Obituary: Clifford Jarvis
Wednesday 01 December 1999
Jazz has lost its great figures like Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, and nobody has come up to replace them. The days when musicians learned their craft through touring on the road are long gone and instead we are in the age of the "educator". Most jazz musicians today are technically efficient and highly trained, but there are few indeed with the combination of genius and fire that gave us Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis.
Clifford Jarvis was in at the beginning of jazz education as far as the drums were concerned. His father and his grandfather were both trumpeters and they persuaded him to take up the drums when he was 10. After Jarvis had won a diploma in electronics in 1954, his father persuaded Alan Dawson, a fine jazz drummer, to give Jarvis lessons. He became Dawson's first pupil, and, when Dawson went on to become an "educator" at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Jarvis followed.
Dawson proved to be an outstanding teacher and Jarvis went on to become almost as good. While still at college, he played professionally in Boston with the pianist Jaki Byard and saxophonist Sam Rivers. Jarvis moved to New York in 1959 and slipped with ease into the top echelon of the city's jazz drummers.
He began by recording with Chet Baker and Randy Weston and the following year began a long association with the brilliant trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. Never a prominent or aggressive drummer, Jarvis made his best album with Hubbard, Hub-Tones, for Blue Note in 1962. His sympathetic playing led him into piano trios led by Barry Harris, with whom he stayed for almost two years, and Elmo Hope. He also played for the guitarist Grant Green and for the multi-instrumentalist Roland Kirk. Kirk probably started Jarvis's interest in the more unorthodox jazz backwaters, and his interest in free- form music led him first to Sun Ra's Arkestra. This was to be a long association and the two men recorded several times together between 1962 and 1976.
Jarvis was happiest on the wilder shores of the music and he worked for the avant-garde tenor saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders, appearing with him at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1972. The pianists Alice Coltrane, Kenny Drew and Walter Davis all used Jarvis when they made recordings. He joined another far out saxophone player, Archie Shepp, in 1976 and remained in the band until 1981. When Sun Ra put together an all star band for an international tour in 1983, Jarvis rejoined and worked in the band with Lester Bowie, Don Cherry and Shepp. At this time he worked as a drum teacher at the University of Massachusetts and in other New England colleges.
Against the run of play, for he seemed to be doing well in his home country, Jarvis moved to England in the middle Eighties. He formed a band here called the Prophets of Jazz and played with the trumpeter Harry Beckett and tenor saxophonist Courtney Pine. He was also a member of Chris McGregor's band for a time.
Surprisingly for one who had kept such eminent company over the years, his career dwindled to nothing, and apart from an appearance with the saxophonist Jean Toussaint in 1991, little was heard from him beyond his work with local bands. Clifford Osbourne Jarvis, drummer: born Boston, Massachusetts 26 August 1941; died 26 November 1999.
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