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Clip: Rufus Harley, 70, Dies; Adapted Bagpipes to Jazz

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  • Carl Z.
    Herbie Mann also employed Sonny Sharrock; this description of how Harley used his instrument reminds me a little of Sharrock s approach.
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 13, 2006
      Herbie Mann also employed Sonny Sharrock; this description of how
      Harley used his instrument reminds me a little of Sharrock's approach.


      Rufus Harley, 70, Dies; Adapted Bagpipes to Jazz

      Published: August 13, 2006

      Rufus Harley, who was billed as "the world's first jazz bagpiper" and
      emitted his haunting sounds alongside some of the greats of jazz, died
      on Aug. 1 in Philadelphia, his hometown. He was 70.

      The cause was prostate cancer, his son Messiah Patton Harley said.

      Although Mr. Harley fully acknowledged that "everybody thought I was
      crazy" when he turned to bagpipes in the early 1960's, he became a
      frequent sideman on records and in concerts with saxophonists like
      Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon and Sonny Stitt, with the
      trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and with the flutist Herbie Mann.

      "He adapted the bagpipes to jazz, blues, funk and other typically
      African-American styles, while also acknowledging the instrument's
      Scottish roots," said David Badagnani, an instructor at the Center for
      the Study of World Musics at Kent State University.

      Mr. Harley, who was 6-foot-2, was of African-American and Cherokee
      descent; he sometimes performed in Scottish kilts, sometimes in a
      dashiki and a Nigerian kufi, or skull cap.

      In 1967 a New York Times review of a concert given by Mr. Mann, with
      Mr. Harley by his side, said that the bagpipe's tones "sounded far
      more Middle Eastern than Scottish," and that when combined with the
      flute, "the two wind instruments blended into an eerily swinging

      Rufus Harley Jr. was born on May 20, 1936, outside of Raleigh, N.C.
      His family moved to a poor neighborhood in North Philadelphia when he
      was 2. He is survived by 16 children and 15 grandchildren. He and his
      wife, Barbara Jean Jones, separated many years ago.

      As a teenager, Mr. Harley sold newspapers to buy a saxophone so he
      could play in his high school band. At 16 he dropped out of school and
      worked at odd jobs to help support his family. But he never lost
      interest in music. For 10 years he took lessons on the saxophone,
      oboe, trumpet and flute and played in local jazz clubs.

      The turning point came in November 1963, as Mr. Harley watched the
      funeral procession for President John F. Kennedy on television and was
      taken by the wailing sound of the Black Watch bagpipe band. He tried,
      unsuccessfully, to reproduce the sound on his saxophone.

      "My dad was playing a lot of tenor sax then," his son Messiah said,
      "but because Coltrane and Rollins were smoking the sax, that's why he
      turned to the bagpipes."

      A friend who knew of Mr. Harley's interest spotted a used bagpipe in a
      pawnshop and, after a quick phone call, covered its $120 price. After
      months of practice, Mr. Harley was working in local clubs, and his
      unusual talent gained wider attention.

      From 1965 to 1970, Mr. Harley was the lead artist on four albums on
      the Atlantic label. He began making appearances on television shows,
      including "To Tell the Truth," "What's My Line?" "I've Got a Secret, "
      Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" and Bill Cosby's "Cosby Show." He
      accompanied the singer Laurie Anderson on her 1982 album "Big
      Science." And in 1995 he worked with the hip-hop band the Roots on its
      album "Do You Want More?!!!??!"

      All the while, Mr. Harley insisted that the bagpipe had African roots
      and that his chosen instrument had helped him "discover my identity by
      making me aware of my cultural heritage."

      In fact, Mr. Badagnani at Kent State noted, "there are double-pipe
      instruments in the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo that
      resemble a bagpipe."
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