James Mtume, who had just turned 76 just a week ago, died, news confirmed by sources familiar to Pitchfork magazine. Son of the great saxophonist Jimmy Heath and mentor of the band Mtume, musician born James Forman was born in Philadelphia and studied in California, where he joined the African-American political and cultural agitation organization US Organization in the late 1960s. who changed his name to James Mtume, a word which in Swahili means “the messenger”.
That political conscience fueled his early records: he released the classic Alkebu-Lan: Land of The Blacks on Strata-East in 1972, the same year he joined Miles Davis’ band for the recording of the fusion classic On The Corner. This was the first chapter of a long relationship with the iconic trumpeter, alongside whom he would record works such as Dark Magus, Get Up With It, Agharta, or Pangaea, milestones in one of Miles’ most effervescent creative periods.
It was with the trumpeter that he learned something very important for his artistic personality: “When you cross a bridge, burn it so you don’t have the opportunity to go back. I think I took that lesson from my years with Miles Davis. He changed the song three or four times, and he did it because he never looked back.”
Mtume thus became a much sought-after musician, gaining a solid reputation that allowed him to gain space in ensembles led by giants like Gato Barbieri, Eddie Henderson, Lonnie Liston Smith or McCoy Tyner. This considerable experience was fundamental when in 1978, already at the head of the group Mtume, which he formed with Reggie Lucas (guitarist and producer who would be involved in Madonna’s first album, in 1983), he released Kiss The World Goodbye, the first of five albums that achieved reasonable commercial success, especially the now-classic Juicy Fruit, work from which many hip hop classics came out via sampling, including themes by Alicia Keys, Warren G, Common, Snoop Dogg or, among many others, “ Juicy ”, a song that climbed the sales charts of Notorious BIG
In addition to being a musician and bandleader, Mtume has also enjoyed considerable success as a songwriter, having signed songs for artists such as Roberta Flack, Donny Hathaway, R. Kelly, Mary J Blige or Inner City. After the news of his death, social networks were filled with expressions of grief. DJ Premier was one of the first to pay tribute to him: “Thank you for all your great contributions to music”.
Conducted by Jeff “Chairman” Mao for the Red Bull Music Academy, one of the most in-depth interviews with the musician can be seen here, talking about his early career, working with Miles Davis or “Juicy” and the art of sampling. Or, if you prefer, your trip to the TEDx Talks.
The cause of his death has not been revealed.