Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Jarvis, Clifford (Osborne)

Drummer Clifford Jarvis is best known for his two decades with one group: the Sun Ra Arkestra. Many may be surprised to learn he was equally at home performing bebop, hard bop and free jazz. Jarvis's work with Freddie Hubbard, Pharaoh Sanders, Archie Shepp, and Barry Harris confirms his talents place him among the most accomplished drummers, with a rare blend of technical mastery, historical awareness, and improvisation. His talent richly deserves recognition it has yet to receive.

Clifford Osborne Jarvis was born in Boston, Massachusetts on August 26, 1941. His father and grandfather were trumpeters, and encouraged to boy to pick up a musical instrument at an early age. By age ten, Jarvis chose the drums. He was one of the first students of famed Boston drummer and educator Alan Dawson, whom he studied with privately as well as at the Berklee School of Music. After playing with the likes of Sam Rivers and Jaki Byard while at Berklee, Jarvis decided to move to New York in 1958 to further his professional career.

Jarvis quickly lined up a prestigious roster of work. In his first major session, he joined an all-star lineup of Zoot Sims, Pepper Adams, and Bill Evans for Chet Bakerís 1959 session, Chet Baker Plays the Best of Lerner and Lowe. Jarvis also performed with Randy Weston, Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrane, Curtis Fuller, and Roland Kirk within his first few professional years.

In 1960, Jarvis performed on Freddie Hubbardís famed debut solo recording, Open Sesame. With a fine group consisting of Hubbard, Jarvis, Tina Brooks, McCoy Tyner and Sam Jones, the combination of jazz icons and underrated talents make this inspired session one of the most significant sessions in Jarvisís career. ďBut Beautiful,Ē the albumís second track, features delicate ballad playing from the always-tasteful Jarvis Two years later, Jarvis returned to work with Hubbard for his 1962 Hub-Tones sessions, also featuring James Spaulding, Herbie Hancock, and Reggie Workman.

In between these two major sessions with Hubbard, Jarvis joined forces with the Sun Ra Arkestra shortly after Sun Ra relocated his group to New York City. This collaboration would go on to span decades and become Jarvisís career-long primary gig. A few of his early recordings with the group throughout the 1960s include Cosmic Tones For Mental Therapy/Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow, which featured the Myth Science Arkestra, When Sun Comes Out, Nothing Is, Atlantis, Pictures of Infinity, and My Brother the Wind, Vol. 2.

Aside from his voluminous work with Sun Ra, Jarvis continued to work as a sideman throughout the 1960s, with some of the best musicians in bop and hard bop. Some noteworthy sessions include Blue Sprits with Freddie Hubbard, Newer than New and Chasiní the Bird with pianist Barry Harris, Final Sessions Volumes 1 and 2 with Elmo Hope, Right Now! with Jackie McLean, Images of Curtis Fuller with Curtis Fuller and That Certain Feeling with organist John Patton

Jarvis continued to work with Sun Ra into the 1970s, including on the albums Solar Myth Approach Volumes 1 and 2, Nidhamu, and Live at Montreux. As his work with Sun Ra tapered off, Jarvisís career underwent a striking development. While most of his work outside the Arkestra had been mostly straight-ahead bop and hard bop, his reputation for balancing swing and bop tradition with free jazz and the avant-garde propelled Jarvis into first-call status as a free-jazz sideman throughout the 1970s. Notable recordings from this period include: Deaf, Dumb and Blind and Thembi with Pharoah Sanders, Attica Blues Big Band, Bird Fire, and Live at the Totem, Volume 1 with Archie Shepp, and Universal Consciousness with Alice Coltrane.

As the 1980s emerged, Jarvisís recorded output somewhat diminished in size, partly due to his permanent relocation to England. He started his own band, Prophets of Jazz, shortly after moving to Europe, but the band was relatively short-lived. Jarvis sustained a secondary career as an educator, teaching both music and history in and around the London area, building on his experience teaching percussion at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst before moving to England.

Jarvisís performance career did not end in the 1970s, however. In 1983, he rejoined Sun Ra for a brief tour that included Lester Bowie, Don Cherry, and Archie Shepp. He appeared on Sun Ra Arkestra Meets Salah Ragab in Egypt in 1984 and Archie Sheppís Little Red Moon in 1985.

Jarvisís late life saw little performing aside from these aforementioned gigs in the 1980s. He occasionally performed with local European musicians, including Harry Beckett, Courtney Pine, Chris McGregor, Michel Marre, and Jean Toussaint. He continued teaching until his health deteriorated, and he died on November 26, 1999.

Clifford Jarvis will forever be remembered as a tasteful drummer and as an intense and occasionally impulsive man. One anecdote which illustrates this side of his personality is about how was held at gunpoint by Nevada locals for shouting ďHowdy, PartnersĒ at them when Sun Raís bus broke down once on tour. The entire group wound up narrowly escaping their hotel when the rifle-yielding locals continued to seek out the traveling band.

Jarvisís sporadic unpredictability ultimately fed his intense, interactive drumming style, and is that in large part makes his recorded legacy worth exploring. He was constantly looking to simultaneously present a mature, solid jazz groove while breaking traditional rules and boldly interacting with his fellow musicians.

Like Elvin Jones with John Coltrane or Ed Blackwell with Ornette Coleman, Clifford Jarvis deserves credit for his ability to heighten the creative powers of one of jazzís great minds, Sun Ra. However, his choice to stay at Sun Ra's side through the sixties and much of the seventies has largely obscured his achievements to contemporary listeners. Nonetheless, those who make the effort to seek out his work with Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, Randy Weston, Chet Baker, and Barry Harris, among others, will be rewarded with the discovery of some of jazz drummingís premium moments.

Select Discography:

Chet Baker Plays the Best of Lerner and Lowe (Chet Baker, 1959), Open Sesame (Freddie Hubbard, 1960), Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy/Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow (Sun Ra, 1961), Newer than New (Barry Harris, 1961), When Sun Comes Out (Sun Ra, 1962), Chasiní the Bird (Barry Harris, 1962), Hub-Tones (Freddie Hubbard, 1962), Blue Spirits (Freddie Hubbard, 1965), Right Now! (Jackie McLean, 1965), Final Sessions, Volumes 1 and 2 (Elmo Hope, 1966), Nothing Is (Sun Ra, 1966), Atlantis (Sun Ra, 1967), That Certain Feeling (John Patton, 1968), Deaf Dumb Blind (Pharoah Sanders, 1970), Solar Myth Approach, Volumes 1 and 2 (Sun Ra 1970), Thembi (Pharoah Sanders, 1971), Universal Consciousness (Alice Coltrane, 1971), Ruby My Dear (Kenny Drew, 1977), Attica Blues Big Band (Archie Shepp, 1979), Bird Fire: A Tribute to Charlie Parker (Archie Shepp, 1979), Sun Ra Arkestra Meets Salah Ragab in Egypt (Sun Ra, 1984), Little Red Moon (Archie Shepp, 1985), Images Of (Curtis Fuller, 1994), Janus (Sun Ra, 1999), It is Forbidden (Sun Ra and his Intergalactic Arkestra, 2001)

Contributor: Eric Novod