Interview with Yusef Lateef
The word “Jazz” is a misnomer.
Where to start?
Mr. Lateef is a Grammy Award-winning composer, performer, recording artist, author, visual artist, educator and philosopher who has been a major force on the international musical scene for more than six decades. In recognition of his many contributions to the world of music, he has been named an American Jazz Master for the year 2010 by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Yusef A. Lateef was born William Emanuel Huddleston on October 9, 1920 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and moved with his family to Detroit in 1925. In Detroit’s fertile musical environment, Yusef soon established long-standing friendships with such masters of American music as Milt Jackson, Tommy Flanagan, Barry Harris, Paul Chambers, Donald Byrd, the Jones brothers (Hank, Thad and Elvin), Curtis Fuller, Kenny Burrell, Lucky Thompson and Matthew Rucker. He was already proficient on tenor saxophone while in high school, and at the age of 18 began touring professionally with swing bands led by Hartley Toots, Hot Lips Page, Roy Eldridge, Herbie Fields and eventually Lucky Millender. In 1949 he was invited to join the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra.
In 1950 he returned to Detroit, where he began to study composition and flute at Wayne State University, receiving his early training in flute from Larry Teal. He also converted to Islam in the Ahmadiyya movement and took the name Yusef Lateef. From 1955–1959 he led a quintet including Curtis Fuller, Hugh Lawson, Louis Hayes and Ernie Farrell. In 1958 he began studying oboe with Ronald Odemark of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
Yusef first began recording under his own name in 1956 for Savoy Records, and has since made more than 100 recordings as a leader for the Savoy, Prestige, Contemporary, Impulse, Atlantic and YAL (his own) labels. His early recordings of such songs as “Love Theme from Spartacus” and “Morning” continue to receive extensive airplay even today. He also toured and recorded with the ensembles of Charles Mingus, Cannonball Adderley, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Babatunde Olatunji in the 1960s.
As an instrumentalist with his own ensemble, Yusef Lateef has performed extensively in concert halls and at colleges and music festivals throughout the United States, Europe, the Middle East, Russia, Japan and Africa, often conducting master classes and symposia in conjunction with his performances.
Mr. Lateef, you’re active in Jazzmusic for more than 60 years, that’s a Lifetime. Has Jazzmusic evoluated since you started? We know there are Labels for different kinds of Music, but (in the Core) in what whay is Jazz nowadadys different from Modern Jazz?
I have been active in autophysiopsychic music (music from one’s physical, mental and spiritual self) for over seven decades. In short, “music from one’s heart.” I believe that anything in which an is seriously involved reflects evolution.
The word “Jazz” is a misnomer.
Do you still visit Concerts? (and if so) Do you still learn from your youthful colleagues? Are you inspired by them?
I occasionally attend concerts.
I am inspired by observing nature and my inner self.
Which album you produced do you like best? Why? According to The Penguin Guide to Jazz “Tenors” (YAL 977 with Archie Shepp), is your best album. Is this Record your Favourite too?
I often feel that the next album will be the one I like best because it is the outcome of the previous ones. I must say though, that The African American Epic Suite, as of today, is at the top of the list of my favorites.
You’ve played many instruments, amongst them oboe, bamboo flute, cor anglais, all kinds of saxophones, shanai, shofar, argol, sarewa and taiwan koto. Which one you like the best?
As you have mentioned, I’ve played many different instruments and that is because I really like all instruments.
Is there Jazz in the future? Jazz is the most recorded Musicstyle by now, but do you think Jazz will reach our Youth?
Robin, I cannot predict the future. As for the youth and what reaches them, I hope that they avoid the highly ambigious term known as “Jazz” and become inclined to music which reflects their interests, talents and promise beyond limitations of external criticism.