Alto saxophonist and flautist Jimmy Vass died last week at 69. Originally from Philadelphia, he relocated to New York City and eventually recorded and toured with such luminaries as Charles Mingus, Andrew Hill, Charles Earland, Woody Shaw and Lionel Hampton, as well as with avant-jazz explorers Sunny Murray, Rashied Ali, Muhal Richard Abrams and Ronnie Boykins. He even appeared on soul diva Roberta Flack’s 1975 album Feel Like Makin’ Love.
Although Vass never recorded an album as a leader, his supple tone and dynamic style on alto-and occasionally soprano-sax and flute were in high demand amongst a variety of jazz, funk and soul composers, especially in the mid-’70s. Though equally adept at breathing fire and laying down smooth grooves and melodies, Vass generally chose to inhabit the middle ground, allowing him to participate in a wide range of projects and preventing him from being classified as a one-trick pony.