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Saxophonist with Hemphill, O'Farrill, etc.by Todd S. Jenkins
Copyright © 2004 Todd S. Jenkins
Saxophonist Sam Furnace, one of the most astounding but underappreciated players in modern creative jazz, died of cancer on January 26, 2004. He was forty-nine years old.
Furnace's career began in the crucible of soul, backing bands like the Temptations and Four Tops. In the mid-1970s he was a member of saxophonist Billy Mitchell's Henry Street Settlement Jazz Band. His majestic tone and brilliant solo construction skills gained him praise and work on the bebop and free sides of the jazz fence. Furnace graced performances and recordings by Art Blakey's nonet, McCoy Tyner, Mongo Santamaria (Soy Yo, 1987, Concord Picante), Fred Ho (nine albums including Turn Pain Into Power, 1997, O.O. Discs), Brooklyn Sax Quartet, Elliott Sharp's Terraplane (Blues for Next, 2000, Knitting Factory), Bill Cole's Untempered Ensemble (Seasoning the Greens, 2002, Boxholder), the Jazz Passengers, the New York Composers Orchestra, Arturo O'Farrill's big band, and more. Furnace also backed blues guitarist Johnny Copeland, interpreted James Brown's music in a jazz vein with Cold Sweat, and blew for British teen R&B sensation Joss Stone on The Soul Sessions (2003, S-Curve).
One of Furnace's most rewarding associations was with Julius Hemphill. The late altoman loved Furnace's tenor and baritone work, and made sure to include him in his big-band and famed sextet. Furnace made especially strong contributions on sextet albums like Fat Man and the Hard Blues (1991) and Five Chord Stud (1993, both Black Saint). He continued with the sextet even after Hemphill's death. While Furnace never led a recording session of his own, his contributions to modern creative jazz over the past decade-plus were always inspiring.
Todd S. Jenkins
Todd S. Jenkins is a member of the JJA, author of Free Jazz and Free Improvisation: An Encyclopedia (Greenwood Press, 2004) and I Know What I Know: The Music of Charles Mingus (Praeger, 2006), and a contributor to Down Beat, All About Jazz, American Songwriter and Route 66 Magazine.