Vanderbilt’s Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries are now home to a rich collection of research materials from the life and career of Yusef A. Lateef, a Grammy-winning musician who played a pioneering role in bringing Middle Eastern and Asian sounds to American jazz. Dr. Lateef also was an author, visual artist, educator, and philosopher. He died in 2013.
“The Lateef Collection is a significant addition to an archive that will be unparalleled in documenting the deep and expansive global impact of African American musicians,” said Lorenzo F. Candelaria, dean of the Vanderbilt Blair School of Music and holder of the Mark Wait Dean’s Chair.
Born William Evans in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1920, Lateef moved with his family to Detroit five years later. Embracing Detroit’s vibrant music scene from an early age, Lateef established personal and musical relationships with such jazz legends as Kenny Burrell, Donald Byrd, Tommy Flanagan, and Lucky Thompson. By the time he was 18 years old, he began touring professionally with swing bands, performing under the name Bill Evans. In 1949, he was invited to perform with the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra. That same year he embraced Islam and took the name Yusef Abdul Lateef.
Over his career as a composer, Lateef compiled a catalog of scores for the many quartets and quintets he led, as well as for symphony and chamber orchestras, stage bands, and solo instrumental compositions.
“Having Lateef’s original materials provides a fantastic historical perspective on a brilliant, cross-genre instrumentalist,” said Jeff Coffin, adjunct instructor of saxophone at the Blair School of Music. “I am excited to inspire my students through the manuscripts, original session tapes, handwritten notes, and more contained in his collection as he was truly a legend and musical icon.”
Dr. Lateef earned his doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1975. He taught at Hampshire College in Amherst.