Booker Ervin

Booker Telleferro Ervin II (October 31, 1930 August 31, 1970[1]) was an American tenor saxophone player. His tenor playing was characterised by a strong, tough sound and blues/gospel phrasing. He is best known for his association with bassist Charles Mingus.

Booker Ervin
Background information
Birth nameBooker Telleferro Ervin II
Born(1930-10-31)October 31, 1930
Denison, Texas
DiedAugust 31, 1970(1970-08-31) (aged 39)
New York City
GenresHard bop
InstrumentsTenor saxophone
Associated actsCharles Mingus


Ervin was born in Denison, Texas. He first learned to play trombone at a young age from his father, who played the instrument with Buddy Tate.[2] After leaving school, Ervin joined the United States Air Force, stationed in Okinawa, during which time he taught himself tenor saxophone.[2] After completing his service in 1953, he studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Moving to Tulsa in 1954, he played with the band of Ernie Fields.[2]

After stays in Denver and Pittsburgh, Ervin moved to New York City in spring 1958, initially working a day job and playing jam sessions at night. Ervin then worked with Charles Mingus regularly from late 1958 to 1960, rejoining various outfits led by the bassist at various times up to autumn 1964, when he departed for Europe. During the mid- 1960s, Ervin led his own quartet, recording for Prestige Records with, among others, ex-Mingus associate pianist Jaki Byard, along with bassist Richard Davis and Alan Dawson on drums.

Ervin later recorded for Blue Note Records and played with pianist Randy Weston, with whom he recorded between 1963 and 1966. Weston has said: "Booker Ervin, for me, was on the same level as John Coltrane. He was a completely original saxophonist.... He was a master.... 'African Cookbook', which I composed back in the early '60s, was partly named after Booker because we (musicians) used to call him 'Book,' and we would say, 'Cook, Book.' Sometimes when he was playing we'd shout, 'Cook, Book, cook.' And the melody of 'African Cookbook' was based upon Booker Ervin's sound, a sound like the north of Africa. He would kind of take those notes and make them weave hypnotically. So, actually the African Cookbook was influenced by Booker Ervin."[3]

Between October 1964 to summer 1966 Ervin worked and lived in Europe, playing gigs in France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and The Netherlands. Basing himself in Barcelona, he featured regularly at the city's Jamboree Club. He recorded and broadcast while overseas, making albums with his own quartet, Dexter Gordon and Catalonian vocalist Nuria Feliu, featuring on various radio programmes and appearing at several jazz festivals, including a notorious guest slot at the 1965 Berlin Jazz Festival, during which a twenty-five-minute improvisation left the audience divided, some thinking it Ervin's answer to Coltrane and Rollins (who was also on the gig), others believing it to be a self-indulgent rant. In 1977, this performance was issued as Blues For You on the album 'Lament For Booker Ervin' (Enja Records). To this day, it continues to divide listeners.

After returning to the US in summer 1966, Ervin again led his own outfits in various jazz clubs across the country, and appeared at both the Newport Jazz Festival (1967) and the Monterey Jazz Festival (1966). In 1968, he again appeared at clubs and festivals in Scandinavia, broadcasting with the Danish Radio Big Band. He recorded again for Prestige, but in late 1966 was signed to leading West Coast label, Pacific Jazz, for whom he taped two albums, Structurally Sound and Booker 'n' Brass (1967), before switching to Blue Note, a label that like Pacific Jazz was purchased by United Artists in the late 1960s. Ervin recorded two Blue Note albums under his own name, In Between and Tex Book Tenor, the latter going unissued during his lifetime, initially being released in the 1970s as part of a double album shared with recordings (on which Ervin features) made under the leadership of Horace Parlan (Back from the Gig). In 2005, Blue Note issued as single CD of Tex Book Tenor in its limited edition Connoisseur series. His final recorded appearance occurred in January 1969, when he guested on a further Prestige album headed by blind teenage multi-instrumentalist Eric Kloss. No further recordings beyond this point have yet come to light.

Ervin died of kidney disease in New York City in 1970, aged 39.[4]

Most biographical accounts of Ervin's death give an incorrect date. His gravestone in The National Cemetery, East Farmingdale, New York, clearly shows the date as August 31, 1970.

In 2017, Ervin was the subject of a mini-biography written by English saxophonist and author Simon Spillett, released as part of an anthology package titled 'The Good Book' (Acrobat Records)


As leader

As sideman

With Bill Barron

With Jaki Byard

With Teddy Charles

With Ted Curson

  • Urge (Fontana, 1966)

With Núria Feliu

  • Núria Feliu with Booker Ervin (Edigsa, 1965)

With Roy Haynes

With Andrew Hill

With Eric Kloss

With Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan

With Charles Mingus

With Horace Parlan

With Don Patterson

With Sonny Stitt

With Mal Waldron

With Randy Weston

  • Highlife (Colpix, 1963)
  • Randy (Bakton, 1964) - also released as African Cookbook (Atlantic) in 1972
  • Monterey '66 (Verve, 1966)


  1. Booker Ervin at AllMusic
  2. "Ervin, Booker T., Jr." Texas State Historical Association.
  3. "Monterey '66", Discography, Randy Weston African Rhythms website.
  4. All About Jazz - The Definitive Resource for Jazz Music Archived October 26, 2005, at the Wayback Machine
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