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Lyons, Jimmy (actually, James Leroy)

Lyons, Jimmy (actually, James Leroy)

Lyons, Jimmy (actually, James Leroy), free-jazz alto (and soprano) saxophonist; b. Jersey City, N.J., Dec. 1, 1933; d. N.Y., May 19, 1986. At age 15, he was given an alto sax by Buster Bailey; he was also befriended and encouraged by Elmo Hope, Bud Powell, Kenny Drew, and Thelonious Monk and studied with Rudy Rutherford. In 1960 he met Cecil Taylor on return from army service in Korea, and in 1962 began his long tenure with Taylor when they made their recording debut. He played on all of Taylor’s records until he began heading his own bands, and until the late 1970s Lyons’s unique alto solos were the a familiar part of Taylor’s music. They recorded for many labels, and Lyons adjusted to constant personnel changes, sometimes playing with other saxophonists like Sam Rivers, at other times with violinists, multiple drummers, or trumpeters. Lyons sometimes had other jobs, and worked for a period in the early 1970s as a music teacher at a N.Y. drug treatment center. He was an artist-in-residence with Taylor and Andrew Cyrille at Antioch Coll. (1970) and served with Bill Dixon at Bennington Coll. as director of the Black Music Ensemble in 1975. His late 1970s and 1980s groups usually included his wife, Karen Borca, and Paul Murphy, with assorted guest stars. Lyons also worked in a trio with singer Jeanne Lee and Andrew Cyrille, and in duos with Cyrille and Sunny Murray. During the 1980s he often led a quintet with his wife Karen Borca on bassoon. He used to write his pieces in whole notes so the rhythms could be played freely. He lived in the Bronx until, being a heavy smoker, he died of lung cancer.


Jump Up / What to Do About (1980); Something in Return (1981); Burnt Offering (1982); Wee Sneezawee (1983); Give It Up (1985).

—Lewis Porter

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