Remembering Joseph Jarman

September 14, 1937 – January 9, 2019

 

A tribute to the inventive avant-gardist

Saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist Joseph Jarman passed away on January 9, 2019 at the age of 81.

Born September 14, 1937 in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, Jarman grew up in Chicago and originally studied drums before switching to alto-sax and clarinet.

While serving in the U.S. Army after high school, he performed as part of the 11th Airborne Division Band.

After his discharge in 1958, he went to college, was part of Muhal Richard Abrams’ Experimental Band starting in 1961, and met many of the musicians who would become foundations of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) which Jarman joined at its beginning in 1965.

In 1966 Jarman made his recording debut, leading the adventurous album Song For which included an innovative use of space, some spoken word, and the use of “little instruments” (bells, whistles, percussion instruments, toys) in addition to his alto and soprano playing.

Jarman had his own group for a time but also participated in the first recordings of what became the Art Ensemble Of Chicago, a group that he officially joined in 1969.

The quartet with fellow saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell, trumpeter Lester Bowie and bassist Malachi Favors (drummer Don Moye would soon become a permanent member) was Jarman’s main musical activity for the next 20 years, developing their own unique take on the jazz avant-garde and building up their own loyal audience.

Jarman was with the Art Ensemble of Chicago until 1993 when for a time he dropped out of music; he returned as a leader in 1996, worked with violinist Leroy Jenkins and pianist Myra Melford as the trio Equal Interest, freelanced, and during 2003-5 was back with the Art Ensemble before gradually retiring from music.

In his career, Joseph Jarman not only recorded and performed on alto but on soprano, tenor, baritone, and bass saxophones, sopranino, flute, piccolo, bass clarinet, bassoon, oboe, recorder, vibes, thumb piano, celeste, cello, drums, congas, bells, gongs, conch shell, siren, whistles, shakuhachi, wind chimes, and ocarina.

There are not many films of Joseph Jarman apart from the Art Ensemble of Chicago so here is a 1996 duet recording of Jarman with pianist Marilyn Crispell on “For Joseph” that explores several moods.

-Scott Yanow