Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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RIVERS, Sam

(b Samuel Carthorne Rivers, 25 September 1923, El Reno OK; d 26 December 2011, Orlando FL) Tenor sax, composer; also other instruments. His father had been a member of the Fisk Jubilee Singers and the Silvertone Quartet. He attended Boston Conservatory and played local gigs with Herb Pomeroy, Jaki Byard, Gigi Gryce; he worked with Miles Davis mid-'64 including a tour of Japan. He taught in Harlem; played and recorded with Cecil Taylor late '70s; opened Studio RivBea '71 in Manhattan with his wife Bea and played there with his own group, guests including Clifford Jordan, Dewey Redman, Frank Lowe, Charles Tyler and others, and became a highly rated composer/leader in 'free jazz'.

He began recording on Blue Note, with Bobby Hutcherson, Tony Williams and others, plus his own albums: quartets Fuchsia Swing Song and A New Conception, quintet Contours, and a two-disc set with a sextet led by Rivers on one disc, a quartet led by Andrew Hill (including Rivers) on the other, all on Blue Note '64-7 (the four Rivers-led sessions were compiled with alternative takes on The Complete Blue Note Sam Rivers Sessions '96 on Mosaic). Hues and Streams included live trio tracks made '71-3 with Cecil McBee and percussion, Crystals '74 was a big-band set, Sizzle '75 a quintet, all on Impulse. There were two volumes of the duo Sam Rivers/Dave Holland on Improvising Artists, trio The Quest with Holland and Barry Altschul on Red/Pausa, a contribution to the Wildfowers Festival with a different trio, several volumes of Black Africa on Horo with another trio, Joe Daley on trombone/euphonium, plus The Essence on Circle by the Tuba Trio with Daley on tuba (various parts of the piece on several LPs), all '76. Paragon on Fluid was made in Paris with Holland and Altschul; Rendezvous on Red made in Milan adding Mario Schiano on alto (b 22 July 1933, Naples; d 9 May 2008, Rome) both '77. Waves '78 on Tomato had Holland, Daley and Thurman Barker; Contrasts '79 was with George Lewis, Holland and Barker; quartet Crosscurrent '81 on Blue Marge was made in Paris; Colours '82 on Black Saint by an 11-piece Winds of Manhattan including Bobby Watson; Lazuli '89 on Timeless was a quintet.

He was often absent from the recording studio, developing his extemporization; Backgrounds For Improvisors '95 on FMO was made in Berlin, a nonet including Alexander Von Schlippenbach on piano improvising freely over a set of compositions for that purpose, an interesting attempt to fuse the free and the conventionally swinging, and trio Concept '95-6 on Rivbea was a focused and satisfying example of his latest style. He recorded with Julian Priester in a Reggie Workman group on Postcards, made solo Portrait '95 on FMP playing tenor, soprano, flute and piano, then he and Priester made Hints On Light And Shadow '96 with electronic artist Tucker Martine.

In 1992 Rivers had relocated to Orlando Florida, where he formed another trio, started a new Rivbea Studio and began recruiting frustrated musicians from nearby colleges, the Walt Disney hoosegow and retired veterans from ghost bands. Two all-star albums worth of big-band material were made in 1998, Inspiration (longer pieces edited for the CD) and Culmination (shorter arrangements), recorded in New York and released on RCA, and the new Rivbea Orchestra's first album Airora appeared on his Rivbea label in 2007. Three CDs of the more recent material were to be released by Mosaic Records in mid-2011, a feast for music lovers everywhere.