RIP Sam Rivers

The New York Times, among other outlets, is reporting today that Sam Rivers has died at the age of 88.

I’ve missed my chances to see a lot of the jazz masters before they made their passage. Thankfully, Rivers is not one of them.

Sam Rivers Trio (not at Bruno’s), with Rion Smith subbing for Anthony Cole on drums. Source: MySpace page of RivBea member Keith Oshiro. Click to go there.

I saw him play at Bruno’s in San Francisco, maybe 10 years ago? Maybe a little more? He performed with his trio: Doug Mathews on bass and Anthony Cole on drums, but all three of them shifted on instruments, with Cole or Rivers taking to the piano, or Mathews picking up a clarinet.

The instrument shifts were fun, but Rivers himself was impressive, too. Aged 80 or thereabouts, he still blew his sax fiercely, with energy and youth still in his lungs. I’m telling you: Whatever music you’re into, you have to take the time to see the performers live. You’ll regret it if you don’t.

RivBea Orchestra. Source: The RivBea MySpace page.
Click to go there.

This show happened sometime after the trio had released the album Firestorm, IIRC. Rivers’ records from there would concentrate on his RivBea Orchestra, the big band he’d convened in his home state of Florida. This was tightly swinging, hard-punching stuff that easily won the critics’ hearts and got airplay on numerous college radio stations like ours.

More than just a great player, Rivers helped launch New York’s loft-jazz scene in the ’70s. You can read on his site about Studio RivBea nurturing a generation of great musicians. For a more complete obit, you can read Nate Chinen’s article for the Times (linked above), or check out Peter Hum’s blog for the Ottawa Citizen. It’s laden with video references.

The original RivBea days. Source: WFIU, Indiana Public Media. Click to go there.

Me, I’ll probably take a moment to reflect and maybe spin Bobby Hutcherson’s Dialogue. Sam Rivers is on there, and it’s been a while since I’ve listened to the title track and its open flow of ideas. Maybe the recent RivBea Orchestra stuff after that — it’s so buoyant and sunny, a great way to remember Sam.

If you happen to be in Orange County, Florida, local cable-access will be showing video of a 2008 Sam Rivers performance a few times in the coming week.

2 thoughts on “RIP Sam Rivers

  1. This is news to me, Wedge, thanks for passing it on, even sadly. This is kinds weird but when I was John Ellis’ manager, and John was playing with Charlie Hunter, Richard Scheinin wrote in the Merc, about a show at Kuumbwa, that John was like a cross between Sam Rivers and Gene Ammons and I recall calling John with the kind words but also admitting to myself that I didn’t actually know what that meant, which sent me on a deliberate study that I call “1,001 Saxophone Knights” in which I keep a notebook, based on cross-referencing All Music, Rough Guide and one other main source, all the people listed on sax and their dates of birth, then, sadly, I update the book when someone leaves the stage.


  2. more normally would have been a study of the 20 or so key players and performances in jazz sax; I have stumped some players and or confused them when I tell them they are in my book “between ___ and ___” — some of the names especially in the British books, or of the early days, are not known to today’s players and not all that relevant.

    Certainly Sam Rivers is a different category.

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