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James “Blood” Ulmer, Guitar Activist

James “Blood” Ulmer is one of the most distinctive and important guitarists of the past 50 years. His music highlights the through line from traditional blues to free jazz. In this episode of Expandable Sound, the singer and guitarist discusses his approach to the unwritten law of guitar harmolodics, Jimi Hendrix, and what it means to be a guitar activist. Born in St. Matthews, South Carolina in 1940, Ulmer got his start in music singing in a spiritual group led by his father. He picked up the guitar early on and played in organ groups, bouncing from South Carolina to Pittsburgh to Columbus, Ohio. Ulmer eventually landed in New York in 1971 where he quickly asserted his unique voice playing sideman to luminaries like Art Blakey, Joe Henderson, and Arthur Blythe. But his major breakthrough came working as a protégé to Ornette Coleman, establishing himself as a major force in the creative music world. Ulmer has released numerous recordings that range from explorative free improvisation to unadorned traditional blues. Yet his voice remains constant – uncompromising, ferocious, and soulful.


Expandable Sound


Musical portraits exploring how knowledge is created and shared in jazz and improvised music. Including Bill Frisell, Pheeroan akLaff, Amina Claudine Myers, and more.