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Sam Rivers Dies at 88

Saxophonist and bandleader was a leading light of free jazz in the ’60s and ’70s

Sam Rivers
Sam Rivers (photo: Riku)

Sam Rivers, the multi-instrumentalist and bandleader who helped to define free jazz but whose compositions also embraced form and melody, died Dec. 26 in Orlando, Fla. He was 88. The cause of death, as reported by the Orlando Sentinel, was pneumonia.

Born in Oklahoma in 1923, Rivers, like so many other future jazz musicians, was raised on the music of the church, and his father was a gospel singer with the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Rivers’ mother taught music, and Rivers learned to play violin and piano as a child. The family lived in Chicago and Little Rock, but in 1947, Rivers, who ultimately played tenor and soprano saxophones (his primary instruments), flute, bass clarinet, piano and harmonica, moved to Boston, where he studied at the Boston Conservatory of Music and Boston University.

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