Yusef Lateef interviewed on Diasporic Music

 
The following is an interview with late musician Yusef Lateef played recently on UhuruRadio’s Diasporic Music, hosted by Norman Otis Richmond. The interview was originally done by the Pan African Journal. Lateef, a multi-instrumentalist who played tenor saxophone, flute, oboe, bassoon and a host of other instruments, died on December 23, 2013 at the age of 93. He was also an author and teacher at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
 

 
 
Interviewer: How did you gravitate to the saxophone, first alto then tenor?
 
Yusef Lateef: When I was like twelve years old, I lived over a place called Arcadia Theatre. I lived upstairs and they had a show band.
 
There was a tenor player named Al Forrest and a trum­pet player named Buddy Bell and I would sit right in front of the band and watch and listen. That was my first inspiration to­wards wanting to play the trum­pet.
 
My dad said “No, you’ll get an occupational bump on you.” He didn’t like it.
 
So I said I’ll play saxophone and he told me if I got half of the money, he would pay the other half. So I was 18 years old before I purchased the alto saxophone. I would go to these dances and I heard Lester Young and then I said “Well I have to play tenor ‘cause I was impressed so much.
 
So I traded in the alto for a tenor. This music, what I call “Autophysiopsychic “music, meaning music from the physi­cal, mental and spiritual self, it came from in­side, not out­side.
 
The history goes that when John Phillip Souza discard­ed his band after the Civil War, they threw the old discard­ed instruments on the dump. The slaves, being freed in 1865, picked up these in­struments and taught them­selves. So it was internal music that came forth and was developed and nurtured by each gen­eration.
 
Do you think that individual sound that you admire so much—in Webster and Hawkins, Lester Young, Lucky Thompson and everybody else—do you find that it’s still present in the younger musicians coming up today through the aca­demic system?
 
Well the older musicians, they found out what you had to do and they showed you, not to emulate but to be inspired to find your own path.
 
Charlie Parker was not em­ulating anyone, he found his own voice and it came forth. You know, there’s a quote by Charlie Parker about “Your mu­sic depends on your wisdom.” A musician doesn’t benefit by talking a lot, but thinking. And I got my first recording with Savoy and I realized that if I should continue I would have to be able to change the can­vas of my music, if you will, and I started doing research into music of other cultures and then I started making bam­boo flutes and that ‘s how that started and it’s been continued since 1956.
 
What advice do you have for younger musicians com­ing into jazz today?
 
Be sincere and seek knowl­edge. That’s what’s so fasci­nating about life, there are so many wonderful things to un­derstand with our mind, with our eyes and our ears. So this is a wonderful part of exis­tence, this life itself.
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