World Saxophone Quartet - band/ensemble
Originally consisting of saxophonists David Murray, Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake and Hamiet Bluiett, the World Saxophone Quartet is one of the finest and most unusual small combos in jazz today. The Quartet began performing as a unit in 1976, inspired by Ed Jordan, head of Music at New Orleans Southern University. Jordan had heard the saxophonists in their individual groups, and hired them to do a show together. We liked it, and started doing gigs at other colleges, remembers David Murray. Although three of the original members, Hemphill, Lake and Bluiett, knew each other from St.Louis, it was not until this event that they decided to create a group consisting only of four saxophones. Since then, the group has recorded many albums together, including the critically-acclaimed Plays Duke Ellington (Nonesuch), which was voted one of the best albums of 1986 in New York Times. Describing the group as probably the most protean and exciting new jazz band of the 1980s, Jon Pareles of the Times called the WSQ the most original and important group to emerge since Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane redefined group improvisation in the late 1950s.
The WSQ places consistently in the top five groups listed in Down Beat's Annual Critic's Poll. In 1987 they were voted Best Jazz Group in the Playboy Reader's Poll. Television appearances include two segments on VH-1's New Visions program and an appearance on NBC's Night Music. The WSQ has an extremely diverse following, and has toured extensively throughout the U.S., Europe and Japan, where they enjoyed a major success as part of the Live Under The Sky Festival. Their reputation hinges most importantly on a repertoire that is theirs exclusively. Their albums Dances and Ballads and Rhythm and Blues significantly increased the popularity of this unique ensemble. Their signature tune, Hattie Wall, is also a video, directed by Robert Longo. In 1990 Hemphill left the group and was replaced first by Arthur Blythe, then James Spaulding and later Eric Person.