Yusef Lateef Remembered by Fine Arts Center Led Digital Project

Yusef Lateef
Yusef Lateef
Magic triangle logo

2020 marks the centenary of the birth of Yusef Abdul Lateef, a singular and highly respected figure in creative music who spent the later part of his life in the Pioneer Valley. To celebrate Lateef’s impact, the Magic Triangle Series, part of the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center, has organized a multi-faceted online project, set to launch Friday, Oct. 9 at fineartscenter.com/YusefLateef100. “A Centennial Celebration of Yusef Lateef” includes a live virtual concert, 100 video responses to his work and impact, an exhibit of his visual art, a photo gallery, scholarly papers relating to Lateef, dramatic readings of his fiction, film and video excerpts about Lateef, and a survey of articles and interviews related to Lateef.

Born on Oct. 9, 1920, Lateef was a Grammy Award winner and NEA Jazz Master, who released over 80 recordings as a leader. Lateef played tenor saxophone, flute, oboe, bassoon and wind instruments from around the world, and composed for orchestra, string quartet and film. In 1975 he earned his Ed.D  from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and taught at UMass and Hampshire College for many years. In 1992, he established his own record company, YAL Records, and published novellas, plays, poems, an autobiography as well as books on music. He was an exhibited visual artist and is the subject of two films, "Brother Yusef," and another in production. Yusef Lateef died on Dec. 23, 2013, at the age of 93, having impacted generations of artists and leaving a rich legacy of creative work. 

“Yusef left a deep impression on everyone he met,” says Glenn Siegel, longtime director of the Magic Triangle Series. “There are very few people on the planet who have generated such love and respect. Yusef’s body of work, across multiple artforms, is matched only by the immense impact of his humanity.” 

“A Centennial Celebration of Yusef Lateef” officially launches Friday, Oct. 9 at 7:30 p.m. ET with a live virtual concert featuring five improvisers who will each play short solo pieces: Adam Rudolph (percussion), Gwen Laster (violin), Alexis Marcello (piano), Fay Victor (voice) and Douglas Ewart (reeds). The concert will be broadcast to the Fine Arts Center’s YouTube and Facebook pages, and embedded on fineartscenter.com/YusefLateef100.

Siegel has spent the last few months connecting with musicians, writers, former students, colleagues and friends, who were impacted by Lateef. Their statements are collected as a series of “100 Responses to Yusef Lateef.” 

Another component produced in collaboration with the UMass theater department is a video project titled “When The Soul Looks Out: Selections from Dr. Yusef Lateef’s Creative Writing” curated and directed by Priscilla María Page. To honor Lateef’s legacy, Page has curated a filmed presentation of excerpts from Lateef’s writings, “Midnight in the Garden of Love,” “Spheres,” and “Another Avenue,” performed by Five College and UMass Theater alumni, faculty, and students with guest artists Miles Griffith, Mary LaRose and Fay Victor. 

Free tickets to the launch concert for “A Centennial Celebration of Yusef Lateef" are available at fineartscenter.com/YusefLateef100. For tickets and questions, the box office can be reached by email at facbox@umass.edu and by phone at 413-545-2511 or 800-999-UMAS, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., hours subject to change.