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Rufus Harley, legendary jazz bagpipe player, dies

Rufus Harley, the innovator of the jazz bagpipe, died July 31 of prostate cancer. He was 70.

Harley was known for his mastery of the Scottish great highland bagpipe, an instrument that he adapted to hard bop, blues and funk styles. He collaborated either live or on record with artists like such as Sonny Stitt, Herbie Mann, Sonny Rollins and the Roots.

Born May 20, 1936 in Raleigh, N.C., Harley was inspired to play bagpipes after watching the Black Watch Scottish Band perform at former president John F. Kennedy’s funeral. Although Harley had experience playing the saxophone and flute, he began to master the bagpipe with help from Dennis Sandole. The late Sandole, who also taught John Coltrane, would soon become Harley’s mentor.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, Harley produced several albums as a leader for Atlantic Records, such as Bagpipe Blues, Scotch and Soul, A Tribute to Courage and King/Queens. In addition to recording numerous albums, Harley once gave a bagpipe lesson to legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, appeared on The Cosby Show and worked with the Philadelphia Housing Authority, a public agency committed to creating affordable housing for citizens with limited income.

Survivors include Harley’s son, Messiah.

Originally Published