Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Julius Arthur Hemphill, 24 January 1938, Fort Worth TX; d 2 April 1995, NYC) Alto sax, other reeds; composer, author. Studied clarinet with John Carter; played in U.S. Army band '64; moved to St Louis '68, was a member of the Black Artists Group (BAG) with Oliver Lake and Lester Bowie. His mixed-media works have been presented on stage including Kawaida '72 (St Louis), The Orientation Of Sweet Willie Rollbar was filmed '72 and staged '73; Obituary: Cosmos For 3 Parts '74 (NYC). He played and recorded with Anthony Braxton (New York, Fall 1974 on Arista), Bowie (Fast Last on Muse), Kool and the Gang (Hustler's Convention), etc; played in tenor saxophonist Paul Jeffrey's octet as well as writing tunes for it.

His own albums began with Dogon A.D. '72, made in St Louis for Mbari label (later on Arista) with Phillip Wilson, Abdul Wadud on cello, Baikida E. J. Carroll on trumpet. Coon Bid'ness '75 was the first to come out on Arista, with Wadud, Harriet Bluiett, Arthur Blythe, Barry Altschul, Daniel Ben Zebulon on conga; side-long 'The Hard Blues' (recorded at the Bid'ness sessions) became Hemphill's best-known tune (Coon Bid'ness reissued on Black Lion CD, as Reflections on da music/Freedom). These LPs established him as an excellent musician and an important composer. He contributed 'Pensive' to the Wildflowers series on Douglas May '76, with Wadud, Wilson, Don Moye, Bern Nix on guitar; duet Live In New York later the same month with Wadud on Red included another version of 'Pensive'. Blues Boyé on Mbari and two-disc Roi Boyé And The Gotham Minstrels on Canadian Sackville '77 interfaced live solo with taped material on alto, soprano and flute. Raw Materials And Residuals '77 on Black Saint had Wadud and Moye; Buster Bee '78 had solos by Hemphill and Lake and two duets; Flat-Out Jump Suite '80 made in Milan with quartet including Wadud was on Black Saint; Georgia Blue '84 on Minor Music was recorded at Willisau Jazz Festival. Hemphill's Long Tongues: A Saxophone Opera emerged from years of workshops and was seen at the Apollo Theatre '90: an interlocutor (played by Thomas Young, a tenor with the Metropolitan Opera and a fine scat singer) was once an emcee in a Washington DC club, is now a street sweeper; he takes a rap duo (Get Set, brothers Mark and Scott Batson) through the history of black music since the '40s; in the end they trade licks with saxophonist James Carter (Andrew White and Marty Erlich were also among the musicians).

Live From The New Music Café, New York '91 with Wadud and Joe Bonadio and Oakland Duets with Wadud were on Music and Arts. Hemphill also wrote for choreographer Bill T. Jones (The Last Supper At Uncle Tom's Cabin/The Promised Land). He was co-founder of the World Saxophone Quartet (which see); The Fat Man And The Hard Blues on Black Saint was the first recording by his saxophone sextet; following heart surgery he was unable to play, but directed the sextet in Five Chord Stud '93 on Black Saint, including 'Band Theme' and 'Mr Critical (For Ornette)' from Tongues; 'Spiritual Chairs (For Bill T. Jones)' from The Promised Land, sidemen including Carter, White, Fred Ho (b Fred Wei-han Houn, 10 August 1957, Palo Alto CA), San Furnace, Tim Berne -- whose Diminutive Mysteries (Mostly Hemphill) '93 was on JMT -- and Erlich (who has recorded for Enja). Hemphill was the only post-Coleman composer represented on The Smithsonian Collection Of Classic Jazz. He died of complications of diabetes. A Julius Hemphill Composition Award was set up, won in '97 by Ronan Guilfoyle for 'Devsirme'. At Dr King's Table '97 on New World by the Julius Hemphill Sextet was the first after his death to feature his arrangements, including Erlich and White.