owned his own publishing company and operated the YAL label. He was also my parents' neighbor in Western Mass before his death. His reedswork, visionary fusion of jazz and world music and his work in the Muslim community are inspirational.