Renaissance man Dr. Yusef Lateef was born William Emanuel Huddleston in Chattanooga, Tennessee on October 9th, 1920. At the age of 5 he moved with his family to Detroit. Growing up in Detroit he came in contact and forged friendships with many a giant of jazz such as Kenny Burrell, Milt Jackson, Tommy Flanagan, Barry Harris, Paul Chambers, and Donald Byrd. By the time he graduated from high school he was a proficient tenor saxophonist. He started soon after graduation playing professionally and touring with different swing orchestras among them those of Hot Lips Page, Roy Eldridge and Lucky Millender. In 1949 he joined Dizzy Gillespie’s orchestra (using the stage name William Evans), and stayed with them for one year. In 1950 he returned to Detroit and to enrolled in the Wayne State University’s Music Department and studying composition and flute. During his tenure at Wayne State he converted to Islam and changed his name to Yusef Lateef. He stayed in Detroit until 1960 and during this decade he led his own quintet for a while, recorded his first album as a leader for the Savoy label, Stable Mates, and furthered his musical education by studying oboe with Ronald Odemark of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
In 1960 he returned to New York and enrolled in the Manhattan School of Music to further his studies in flute and music education. Over the next 10 years he recorded several records as a leader and played on many more under other musicians’ leadership, toured with Charles Mingus, Cannonball Adderley, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Babatunde Olatunji and obtained a BA in music and a MA in music education. Among the highlights of his recording career from this decade are Eastern Sounds, Live at Pep’s and The Golden Flute. One can already hear on these records the incorporation of different eastern musical influences into the more straight-ahead jazz idiom. These albums also are one of the first places one can hear Dr Lateef play different reed instruments including the bassoon, bamboo flute, shanai, shofar, argol, sarewa, and taiwan koto. During the 70s he taught courses in autophysiopsychic music (which comes from one’s spiritual, physical and emotional self) at the music theory department in the Manhattan School of Music. From 1972 till 1976, he was an associate professor of music at the Borough of Manhattan Community College.
In 1975 he was awarded a Ph.D. in Education from University of Massachusetts in Amherst, MA and he continues to be a professor there. Suite 16 or Blues Suite, Dr. Lateef’s first work for large orchestra, premiered in 1969 at the Georgia Symphony Orchestra in Augusta and it was performed in 1970 by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at the Meadowbrook Music Festival, and recorded by the WDR Orchestra in Cologne. The NDR Radio Orchestra of Hamburg commissioned him to compose the tone poem “Lalit,” in 1974. He also recorded his Symphony No.1 with the same orchestra later that year. He has toured the world with his ensembles and other musicians performing in concert halls and music festivals.
The recorded highlight of this stage of his career is Autophysiopsychic. In the 80s Dr. Lateef spent 4 years at the Center for Nigerian Cultural Studies at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria researching the Fulani flute. In 1987 he won a Grammy for Yusef Lateef’s Little Symphony.
In 1992 he established his own label YAL. In 1993 Yusef Lateef’ composed his most ambitious work to date, The African American Epic Suite, a four-movement work for quintet and orchestra dedicated to 400 years of African American history. It premiered with the WDR orchestra and later was also performed by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Among his lesser known accomplishments are 3 works of fiction; A Night in the Garden of Love and two collections of short stories, Spheres and Rain Shapes.
Dr. Lateef continues to perform, record and expand the boundaries of music.
October 9, 1920