John Gilmore (September 28, 1931 – August 19, 1995) was an avant-garde jazz saxophonist known for his tenure with keyboardist/bandleader Sun Ra from the 1950s to the 1990s.
Gilmore grew up in Chicago and played clarinet from the age of 14. He took up the tenor saxophone while serving in the United States Air Force from 1948 to 1952, then pursued a musical career, playing briefly with pianist Earl Hines before encountering Sun Ra in 1953.
For the next four decades, Gilmore recorded and performed almost exclusively with Sun Ra. This was puzzling to some, who noted Gilmore's talent, and thought he could be a major star like John Coltrane or Sonny Rollins. Despite being five years older than Gilmore, Coltrane was impressed with his playing, and took informal lessons from Gilmore in the late 1950s. Coltrane's epochal, proto–free jazz "Chasin' the Trane" was inspired partly by Gilmore's sound.
In 1957 he co-led with Clifford Jordan a Blue Note date that is regarded as a hard bop classic: Blowing In from Chicago. Horace Silver, Curly Russell, and Art Blakey provided the rhythm section. In the mid-1960s Gilmore toured with the Jazz Messengers and he participated in recording sessions with Paul Bley, Andrew Hill (Andrew! and Compulsion), Pete La Roca (Turkish Women at the Bath), McCoy Tyner (Today and Tomorrow) and a handful of others. In 1970 he co-led a recording with Jamaican trumpeter Dizzy Reece. His main focus throughout, however, remained with the Sun Ra Arkestra.
Gilmore's devotion to Sun Ra was due, in part, to the latter's use of harmony, which Gilmore considered both unique and a logical extension of bebop. Gilmore had stated that Sun Ra was "more stretched out than Monk" and that "I'm not gonna run across anybody who's moving as fast as Sun Ra ... So I just stay where I am."
Gilmore occasionally doubled on drums and also played bass clarinet until Sun Ra hired Robert Cummings as a specialist on the latter instrument in the mid-1950s. However, tenor sax was his main instrument and Gilmore himself made a huge contribution to Sun Ra's recordings and was the Arkestra's leading sideman, being given solos on almost every track on which he appeared. In the Rough Guide to Jazz, Brian Priestley says:
Gilmore is known for two rather different styles of tenor playing. On performances of a straight ahead post-bop character (which include many of those with Sun Ra), he runs the changes with a fluency and tone halfway between Johnny Griffin and Wardell Gray, and with a rhythmic and motivic approach which he claims influenced Coltrane. On more abstract material, he is capable of long passages based exclusively on high-register squeals. Especially when heard live, Gilmore was one of the few musicians who carried sufficient conviction to encompass both approaches.
Many fans of jazz saxophone consider him to be among the greatest ever, his fame shrouded in the relative anonymity of being a member of Sun Ra's Arkestra. His "straight ahead post-bop" talents are exemplified in his solo on the Arkestra's rendition of "Blue Lou," as seen on Mystery, Mr. Ra.
After Sun Ra's 1993 death, Gilmore led Ra's Arkestra for a few years before his own death from emphysema. Marshall Allen then took over the Arkestra leadership.
As a leader
- Blowing in from Chicago (Blue Note, 1957) co-leader with Cliff Jordan,
For albums with Sun Ra see the Sun Ra discography
With Paul Bley
- Turning Point (Improvising Artists, 1964 )
With Clifford Jordan
- Blowing in from Chicago (Blue Note, 1957)
With Freddie Hubbard
- The Artistry of Freddie Hubbard (Impulse!, 1962)
With McCoy Tyner
- Today and Tomorrow (Impulse!, 1963)
With Elmo Hope
- Sounds from Rikers Island (Audio Fidelity, 1963)
With Andrew Hill
- Andrew!!! (Blue Note, 1964)
- Compulsion! (Blue Note, 1966)
With Art Blakey
- 'S Make It (Limelight, 1965)
With Pete La Roca
- Turkish Women at the Bath (Douglas, 1967) also released as Bliss! (Muse, 1967)
With Phil Upchurch
- Feeling Blue (Milestone, 1967)
With Dizzy Reece
- From In to Out (Futura, 1970)