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Bay Area Saxophonist Pete Yellin (1941-2016) News
Bay Area Saxophonist Pete Yellin (1941-2016)

Alto saxophonist and educator Peter Michael "Pete" Yellin passed away in Berkeley, CA on April 13, 2016 after a series of strokes. He was 74 years old. Born July 18, 1941, in New York City, he lived there until he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2006.

Inspired by fellow alto saxophonist Art Pepper's recordings in the 1950s, Pete began studying music with his father, who was an NBC studio pianist, and then enrolled in the Julliard School of Music. After graduation from Juilliard he started working professionally in the New York area. He later earned a master's degree in saxophone at Brooklyn College.

During the 1960s he performed with vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, drummer Buddy Rich, and Latin jazz icon Tito Puente, among others. He met keyboardist Chick Corea, and they became good friends and collaborators, working together off and on for the next few decades.

He was in tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson's band from 1970 to 1973 and went on to play with pioneering Afro-Cuban trumpeter Mario Bauza, Canadian-born trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, bassist Sam Jones, soul-jazz organist and saxophonist Charles Earland, and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra. In 1974 he formed his own band, released several CDs, and was featured at the Newport Jazz Festival.

A selection of album covers from Pete Yellin's discography

He founded the jazz program at Long Island University in 1984 and was Coordinator of Jazz Studies there until the late 1990s.

In the 1980s and '90s, Pete worked extensively with pianist and bandleader Eddie Palmieri, guitarist George Benson, Cuban jazz pioneer Machito, and others.

In 1984, saxophonist, composer, arranger, and big band leader Bob Mintzer, who was living and working in Los Angeles put together a band. He and Pete had worked together in Tito Puente's band and then Buddy Rich's, and he asked Pete to join his new group. Pete stayed with them until 2007.

Tributes and Memorials

"Pete Yellin has only to play a few notes and you know that it is Pete who is playing," wrote Mintzer in a tribute to Pete back in 2011, when he suffered his first stroke. "He is of the generation where each player had a distinctive sound, and spent more time developing a personal vocabulary than copying other players. Granted, Pete came out of the Bird/Coltrane/Rollins school. But the majority of Pete's sound is his own.

"The best way to describe his playing is free flowing, expressive, quirky, and personal," added Mintzer. "There is only one Pete Yellin!"

Said Chick Corea in a moving tribute honoring Pete:

"To Pete Yellin, my dear friend and Musical Teammate for a lifetime. Thanks for your dedication to Music throughout your whole productive life. You have made a big difference by your heartfelt contributions — and you have lifted the spirits of all the souls your music touched. For me you were a true friend and so kind to help me get to know the Big City where I found my musical heroes, my musical home and my musical self. The early '60s when we had that cool Latin quintet with Milford Graves and Bill Fitch. The time we spent playing with Joe Henderson and all the other musical times we had together discovering the beauties and depths of the music we loved and still love most. The fun we had together in the studio making your recording — and the times you came down to hear my new bands in Oakland. All the best of memories. Thank you."

Pete leaves his loving and devoted wife, Jane Oriel of El Cerrito, CA; his loving daughter and son-in-law, Allegra Yellin and Jordan Ruyle; his beloved siblings, Jill Fischer, CT, Bob Yellin, VT, and Gene Yellin, NY; and two cherished granddaughters, all of Oakland, CA. He also leaves a multitude of friends who will miss his warm personality, ready smile, great sense of humor, and generous heart.

His wife wishes to thank the many wonderful musicians who came to play concerts for him almost every week, beginning shortly after his first stroke in 2011 and the last one just days before he passed, the music coordinators who facilitated those concerts, and all who have steadfastly helped her and Pete through this difficult period, including those in the medical community who gave their all to care for Pete.

He will be buried in a private family ceremony in Oakland. Plans for a public celebration of his life will be announced later.

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