Sam Rivers is a name that all jazz aficionados should know. He turns 87 today. Although he is primarily a tenor and soprano saxophone player, he’s equally adept on the bass clarinet, flute, harmonica and piano. Men like Sam Rivers should be celebrated. There aren’t too many guys from his generation still playing, or even alive. To put it into perspective, he’s older than both Miles Davis and John Coltrane. His contributions and critical acclaim might not be as widely acknowledged as both Davis and Coltrane, but they are equally important.
He started gaining popularity in the 60s during the free jazz movement ushered in by Ornette Coleman. His most popular album to date is Fuchsia Swing Song on Blue Note records. The album features Jaki Byard on piano, Ron Carter on bass and an 18 year old Tony Williams on drums. Ron Carter and Tony Williams went on to fame after joining Miles Davis and forming his second great quintet. It should however be noted that Sam Rivers had been working with Tony Williams since he was 13 years old. He obviously saw the raw talent Williams had.
For people not familiar with the work of Sam Rivers, a good place to start is his Blue Note catalog. Fuchsia Swing Song is mandatory. Albums like A New Conception, Contours and Dimensions And Extensions are good starting points. His work as a sideman to the Tony Williams led dates on Blue Note are also recommended. The albums Spring and Life Time are great. Once you’ve devoured those prime cuts, exploring towards the more adventurous side of his catalog, namely his dates with Bobby Hutchinson and Andrew Young would be ideal. Keep in mind, this is just his work with Blue Note. The man is 87 years old, he has certainly put in his work.
Happy Birthday Sam Rivers!