[JPL] Rufus Harley NYTs Obit
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Sun Aug 13 06:41:35 EDT 2006
August 13, 2006
Rufus Harley, 70, Dies; Adapted Bagpipes to Jazz
By DENNIS HEVESI
Rufus Harley, who was billed as ³the world¹s first jazz bagpiper² and
emitted his haunting sounds alongside some of the greats of jazz, died on
Aug. 1 in Philadelphia, his hometown. He was 70.
The cause was prostate cancer, his son Messiah Patton Harley said.
Although Mr. Harley fully acknowledged that ³everybody thought I was crazy²
when he turned to bagpipes in the early 1960¹s, he became a frequent sideman
on records and in concerts with saxophonists like Sonny Rollins, John
Coltrane, Dexter Gordon and Sonny Stitt, with the trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie
and with the flutist Herbie Mann.
³He adapted the bagpipes to jazz, blues, funk and other typically
African-American styles, while also acknowledging the instrument¹s Scottish
roots,² said David Badagnani, an instructor at the Center for the Study of
World Musics at Kent State University.
Mr. Harley, who was 6-foot-2, was of African-American and Cherokee descent;
he sometimes performed in Scottish kilts, sometimes in a dashiki and a
Nigerian kufi, or skull cap.
In 1967 a New York Times review of a concert given by Mr. Mann, with Mr.
Harley by his side, said that the bagpipe¹s tones ³sounded far more Middle
Eastern than Scottish,² and that when combined with the flute, ³the two wind
instruments blended into an eerily swinging ensemble.²
Rufus Harley Jr. was born on May 20, 1936, outside of Raleigh, N.C. His
family moved to a poor neighborhood in North Philadelphia when he was 2. He
is survived by 16 children and 15 grandchildren. He and his wife, Barbara
Jean Jones, separated many years ago.
As a teenager, Mr. Harley sold newspapers to buy a saxophone so he could
play in his high school band. At 16 he dropped out of school and worked at
odd jobs to help support his family. But he never lost interest in music.
For 10 years he took lessons on the saxophone, oboe, trumpet and flute and
played in local jazz clubs.
The turning point came in November 1963, as Mr. Harley watched the funeral
procession for President John F. Kennedy on television and was taken by the
wailing sound of the Black Watch bagpipe band. He tried, unsuccessfully, to
reproduce the sound on his saxophone.
³My dad was playing a lot of tenor sax then,² his son Messiah said, ³but
because Coltrane and Rollins were smoking the sax, that¹s why he turned to
A friend who knew of Mr. Harley¹s interest spotted a used bagpipe in a
pawnshop and, after a quick phone call, covered its $120 price. After months
of practice, Mr. Harley was working in local clubs, and his unusual talent
gained wider attention.
>From 1965 to 1970, Mr. Harley was the lead artist on four albums on the
Atlantic label. He began making appearances on television shows, including
³To Tell the Truth,² ³What¹s My Line?² ³I¹ve Got a Secret, ² Johnny Carson¹s
³Tonight Show² and Bill Cosby¹s ³Cosby Show.² He accompanied the singer
Laurie Anderson on her 1982 album ³Big Science.² And in 1995 he worked with
the hip-hop band the Roots on its album ³Do You Want More?!!!??!²
All the while, Mr. Harley insisted that the bagpipe had African roots and
that his chosen instrument had helped him ³discover my identity by making me
aware of my cultural heritage.²
In fact, Mr. Badagnani at Kent State noted, ³there are double-pipe
instruments in the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo that resemble a
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
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