Born on August 3, 1960, in St. Louis, MO; son of Georgina Osby. Education: Howard University, Washington, D.C., attended, 1978-80; Berklee College of Music, Boston, MA, attended 1980-83. Addresses: Record company--Blue Note Records, 304 Park Ave. South, Third Fl., New York, NY 10010, website: http://www.bluenote.com. Website--Greg Osby Official Website: http://www.gregosby.com.
Greg Osby was born on August 3, 1960, in St. Louis, Missouri. His first instrument was the clarinet. He quickly graduated to the alto saxophone and learned how to play the flute. At age 15 he began playing professionally, and in 1978 he was granted a scholarship to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C. His path to the world of jazz beckoned even in his early years of musical study. In 1980 he enrolled in the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and at Berklee he met many like minded-musicians, including saxophonists Donald Harrison and Branford Marsalis, bassist Victor Bailey, drummer Marvin "Smitty" Smith, Jeff "Tain" Watts, and guitarist Kevin Eubanks. During his tenure at Berklee, he traveled regularly to New York City on weekends to sit in on jam sessions. Word of his talent quickly spread through the New York jazz scene, and when trumpeter Jon Faddis began asking around for a saxophonist who could read and write music, Greg Osby's was the name that came to his attention.
Osby auditioned for Faddis in 1983, and although his graduation was just a couple of months away, Osby left Berklee and hit the road with Faddis. In an interview with Willard Jenkins on the JazzTimes website, Osby recalled his tour with Faddis and jazz great Dizzy Gillespie, who was their guest: "I was really into Cannonball [Adderly], but I was trying to embark on a personalized method of playing and composition, improvisation, and delivery." Gillespie encouraged the young musician to persevere in seeking his own voice on the alto saxophone. Other early influences included Herbie Hancock's "Speak Like a Child," Charles Mingus's "Ah Um," Duke Ellington's "Indigo," and the collaborative efforts of Miles Davis and Gil Evans.
After diving into the New York jazz scene, Osby often found himself frustrated by his less adventuresome peers, and sought out other musicians who shared his love of exploring musical styles beyond the standard Tin Pan Alley fare. One of these fellow adventurers into the experimental and improvisational jazz world was fellow alto saxophonist Steve Coleman.
During the 1980s, along with Coleman, Osby formed the group known as M-Base. M-Base was an acronym standing for Macro Basic Array of Structured Extemporizations. "The original idea," Coleman told Nicky Baxter in JAZZIZ, "was to make music that keeps evolving." The group's membership changed over the years, but the core members included Jean-Paul Bourelly, guitar; Cassandra Wilson, vocals; Graham Haynes, trumpet and cornet, Osby and Coleman, alto saxophones; Kim Clarke, bass; and Mark Johnson on drums.
In 1995 the release of Black Book continued Osby's exploration of this radical new form of jazz. Perhaps his early life in the city inspired his use of the harsh, descriptive beat poetry to explore the tenuousness of life in the city, where drugs were readily available and death was merely a heartbeat away. His improvisational style continued to thread its way through this work as well. Black Book also came from his continued need to enlarge his vistas and seek new directions.
Whether Osby was playing in a recording studio or jamming live, composing pieces or producing them, his unceasing quest focused on increasing his range and versatility as a performer and composer. He continued seeking various venues which allowed him to express himself both musically and personally.
The 1996 release of Art Forum returned Osby to his musical roots and allowed him to express himself in a familiar acoustic environment. However, this album also continued his radical approach to jazz. Osby told Europe Jazz Network online, "I've always been one to speak my mind, and I've always been one to play my mind." Leaving the work of fusing hip-hop and jazz behind, at least momentarily, Art Forum was more expressive of group cohesiveness than of showcasing one artist. From the peaceful rendering of "Mood of Thought" to the fanciful and lovely rendition of "Don't Explain," Osby was accompanied by the thoughtful and artful pianist James Williams, drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts, vibraphonist Bryan Carrott, and bassist Lonnie Plaxico. Then in an abrupt change of pace and mood, he went for his "signature slash and burn" in "Miss D'Meena." Although variety among the pieces is apparent and each piece stands alone, they appeared to be joined together effortlessly into one.
Further Ado, released in 1997, was more completely set in an acoustic environment, but remained connected to Osby's vision of jazz as improvisation. The album was well received by jazz lovers and provided Osby with an opportunity to showcase his playing. Osby hand-picked the musicians accompanying him. They included Jason Moran, piano; Eric Harland, drums; and Lonnie Plaxico and Calvin Jones sharing responsibilities on bass. Further Ado also featured Tim Hagans, trumpet; Mark Shim, tenor sax; Gleave Guyton, flute, alto flute, and clarinet; and Jeff Haynes on percussion.
Further Ado maintained and deepened the acoustic groove Osby had struck with his previous album. With the release of 1996's Art Forum, it seemed Osby had come full circle and returned to his stylistic roots. Before these two albums, the last time he had employed anything faintly resembling an acoustic sound was on his first album, Sound Theater (1987). Sandwiched between Further Ado and Art Forum, Osby also explored new musical combinations, and combined the rap/hip-hop sound with jazz. Such works that fused jazz with an African-American street-wise sound added to Osby's reputation for seeking provocative styles of expression.
In an online interview with Blue Note Records, Osby stated that the result of Further Ado's combination of artists working together is a "metamorphic small band configuration that changes on a per tune basis. I was going for a more captivating project using instrumental colors and timbres."
Osby continued to release a steady string of albums on Blue Note in the late 1990s and beyond. "His outings for Blue Note are always challenging," wrote Thom Jurek in All Music Guide, "always extending one boundary or another in his own idiosyncratic jazz iconography that uses elements of the historical tradition, the mainstream, and the avant-garde in forging that signature." Osby released Zero in 1998 and followed with the live Banned in New York in 1999. "This is jazz in its purest form: spontaneous, direct, and unfiltered," wrote Joel Roberts in All Music Guide, of the latter album. Banned in New York also provided Osby with a chance to revisit the classic songs of Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker, and Thelonious Monk.
In 2000 and 2001, Osby continued to experiment, first releasing Invisible Hand and then Symbols of Light (A Solution). Perhaps the biggest surprise to fans, however, came with the release in 2003 of St. Louis Shoes, an album that re-interpreted the work of early jazz pioneers such as W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues" and the Gershwin brothers' "Summertime." Matt Collar wrote in All Music Guide that Osby "achieves a level of creative individuality few of his contemporaries can match."
In 2005 Osby released Channel Three and toured Europe, making stops in Turkey and Estonia. "Saxophonist Greg Osby is a musician who doesn't believe in standing still," wrote Terry Perkins in All About Jazz. In March, Osby sat in with the Jim Hall Quartet at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, and during July he performed at Summergarden with a small acoustic ensemble.
Whether jamming live or recording, composing or producing, it appears that Osby's restless muse will continue to push him forward into uncharted waters, musically, personally, and philosophically. He told an interviewer on Blue Note Records online, "It's a personal challenge for me to always be open to change, to be ever evolving. Because comfort has a complacent sound that goes with it, and I don't want to play that."
by Debra Reilly and Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr
Greg Osby's Career
Joined the New York City jazz scene, performing with Jon Faddis, 1983; toured with Faddis and Dizzie Gillespie; formed M-Base with Steve Coleman; collaborated with Cassandra Wilson, Andrew Hill, and other improvisational jazz artists; on JMT, released Mind Games, 1989, and Season of Renewal, 1990; signed with Blue Note Records, released numerous albums, 1991--.
- Selected discography
- Greg Osby and Sound Theater Watt, 1987.
- Mind Games JMT, 1989.
- Season of Renewal JMT, 1990.
- Man-Talk for the Moderns V.X. Blue Note, 1991.
- 3-D Lifestyles Blue Note, 1993.
- Black Book Blue Note, 1995.
- Art Forum Blue Note, 1996.
- Further Ado Blue Note, 1997.
- Zero Blue Note, 1998.
- Banned in New York Blue Note, 1999.
- Invisible Hand Blue Note, 2000.
- Symbols of Light (A Solution) Blue Note, 2001.
- Inner Circle Blue Note, 2002.
- St. Louis Shoes Blue Note, 2003.
- Public (Live) Blue Note, 2004.
- Channel Three Blue Note, 2005.
- Carr, Ian, Digby Fairweather, and Brian Priestley, editors, Jazz: the Rough Guide, The Rough Guides, 1995.
- Audio, March 1997.
- Boston Globe, September 28, 1997.
- Down Beat, October 1989, p. 26-28.
- JAZZIZ, December 1996.
- People, August 9, 1993, p. 27.
- Blue Note Records, http://www.bluenote.com (August 11, 2005).
- "Greg Osby," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (August 11, 2005).
- "Greg Osby Q&A," All About Jazz, http://www.allaboutjazz.com (September 10, 2005).