Born: May 20, 1936 Primary Instrument: Reeds
Rufus Harley, “the world’s first jazz bagpiper”, was born on May 20, 1936 near Raleigh, N.C. but grew up in a working class neighborhood in Philadelphia where his family moved when he was 2 years of age. He started playing the C melody saxophone and trumpet at age 12. In his later teens he worked as a paper boy to raise enough money to buy a tenor saxophone so that he can play in the high school band but at age 16 he dropped out of school and worked odd jobs to help support his family. He continued, however, to take music lessons on the saxophone, oboe, clarinet and flute from Dennis Sandole, a Philadelphia area guitarist and music teacher. He made his professional debut in Mickey Collins’ band at age 18 at a local jazz club. He continued to play the tenor saxophone at local clubs for several years until he took up the bagpipes.
His lifelong interest in bagpipes started on November 22 1963 when he watched the Scottish infantry bagpipers; the Black Watch play at President Kennedy’s funeral. He was greatly moved by the mournful sound of the instrument but failed to recreate it on the different reed instruments he was familiar with. He called around and was unable to locate a set of bagpipes until he found one, during a New York City visit, at a pawnshop. He acquired the set for $120 and several months later he started playing it at a night club in West Philadelphia called Squeaky’s. His immense musical talent made the unwieldy instrument much more than a curiosity in his hands. A home demo recording was sent to Atlantic records and Joel Dorn, the producer there at the time offered him a contract. He recorded four albums as a leader for Atlantic including his debut Bagpipe Blues. Over the course of those four records and several appearances as side musician he adapted the bagpipes to different genres of improvisational music starting with hard bop and soul jazz and moving towards more spiritual jazz- funk. His masterpiece Re-Creation of the Gods was recorded in 1972 and it was the last session he would lead until the late 1990s.
Through out his life he continued to perform regularly in Philadelphia clubs, appear on TV shows and films and tour both the US and Europe. During his European tours he was famous for giving out miniaturized replicas of the Liberty Bell, copies of the Constitution and American flags. He often performed dressed in Scottish garb. He lived most of his life in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia and gave frequent presentations at local schools. He also worked at the Philadelphia Housing Authority. In 1998 he returned to recording studio for Brotherly Love and his last album Sustain was released in 2005. He died in Philadelphia on August 1, 2006 of prostate cancer. The day before he died, Rufus Harley attended a concert in tribute to Philly Joe Jones in Germantown, during which his son Messiah, played trumpet with the Chappy Washington Band. He is survived by his former wife Barbara Jean Jones, 16 children and 15 grandchildren.
Tracks: Bagpipe Blues; Kerry Dancers; Who Can I Turn To; More Chim Chim Cheree; Sportin'; Sometimes I feel Like a Motherless Child.
Personnel: Rufus Harley: bagpipes, reeds; Oliver Collins: piano; James Glenn: bass; Billy Abner: drums.
Scotch & Soul
Tracks: Passing The Cup Around; Sufur; Scotch and Sould; Feeling Good; A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square; Taurus the 20th; If You Could See Me Now; Profile in Courage.
Personnel: Rufus Harley: bagpipes, reeds; Oliver Collins: piano; James Glenn: bass; Robert Gosset: congas; Billy Abner: drums.
Tribute to Courage
Tracks: Sunny; A Tribute to Courage; Swing Low Sweet Charriot.
Personnel: Rufus Harley: bagpipes, reeds; Oliver Collins: piano; James Glenn: bass; Robert Kenyatta: congas; Billy Abner: drums.
Kings and Queens
Tracks: Windy; Love is Blue; Eight Miles High; Moon River; King; Queens.
Personnel: Rufus Harley: bagpipes; Richard Tee:piano; Eric Gale: guitar; Chuck Rainey: bass; Jimmy Johnson: drums; Montego Joe: congas; Nadi Qamar: mamalukembia, Madagascar harp.
Re-Creation of the Gods
Tracks: Intro; The Crack; Re-Creation of the Gods; Nobody Knows the Trouble Us People Done Seen; This Little Light of Mine; Hypothesis; Gods and Godesses; Etymology.
Personnel: Rufus Harley: bagpipes & electric soprano sax; Bill Mason: organ; Larry Langston: percussion; Larry Randolph: electric bass.
Tracks: Brotherly Love; Auld Lang Syne; Scotland the Brave; Jesus Loves Me; Melancholy Baby; Stormy Weather; A Love Supreme.
Personnel: Rufus Harley: bagpipes; Tony Cesarano: guitar; Justin Bransford: bass; Peter Amahl: drums.
Tracks: A Love Supreme; The Constitution; Scotland the Brave; Where Or When; A Child Is Born; A Tribute To Courage; Sunshower; Amazing Grace; We The People.
Personnel: Rufus Harley: bagpipes; Messiah Harley: trumpet; Emmanuel Thompson: drums; Joshua Yudkin: piano and Hammond organ; Keno Speller: percussion.
As A Side Musician
The Wailing Dervishes
Tracks: Wailing Dervishes; Norwegian Wood; Flute Bag; In The Medina; Armenian Lullaby.
Personnel: Herbie Mann: flute; Rufus Harley: bagpipes; Roy Ayers: vibraphone; Moulay "Ali" Hafid: percussion; Chick Ganimian: oud; Hachig Thomas Kazarian: clarinet; Esther Koprucu: zither; Reggie Workman: bass; Steve Knight: electric bass; Bruno Carr: drums.
Tracks: Deuces Wild; My Foolish Heart; Blues Ahead; Sittin' In With Stitt; In The Bag; Me 'N' You; Pipin' The Blue.
Personnel: Sonny Stitt: alto & tenor saxophones; Robin Kenyatta: soprano & alto saxophones; Rufus Harley: tenor saxophone, bagpipes; Wilmer Mosby: organ; Billy James: drums.
The Cutting Edge
Tracks: Cutting Edge; To a Wild Rose; First Moves; House Is Not a Home; Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.
Sonny Rollins: tenor saxophone; Stanley Cowell: piano; Masuo: guitar; Bob Cranshaw; bass; David Lee: drums; Mtume: percussion; Rufus Harley: bagpipes.
Tracks: From the Air; Big Science; Sweaters; Walking & Falling; Born, Never Asked; O Superman (For Massenet); Example #22; Let X=X/It Tango.
Personnel: Laurie Anderson: vocals, keyboards, percussion; Rufus Harley: bagpipes; Roma Baran: percussion, harmonica, accordion; Perry Hoberman: percussion, reeds, vocals; Bill Obrecht: alto sax; Peter Gordon: clarinet, tenor sax; David Van Tieghem: drums, percussion; Chuck Fisher: alto sax, tenor sax; Richard Cohen: clarinets; Leanne Ungar: backing vocals; George Lewis: trombones.
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