Arthur Blythe, Alto Saxophonist of the Avant-Garde

Arthur Blythe Quartet at the Jazzfestival Berlin (1980) – Watch on YouTube

In the opinion of critic Chris Kelsey, alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe came close to bringing avant-garde jazz into the mainstream through a series of albums for “hype-heavy” Columbia Records. (From the 1960s through the early 1980s, Columbia always had great packaging; check out the album cover below for Blythe’s Lenox Avenue Breakdown.)

But Blythe was still too “out there” for a mass audience, according to Kelsey, and the label turned to its more palatable young star Wynton Marsalis. (Speaking about “out there,” I liked that a tuba was part of Blythe’s quartet.)

Still Blythe managed to bring a new edge to older, more familiar jazz compositions. He did so quite literally in In The Tradition, a 1979 album that included four songs from the 30s, 40s and 50s with two original compositions. Here’s a comparison of Blythe’s versions with famous earlier recordings.

“Jitterbug Waltz” – Fats Waller  & Blythe

“Caravan” – Duke Ellington & Blythe

“In a Sentimental Mood” – Duke Ellington with John Coltrane & Blythe

“Naima” – John Coltrane  & Blythe

Arthur Blythe, July 5, 1940-March 27, 2017

“Lenox Avenue Breakdown” on Spotify