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Arthur Blythe
Arthur Blythe 1989.jpg
Blythe at the North Sea Jazz Festival with The Leaders, 1989
Background information
Birth name Arthur Murray Blythe
Also known as Black Arthur
Born (1940-07-05)July 5, 1940
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Died March 27, 2017(2017-03-27) (aged 76)
Lancaster, California, U.S.
Genres Jazz
Occupation(s) Musician, bandleader, composer
Instruments Alto saxophone
Years active 1969–2017
Labels Columbia, Enja, Savant Records

Arthur Murray Blythe (May 7, 1940 – March 27, 2017) was an American jazz alto saxophonist and composer. He was described by critic Chris Kelsey as displaying "one of the most easily recognizable alto sax sounds in jazz, big and round, with a fast, wide vibrato and an aggressive, precise manner of phrasing" and furthermore as straddling the avant garde and traditionalist jazz, often with bands featuring unusual instrumentation.


Arthur Blythe
Arthur Blythe at Keystone Korner, San Francisco CA 3/81

Born in Los Angeles, Blythe lived in San Diego, returning to Los Angeles when he was 19 years old. He took up the alto saxophone at the age of nine, playing R&B until his mid-teens when he discovered jazz. In the mid-1960s, Blythe was part of the Underground Musicians and Artists Association (UGMAA), founded by Horace Tapscott, on whose 1969 The Giant Is Awakened he made his recording debut.

After moving to New York in the mid-1970s, Blythe worked as a security guard before being offered a place as sideman for Chico Hamilton (1975–77). He subsequently played with Gil Evans' Orchestra (1976–78), Lester Bowie (1978), Jack DeJohnette (1979) and McCoy Tyner (also 1979). Blythe's group – John Hicks, Fred Hopkins and Steve McCall – played Carnegie Hall and the Village Vanguard in 1979.

In 1977, Blythe appeared on the LP Rhythmatism, a recording led by drummer Steve Reid. Reviewing in Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981), Robert Christgau highlighted Blythe's "forceful" alto-saxophone playing and said, "like so many of the new players Blythe isn't limited to modern methods by his modernism—he favors fluent, straight-ahead Coltrane modalities, but also demonstrates why he belongs on a tune for Cannonball."

Blythe began to record as a leader in 1977 for the India Navigation label and then for Columbia Records from 1978 to 1987. Bob Stewart's tuba was a regular feature of these albums, often taking the place of the more traditional string bass. Albums such as The Grip and Metamorphosis (both on the label) demonstrated Blythe's maturity as well as his ability to play in both free and traditional contexts with a fully-developed personal style. Blythe played on many pivotal albums of the 1980s, among them Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition on ECM. Blythe was a member of the all-star jazz group The Leaders and joined the World Saxophone Quartet after the departure of Julius Hemphill. Beginning in 2000 he made recordings on Savant Records which included Exhale (2003) with John Hicks (piano), Bob Stewart (tuba), and Cecil Brooks III (drums).

Blythe died from complications of Parkinson's disease in Lancaster, California, at the age of 76.


As leader

Year Title Label
1977 The Grip India Navigation
1977 Metamorphosis India Navigation
1977 Bush Baby Adelphi
1978 In the Tradition Columbia
1978 Lenox Avenue Breakdown Columbia
1980 Illusions Columbia
1981 Blythe Spirit Columbia
1982 Elaborations Columbia
1983 Light Blue: Arthur Blythe Plays Thelonious Monk Columbia
1984 Put Sunshine in It Columbia
1986 Da-Da Columbia
1987 Basic Blythe Columbia
1991 Hipmotism Enja
1994 Retroflection Enja
1995 Calling Card Enja
1996 Synergy In + Out
1997 Night Song Clarity
1997 Today's Blues CIMP
2000 Spirits in the Field Savant
2001 Blythe Byte Savant
2002 Focus Savant
2003 Exhale Savant


With Synthesis

  • Six by Six (Chiaroscuro, 1977), with Olu Dara, a.o.
  • Sentiments (Ra, 1979), with Olu Dara, David Murray, a.o.

With The Leaders

  • Mudfoot (Black Hawk, 1986)
  • Out Here Like This (Black Saint, 1987)
  • Unforeseen Blessings (Black Saint, 1988)
  • Slipping and Sliding (Sound Hills, 1994)

With Roots

  • Salutes the Saxophone – Tributes to John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins and Lester Young (In & Out, 1992)
  • Stablemates (In & Out, 1993)
  • Say Something (In & Out, 1995)

With Santi Debriano and Billy Hart

  • 3-Ology (Konnex, 1993)

With Jeff Palmer, John Abercrombie, Victor Lewis

  • Ease On (AudioQuest Music, 1993)

With David Eyges and Bruce Ditmas

  • Synergy (In & Out, 1997)

With John Abercrombie, Terri Lyne Carrington, Anthony Cox, Mark Feldman, Gust Tsilis

  • Echoes (Alessa, 2005)

As sideman

With Joey Baron

  • Down Home (Intuition, 1997) with Ron Carter and Bill Frisell
  • We'll Soon Find Out (Intuition, 1999) with Ron Carter and Bill Frisell

With Lester Bowie

  • The 5th Power (Black Saint, 1978)
  • African Children (Horo, 1978)

With Jack DeJohnette

  • Special Edition (ECM, 1979)

With Gil Evans

  • Gil Evans Live at the Royal Festival Hall London 1978 (RCA, 1979)
  • The Rest of Gil Evans Live at the Royal Festival Hall London 1978 (Mole Jazz, 1981)
  • Parabola (Horo, 1979)
  • Live at the Public Theater, Vol. 1 & 2 (Trio (Japan)/Storyville (Sweden), 1980)
  • Priestess (Antilles, 1983)
  • Sting and Gil Evans – Strange Fruit (ITM, 1993), three tracks with Blythe rec. 1976 without Sting

With John Fischer

  • 6 × 1 = 10 Duos for a New Decade (Circle, 1980)

With Chico Freeman

  • Luminous (Jazz House, 1989)
  • Focus (Contemporary, 1995)

With Chico Hamilton

  • Peregrinations (Blue Note, 1975)
  • Chico Hamilton and the Players (Blue Note, 1976)

With Craig Harris

  • Cold Sweat Plays J. B. (JMT, 1999)

With Julius Hemphill

  • Coon Bid'ness (Freedom, 1972)

With Azar Lawrence

  • Bridge into the New Age (Prestige, 1974)

With the Music Revelation Ensemble

  • In the Name of... (DIW, 1994)
  • Knights of Power (DIW, 1996)

With Woody Shaw

With Horace Tapscott

  • The Giant is Awakened (Flying Dutchman, 1969)

With Gust William Tsilis & Alithea

  • Pale Fire (Enja, 1988)

With McCoy Tyner

  • Quartets 4 X 4 (Milestone, 1980)
  • 44th Street Suite (Red Baron,1991)

With the World Saxophone Quartet

  • Metamorphosis (Elektra Nonesuch, 1990)
  • Breath of Life (Elektra Nonesuch, 1992)
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