Tragedy struck this past week as another legend leaves this world for the next. Hamiet Bluiett passed away on October 4th due to a series of strokes over the past few years. While his death is indeed a sad occasion, it is important to remember the legacy his has left and the people he has touched.
Born north of East St. Lois, Bluiett always had an affinity for music, even at a young age. He studied piano, trumpet, and clarinet as a child before adding the baritone saxophone when he attended the University of Southern Illinois. He then joined the Navy band in 1961 before returning to St. Louis and co-founding the Black Artists’ Group, a collective dedicated to promoting works in theater, dance, poetry, art, film, and music. He stayed with the group until 1969, when he moved to New York and co-founded the renowned group, the World Saxophone Quartet.
With the late Julius Hemphill playing alto, Oliver Lake on alto and soprano, and David Murray, Bluiett helped to form the World Saxophone Quartet and helped revolutionize jazz. When they first formed, a jazz group of only saxophones (no piano, drums, bass, or anything else) seemed implausible, in fact, the group didn’t have a unifying melody, they just improvised according to Bluiett in an interview with NPR in 2010.
“I said, ‘Wait, this ain’t making sense. I don’t like this. Because we play a tune, let me stick to what’s on the paper.’ I would see what’s on the paper and make a bass line out of it.”
In a way, Bluiett gave the original group a sense of direction, and not just with keeping the rhythm. It was Bluiett that prompted the others to make an effort to connect with their audience by putting a bit of themselves in their music. To give their music life, something that jazz band instructors everywhere teach. It was this philosophy that allowed the group to release 21 albums and grow into something that is still around today.
What’s more is that Bluiett performed for the sake of performing and nothing else. He didn’t care about fame or prestige, he was a musician solely for the music. He wished to create music that people not only enjoyed, but moved them. Moved them to the point where they didn’t just hear the music. They felt it.
Bluiett has done so much, not just for jazz, but for the people he has worked with and touched with his music. His skill and talent helped pave the way for evolution within his genre and his kindness and empathy has touched hundreds of people. Hamiet Bluiett may be gone, but, so long as we remember all he has done, he will never truly die.