Yusef Lateef (b. 1920), a multi-instrumentalist who is equally skilled on tenor saxophone, flute, and oboe, is also a multiculturalist whose musical interests have long gone beyond jazz, a word he disdains. An innovator in mixing world music influences into jazz, Lateef is in his own musical category.
Originally an altoist, Lateef switched to tenor while in high school. He worked early on with Teddy Buckner and during the bebop era played with Hot Lips Page, Roy Eldridge, Herbie Fields, and the Dizzy Gillespie big band (1949). Already 30 years old in 1950, Lateef moved to Detroit where he studied music at Wayne State University and performed locally. Although he did not officially move to New York until 1959, he began recording as a leader two years earlier.
During 1957 and 1959-1961, Lateef made several notable recordings for Prestige, New Jazz, Riverside, and Moodsville. The Sounds of Yusef and Other Sounds, both recorded on October 11, 1957, feature Lateef’s quintet with fellow Detroiters Wilbur Harden on flugelhorn and pianist Hugh Lawson while Cry!—Tender from 1959 has a similar group with trumpeter Lonnie Hillyer in Harden’s place. Lateef’s repertoire alternates straight-ahead swingers with more atmospheric pieces that reflect his interest in the music of Africa and the Middle East. The Three Faces of Yusef Lateef finds the leader on tenor, flute, and oboe performing accessible originals and memorable renditions of such material as “Goin’ Home,” “I’m Just a Lucky So And So” and the unlikely “Ma—He’s Makin’ Eyes at Me.” Also available on the Original Jazz Classics series are The Centaur and the Phoenix with a nonet, Eastern Sounds (a quartet date that includes Lateef’s classic rendition of the “Love Theme from Spartacus” on oboe), and Into Something.
Lateef was a member of the well-recorded Cannonball Adderley Sextet during 1962-1964 and has since been involved in a wide variety of projects including avant-garde jazz, New Age, and world music. Even in his mid-eighties, Yusef Lateef refuses to coast and take it easy.