James Marcellus Arthur "Sunny" Murray (September 21, 1936 – December 7, 2017) was one of the pioneers of the free jazz style of drumming.[1]

Sunny Murray
Sunny Murray.jpg
Background information
Birth nameJames Marcellus Arthur Murray
Born(1936-09-21)September 21, 1936
Idabel, Oklahoma
DiedDecember 7, 2017(2017-12-07) (aged 81)
Paris, France


Murray was born in Idabel, Oklahoma[2] and spent his youth in Philadelphia before moving to New York City where he began playing with Cecil Taylor: "We played for about a year, just practicing, studying — we went to workshops with Varèse, did a lot of creative things, just experimenting, without a job"[3] He was featured on the influential 1962 concerts in Denmark released as Nefertiti the Beautiful One Has Come.

Murray was among the first to forgo the drummer's traditional role as timekeeper in favor of purely textural playing. "Murray's aim was to free the soloist completely from the restrictions of time, and to do this he set up a continual hailstorm of percussion ... continuous ringing stickwork on the edge of the cymbals, an irregular staccato barrage on the snare, spasmodic bass drum punctuation and constant, but not metronomic, use of the sock-cymbal."[4]

After his period with Taylor's group, Murray's influence continued as a core part of Albert Ayler's trio who recorded Spiritual Unity: "Sunny Murray and Albert Ayler did not merely break through bar lines, they abolished them altogether."[5]

He later recorded under his own name for ESP-Disk and then when he moved to Europe for BYG Actuel.

Murray died on December 7, 2017 from unspecified causes at the age of 81.[6]


As leaderEdit

  • 1965: Sonny's Time Now
  • 1966: Sunny Murray (ESP Disk)
  • 1968: Big Chief (EMI/Pathé)
  • 1969: Homage to Africa (BYG Actuel)
  • 1969: Sunshine (BYG Actuel)
  • 1969: An Even Break (Never Give a Sucker) (BYG Actuel)
  • 1978: Charred Earth (Kharma)
  • 1979: Live at Moers-Festival (Moers)
  • 1979: Aigu-Grave (Marge) with Bobby Few, Alan Silva, Richard Raux, Pablo Sauvage
  • 1980: Apple Cores (Philly Jazz)
  • 1987: Indelicacy (West Wind)
  • 1996: 13 Steps on Glass (Enja)

As sidemanEdit

with Cecil Taylor

with Albert Ayler

with Gil Evans

with Jimmy Lyons

  • Jump Up/What To Do About (Hathut)

with David Eyges

  • Crossroads (Music Unlimited)

with Billy Bang

with Khan Jamal

  • Infinity (Jam'Brio)
  • Change of the Century Orchestra (JAS)
  • Speak Easy (Gazell)

with Alexander von Schlippenbach

with Cheikh Tidiane Fall and Malachi Favors

with Burton Greene and Alan Silva

  • Firmanence (Fore)

with David Murray

with Dave Burrell

  • High (Douglas)
  • Echo (BYG Actuel)

with Aki Takase

  • Clapping Music (Enja)

with The Reform Art Unit

  • Subway Performances (Granit)

with Charles Gayle and William Parker

  • Kingdom Come (KFW)

with Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers

  • Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers/Sonny Murray Quartet-1968(JCD)

with Archie Shepp

with Gunter Hampel

  • Gunter Hampel and His Galaxie Dream Band Journey to the Song Within (Birth)

with Sabir Mateen

with Christian Brazier

with Walter Malli

  • Geh' langsam durch die alten Gass'n (PAO)

with Kenny Millions

  • Loved by Millions (Leo)
  • Mayhem in Our Streets (Waterland)
  • No Money No Honey (Hum Ha)

with Clifford Thornton

  • Ketchaoua (BYG Actuel)

with Arthur Doyle

  • Dawn of a New Vibration (Fractual)
  • Live at Glenn Miller Café (Ayler)

with Francois Tusques

  • Intercommunal Music (Shandar)

with Assif Tsahar and Peter Kowald

  • MA Live at Fundacio Juan Miro (Hopscotch)

with The Contemporary Jazz Quartet

  • The Contemporary Jazz Quartet Featuring Sunny Murray Action (Debut)

with Telectu


  1. ^ http://wbgo.org/post/sunny-murray-drummer-who-pioneered-flowing-pulse-free-jazz-has-died-81
  2. ^ http://wbgo.org/post/sunny-murray-drummer-who-pioneered-flowing-pulse-free-jazz-has-died-81
  3. ^ Lock, Graham (1994). Chasing the Vibration. Devon: Stride Publications. p. 120. ISBN 1-873012-81-0.
  4. ^ Wilmer, Val (1977). As Serious As Your Life. Quartet. ISBN 0-7043-3164-0.
  5. ^ Litweiler, John (1984). The Freedom Principle: Jazz After 1958. Da Capo.
  6. ^ Sodomsky, Sam (8 December 2017). "Jazz Drummer Sunny Murray Dead at 81". Pitchfork. Retrieved 8 December 2017.

External linksEdit