Born: October 11, 1929 | Died: June 5, 2002 Primary Instrument: Saxophone
Coming out of the Texas Tenor tradition of honkers, Curtis Amy was of the same generation as Booker Ervin, David Fathead Newman, James Clay and Wilton Felder, but his time in the jazz spotlight was brief. Amy had a beautiful sound and a style that was both brawny and lyrical. The major influences on Amy's style were the tenor saxophonists Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt. Although he had a long and successful career in his transplanted home of Los Angeles, much of it was spent doing high profile studio work and working with his wife, the extraordinary vocalist Merry Clayton.
Born in 1929, Amy had taken up the clarinet when he was a child, and in 1946 enrolled at Wiley College, in Texas, to continue his studies. He dropped out, and then worked as a postman before joining the US Army in 1947.
He took up the tenor saxophone while in the Army. Afterwards Amy resumed his studies and at 19 he was awarded a scholarship to Kentucky State College. He achieved his bachelor's degree, and then taught music in a high school in Tennessee.
In 1955 he moved to Los Angeles, where he put together a quintet with the trombonist Melba Liston. He went on to join the rhythm and blues group led by the pianist Amos Milburn and led a variety of groups of his own, using such outstanding local jazz musicians as Carmell Jones, Roy Ayers, Victor Feldman and Kenny Barron.
In 1960 Dick Bock, the head of Pacific Records, gave Amy a contract and, by 1962, his band was making television appearances. He also began to teach music privately, an occupation that was to sustain him over the lean years ahead.
During his years with Pacific Jazz (1960-63), he recorded six superb albums that revealed an artist who constantly challenged himself as an improviser and as a composer. After “The Blues Message,” and “Meetin’ Here,” two soulful collaborations with organist Paul Bryant, he moved into more textured hard bop surroundings, fronting sextets with varied instrumentation. He and Frank Butler co-led “Groovin’ Blue,” which features Carmell Jones and Bobby Hutcherson. “Way Down” includes Roy Ayers, Marcus Belgrave, Victor Feldman and valve trombonist Roy Brewster among others. “Tippin’ On Through,” was recorded live at the Lighthouse with Ayers and Brewster among others.
But his soul jazz was fashionable throughout the Sixties. He recorded and appeared with Les McCann and toured and recorded with Ray Charles for three years. He made his first album with the Doors, “The Soft Parade,” in 1969 and recorded with the band until 1983. He appeared on Carole King's huge 1971 album “Tapestry,” and backed his wife, the singer Merry Clayton on her 1994 album “Miracles.” Clayton also sang on Amy's last album under his own name, “Peace For Love,” in 1994.
Amy’s final album “Katanga,” is regarded as his masterpiece; it featured the legendary trumpeter Dupree Bolton as well as Ray Crawford and Jack Wilson. From the furious be-bop of the title tune to the lament Lonely Woman to the hypnotic, extended performance of Native Land, Amy's work as an improviser and composer is at its zenith. Trumpeter Dupree Bolton, who made an impressive debut on Harold Land's The Fox three years earlier, is absolutely dazzling with a brash attack, formidable chops and very original ideas.
Curtis Amy died in Los Angeles, on June 5, 2002.
Texas tenorman Curtis Amy had a long and distinguished career as a jazz artist, studio musician and record executive. His recording legacy revealed an artist who constantly challenged himself as an improviser and as a composer. Although he made two more albums (in 1966 and 1994) and recorded with Gerald Wilson and Onzy Matthews, the six albums that he made for Pacific Jazz, all contained in this Mosaic Select set -- represent his greatest legacy. Amazingly, five of them make their appearance on CD for the first time.
Source: James Nadal