Walter Zuber Armstrong

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A West Coast reed player with a haunting tone and an armload of self-published albums, Walter Zuber Armstrong was highly influenced by free jazz legends Eric Dolphy and Anthony Braxton. Like them, he…
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A West Coast reed player with a haunting tone and an armload of self-published albums, Walter Zuber Armstrong was highly influenced by free jazz legends Eric Dolphy and Anthony Braxton. Like them, he was drawn to the idea of multi-instrumental textural dexterity. Zuber Armstrong chose the bass clarinet and flute to cover opposite extremes, a pair of instruments Eric Dolphy had used as an exotic sideline to his alto sax. Then Zuber Armstrong pretty much set aside the entire jazz content of Dolphy's music to concentrate on more spaced-out ideas. From Braxton he adopted the idea of solo reed performances, although unlike his model he was not particularly into shrieking displays of intensity. Zuber Armstrong was based out of the sleepy border town of Bellingham, WA, for most of his career, meaning that one of his main performing possibilities was nearby Vancouver, British Columbia. The bustling jazz scene in this city led to collaborations with Canadian performers such as pianist Paul Plimley and drummer Greg Simpson. Zuber Armstrong cannot be said to have toured excessively during his career, yet he did leave behind collaborations with multi-instrumentalist Milo Fine taped in Minnesota as well as duos with Steve Lacy recorded in Amsterdam. The latter session is considered by many free jazz fans to be Zuber Armstrong's finest recordings.

Despite snippy comments made by some players and critics about his technique, Zuber Armstrong was a classically trained musician who studied at the New York College of Music, the Julliard School, and Toronto's Royal Conservatory of Music. He largely supported himself by teaching contemporary music at Western University in Bellingham and Fairhaven College in the town of the same name. He performed two of his final concerts in the late '90s at Bellingham events in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. and Black History Month. His recordings with Lacy were done in 1979, and were released on two different albums. In the early '80s, he performed at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, teaming up for part of the show with the reclusive and fussy improviser Milo Fine. The earliest of Zuber Armstrong's releases on his own World Artists label dates from 1973. On some of his later sessions he dabbles with the bassoon.