Joe Temperley with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Richard Perry/The New York Times
Joe Temperley, a Scottish baritone saxophonist who anchored the reed sections of some of the most prominent big bands of the last half-century — notably the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, in which he played for 25 years — died on May 11 at his home in Manhattan. He was 86.
The cause was kidney failure and complications of cancer, his wife, Laurie Temperley, said.
During a seven-decade career that began with dance bands in Glasgow and carried him to concert halls across the world, Mr. Temperley maintained a personal trademark of soulful professionalism. He had a deep sonority on the baritone, softening the instrument’s stentorian brawn with a smooth, almost velvety tone. He could blend to the point of invisibility within a saxophone section, but he was also a gallant soloist with a special gift for ballads.
Though he was fluent in a range of modern jazz styles, his great hero on the baritone saxophone was Harry Carney, a stalwart of the Duke Ellington Orchestra from 1927 until after Ellington’s death in 1974. At Mr. Carney’s funeral later that year, Mr. Temperley played a signature ballad in tribute, “Sophisticated Lady.” The performance so impressed Mercer Ellington, the maestro’s son, that he asked Mr. Temperley to succeed Mr. Carney in a legacy edition of the band.
Mr. Temperley remained with the Ellington orchestra for more than a decade, until accepting an invitation from Wynton Marsalis to join the new resident jazz orchestra at Lincoln Center in 1991. After Mr. Marsalis, the founder and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, Mr. Temperley had the longest tenure of any member of the band.
Joseph Temperley was born on Sept. 20, 1929, in Lochgelly, a mining town in the county of Fife. The son of a bus driver, he was a self-taught musician, starting on cornet. He switched to tenor saxophone in his early teens, joining a dance band led by his older brother, and then forming his own, the Debonairs.
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At 17 Mr. Temperley left for Glasgow, where he found work in local nightclubs and with a first-rate band led by Tommy Sampson, billed as “Scotland’s King of Swing.” He soon moved to London, where he further proved himself with several successful bands, notably the Jack Parnell Orchestra.
But Mr. Temperley’s most prominent work in England came in the popular band led by Humphrey Lyttelton, a trumpeter from an aristocratic family who later enjoyed a long career as a radio broadcaster. After joining the band as a substitute tenor saxophonist in 1957, Mr. Templeton shifted to baritone at Mr. Lyttelton’s suggestion, and found it an ideal fit.
He left the band amicably after eight years, moving to New York. After serving a stint in Woody Herman’s big band he became a freelancer, working in recording studios and on Broadway. For several years he was a member of the influential Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra.
In addition to Ms. Temperley, his wife of 32 years, he is survived by his sister, Helen Frazier, and a stepson, Matthew Lurin. His first marriage ended in divorce.
Mr. Temperley, who played soprano saxophone and bass clarinet in addition to baritone, made a handful of suavely authoritative albums, including “Nightingale” (1991) and “A Portrait” (2006). But his reputation largely rested on his work in big bands, and one in particular.
At a Jazz at Lincoln Center concert in Mr. Temperley’s honor last fall, Mr. Marsalis hailed him as “a man who has been the foundation of our orchestra since our inception.” The program included “Joe’s Concerto,” a three-part suite by Mr. Marsalis, along with selections from the Ellington repertoire. It concluded with one of those: “The Single Petal of a Rose,” played by Mr. Temperley on bass clarinet with a tender and unhurried solemnity.
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