Lew Soloff, a trumpet player who was an early member of Blood, Sweat and Tears and whose jazz career included performances with his own ensembles and with Gil Evans, Ornette Coleman, Chuck Mangione, Maynard Ferguson and other giants of the genre, has died. He was 71.
Soloff suffered an apparent heart attack as he walked down a New York City street Saturday night with his daughter Laura Solomon, her husband, and their children. He died early Sunday, Solomon said.
Soloff joined Blood, Sweat and Tears in 1968, about a year after the mega-group formed. He performed on their hit “Spinning Wheel” shortly after signing on with them. He played trumpet and flugelhorn on numerous Blood, Sweat and Tears recordings and was featured on the group’s eponymous album that in 1970 won a best-album Grammy.
Soloff traveled the world with Blood, Sweat and Tears until he parted with the jazz/rock band in 1973, grateful for the exposure he had gained but yearning for the kind of free-form musical invention that he felt more accurately defined him.
“It gave me the life experience of once having been a sort of rock star — not individually but certainly as a member of the band,” he told the Jerusalem Post in 2002. “At one point, it was the second biggest band in the world. I’m thankful for that, but there was never enough improvisational freedom in the band for me to consider that as one of my jazz gigs.”
Lewis Michael Soloff was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. on Feb. 20, 1944, and grew up in Lakewood, N.J. He studied piano before taking up the trumpet when he was 10. He once recalled listening to a recording of Louis Armstrong’s “I Hope Gabriel Likes My Music,” awestruck at a high scale played “with such quiet finesse and beauty.”
“I wanted to play like that,” Soloff said.
Soloff played with bands at Catskills resorts during summer vacations. In 1961, he entered the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., and later did graduate work at the Juilliard School in New York City. By the mid-1960s, he was playing with Afro-Cuban bandleader Machito, whose fiery rhythms inspired Soloff’s own Afro-Cuban ensemble decades later.
Soloff played in the studio and on stage with Tony Bennett, Elvis Costello, Marianne Faithfull, Aretha Franklin, Lou Reed, Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon and Barbra Streisand.
He helped found the Manhattan Jazz Quintet, played Bach with the Manhattan Brass, appeared with Clark Terry’s big band, performed on numerous movie scores, and accompanied such renowned jazz artists as George Benson, Benny Carter, Lionel Hampton, Herbie Mann, Carmen McRae and Stanley Turrentine.
He described jazz pianist Gil Evans as “my musical godfather,” and performed with his group from 1966 until Evans’ death in 1988.
Critics noted Soloff’s virtuosity in a wide variety of forms. In a 2002 cabaret review, the New York Times said Soloff’s “big, meaty sound owes much to Louis Armstrong.”
His survivors include daughters Laura Solomon and Lena Soloff, as well as his grandchildren.