Few musicians in jazz history have proven more vigorously productive and resourceful than David Murray. During the past 35 years, from the moment he first visited New York as a 20 year-old student, playing in a walkup loft, in 1975, David has careened forward in a cool, collected, rocket-fueled streak. He has released over 150 albums under his own name. Yet more impressive than the numbers is the constancy of two abiding achievements: as a tenor saxophonist, he has perfected an instantly recognizable approach to improvisation that even in its freest flights acknowledges the gravity of a tradition he honors more than most; and he has altered the context for his improvisations as an infinite mosaic of musical challenges and explorations. David Murray goes down as a worthy successor for some of the biggest names in jazz, and he is now contributing to the rise of young talents such as Lafayette Gilchrist, a young pianist who has already been widely acclaimed by the critics.
Be Bop and shut up! An impossible task for the young David, at the time of the free jazz and civil rights movements, the last adventure of the end of century jazzman. Impossible, too, for the son of Baptist parents, discovering the Negro spiritual style in the time of Coltrane and during Ayler’s best period, not to be political right down to his tenor-playing fingertips. David Murray, now in his fifties, has 130 albums to his name and contributions to around a hundred other recordings as a guest artist behind him.
At the end of the 1990’s, David Murray was referred to in terms of fusion, of world music, and even of Pan-Africanism, ever since he took on a backwards tour through the Caribbean and the ‘little’ Americas, via South Africa and Senegal. Before setting off on this journey, David Murray jumped the gun somewhat for a jazz musician. Born in Oakland, he grew up in Berkeley and studied with Catherine Murray (his mother, an organist), Bobby Bradford, Arthur Blythe, Stanley Crouch and many others until the 2nd March 1975 when he left Ponoma College in Los Angeles for New York, which he made his base.
In New York, he met many new musicians and musical styles: Anthony Braxton, Don Cherry, Julius Hemphill … Within Ted Daniels’ Energy Band, he worked with Hamiett Bluiett, Lester Bowie and Frank Lowe. In 1976, after a first European tour, David Murray set up one of his mythical groups, the World Saxophone Quartet with Oliver Lake, Hamiett Bluiett and Julius Hemphill. From Jerry Garcia to Max Roach, via Randy Weston and Elvin Jones, David Murray continued working with ever more artists and making ever more recordings.
From 1978 onwards, he entered into a period of intense creativity, one flexible grouping of musicians following on from another. At the same time, he was writing film music (‘W Dubois’, 1989, ‘Dernier Stade’, 1996 and ‘Karmen Gaye’ in 2000), working with the 'Urban Bust Women’ dance company ('Crossing Into Our Promise Land’ in 1998) and regularly working with Joseph Papp of the New York Public Theatre ('Photograph’, 1978 and 'Spell Number’ in 1979) and with Bob Thiele, founder of Impulse and Red Baron, who became his producer in 1988 and signed him with Columbia. Thiele produced more than ten of his albums on Red Baron up until his death in 1997.
David Murray also likes rearranging the works of great composers, as in his project 'The Obscure Work of Duke Ellington’ in 1997 (arranged for a big band and a 25-piece string orchestra) or his re-transcription of a Paul Gonsalves solo 'Tribute to Paul Gonsalves’ in 1990 (with the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra). More recently, using a decet and 12 strings, he updated the classics of Nat King Cole’s Hispanic songbook with 'Cole in Spanish’ in 2009.
In addition to this, he has written two operas: 'The Blackamoor of Peter the Great’ in 2004 for strings and voices, based on a selection of twenty poems by Pushkin, and 'The Sysiphus Revue’, his 2008 bop opera sung by a gospel choir on an Amiri Baraka libretto.
In 2006, his Black Saint Quartet was reborn with 'Sacred Ground’, on which Cassandra Wilson can notably be heard. The compositions on this album pay tribute to one of his most auspicious periods with the mythical Italian label Black Saint, and to the republishing of this entire catalogue in digital format on the major digital download sites. This work was moreover followed by the rediscovery of 26 rare tracks recorded on the DIW label, which are now available exclusively for downloading on Emusic, and are a good way for fans to get the measure of the scale of a career which already is dizzying.
In 2010 he is on tour with the Gwo Ka Masters. After giving 200 concerts all around the world during their last tour (2005), the group set off again to promote their fourth album, 'The Devil Tried to Kill Me’, recorded in 2007 at the mythical Deb’s Studio in Pointe-à-Pitre with the great Taj Mahal. In 2011: ‘David Murray Play Nat King Cole En Espanol’ (Motema).
With this new album, we hear the fruit of one of David Murray’s most improbable and effective projects: an interpretation of two albums that Nat King Cole recorded in Spanish in 1958 and 1962, performing melodies from Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Rio de Janeiro, and Buenos Aires. The result is one of Murray’s most purely pleasurable albums. It demonstrates a tremendous leap in his approach to a world of music that has long fascinated him. The arrangements are imaginative, compelling, and wily, especially in the integration between winds and stings. The band is as tight as a fist. And there is a stunning feature for David Murray the improviser, a sensational tour de force and high spot in his massive discography.
At 56 years of age, David Murray has a rosy future ahead of him, and a successful past behind him and, since a glimpse of this exceptional career with a very promising future was felt to be essential, several directors have brought his musical career to the screen, in 'Speaking in Tongues’, a saga which follows him for ten years from 1978 to 1988 or in 'Jazzman’, in 1997. In 2007, Arte produced 'Saxophone Man’, in a reference to the title of the Stanley Croutch play written at the time of Pomona College: a year’s filming from New York to Pointe-à-Pitre, via Oakland and Paris, a year of images which reflect the David Murray of today, a citizen of the world. The next step sees David Murray’s collaboration with Macy Gray. Following their work within the musical project Questlove Afro-Picks (including Tony Allen, Questlove from The Roots, Amp Fiddler…) in collaboration with Red Bull Music Academy, Macy Gray asked David Murray for her forthcoming new album (‘Covered’ ) release date March 26th) to rearrange a cover song ('Love Lockdown’) from Kanye West.
Later, David Murray invites Macy Gray, the soul music star (more than 14 million albums sold), to sing in his Big Band (David Murray Big Band Featuring Macy Gray). For her, he writes a new repertory that includes famous soul hits from Macy gray, and offers to them new sharp and bright arrangements. He also offers to Macy some brand new original compositions completed with insightful lyrics by Ishmael Reed. The perfect combination of a unique voice and sophisticated jazz arrangements make this project one of the most exciting sound of this New Year 2013. Surprising and wonderful, the project has already conquered audiences from famous festival such as: Jazz A La Villette (Paris), London Jazz Festival (London), North Sea Jazz Festival (Netherlands), and more…
2012 is also the year of David Murray’s Honorary Doctorate Of Music Degree from Pomona College, Claremont, California.
A new album ‘Be My Monster Love’ will be released June 11th 2013, on Motéma. David Murray here offers to his quartet a new repertory and a new name: Infinity Quartet. It takes root deep into the Jazz tradition, and gathers around David Murray the finest line-up of contemporary jazz musicians: Nasheet Waits recalls Ed Blackwell on the drums; Marc Cary reminds us the very essential pianist John Hicks; and Jaribu Shahid the constancy of Ray Drummond. The album also features the soul singer Macy Gray and the jazz vocal singer Gregory Porter! Indisputably the most creative project of David Murray, where emotions and virtuosity will not let anyone indifferent.
From 2018 onwards, David Murray strikes back with a new project: David Murray Class Struggle to feature his Son Mingus Murray.
David Murray also collaborates with Paul Zauner´s Blue Brass as a Musical Producer oft he New CD an das a featured Sax Artist with the Band.