Sam Rivers on flute / Joe Daley on tuba playing at Studio Rivbea jazz loft, July, 1976, New York City
|Birth name||Samuel Carthorne Rivers|
September 25, 1923|
El Reno, Oklahoma, U.S.
|Died||December 26, 2011
Orlando, Florida, U.S.
|Genres||Jazz, avant-garde jazz, free jazz|
|Occupation(s)||Musician, bandleader, composer, educator|
|Instruments||Tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, bass clarinet, flute, harmonica, piano|
|Labels||Blue Note, Impulse, FMP, RCA, Nato, Postcards, Stunt, Rivbea Sound|
|Associated acts||Tony Williams, Bobby Hutcherson, Andrew Hill, Jimmy Lyons, Dave Holland, Barry Altschul, Tony Hymas, Anthony Braxton, Quincy Jones, Miles Davis, Don Pullen, Larry Young, Cecil Taylor|
Active in jazz since the early 1950s, he earned wider attention during the mid-1960s spread of free jazz. With a thorough command of music theory, orchestration and composition, Rivers was an influential and prominent artist in jazz music.
Rivers was born in El Reno, Oklahoma. His father was a gospel musician who had sung with the Fisk Jubilee Singers and the Silverstone Quartet, exposing Rivers to music from an early age. Rivers was stationed in California in the 1940s during a stint in the Navy. Here he performed semi-regularly with blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon. Rivers moved to Boston, Massachusetts in 1947, where he studied at the Boston Conservatory with Alan Hovhaness.
Blue Note era
In 1959 Rivers began performing with 13-year-old drummer Tony Williams, who went on to have an impressive career. Rivers was briefly a member of the Miles Davis Quintet in 1964, partly at Williams's recommendation. This edition of the quintet released a single album, Miles in Tokyo, recorded live in concert. However, Rivers' playing style was a bit too avant-garde for what Davis had in mind for his music at this point, and he was replaced by Wayne Shorter shortly thereafter.
Rivers was signed by Blue Note Records, for whom he recorded four albums as leader and made several sideman appearances. Among noted sidemen on his own Blue Note albums were Jaki Byard, who appears on Fuchsia Swing Song, Herbie Hancock and Freddie Hubbard. He appeared on Blue Note recordings by Tony Williams, Andrew Hill and Larry Young.
Rivers derived his music from bebop, but he was an adventurous player, adept at free jazz. The first of his Blue Note albums, Fuchsia Swing Song (1964), adopts an approach sometimes called "inside-outside". Here the performer frequently obliterates the explicit harmonic framework ("going outside") but retains a hidden link so as to be able to return to it in a seamless fashion. Rivers brought the conceptual tools of bebop harmony to a new level in this process, united at all times with the ability to "tell a story", which Lester Young had laid down as a benchmark for the jazz improviser.
His powers as a composer were also in evidence in this period: the ballad "Beatrice" from Fuchsia Swing Song has become an important standard, particularly for tenor saxophonists. For instance, it is the first cut on Joe Henderson's 1985 The State of the Tenor, Vols. 1 & 2, and Stan Getz recorded it during the 1989 sessions eventually issued as Bossas & Ballads – The Lost Sessions.
During the 1970s, Rivers and his wife, Bea, ran a jazz loft called "Studio Rivbea" in New York City's NoHo district. It was located on Bond Street in Lower Manhattan and was originally opened as a public performance space as part of the first New York Musicians Festival in 1970. Critic John Litweiler has written that "In New York Loft Jazz meant Free Jazz in the Seventies" and Studio Rivbea was "the most famous of the lofts". The loft was important in the development of jazz because it was an example of artists creating their own performance spaces and taking responsibility for presenting music to the public. This allowed for music to be free of extra-musical concerns that would be present in a nightclub or concert hall situation. A series of recordings made at the loft were issued under the title Wildflowers on the Douglas label.
During this era Rivers continued to record, including several albums for Impulse!: Streams, recorded live at Montreux, Hues (both records contain different trio performances later collated on CD as Trio Live), the quartet album Sizzle and his first big-band disc, Crystals; perhaps his best-known work from this period though is his appearance on Dave Holland's Conference of the Birds, in the company of Anthony Braxton and Barry Altschul.
In the early 1990s Sam and wife Beatrice moved to Florida, in part to expand his orchestra compositions with a reading band in Orlando. This band became the longest-running incarnation of the RivBea Orchestra. He performed regularly with his Orchestra and Trio with bassist Doug Mathews and drummer Anthony Cole (later replaced by Rion Smith.) From 1996 to 1998 he toured and recorded three projects for Nato Records in France with pianist Tony Hymas and others. In 1998, with the assistance of Steve Coleman, he recorded two Grammy-nominated big-band albums for RCA Victor with the RivBea All-Star Orchestra, Culmination and Inspiration (the title-track is an elaborate reworking of Dizzy Gillespie's "Tanga": Rivers was in Gillespie's band near the end of the trumpeter's life). Other recent albums of note include Portrait, a solo recording for FMP, and Vista, a trio with drummers Adam Rudolph and Harris Eisenstadt for Meta. During the late 1990s he appeared on several albums on Postcards Records.
In 2006, he released Aurora, a third CD featuring compositions for his Rivbea Orchestra and the first CD featuring members of his working orchestra in Orlando.
- 1964: Fuchsia Swing Song (Blue Note)
- 1965: Contours (Blue Note)
- 1966: A New Conception (Blue Note)
- 1967: Dimensions & Extensions (Blue Note)
- 1973: Streams (Impulse!)
- 1971-73: Hues (Impulse!)
- 1974: Crystals (Impulse!)
- 1976: Sizzle (Impulse!)
- 1976: The Tuba Trio Vols. 1-3 (Circle)
- 1976: Jazz of the 70's (Circle)
- 1976: The Quest (Red / Pausa)
- 1976: Black Africa! Villalago (Horo)
- 1976: Black Africa! Perugia (Horo)
- 1977: Paragon (Fluid)
- 1978: Waves (Tomato)
- 1979: Contrasts (ECM)
- 1981: Crosscurrent (Blue Marge)
- 1982: Colours (Black Saint)
- 1995: Portrait (FMP)
- 1998: Culmination (RCA Victor/BMG France)
- 1998: Inspiration (RCA Victor/BMG)
- 2003: Celebration (Posi-Tone)
- 2006: Aurora (Rivbea Sound)
- 2007: Firestorm (Rivbea Sound)
- 2011: Trilogy (Mosaic)
- 1976: with Dave Holland - Dave Holland / Sam Rivers (Improvising Artists)
- 1976: with Dave Holland - Sam Rivers / Dave Holland Vol. 2 (Improvising Artists)
- 1977: with Mario Schiano - Rendez-vous (Vedette)
- 1977: with James Newton - Flutes! (Circle)
- 1983: with Stephen McCraven - Intertwining Spirits (Freelance Records) 
- 1995: with Improvisors Pool (Alexander von Schlippenbach) - Backgrounds for Improvisors (FMP)
- 1996: with Noël Akchoté / Tony Hymas / Paul Rogers / Jacques Thollot - Configuration (Nato)
- 1996: with Julian Priester - Hints on Light and Shadow (Postcards)
- 1997: with Alexander von Schlippenbach - Tangens (FMP)
- 1998: with Tony Hymas - Eight Day Journal (Nato)
- 1998: with Tony Hymas - Winter Garden (Nato)
- 2003: with Adam Rudolph / Harris Eisenstadt - Vista (Meta)
- 2004: with Ben Street / Kresten Osgood & Bryan Carrott - Purple Violets (Stunt)
- 2004: with Ben Street / Kresten Osgood - Violet Violets (Stunt)
- 2007: with Dave Holland / Barry Altschul - Reunion: Live in New York (Pi, 2012)
- The Complete Blue Note Sam Rivers Sessions (Mosaic, 1996)
With Barry Altschul
- You Can't Name Your Own Tune (Muse, 1977)
With Steven Bernstein
- Diaspora Blues (Tzadik, 2002)
With Miles Davis
With Bruce Ditmas
- What If (Postcards, 1994)
With Brian Groder
- Torque (2007)
With Andrew Hill
With the Dave Holland Quartet
With Bobby Hutcherson
- Dialogue (Blue Note, 1965)
With Jason Moran
- Black Stars (Blue Note, 2001)
With the Stephen McCraven Quartet
- Intertwining Spirits (Free Lance, 1982)
With Music Revelation Ensemble (James Blood Ulmer)
- City of Neighbourhoods (True North, 2004)
With Don Pullen
- Salutes the Saxophone - Tributes to John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins and Lester Young (In & Out, 1992)
- Stablemates (In & Out, 1993)
With Kazuko Shiraishi
- Dedicated to the Late John Coltrane and Other Jazz Poems (Musicworks, 1977)
With Cecil Taylor
With Tony Williams
With Larry Young
- Into Somethin' (Blue Note, 1964)
With Reggie Workman
- Summit Conference (Postcards Records, 1993)
- Panken, Ted, "Ted Panken Interviews: Sam Rivers WKCR-FM New York, September 25, 1997", Jazz Journalists Association Library, 1999
- Allmusic Biography
- Carpenter, Brian (2012-03-02). "Rivers and Rhythms". Retrieved 2012-06-26.
- Wilmer, Val (1977). As Serious As Your Life. Quartet. p. 226. ISBN 0-7043-3164-0.
- Litweiler, John (1984). The Freedom Principle: Jazz After 1958. Da Capo. pp. 292–3. ISBN 0-306-80377-1.
- The 3-CD set Wildflowers on the Douglas Records page with cover, track listing and credits. Retrieved September 29, 2012
- Orlando Sentinel: Jazz icon Sam Rivers dead at age 88 12/27/11
- Rest in Peace, Sam Rivers (9/25/23 – 12/26/11).
- Originally issued as part of a double-album called Involution in 1976 (with live recordings of the Andrew Hill Quartet also featuring Rivers from 1966 on sides 3 and 4). In 1986 Blue Note finally released the recordings “with the cover art and catalogue number, as originally intended by Blue Note in 1967”. Cp. Dimensions & Extensions and Involution at Discogs
- Allmusic review
- Sam Rivers Web Site
- The Sam Rivers Sessionography and Gigography
- Jazz at Lincoln Center - Chat with Sam Rivers
- FMP Releases
- NPR profile, September 20, 2009
- on YouTube