Last week’s post about jazz legend, Dave Brubeck, led to water cooler discussions and Facebook murmurings about additional jazz collaborations here at Cranbrook. Thanks to an inquiry on Facebook I discovered the great story of Yusef Lateef’s Cranbrook connection.
Lateef was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1920, but grew up in Detroit. After graduating from high school he began playing professionally in swing bands at the age of 18. In 1949, he was invited to tour with Dizzy Gillespie and his orchestra. A year later, he returned to Detroit to begin his studies in composition and flute at Wayne State University. He eventually received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the Manhattan School of Music and his Ph.D. in Music Education at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Lateef’s main instruments were the tenor sax and flute, though he played many other traditional and non-traditional instruments.
In the late 1950s, Lateef was invited to perform at Cranbrook by members of the Academy of Art Student Council. The Council thought it would be worthwhile for art students to learn something about another form of artistic expression – in this case, jazz. In April 1958, Lateef performed in the galleries at the Academy of Art. Seating capacity was limited and patrons sat on pillows on the floor.
It turned out the students and Lateef were of one mind about the value of exchange between the arts, and agreed that the concerts should be held in the galleries, rather than an auditorium. Lateef had a reputation for experimental sounds, and the audience was treated to a concert that included non-traditional instruments, such as an inflated balloon and a 7-Up bottle.
One of the great treats of this collaboration was a recording from that night! The LP, “Yusef Lateef at Cranbrook,” includes the following pieces: Morning, Brazil, Let Every Soul Say Amen, and Woody ‘N’ You. In 1988 Lateef received a Grammy award for Best New Age album and in 2010, he received the Jazz Master Fellow award from the National Endowment of the Arts. When Lateef passed away in 2013, he had recorded more than 75 albums.
– Gina Tecos, Archivist