Jazz Master of the Month: James Spaulding

Aug 10, 2015

By some standards James Spaulding is considered to be under-recognized and under-appreciated. But most Jazz fans know him as one of the most critically acclaimed alto saxophonists and flautists in the business. 

Born in “Naptown” (Indianapolis, Indiana), Spaulding joined the Sun Ra Arkestra straight out of the army in 1957. After touring with Sun Ra for several years, he made New York his home and quickly became a regular Blue Note recording artist. Spaulding recorded with Art Blakey, Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, Max Roach, Grant Green,  Horace Silver, and on other labels with Pharaoh Sanders, Charles Toliver, Sam Rivers, Duke Pearson and many others.

Reflecting on that experience, Spaulding said,

“Everybody saying get your own label. You can do what you want and get the musicians you want. It’s like Alfred Lion telling me what to play and the money was $250…we’d have to rush to the check cashing place. I wish I had recorded for Blue Note the music I wanted to play.”

Spaulding toured Europe with Freddie Hubbard. After studying African rhythms with Randy Weston, he began touring with Max Roach. Some of Spaulding’s favorite recording dates were with Wayne Shorter (The Soothsayer, The All Seeing Eye, and Schizophrenia). He delivers a particularly exciting solo on Horace Silvers Jody Grind!

Spaulding has recorded over ten outstanding albums. When asked why he never recorded as a leader on Blue Note, he recalls

"Alfred Lion took me out to dinner and he asked me if I’d like to record for Blue Note, if I would like a contract. I said sure, and he said…well you know you have a family and you want to write some music for the jukebox. You want to write some Watermelon Man? I said ok Alfred; I’ll be talking to you later. I never got back to him”.

James Spaulding presently resides in New York City. He teaches and composes regularly, and can be heard with many musicians, including Baltimore’s own drummer George Gray (of The Pockets).