Noted saxophonist Joseph Temperley died on May 11 due to complications from cancer. He was 86 and had been on the Juilliard Jazz faculty since the program was founded, in 2001. He is survived by his wife, his sister, and his stepson.
Born in the county of Fife, Scotland, Temperley taught himself to play music, starting on cornet and switching to tenor sax at the age of 14. Three years later, he left home and started playing in dance bands in Glasgow and then London, switching to baritone sax along the way. He moved to the U.S. in the 1960s, eventually spending 10 years in a posthumous version of Duke Ellington’s band. Temperley was a founding member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and for more than 25 years performed and toured with the band, alongside founder Wynton Marsalis (’81, trumpet) He was also an active freelancer, playing in other bands, on Broadway, and in recording studios. His own albums include Nightingale (1991) and A Portrait (2006).
Last year, at a Jazz at Lincoln Center concert honoring Temperley, the program included a five-part suite by Marsalis called Joe’s Concerto plus Ellington repertoire, including Temperley playing “The Single Petal of a Rose” on bass clarinet. Several of the many obituaries of Temperley this spring quoted him as saying when he was asked about working past retirement age, “As long as I can do it, I will do it. As Duke Ellington said, ‘Retire, to do what?’”
Community members paid tribute to their colleague, teacher, and friend.
With Joe, there’s the sound, and the integrity in the sound, the originality of it. When you hear his sound, you know him automatically, because it’s so full of warmth, soul and feeling. For someone from another country and culture to exhibit the depth of belief that animated his sound was, and still is, truly miraculous. We will miss him deeply. — Wynton Marsalis (’81, trumpet), Artistic Director, Juilliard Jazz
The first time I spoke to Joe at Juilliard, he was quite pleased that there was a Scottish student in the jazz program and then rather taken aback when we worked out that we born a mere six miles from each other, making us a couple of Fifers in N.Y.C.!
I’ll never forget my lessons with Joe and I’m deeply grateful to have been one of his last students. Jazz has lost a giant. R.I.P. Temp. — Ruaridh Pattison (MM ’16, jazz studies)
I had the honor and privilege of studying with Joe Temperley from the very beginning of my time at Juilliard, in 2008. The core concept he passed on to me—one that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life— is simply the power of sound. He helped me explore the potential resonance, depth, clarity, range, and warmth of the baritone down to the very subtleties of emotion and sound. Sometimes when I was playing in the upper register, he’d scrunch his nose, make a face, and say, “Why are you playing through your nose? It’s so nasally! Don’t do that. Open your eyes, open your face, open your sound, actually look up!” And he was right, my sound opened up! I’m blessed to have had the opportunity to study with him—he’ll be missed dearly. — Adison Evans (BM ’12, MM ’13, jazz studies)
My musical life changed forever after my first lesson with Joe. He explained his concept of the sound of the horn and on its place in the jazz orchestra and as a solo instrument, and told me stories about playing with musicians he loved and respected. It made me not only a better musician with a sense of direction, purpose, and my future place in the jazz community, but also a better person. It was one of the most powerful musical experiences of my life.
My favorite Joe story is that in the ’60s, after being in New York a few years, he decided to return to Scotland, but after three weeks of playing golf and living the “normal” life, he returned to N.Y.C. Playing the music at its highest level was part of what brought him back, but his love for the musicians with whom he got to share that music was the real reason he came back—he missed the camaraderie and the sense of community. I think that story summarizes Joe Temperley perfectly: he was a loyal, soulful, and dedicated musician. — Carl Maraghi (Artist Diploma ’04, jazz studies)
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