Hamiet Bluiett 1940-2018

October 17, 2018

American jazz saxophonist, clarinetist, and composer Hamiet Bluiett passed away on October 4, 2018 in St. Louis, Missouri at the age of 78. He is survived by two sons, Pierre and Dennis, two daughters, Ayana and Bridgett, a sister, Karen Ratliff, and eight grandchildren.

Bluiett was born on September 16, 1940 in St. Louis, Missouri, legally named Hamiet Ashford Bluiett, Jr. From a young age, he learned how to play a variety of instruments, including the piano, trumpet, and clarinet, but by the age of 10, he had become interested in the saxophone.

However, he went on to play the clarinet for barrelhouse dances in Brooklyn, Illinois, and later joined the Navy band in 1961. Musical sparks flew in Boston when Bluiett heard Harry Carney, the baritone player for the Duke Ellington band, further inspiring him to pursue the saxophone as a soloist.

As a young adult, he attended Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where he began to specifically play the baritone saxophone (but did not graduate), and also served in the Navy. After he left the service, Bluiett resided in the St. Louis, Missouri area, where he co-founded the Black Artists’ Group (BAG) of St. Louis and led the BAG band in 1968 and 1969.

Following his time in Missouri, Bluiett relocated to New York City 1969, where he performed with the Charles Mingus Quintet and Sam Rivers’ large ensemble.

Come 1976, he took on perhaps his most prominent and well-known role as a co-founder of the World Saxophone Quartet, an ensemble comprised of exclusively saxophones. Other co-founders included Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake, and David Murray. He also performed with the quartet the Bluiett Baritone Nation and the Clarinet Family during his 50-plus year career.

Bluiett moved a few times in the 2000s, first back to Illinois in 2002, and then returning to New York City in 2012. While he performed at the New Haven Jazz Festival in 2009, and later with the Hamiet Bluiett and the Improvisational Youth Orchestra of New Haven, Connecticut, he had to stop playing the saxophone in 2016. Together, he recorded nearly 50 albums as a bandleader and also worked with Babatunde Olatunji, Abdullah Ibrahim, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye, among many others during his lifetime. His influence on the jazz and saxophone communities will not be forgotten.

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