Jimmy Lyons Day

December 1, 1931 – May 19, 1986

A birthday tribute to the avant-garde alto-saxophonist

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Alto-saxophonist Jimmy Lyons was born on December 1, 1931 in Jersey City, New Jersey.

He started playing alto-sax as a teenager and had lessons from the great clarinetist Buster bailey.

Lyons spent the early 1950s in the Army, seeing combat duty in Korea before spending a year playing with an Army band.

He attended New York University and spent time in the 1950s working as a mailman while continuing to study music.

While Lyons developed a tone that was similar to Charlie Parker’s, he was open to much more adventurous playing, joining Cecil Taylor’s band in 1961.

Lyons, who made his recording debut with Taylor that year, was a member of Taylor’s groups for the remaining 25 years of his life.

The altoist was part of Taylor’s struggles in the 1960s and triumphs in the 1970s and ‘80s.

He was only occasionally heard away from Taylor’s orbit, leading a quartet with Lester Bowie in 1969, recording with Carla Bley on her Elevator Over The Hill project in 1971, recording a duet album with drummer Andrew Cyrille in 1981, and having an occasional quartet/quintet that teamed him with the bassoonist Karen Borca starting in 1978.

Jimmy Lyons passed away from lung cancer on May 19, 1986 at the age of 54.

There are very few films of Jimmy Lyons that do not involve Cecil Taylor so here is “Never” from Apr. 9, 1981, an unaccompanied solo that fully displays Lyons’ sound and adventurous style.

More from Lyons

Duet album with his long time colleague drummer Sunny Murray (1994)

Note: Some people think Lyons sounds like Ornette. Wrong.

Ornette and Sunny sound like Bird. This is what you sound like when you know Bird inside out and up and down and then go your own way.

– Scott Yanow


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