Sam Rivers, a multi-instrumentalist musician considered a pioneer in avant-garde jazz, has died at age 88.
Rivers died Monday of pneumonia in Orlando, Fla., according to his daughter Monique Rivers Williams.
Rivers played soprano and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet, flute, harmonica and piano and was notable as both a composer and arranger.
He began his career in Boston, playing with big bands, but was most influential in ‘60s and ‘70s when he played with artists such as Mile Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, T-Bone Walker and John Lee Hooker.
In the 1970s, Rivers' New York loft venue, Studio Rivbea, became a hub of the avant-garde jazz scene, creating a template for musicians creating their own performance space. He also released his own recordings, including Fuchsia Swing Song.
Born in Oklahoma to a gospel-singing family, Rivers was raised in Chicago and Little Rock, Ark. He started piano lessons as a child and later played trombone before settling on the tenor saxophone as his primary instrument.
After serving in the U.S. Navy, he studied at the Boston Conservatory of Music and Boston University and performed with Herb Pomeroy's big band, where he met future music producer Quincy Jones.
Played with jazz originals
He moved to New York in the early 1960s, where he first played with the Miles Davis quintet, before signing with Blue Note Records, where he recorded four albums. Always versatile, he was a notable sideman for musicians such as Tony Williams, Andrew Hill and Larry Young.
In the 1970s, he recorded Streams live at Montreux and worked with Dave Holland on Conference of Birds, as well as creating recordings with the RivBea All-Star Orchestra and his own trio.
"People couldn't quite figure out where I was coming from," Rivers said in an Los Angeles Times article. "When I came to New York, I was playing with Miles Davis. Then I went with Cecil Taylor, and everybody seemed to think that was what I did. Then, later, when I went with Dizzy Gillespie, they said, 'What is Sam Rivers the avant-gardist doing with Dizzy?' But I think I really benefited from the different things I did. I'm one of the few players who felt comfortable about crossing back and forth."
In later life, Rivers relocated to Orlando and continued active in the Florida jazz scene. Until September, Rivers held weekly open auditions for his Rivbea Orchestra at Orlando's musicians' union hall.
"Music was his life, music is what kept him alive," said his daughter Monique Williams.
"He used to tell me, 'I'm working, but I'm loving every minute of it.' Retirement was not in his vocabulary. 'Why do we even have that word,' he used to ask me, 'there should be no such thing.'"
Rivers' wife Bea died in 2005. He is survived by daughters Monique Williams, Cindy Johnson and Traci Tozzi, a son, Dr. Samuel Rivers, as well as five grandchildren and great-grandchildren.