It was merely 35 years ago that Rufus Harley bought his first saxophone, a C Melody, out of his earnings from selling newspapers and shining shoes on the streets of Philadelphia. He went on to master the tenor sax, oboe and flute, play film roles of the Pied Piper and a rock 'n' roll saxophonist and become the world's first and only jazz bagpipe player.
"I was watching the burial services of the late President Kennedy on TV and it was the Black Watch Bagpipe Marching Band of Canada that inspired me. I bought the bagpipes I now have at a pawn shop for $120."
Harley studied the traditional approach to the double-reed instrument and supplemented that with his "awareness of modern music." He feels that the bagpipes, whose origins were in antiquity, are "the mother instrument" and are "having a new birth." He has recorded with Sonny Rollins and Herbie Mann and performed in festivals here and abroad.
A frequent performer in clubs here during the 1960s and 1970s, Harley returned in March for a cameo appearance on bagpipes in Laurie Anderson's show "United States" at the Warner Theatre and he plays on her latest album. Harley will be at d.c. space Saturday night with his quartet, performing on bagpipes and tenor sax. Sid Simmons will be on piano, Kenny Kellum on bass and Emmanuel Thompson on drums.