John Stubblefield (4 February 1945 – 4 July 2005) was an American jazz saxophonist, flautist and oboist.
Tenor saxophonist Stubblefield was one of the most powerful and innovative soloists of the post-Coltrane generation. He collaborated with the best modern jazz and avant-garde artists, including Charles Mingus, whose big band he later led.
Stubblefield was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, and first studied the piano before moving to saxophone in his teens. At the age of 17 he joined local R&B group York Wilburn and the Thrillers, with whom he made his recording debut. Next, he spent a year touring with soul legend Solomon Burke before studying music at A&ME College in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, concurrently leading his own modern jazz quintet.
In 1967, after graduation, Stubblefield settled in Chicago and soon joined the pioneering avant-garde jazz collective the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. He left the group in 1970 when he relocated to New York City and joined its East Coast counterpart, the Collective Black Artists.
In 1972, Stubblefield joined Mingus and added alto saxophone, oboe, flute and bass clarinet to his arsenal. But he was only with the group for five months before he and Mingus fell out. This effectively left Stubblefield blacklisted throughout much of the New York jazz community.
He finally got a job with Nat Adderley’s quintet and in 1973 briefly played behind Miles Davis as well. Mingus wanted him to return to his band but Stubblefield refused.
In 1976, Stubblefield recorded Midnight Sun – his first record as leader. Later recordings for the Enja and Soul Note labels include Confessin’ (1984), Countin’ on the Blues (1987) and Sophisticatedfunk (1990).
After Mingus died, his widow Sue put together the Mingus Big Band in 1992 to carry on his legacy. Stubblefield served as its lead tenor and occasional conductor, and was one of the few members who had actually played with Mingus in his prime.
Stubblefield remained the Mingus Big Band’s guiding force even after he was diagnosed with cancer in 2004. He died the following year.
This recording of ‘If You Only Knew’ is taken from Stubblefield’s album Prelude.