Born: September 25, 1923 | Died: December 26, 2011 Primary Instrument: Sax, tenor
Samuel Carthorne Rivers (born September 25, 1923, El Reno, Oklahoma) is a jazz musician and composer. He performs on soprano and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet, flute, and piano. Rivers was previously thought to have been born in 1930.
Rivers's father was a gospel musician who had sung with the Fisk Jubilee Singers and the Silverstone Quartet, exposing Rivers to music from an early age.
Rivers moved to Boston, Massachusetts in 1947, where he studied at the Boston Conservatory with Alan Hovhaness. He performed with Quincy Jones, Herb Pomeroy, Tadd Dameron and others.
In 1959 Rivers began performing with 13-year-old drummer Tony Williams, who later went on to have an impressive career. Rivers did a brief stint with Miles Davis's quintet in 1964, partly at Williams's recommendation. This quintet was recorded on a single album, Miles in Tokyo. Unfortunately, Rivers' playing style was too free to be compatible with Davis's music at this point, and he was soon replaced by Wayne Shorter. Rivers was signed by Blue Note Records, for whom he recorded four albums as leader and made several sideman appearances. Among noted sidemen on his own Blue Note Records were Jaki Byard who appears on Fuschia Swing Song, Herbie Hancock and Freddie Hubbard. He appeared on Blue Note recordings of Tony Williams, Andrew Hill and Larry Young.
Rivers's music is rooted in bebop, but he is an adventurous player, adept at free jazz. The first of his Blue Note albums, Fuchsia Swing Song, is widely regarded as a masterpiece of an approach sometimes called inside-outside. The performer frequently obliterates the explicit harmonic framework (going outside) but retains a hidden link so as to be able to return to it in a seamless fashion. Rivers brought the conceptual tools of bebop harmony to a new level in this process, united at all times with the ability to tell a story which Lester Young had laid down as a benchmark for the jazz improviser.
His powers as a composer were also in evidence in this period: the ballad Beatrice from Fuchsia Swing Song has become an important standard, particularly for tenor saxophonists. It is analysed in detail in The Jazz Theory Book by Mark Levine who notes how each of its four eight- bar elements has a distinct emotional identity.
During the 1970s, Rivers and his wife, Bea, ran a noted jazz performance loft called Studio Rivbea in New York City's NoHo district. He continued to record for a variety of labels, including two albums for Impulse! (Trio Live and his first big- band disc, Crystals); perhaps his best-known work from this period, though, is his sideman appearance on Dave Holland's Conference of the Birds, in the company of Anthony Braxton and Barry Altschul.
Rivers currently lives near Orlando, Florida. He performs regularly with his trio (with Anthony Cole and Doug Matthews). In 1998 he recorded two big-band albums for RCA Victor with the RivBea All-Star Orchestra, Culmination and Inspiration (the title-track is an elaborate reworking of Dizzy Gillespie's Tanga: Rivers was in Gillespie's band near the end of the trumpeter's life). Other recent albums of note include Portrait, a solo recording for FMP, and Vista, a trio with drummers Adam Rudolph and Harris Eisenstadt for Meta.
In 2006, he released Aurora, a third CD featuring compositions for his Rivbea Orchestra and the first CD featuring members of his working orchestra in Orlando.