Black Artists Group, performed and recorded with most of the city's important "free jazz" musicians, and later served as a board member for New Music Circle, has died. Available public records list his year of birth as 1940 and his age at death as 74.
LeFlore was born in Mississippi, but as a young child moved with his family to St. Louis, where his uncle Clarence "Bucky" Jarman was a guitarist. He attended Sumner High School at the same time as a number of other notable local jazz musicians, including fellow trumpeters Lester Bowie and David Hines, saxophonist Oliver Lake, pianist John Hicks, and drummers Jerome "Scrooge" Harris and Philip Wilson.
After serving in the military from 1962 to 1965, LeFlore returned home and got involved in the city's rapidly changing music scene, becoming a member of what's generally acknowledged as St. Louis' first organized, recurring "free jazz" ensemble, the Oliver Lake Art Quartet, with Lake, Harris, and bassist Carl "Arvinia" Richardson.
With many of the musicians mentioned above, LeFlore then helped to start the Black Artists Group in 1968. When a number of the BAG co-founders moved to Europe in 1972, LeFlore initially remained in St. Louis, but he later went to Paris and stayed for a couple of years, touring and recording with BAG on their "official" debut album Black Artists Group - In Paris, Aries 1973.
Around this same time, LeFlore also recorded with Oliver Lake; the BAG-related Human Arts Ensemble; saxophonist Luther Thomas; and Solidarity Unit, Inc, which featured Lake, Richardson, drummer Charles "Bobo" Shaw, trombonist Joseph Bowie, trumpeter Baikida Carroll, guitarist Richard Martin, and bassist Kada Kayan. He also picked up occasional sideman work, ranging from early gigs with blues guitarist Albert King to a one-off local show with the Arkestra of legendary pianist and bandleader Sun Ra.
In the 1980s, LeFlore recorded and gigged with pianist David Parker, and in the early 1990s he became a board member of New Music Circle. He served on the organization's music committee and was a featured performer in several concerts produced by NMC, including his music/theater piece “Ritualistic Revival,” with LeFlore performing his own poetry and dialogue in the role of the Rev. Alonzo Alphonso Jones.
At this point, this story gets personal for me. As an NMC board member and later administrator during those years, I was fortunate to get to know and work closely with Floyd LeFlore, playing keyboards on some shows he was involved in, and also line-producing "Ritualistic Revival" and several other events he conceived.
Although he was having some trouble with his chops around that time, due to the lingering effects of an auto accident in which he had injured his mouth and lip, LeFlore was still an inventive player and, perhaps more important, an inspiring presence - just a great person to work with and be around. In the near future, I hope to do another post paying tribute to Floyd LeFlore that will draw more on some of those memories as well as archival materials from those years.
Floyd LeFlore's first and only recording as a leader, the 1998 CD-EP City Sidewalk Street Song Suite, was praised by Terry Perkins in a Riverfront Times review for combining “elements of straight-ahead jazz, R&B, funk and traditional children’s street rhymes into a seamless and highly entertaining recording.”
In the early 2000s, LeFlore performed a few gigs around the St. Louis area with saxophonist Freddie Washington as the Divinity Jazz Quintet. He also took part in the BAG retrospective convened in 2006 at Washington University, but otherwise had been mostly inactive in recent years. At present, there's no information available as to the cause of his death.
(Updated 9/12/14 with information from the obit published by the St. Louis American.)
LeFlore is survived by his ex-wife Shirley Bradley LeFlore, daughters Lyah Beth LeFlore, Jacie Price, and Hope Price Lindsay; four grandchildren, Noelle Lindsay, Jordan Lindsay, Jullian Price Baez, and Bella Grace LeFlore Ituen; and one sister, Cynthia A. LeFlore.
A memorial service will be held at 10:00 a.m. Saturday, September 13, 2014 at McClendon Mortuary, 12140 New Halls Ferry Road, St. Louis MO, 63033.