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Julius Hemphill

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February 24, 1938, Fort Worth, Texas - April 2, 1995, New York City) was a jazz composer and saxophone player. He performed mainly on alto saxophone; less often soprano and tenor saxophones and flute.

Hemphill was born in Fort Worth, Texas (also, incidentally, the hometown of Ornette Coleman), and studied the clarinet before learning saxophone. Gerry Mulligan was an early influence. Hemphill joined the United States Army in 1964, and served for several years, and later performed with Ike Turner for a brief period. In 1968, Hemphill moved to St. Louis, Missouri and co-founded the Black Artists’ Group (BAG), a multidisciplinary arts collective that brought him into contact with artists such as saxophonists Oliver Lake and Hamiet Bluiett, trumpeters Baikida Carroll and Floyd LeFlore, poet J. Curtis Lyle and writer/director Malinke Robert Elliott.

In 1976, Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake, and Hamiet Bluiett of BAG joined forces with David Murray to found the World Saxophone Quartet. Hemphill continued with the group until 1990 when he left due to illness. The World Saxophone Quartet perhaps is Hemphill’s enduring mark on jazz, shaping the sound and influencing many players since the 1980s.

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