Yusef Lateef (1920-2013)

Yusef Lateef passed away today, at the age of 93. Yusef will always be an inspiration for me. He was the first teacher who helped me develop a practice of creating my own music as a composer-improviser, and he provided a profound model for what that could mean. He was one of the most exceptionally dedicated, imaginative and curious musicians that I’ve ever known. And most of all, his music and life embodied a deep generosity of spirit that impacted countless people.

Yusef was a complex person and sometimes we would even respectfully disagree, but I never, ever felt anything but compassion, open-mindedness and love coming from him. I don’t have adequate words to express my gratitude for what he gave me and so many others through his music and teaching. I was fortunate to be able to visit him last week in the hospital, and he was as gracious and caring as ever, despite being in great pain. I offer my condolences to his family and those who are in his inner circle.

I especially want to thank and offer condolences to Adam Rudolph. To my knowledge, Adam was Yusef’s closest collaborator during the past few decades, and it’s impossible to overstate how much Adam did to help share Yusef’s music with the world. Their deep, longstanding collaborative relationship is a beautiful example for all musicians.

I wish that I could better articulate Yusef’s contributions, but the best I can do is share this Preface that I wrote for his Songbook in 2005. It was my attempt to express a personal perspective on Yusef’s music, and for those who are curious to learn more, I hope it might inspire you to explore some of the sounds and words that he left behind.

Rest in peace, Yusef Lateef.