August 23, 2006 by

Rufus Harley

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Categories: Musicians

rharley.jpgRufus Harley Jr., a musician billed as “the world’s first jazz bagpiper,” died on July 31 from prostate cancer. He was 70.
A North Carolina native of African-American and Cherokee descent, Harley always had a passion for music. He moved to Philadelphia as a young boy and studied the saxophone, oboe, trumpet and flute. To support his family, he dropped out of high school at the age of 16 and earned money working odd jobs and playing in local jazz clubs.
Harley became interested in the bagpipes after seeing the Black Watch Scottish Marching Band perform at President John F. Kennedy’s funeral in 1963. Shortly thereafter, Harley purchased his own set of pipes at a pawnshop for $120 and began taking lessons from Dennis Sandole, a local jazz guitarist/teacher who also mentored Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. Within a year, Harley recorded his debut album and became the first person to introduce bagpipes to mainstream jazz audiences.
In the mid-1960s, Harley signed a contract with Atlantic Records and recorded four albums (“Bagpipe Blues,” “Scotch and Soul,” “A Tribute to Courage” and “King and Queens”). He provided backup instrumentals for Sonny Stitt, Herbie Mann and Sonny Rollins, and played alongside jazz icons like Coltrane and Dizzy Gillespie, usually while wearing an African dashiki or a Scottish kilt. As his fame grew, Harley appeared on numerous TV shows, including Johnny Carson

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