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Cultural Percussionist

Yusef Lateef Day

Yusef Abdul Lateef (born William Emanuel Huddleston; October 9, 1920 – December 23, 2013) was an American jazz multi-instrumentalist, composer, and prominent figure among the Ahmadiyya Community in America.

Although Lateef’s main instruments were the tenor saxophone and flute, he also played oboe and bassoon, both rare in jazz, and also used a number of non-western instruments such as the bamboo flute, shanai, shofar, xun, arghul and koto. He is known for having been an innovator in the blending of jazz with “Eastern” music. Peter Keepnews, in his New York Times obituary of Lateef, wrote that the musician “played world music before world music had a name”.

Lateef wrote and published a number of books including two novellas entitled A Night in the Garden of Love and Another Avenue, the short story collections Spheres and Rain Shapes, also his autobiography, The Gentle Giant, written in collaboration with Herb Boyd. Along with his record label YAL Records, Lateef owned Fana Music, a music publishing company. Lateef published his own work through Fana, which includes Yusef Lateef’s Flute Book of the Blues and many of his own orchestral compositions.

Lateef was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His family moved, in 1923, to Lorain, Ohio, and again in 1925, to Detroit, Michigan, where his father changed the family’s name to “Evans”.

Throughout his early life Lateef came into contact with many Detroit-based jazz musicians who went on to gain prominence, including vibraphonist Milt Jackson, bassist Paul Chambers, drummer Elvin Jones and guitarist Kenny Burrell. Lateef was a proficient saxophonist by the time of his graduation from high school at the age of 18, when he launched his professional career and began touring with a number of swing bands. The first instrument he bought was an alto saxophone but after a year he switched to the tenor saxophone, influenced by the playing of Lester Young.

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