Julius Hemphill

Julius Arthur Hemphill (January 24, 1938 – April 2, 1995) was a jazz composer and saxophone player. He performed mainly on alto saxophone, less often on soprano and tenor saxophones and flute.[1]

Julius Hemphill
Julius Hemphill, Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society, Half Moon Bay, California, March 6, 1988
Background information
Birth nameJulius Arthur Hemphill
Born(1938-01-24)January 24, 1938
Fort Worth, Texas, U.S.
DiedApril 2, 1995(1995-04-02) (aged 57)
New York City
GenresJazz, avant-garde jazz, free jazz
Years active1965–1995
LabelsBlack Lion, Screwgun, Sackville, Black Saint, Music & Arts
Associated actsWorld Saxophone Quartet


Hemphill was born in Fort Worth, Texas,[2] and attended I.M. Terrell High School (as did Ornette Coleman).[3] He studied the clarinet with John Carter,[2] another I.M. Terrell alumnus,[3] before learning saxophone. Gerry Mulligan was an early influence. Hemphill joined the United States Army in 1964, and served for several years, and later performed with Ike Turner for a brief period. In 1968, Hemphill moved to St. Louis, Missouri, and co-founded the Black Artists' Group (BAG), a multidisciplinary arts collective that brought him into contact with artists such as saxophonists Oliver Lake and Hamiet Bluiett, trumpeters Baikida Carroll and Floyd LeFlore, and writer/director Malinke Robert Elliott.

Hemphill moved to New York City in the mid-1970s, and was active in the then-thriving free jazz community. He gave saxophone lessons to a number of musicians, including David Sanborn and Tim Berne. Hemphill was probably best known as the founder of the World Saxophone Quartet, a group he formed in 1976, after collaborating with Anthony Braxton in several saxophone-only ensembles. Hemphill left the World Saxophone Quartet in the early 1990s, and formed a saxophone quintet.[4]

Hemphill recorded over twenty albums as a leader, about ten records with the World Saxophone Quartet and recorded or performed with Björk, Bill Frisell, Anthony Braxton and others. Late in his life, ill-health (including diabetes and heart surgery) forced Hemphill to stop playing saxophone, but he continued writing music until his death[4] in New York City. His saxophone sextet, led by Marty Ehrlich, also released several albums of Hemphill's music, but without Hemphill playing. The most recent is entitled The Hard Blues, recorded live in Lisbon after Hemphill's death.

A source of information on Hemphill's life and music is a multi-hour oral history interview that he conducted for the Smithsonian Institution in March and April 1994, and which is held at the Archives Center of the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.


As leader

With the World Saxophone Quartet

Title Year Label
Point of No Return 1977 Moers Music
Steppin' with the World Saxophone Quartet 1979 Black Saint
W.S.Q. 1981 Black Saint
Revue 1982 Black Saint
Live in Zurich 1984 Black Saint
Live at Brooklyn Academy of Music 1986 Black Saint
Plays Duke Ellington 1986 Elektra / Nonesuch
Dances and Ballads 1987 Elektra / Nonesuch
Rhythm and Blues 1989 Elektra / Nonesuch
Metamorphosis 1991 Elektra / Nonesuch

As sideman

With Jean-Paul Bourelly

With Lester Bowie

  • Fast Last (Muse, 1974)

With Anthony Braxton

With Baikida Carroll

With Paul Cram Orchestra

  • Beyond Benghazi (Apparition, circa 1987)

With Bill Frisell

With Human Arts Ensemble

With Kalaparush Maurice McIntyre

  • Ram's Run (Cadence Jazz, 1981)


  1. Allmusic
  2. Bradley Shreve, "HEMPHILL, JULIUS," Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 26, 2012. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
  3. Patoski, Joe Nick (2008). Willie Nelson: An Epic Life. p. 50. Retrieved July 25, 2012.
  4. Davis, Francis. "The Julius Hemphill Sextet: At Dr. King's Table". Liner notes. New World Records. (PDF)

Further reading

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