Ted Curson, Trumpeter of the New and the Blue, Dies at 77
By NATE CHINEN
Published: November 8, 2012
Ted Curson, a trumpeter who moved fluidly between soulful postbop and volatile free jazz, both as a leader and as a sideman with Charles Mingus, Cecil Taylor and Archie Shepp, died on Sunday in Montclair, N.J. He was 77.
The cause was heart failure, his wife, Marge, said.
Mr. Curson, who had a terse, muscular sound and a precise technique, was part of a generation of jazz trumpeters who followed in the wake of Clifford Brown, whose ease with the rigors of bebop he absorbed.
But Mr. Curson also came of age at a time of seismic change in jazz, which he felt firsthand through an affiliation with Mr. Taylor, the maverick pianist. Mr. Curson and the saxophonist Bill Barron, a close collaborator, formed the front line of Mr. Taylor’s quintet on “Love for Sale,” an oblique but swinging album released in 1959.
Soon afterward Mr. Curson fell in with Mingus, a harrowingly demanding bandleader intent on elasticizing the language of bebop. Mingus’s working band at the time, which also featured the alto saxophonist Eric Dolphy, recorded both in the studio and in concert; its defining document is a 1960 live recording, “Mingus at Antibes,” which added the tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin and the pianist Bud Powell.
Mr. Curson does some of his most celebrated work on that album, executing tight, melodic pirouettes against the urgent delirium of “Better Git Hit in Your Soul.”
He prized his rapport with Dolphy, a dynamic individualist whose ideas fell just outside the jazz orthodoxy. Mr. Curson featured Dolphy on one of his earliest albums. His best-known album, “Tears for Dolphy,” was made after the saxophonist’s death at 36 in 1964.
Theodore Curson was born on June 3, 1935, in Philadelphia. He studied at the Granoff School of Music before moving to New York, where he quickly found work.
After leaving Mingus and forming a sturdy small group with Mr. Barron, he recorded the 1965 Atlantic album “The New Thing & the Blue Thing,” whose title hints at his dual allegiance. Even as he was making hard-boppish music with Mr. Barron and others, he was engaging with provocateurs like Mr. Taylor and Mr. Shepp, the saxophonist whose 1965 Impulse album “Fire Music” features Mr. Curson as the first soloist.
The expressive clarity of Mr. Curson’s sound also led to a job contributing to the soundtrack of “Teorema,” a 1968 Pier Paolo Pasolini film, though only Enrico Morricone, who also contributed, received composer credit.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Curson is survived by a son, Ted Jr.; a daughter, Charlene Jackson; six grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.
Fame would largely elude Mr. Curson at home, but he found it in Finland, where he was a fixture at the Pori Jazz Festival, one of the biggest and oldest in Europe. Through a chance encounter with promoters in Paris, Mr. Curson played the inaugural Pori festival in 1966 and never missed a year after that. He received a key to the city in 1998.
But Mr. Curson also belonged to the greater New York area’s jazz scene. In 1983 he established a late-night jam session at the Blue Note, which he ran on and off for more than a decade. And for roughly the last 10 years he had been leading a jam session one night a month at Trumpets Jazz Club in Montclair. He had been scheduled to appear there on Wednesday.