Born David Keith Murray on February 19, 1955, in Berkeley, CA; son of a church pianist; married and divorced Ming. Education: Attended Ponoma College Addresses: Record company--Columbia Records, 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022-3211 Phone: (212) 833-8000.

Among the most recorded jazz musicians in history and arguably one of the genre's greatest tenor saxophonists, Dave Murray dominated jazz in the 1980s as thoroughly as Charlie Parker dominated the genre in the 1940s. Murray, considered a giant of the avant-garde style, nonetheless played all forms of jazz, from straight-ahead to free improvisational to post-bop. He was devoted to saxophonists as conservative as Paul Gonsalves and as radical as Albert Ayler. His name, however, has not become as legendary as Parker's during his earlier years, primarily because few people paid close attention to the progressive, free-jazz movement of the 1980s, an era distracted by other forms such as commercial fusion and hard-bop nostalgia. Meanwhile, Murray refused to let the times discourage his ambitions, and from behind the scenes, he developed a distinct and powerful personal voice on both the tenor saxophone and clarinet. By the 1990s, many regarded Murray as the most proficient synthesizer since Charles Mingus (another of Murray's influences). Regardless of his well-deserved recognition, Murray never broke from the downtown scene and refused to let the jazz culture assign him to a single category. Composing enchanting melodies that flowed with ease into far-reaching abstraction before returning back to the music's roots in blues and gospel, Murray is also known for his trademark playing technique of sudden leaps into the upper register of his instrument, and his ability to draw a rich, expansive sound from his horn on both ballads and upbeat numbers.

In addition to Mingus, Parker, Gonsalves and Ayler, Murray also held jazz greats such as Bobby Bradford, Arthur Blythe, Archie Shepp, Sonny Rollins, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Duke Ellington, and others in high esteem, though his main mission as a jazz artist has been the continuation of work initiated by John Coltrane. Murray believed that following Coltrane's death in 1967, there were still new territories to explore in pushing improvisation to its limit by playing long, complex solos without reverting to favorite licks and phrases. A renowned bandleader from the onset of his career, Murray organized free-wheeling quartets and trios, a big band, and an acclaimed octet. He is also known for his work with the World Saxophone Quartet, a group that endured over 20 years, yet allowed members to pursue their individual careers.

Born David Keith Murray on February 19, 1955, in Berkeley, California, the future legend, whose mother was a church pianist, started off playing alto saxophone at the age of nine, then played tenor saxophone in a soul group he lead as a teenager. After high school, Murray moved to Southern California to attend Ponoma College, located near Los Angeles. Here, he often played with critic, drummer, and teacher Stanley Crouch, cornetist Lawrence "Butch" Morris, clarinetist John Carter, Bobby Bradford, and saxophonist Arthur Blythe. In 1975, Murray relocated to New York City, hoping to establish himself on the jazz scene. He easily achieved his goal, given the fact that by the time Murray arrived in New York, he was already a brash and accomplished horn player. Upon his entrance into the city's jazz culture, Murray started to gravitate toward the experimental scene led by Sam Rivers and Sunny Murray and invigorated by groups like Air and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Within no time, Murray's peers acknowledged the young musician's presence.

Soon after he arrived in New York, Murray commenced his recording career as a bandleader, releasing a string of impressive records through the remainder of the decade. In 1976, Murray released three albums, teaming with Morris for Last of the Hipman; Crouch and Air bassist Fred Hopkins for Live at the Peace Church; and Morris, Hopkins, Crouch, and pianist Don Pullen, who played with Charles Mingus's band, for Flowers for Albert. Hopkins, drummer Phillip Wilson, and Art Ensemble of Chicago trumpeter Lester Bowie joined Murray for 1978's Live at the Lower Manhattan Ocean Club, Vols. 1 & 2, while Cecil Taylor, drummer Andrew Cyrille, and bassist Johnny Dyani appeared for 1980's 3D Family. On these earlier recordings, although Murray revealed his strong, original voice, he still needed to further develop the shape of his sound.

Murray accomplished this with a breakthrough in 1980; he had discovered how to combine the intensity of his instrument with the gospel-rooted melody that so inspired him in his youth, within just five years on the New York scene. Forming a new and later acclaimed octet comprised of the core group of Morris, Air drummer Steve McCall, and saxophonist Henry Threadgill, Murray released three albums that year: Ming (named after his wife at the time), Home, and Murray's Steps. All three were ranked among the decade's very best jazz records. Over the years, the octet, which included various personnel to compliment Murray, remained his most effective vehicle. Some of his most majestic recordings with this group included New Life and Hope Scope (both released in 1987), as well as 1993's Picasso.

Although Murray excelled with his octet, he had always dreamed of leading a big band. While he only managed to pull together a jazz orchestra a few times, the result was a band with all the sturdiness of his octet that produced a more expansive sound, beginning with 1985's Live at Sweet Basil, Vol. 1 and the following year's Live at Sweet Basil, Vol. 2. Representative of his most successful endeavors as a big band leader included 1992's David Murray Big Band Conducted by Lawrence "Butch" Morris and 1995's South of the Border.

During the 1980s, Murray also led a number of small combos. Critics named Morning Son (released in 1984) and Ming's Samba (released in 1989 and his first album issued on an American label) as two of his best. Both recordings featured New Orleans, Louisiana, jazz drummer Ed Blackwell, who brought his regional influences to the fore. Another favorite pick of the 1980s, a trio session entitled The Hill (released in 1988), included compositions by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. The album also led many to start defining Murray a neotraditionalist for his blend of harmony and melody with swing and post-bop.

The close of the decade and the early1990s also saw Murray further exploring his gospel roots--influences he gained from his mother's work as a church pianist. Along with pianist Dave Burell and assorted rhythm sections, he recorded such reflections of his childhood as 1989's Deep River, 1990's Spirituals, and 1991's Remembrances, all evoking the African American church tradition through hymns and new spiritual compositions. Other like offerings followed with Pullen, who Murray convinced to play organ for 1991's Shakill's Warrior and 1994's Shakill's II. In 1999, Wall Street Journal writer Jim Fusilli named the former one of the best albums of the 1990s. "Murray's playing is phenomenal, full of melody and adventure," Fusilli wrote. Also during the time he explored his spiritual side, Murray also recorded a series of well-received duo albums with pianists John Hicks, Burell, Randy Weston, George Arvanitas, Aki Takase, and Donal Fox. The most noteworthy of these included The Healers (recorded with Weston and released in 1987) and Brother to Brother (recorded with Burrell and released in 1993). In 1991, Murray received the prestigious Danish Jazzpar prize for his work in jazz.

Murray continued his explorative nature in the mid 1990s, forming an eight-piece jazz-funk band anchored by keyboardist Robert Irving III, who played with Miles Davis's band. In 1996, the band released Dark Star: The Music of the Grateful Dead. Murray, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay area listening to the Dead in the 1960s and played with them on several occasions in the 1990s, had been a longtime fan of the band. According to Jason Fine of Rolling Stone, "Dark Star is a revelation for Deadheads who never thought jazz could rock so hard and for jazz snobs who never imagined so much life could be squeezed from the Dead." Also in the mid 1990s, Murray moved on a part time basis to Paris, France, and created a new ensemble, the Fo Deuk Revue. In Paris, music such as Afro-pop, hip-hop, and jazz inspired him to form the group, which uses Senegalese musicians, singers, rappers, and syncopation much like Bradford Marsalis's Buckshot LeFonque group and draws a different kind of audience. Poet, writer, and critic Amiri Baraka also worked with the group.

In the 1990s, Murray also recorded rhythm and blues-influenced originals such as 1994's The Tip and 1995's Jug-a-Lug, reunited with an old friend from California for 1996's The David Murray/James Newton Quintet, and continued to play and record with the World Saxophone Quartet. The group, which recorded more than a dozen albums together, consisted of Murray, Oliver Lake, Hamiet Bluiett, founder Blythe, John Stubblefield, and Eric Person. After the loss of the quartet's founder, John Purcell joined in 1996 as a multi-reedist producer and saxophone consultant. Murray continued to record into the later part of the decade, releasing Long Goodbye: A Tribute to Don Pullen in 1998 and Creole, an album of regional-inspired music, in 1999.

He also started work on a musical about Satchel Paige with the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir and bluesman Taj Mahal, toured in 1999 with a 45-piece big band paying tribute to Duke Ellington, and toured the same year with Fo Deuk Revue, which means "Where do you come from?" in the African Wolof language. Murray made his home in both Brooklyn, New York, and Paris and often visited Africa. However, he tried not to hold any illusions about the continent and only studied its history and music. Scoffing at American blacks who adopt African dress and rejecting the notion that the story of slavery was black and white, Murray felt that many African Americans "get too caught up in the Afrocentric thing," he told Washington Post writer Marc Fisher in 1998. "Fo Duek Revue is my way of addressing my relationship with Africa without going out and shouting slogans or dressing like them," he continued. "I just get to the meat of it."

by Laura Hightower

Dave Murray's Career

Started playing alto saxophone at the age of nine, then played tenor saxophone in a soul group he lead as a teenager; moved to New York City and began his recording career, 1975; debuted with album Last of the Hipman, 1976; released three breakthrough albums in 1980; has recorded over 220 albums during his career; formed acclaimed octet, several combos, and a big band, 1980s; returned to gospel influences and African roots, 1990s; member of the World Saxophone Quartet and founder of the group Fo Deuk Revue.

Dave Murray's Awards

Danish Jazzpar prize, 1991.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

November 8, 2005: Murray's album, Waltz Again with David Murray Quartet & Strings, was released. Source:,, December 3, 2005.

Further Reading



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