Acclaimed saxophonist Sonny Fortune, known for his work with jazz icons such as Buddy Rich, Miles Davis and Nat Adderly, died last Thursday in New York City. He was 79.
According to his longtime booking agent and friend Reggie Marshall, Fortune suffered a series of strokes, and had been warded at Mount Sinai Hospital since September due to complications.
Born Cornelius Fortune, the Philadelphia native always had an ear for music. Initially groomed to be a singer, Fortune later grew fond of the saxophone, learning how to play the instrument during his late teens. He enrolled in the Granoff School of Music, which also claims jazz stalwarts Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane as alumni.
At 28, Fortune moved out to New York City to pursue a serious career in jazz. He had a brief stint with Elvin Jones and Frank Foster, and later joined Mongo Santamaria’s ensemble for two years before performing alongside vocalist Leon Thomas and McCoy Tyner. In that period, Fortune sealed his position as an “instrumental innovator,” thanks to his contributions to Tyner’s albums Sahara and Song for My Lady.
In 1974, Fortune released his debut record, Long Before Our Mothers Cried, via Strata-East. The self-composed compilation collects five songs that featured Charles Sullivan on trumpet and Stara-East’s co-founder Stanley Cowell on keys. In the following years, Fortune put out a string of albums on Blue Note, including the highly acclaimed From Now on, which critics hailed as a “post-bop triumph.” His last album, Last Night at Sweet Rhythm, arrived in 2009.
RIP, Sonny Fortune. Stream his discography below: