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Mon, 09.16.1940

Hamiet Bluiett, Baritonist extraordinaire born

Hamiet Bluiett

*Hamiet Bluiett was born on this date in 1940.  He was a Black jazz saxophonist, clarinetist, and composer.

Bluiett was born just north of East St. Louis in Brooklyn, Illinois (also known as Lovejoy), a Black community that had been founded as a free Black sanctuary community in the 1830s, and which later became one of America's first majority-Black towns.  As a child, he studied piano, trumpet, and clarinet, but was attracted most strongly to the baritone saxophone from the age of ten. He began his musical career by playing the clarinet for barrelhouse dances in Brooklyn, Illinois, before joining the Navy band in 1961. He attended Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois.

In his mid-twenties, Bluiett heard Harry Carney, the baritone player in the Duke Ellington band play in a live concert in Boston.  This also made a strong impression on him, providing an example of a baritone saxophonist who played as soloist rather than accompanist.  Following his time in the Navy, he returned to the St. Louis area in the mid-1960s. In the late 1960s Bluiett co-founded the Black Artists' Group (BAG) of St. Louis.  This was a collective dedicated to fostering creative work in theater, visual arts, dance, poetry, film, and music. He led the BAG big band during 1968 and 1969.

Bluiett moved to New York City in the fall of 1969, where he joined the Charles Mingus Quintet and the Sam Rivers large ensemble. In 1976 he co-founded the World Saxophone Quartet along with two other Black Artists' Group members, Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake and David Murray. He remained a champion of the unwieldy baritone saxophone, organizing large groups of baritone saxophones.  In 1972, Bluiett toured Europe with Mingus.  In 1974, he also performed in Mingus at Carnegie Hall. He continued to play with Mingus until 1975, when he left to make his own recordings as a leader.

In the 1980s, he also founded the Clarinet Family, a group of eight clarinetists playing clarinets of various sizes ranging from E-flat soprano to contrabass. Bluiett has also worked with Sam Rivers, Babatunde Olatunji, Abdullah Ibrahim, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye.  Since the 1990s Bluiett has led a virtuosic quartet, the Bluiett Baritone Nation, made up entirely of baritone saxophones, with drum set accompaniment. He returned to his hometown of Brooklyn, Illinois, in 2002 but moved back to New York City in 2012.

He performed at gigs, including the New Haven Jazz Festival on August 22, 2009 and with students from Neighborhood Music School in New Haven, CT. The group was known as Hamiet Bluiett and the Improvisational Youth Orchestra.  He was considered one of the finest players of the baritone saxophone. A member of the World Saxophone Quartet, he also played (and records with) the bass saxophone, E-flat alto clarinet, E-flat contra-alto clarinet, and wooden flute. Hamiet Bluiett died on October 4, 2018.

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