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Jazz musician Sam Rivers dies at 88

December 27, 2011 |  2:49 pm

Jazz musician Sam Rivers dies at 88

Sam Rivers, a saxophonist and composer who helped define the avant-garde jazz scene in the '60s and '70s, died Monday. He was 88. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Rivers' daughter confirmed that the cause of death was pneumonia. 

Born in Oklahoma in 1923 and raised in Chicago and Little Rock, Ark., Rivers became a fixture of the Orlando, Fla., jazz scene for more than two decades. His legacy is defined by both his pioneering spirit in the post-bop jazz scene and a style that married unfettered creativity with a strong foundation of technical ability on whatever instrument he touched. 

Rivers' resume was expansive, including working as a sideman with masters like Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and T-Bone Walker in the '50s and '60s and commanding his own big band the Rivbea Orchestra in Orlando and several talented, tight-knit groups. Though tenor sax was his primary instrument, he also recorded on flute and clarinet.

Living in New York in the 1970s, Rivers' makeshift loft venue, Studio Rivbea (where he lived with his late wife, Beatrice), became the hub of the postwar avant-garde jazz scene in Lower Manhattan.

He headed to sunnier shores in the early 1990s, relocating to Orlando where, according to the Sentinel, he was invited by a number of notable musicians working at the Walt Disney Co. to take part in a booming jazz scene. There, he developed a devoted, multigenerational following and up until this past September, Rivers held weekly open auditions for his well-loved Rivbea Orchestra at Orlando's musicians' union hall.

See below for video of the Sam Rivers Trio performing in Germany in 1979.

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--Nate Jackson

Photo: Jazz musician Sam Rivers, 80, performs at the Jazz Bakery in Culver City. Credit: Stefano Paltera / For The Times

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