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Arthur Blythe 1940–2017

The West Coast alto saxophonist and longtime Horace Tapscott associate died on 27 March

Alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe died on 27 March, reported San Diego Union Tribune. He was 76. His death was announced on his Facebook page: "Early this morning the great Arthur Blythe passed. As many of you know he was a gentle soul and a musical genius. He had been fighting Parkinson's disease for several years. His spirit will live on in his unique music, which he humbly gave to our universe."

Blythe was born in Los Angeles and moved to San Diego as a young child, but was drawn back to LA as a teenager, where he formed a close association with the pianist, bandleader and composer Horace Tapscott. Both were active in music community organisations in the city, including The Union Of God's Musicians And Artists Ascension and The Underground Musicians And Artists Association. Few recordings of this generation of LA free players emerged at the time, but Tapscott's 1969 free jazz classic The Giant Awakens, one of the best documents of the scene, marks Blythe's vinyl debut, revealing his instantly identifiable declamatory style.

The 70s saw Blythe moving to New York, and playing on dates alongside Julius Hemphill, Lester Bowie, Steve Reid and many more. He made a strong entrance as leader with The Grip in 1976, which led to a contract with Columbia Records. Running from 1979–87, the period encompassed his flirtation with funk and mainstream styles. In 1986, Richard Cook wrote in The Wire 30: "Whatever happened to Arthur Blythe? It’s ten years since The Grip, that remarkable, wailing leader debut of his… the great, straight-ahead Blythe has to struggle against ideas of company funk."

Blythe returned to the West Coast in the late 1990s and continued to play prolifically up until the early 2000s. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2005, prompting his fellow musicians to stage benefit concerts on his behalf.

Arthur Blythe, 5 July 1940–27 March 2017