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Tue, 12.01.1931

Jimmy Lyons, Saxophone Player born

Jimmy Lyons

*Jimmy Lyons was born on this date in 1931.  He was a Black alto saxophone player.  

Jimmy Lyons was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, and raised there until 9, when his mother moved the family to Harlem and the Bronx. He obtained his first saxophone in the mid-1940s and took lessons from Buster Bailey.  

After high school, Lyons was drafted into the United States Army and spent 21 months on infantry duty in Korea. He then spent a year playing in army bands. Once discharged, he attended New York University.  By the end of the 1950s, Lyons was supporting his interest in music by working for the United States Postal Service.  In 1961, Lyons followed Archie Shepp into the saxophone role in the Cecil Taylor Unit. His post-Charlie Parker sound and strong melodic sense became a defining part of the sound of that group from the 1962 Cafe Montmartre sessions onwards.  

During the 1970s, Lyons also ran his ensemble with bassoonist Karen Borca and percussionist Paul Murphy. They often performed in the loft jazz movement around Studio Rivbea. Lyons' group and Taylor’s Unit continued a parallel development throughout the 1970s and 1980s, often involving the same musicians, including trumpeter Raphe Malik, bassist William Parker, and percussionist Murphy.  In 1976, Lyons performed in a production of Adrienne Kennedy's A Rat's Mass directed by Cecil Taylor at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in the Manhattan East Village.

Jimmy Lyons died from lung cancer on May 19, 1986, at 54. He didn't publish many recordings with his ensemble, though Ayler Records did release a 5-CD box set of recordings from 1972 to 1985.  He is best known for his long tenure in the Cecil Taylor Unit. Lyons was the band's only constant member from the mid-1960s until death. Taylor never worked with another musician as frequently as he did with Lyons. Influenced by Charlie Parker, Lyons' playing kept Taylor's avant-garde music tethered to the jazz tradition.

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