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World Saxophone Quartet founder Hamiet Bluiett, known for his 'joyful sound,' dies at 78

Hamiet Blueiett was known as one of the greatest ever to play baritone saxophone. 10/5/18
Courtesy of Dennis C. Owsley

The jazz world has lost a giant. World Saxophone Quartet founder Hamiet Bluiett died Thursday. He was 78.

A native of Brooklyn (Lovejoy), Illinois, Bluiett was an internationally admired innovator who frequently returned to the St. Louis region as a performer and educator. He was known as a master of the baritone saxophone.

His sound on the horn was unmistakable, said trumpeter George Sams, a friend for more than 50 years.

“It’s like with a painter, like Picasso or Van Gough — you can identify that art as theirs. That’s Bluiett,” Sams said. ”When you heard certain notes on that instrument, you knew that was Blueitt. It’s a certain approach.”

Bluiett played with legends like bassist Charles Mingus and saxophonist Sam Rivers. He founded the innovative World Saxophone Quartet in 1977. He was also a founder of Black Artists Group, a multidisciplinary collective founded in St. Louis in 1968.

“He was one of the most authentic people that I’ve ever met,” said Gene Dobbs Bradford, president and CEO of Jazz St. Louis. “He said what was on his mind and he had strong opinions on things and he acted on them.”

Bradford said he met Bluiett in 2002, when the acclaimed quartet played at Jazz At The Bistro. Bluiett later returned to lead some educational programs with St. Louis area music students.

“He was a hero to a lot of us because of that authenticity,” Bradford added, “because he was somebody who was not going to be swayed from his artistic vision. He really inspired those around him.”

Watch the World Saxophone Quartet perform at Lovejoy School

Anaya Bluiett, the saxophonist’s daughter, said that remembrances have already poured in from around the world.

“I’ve had people write me from Senegal,” she said. “I’ve had people write me from Italy. I’ve had people write me from everywhere.

“The fact that he’s touched so many people, not just in the jazz world but just in general — that’s something that I’ll never forget. And I don’t think anybody else will forget it, either.”

When asked what he’d remember most about his late friend, Sams said the answer is simple: “That joyful sound.”

The funeral service will be held Oct. 12 at Lovejoy Temple Church of God, at 511 Canal Street in Brooklyn at 10 a.m., followed by a 12:30 p.m. burial at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis.

Follow Jeremy on Twitter @JeremyDGoodwin

Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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