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Blue Note Records
Sam Rivers’s father sang with a group known as the Silvertone Quartet; his mother was a pianist. Naturally, he took to music early. Born September 25, 1930, in El Reno, Oklahoma, he was an infant when the family returned to Chicago, and it was there that he took violin and piano instruction starting in 1935. After two or three years he abandoned the violin to concentrate on piano.
After the death of his father in an accident in 1937, Sam’s mother took a job as a music and sociology teacher in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Sam began to play trombone at the age of eleven in the marching band of a Little Rock school. Two years later he picked up a tenor saxophone, found it more to his liking than the trombone, and from then on it was his first love.
Rivers’s later studies were undertaken at Boston Conservatory in 1947; he also attended Boston University. Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Lester Young were his main influences at that time, along with such swing era pioneers as Coleman Hawkins, Louis Jordan and Chu Berry.
In Boston, during his student years, he worked from time to time with Gigi Gryce, Joe Gordon, Jaki Byard and Herb Pomeroy. “Jaki,” he recalls, “was a very important influence in the early days. He was such an imaginative pianist that sometimes I found it hard to play with him, I was so busy listening to what he was doing. He is extraordinarily flexible, understanding every style of jazz just as I wanted to.”
During the 1950’s Sam worked in a variety of jobs in and around the Boston area. In 1952, however, he dropped out of Boston University, and was ill for the next two or three years. During that time he composed but was more or less inactive as a performer.
He moved to Florida in 1955 and stayed there for two years, returning to Boston in 1958 and joining Herb Pomeroy’s band at the Stable. He continued to work with Pomeroy until 1962, in addition to gigging on his own. He recalls that as far back as 1959 he hired a brilliant 13-year-old drummer named Anthony Williams, for whom he rightly predicted a brilliant future.
Rivers and Williams were together again when Sam joined Miles Davis’s Quintet in the summer of 1964. During his two months with Davis, the group made a tour of Japan as part of the World Jazz Festival.
Sam Rivers is well represented on records in his own albums Fuschia Swing Song and Contours, as well as on dates with Bobby Hutcherson, Larry Young and Tony Williams. His style, evolving during the mid 1960’s, showed the influence of Rollins, Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman and more recently Albert Ayler and Archie Shepp.
His compositions include “Cyclic Episode,” “Downstairs Blues Upstairs,” “Ellipsis,” “Point of Many Returns,” “Euterpe” and “Mellifluous Cacophony.”