Sam Rivers

Sam Rivers
Cover of Sam Rivers

Multiinstrumentalist and composer Sam Rivers has amassed a distinct and varied body of work linked by a devotion to improvisational freedom and a relentless commitment to unfettered creativity.

Samuel Carthorne Rivers was born in El Reno, Oklahoma on September 25, 1923 into a musical family. His grandfather was a minister and musician, who published A Collection of Revival Hymns & Plantation Melodies in 1882.

His father was a graduate of Fisk University, where he sang in The Fisk Jubilee Singers and the Silverstone Quartet. His mother played piano for the group. Rivers sang in his family’s vocal group at the age of five before taking up the violin, piano, and trombone, before settling on the saxophone at age thirteen.

Rivers father died when the boy was ten, after which he moved with his mother from Chicago to Little Rock, Arkansas, where she took a position teaching music and sociology at Shorter College.

Largely self-taught on the saxophone, Rivers advanced rapidly and played his first professional gigs with singer Jimmy Witherspoon while in the navy in the late 1940s. After the navy, Rivers settled in Boston, where he attended the Boston Conservatory in 1947 and then Boston University.

As a composition major at Boston Conservatory, Rivers studied under the prolific American composer Allan Hovhaness, who also mentored alto saxophonist Gigi Gryce. By the early 1950s, Rivers had become a fixture of the Boston jazz scene, along with contemporaries like pianist Jaki Byard, Serge Chaloff, Gryce, Ken McIntyre, Paul Gonsalves, and Alan Dawson. For more of this article go to

Click here For Sam Rivers Discography

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