National Endowment for the Arts Statement on the Death of NEA Jazz Master Yusef Lateef
It is with great sadness that the National Endowment for the Arts acknowledges the passing of 2010 NEA Jazz Master Yusef Lateef, a virtuoso on the traditional jazz instruments of saxophone and flute. Lateef also brought a broad spectrum of sounds to his music through his mastery of Middle Eastern and Asian reed instruments. A major force on the international musical scene for more than seven decades, he was one of the first to bring a world music approach to traditional jazz.
Growing up in Detroit's fertile musical environment, Lateef established personal and musical relationships with such jazz legends as Kenny Burrell, Donald Byrd, Paul Chambers, Tommy Flanagan, Milt Jackson, Barry Harris, the Jones brothers (Hank, Thad, and Elvin), and Lucky Thompson. In 1949, he was invited to perform with the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra, a defining moment in developing his sound.
In the 1950s and 1960s, he worked with Charles Mingus and Cannonball Adderley before moving on his own diverse solo career. As a composer, Lateef compiled a body of work for soloists, small ensembles, chamber and symphony orchestras, stage bands, and choirs. In 1987, he won a Grammy Award for his recording Yusef Lateef's Little Symphony, on which Lateef played all the instruments.
Lateef worked hard on creating his music, telling the NEA in an interview, “I have a thing about improvised music. The word ‘improvise’ means to do something without previous preparation. But this music isn't developed without preparation. John Coltrane used to practice 13, 14 hours a day. That's a lot of preparation.”