Julius Hemphill - alto and soprano saxophone (1928 - 1995)
For over thirty-five years Julius Hemphill earned a reputation as one who broke down boundaries and defied labels. A prodigious composer who wrote luscious and shimmering sonorities with the ever-present tang of the blues, Hemphill was as comfortable writing for full orchestra as he was for his Sextet or Big Band. He composed for theater and multi-media productions and worked with some of this generation’s most acclaimed writers and choreographers who sought his unifying consciousness for collaborative projects. An improviser of immense talent and saxophonist who could coax the best out of any musical unit, Hemphill performed in almost every major jazz festival and hall in North America and Europe, including the Berlin, Montreal, Kool, Rome, Paris, Den Haag (North Sea), and Warsaw festivals.
Born in 1938, Julius Hemphill divided his attention between music and sports while growing up in the fertile musical environment of Fort Worth, Texas. He gained experience playing in local blues bands and jazz groups and began focusing on his musical career in earnest after moving to St. Louis in 1966. In 1968, Hemphill joined the Black Artists Group (BAG), playing an instrumental role in developing this interdisciplinary performance collective that included future World Saxophone Quartet members Oliver Lake (alto) and Hamiet Bluiett (baritone). In the early 70s, the composer recorded two albums, “Dogon A.D.” and “Coon Bid’ness,” that were later released on the Arista/Freedom label.