Hemphill was best known for his work with the World Saxophone Quartet -- he was arguably the band's most distinctive writer -- but his work as an improvising saxophonist and composer encompassed a variety of other contexts over the course of his career. Hemphill worked with everything from big bands to duos; he especially excelled at composing for unusual instrumental combinations. Hemphill's primary instrument was the alto; he had a huge, somewhat harsh tone, almost as if he were playing a horn made out of a steel pipe with a sax mouthpiece attached. He possessed a formidable technique and a fertile imagination. The latter probably best manifested itself in his compositions, in which he merged his jazz roots with European classical and African influences. Hemphill's first instrument was the clarinet. He played bari saxophone in high ...
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