Curtis Amy Day

October 11, 1929 – June 5, 2002


A tribute to the Los Angeles-based saxophonist

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Tenor-saxophonist Curtis Amy was born October 11, 1929 in Houston, Texas.

Amy originally played clarinet but switched to tenor while serving in the Army.

He graduated from Kentucky State College and worked for a time as a teacher in Tennessee while spending his nights playing in jazz clubs.

In the mid-1950s, Amy took the plunge and became a fulltime musician, moving to Los Angeles where he recorded a session apiece with Dizzy Gillespie (1955) and organist Perry Lee Blackwell (1958).

Curtis Amy gained his greatest fame when he signed with the Pacific Jazz label in 1960, co-leading an album with organist Paul Bryant and leading five albums of his own during 1961-63.

Amy, who also recorded with Amos Easton, Lou Rawls, Roy Ayers, Onzy Matthews, Johnny Hartman and the Gerald Wilson Orchestra, was Ray Charles’ musical director for three years in the mid-1960s and was married to singer Merry Clayton.

An excellent hard bop soloist who only gained regional fame, Amy led an album (Mustang) in 1967, did some r&b work, appeared on Carole King’s Tapestry album, and then largely faded from the scene.

He re-emerged briefly in 1994 to record a final album, passing away in 2002 at the age of 72.

Curtis Amy is featured on a clip from the 1962 series Frankly Jazz, performing “Katanga” which was composed by the legendary trumpeter Dupree Bolton who otherwise probably never appeared on film.

-Scott Yanow


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