David Murray was born in Oakland, California, USA. He was initially influenced by free jazz musicians such as Albert Ayler and Archie Shepp. He gradually evolved a more diverse style in his playing and compositions. Murray set himself apart from most tenor players of his generation by not taking John Coltrane as his model, choosing instead to incorporate elements of mainstream players Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster and Paul Gonsalves into his mature style.
Murray's parents were musical; his mother played piano and his father guitar. In his youth, Murray played music in church with his parents and two brothers. He was introduced to jazz while a student in the Berkeley school system, playing alto sax in a school band. When he was 13, he played in a local group called the Notations of Soul. Hearing Sonny Rollins inspired Murray to switch from alto to tenor. He attended Pomona College, where he studied with a former Ornette Coleman sideman, trumpeter Bobby Bradford. Around this time, he was influenced by the writer Stanley Crouch, whom he met at Pomona.
Murray moved to New York at the age of 20, during the city's loft jazz era - a time when free jazz found a home in deserted industrial spaces and other undervalued bits of urban real estate below 14th Street. Murray and Crouch opened their own loft space, which they called Studio Infinity. Crouch occasionally played drums in Murray's trio with bassist Mark Dresser. In a relatively short time, Murray (with help from his unofficial publicity agent, Crouch) acquired a reputation as a potential great. Murray's early work was exceedingly raw, based as it was on the example of Ayler, who had a penchant for multiphonics, distorted timbres, extremes of volume, and forays into the horn's uppermost reaches and beyond.
He made his first albums in 1976, Flowers for Albert (India Navigation) and Low Class Conspiracy (Adelphi), with a rhythm section of bassist Fred Hopkins and drummer Phillip Wilson. Also in 1976, Murray became -- with Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake, and Hamiet Bluiett - a founding member of the World Saxophone Quartet. Around this time, Murray was commissioned by theatrical impresario Joseph Papp to assemble a big band, which enjoyed a degree of critical success. Out of the big band came the formation of an octet, which provided him a platform for his increasingly ambitious compositions.
Be Bop and shut up! An impossible task for the young David, at the time of the free jazz and civil rights movements, the last adventure of the end of century jazzman. Impossible, too, for the son of Baptist parents, discovering the Negro spiritual style in the time of Coltrane and during Ayler’s best period, not to be political right down to his tenor-playing fingertips. David Murray, now in his fifties, has 130 albums to his name and contributions to around a hundred other recordings as a guest artist behind him.
At the end of the 1990′s, David Murray was referred to in terms of fusion, of world music, and even of Pan-Africanism, ever since he took on a backwards tour through the Caribbean and the ‘little’ Americas, via South Africa and Senegal. Before setting off on this journey, David Murray jumped the gun somewhat for a jazz musician. Born in Oakland, he grew up in Berkeley and studied with Catherine Murray (his mother, an organist), Bobby Bradford, Arthur Blythe, Stanley Crouch and many others until the 2nd March 1975 when he left Ponoma College in Los Angeles for New York, which he made his base.
In New York, he met many new musicians and musical styles: Anthony Braxton, Don Cherry, Julius Hemphill … Within Ted Daniels’ Energy Band, he worked with Hamiett Bluiett, Lester Bowie and Frank Lowe. In 1976, after a first European tour, David Murray set up one of his mythical groups, the World Saxophone Quartet with Oliver Lake, Hamiett Bluiett and Julius Hemphill. From Jerry Garcia to Max Roach, via Randy Weston and Elvin Jones, David Murray continued working with ever more artists and making ever more recordings. From 1978 onwards, he entered into a period of intense creativity, one flexible grouping of musicians following on from another.
At the same time, he was writing film music (‘W Dubois’, 1989, ‘Dernier Stade’, 1996 and ‘Karmen Gaye’ in 2000), working with the ‘Urban Bust Women’ dance company (‘Crossing Into Our Promise Land’ in 1998) and regularly working with Joseph Papp of the New York Public Theatre (‘Photograph’, 1978 and ‘Spell Number’ in 1979) and with Bob Thiele, founder of Impulse and Red Baron, who became his producer in 1988 and signed him with Columbia. Thiele produced more than ten of his albums on Red Baron up until his death in 1997.
David Murray also likes rearranging the works of great composers, as in his project ‘The Obscure Work of Duke Ellington’ in 1997 (arranged for a big band and a 25-piece string orchestra) or his re-transcription of a Paul Gonsalves solo ‘Tribute to Paul Gonsalves’ in 1990 (with the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra). More recently, using a decet and 12 strings, he updated the classics of Nat King Cole’s Hispanic songbook with ‘Cole in Spanish’ in 2009.
In addition to this, he has written two operas: ‘The Blackamoor of Peter the Great’ in 2004 for strings and voices, based on a selection of twenty poems by Pushkin, and ‘The Sysiphus Revue’, his 2008 bop opera sung by a gospel choir on an Amiri Baraka libretto.