Dad drumming
Sunny Murray
  • 81 years old
  • Date of birth: Sep 21, 1936
  • Place of birth:
    Oklahoma, United States
  • Date of passing: Dec 7, 2017
  • Place of passing:
    Paris, France
“If you play music with passion and love and honesty, then it will nourish your soul, heal your wounds and make your life worth living. Music is its own reward.” Sting.

Sunny Murray—a pioneering free jazz drummer who played with Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Don Cherry, and more—has died, a representative from Eremite Recordsconfirmed to Pitchfork. He was 81. Born in Oklahoma, he spent his youth in Philadelphia before moving to New York City where he began playing with Cecil Taylor:

He was one of the early avant-garde's most inventive and influential drummers, doing a great deal to establish the role of the drums in free improvisation. Although Murray could swing as hard as anyone, he often abandoned the drums' traditional timekeeping role. Instead of playing a steady beat, he might punctuate and color behind the soloist's lines, or engage in dialogues with the rest of the ensemble, commenting and conversing with an open-ear sense of give and take. Born James Marcellus Arthur Murray in Idabel, OK, Sunny began drumming at age nine and moved to New York in 1956. At first, he played with traditional artists like Red Allen and Willie "The Lion" Smith, but he soon branched out into more adventurous territory with Jackie McLean and Ted Curson. His big break, however, came when he joined Cecil Taylor's group in 1959, which allowed him to improvise at a far more advanced level. While touring Europe with Taylor, Murray met Albert Ayler, and wound up joining his band in 1964; through 1967, Murray appeared on most of the saxophonist's greatest free jazz sessions. He also worked with Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, and John Tchicai, and made his first albums as a leader with 1965's Sunny's Time Now (for Jihad) and 1966's Sunny Murray Quintet (for the seminal ESP), the latter of which helped him win Down Beat's New Star award. In 1968, Murray traveled to France, where he played with Archie Shepp and recorded as a leader for Affinity and BYG Actuel; returning to the U.S. in 1971, Murray settled in Philadelphia and formed a group called the Untouchable Factor, which he led off and on through varying lineups. He led a fine quintet in the late '70s and '80s, and surfaced on several dates during the '90s.

He later recorded under his own name for ESP-Disk and then when he moved to Europe for BYG Actuel. In 2009, he released Ode to Albert Ayler, a collaborative album with guitarist Mark O’Leary. A documentary about his life, titled Sunny’s Time Now, arrived in 2008.

Huey, Steve. “Sunny Murray on Apple Music.” Apple Music,

“Sunny Murray.” 
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 9 Dec. 2017,

Sodomsky, Sam. “Jazz Drummer Sunny Murray Dead at 81.” Jazz Drummer Sunny Murray Dead at 81 | Pitchfork, Pitchfork, 8 Dec. 2017,

Memorial Tributes
This tribute was added by Neil Turner on 10th March 2018

"Join us for this mini-doc series the Memorial Concert & Tribute to free jazz drummer Sunny Murray held in Philadelphia, PA on Saturday, February 24, 2018 at the Phila Clef Club for Jazz & Performing Arts featuring Odean Pope, Muhammad Ali, Dave Burrell, Monette Sudler, Alan Nelson, Bobby Zankel, Elliott Levin, Terry Lawson, Richard Hill, Alfie Pollitt, Kevin Diehl and a host of other musicians. This concert was presented and sponsored by the Phila Clef Club, Ars Nova Workshop, the Phila Jazz Project, High Two Recordings, and Kevin Diehl and Sonic Liberation Front."

This tribute was added by Neil Turner on 18th January 2018

"Sunny Murray's Memorial Tribute will be held on Saturday, February 24, 2018 at the Philadelphia Clef Club at 7:00PM. The memorial features an outstanding list of musicians from Philadelphia and New York City. Please try to attend in order to honor this great musician an artist. Thank you."

This tribute was added by Kevin Diehl on 4th January 2018

"I received a call in 1985. It was a wrong number. The caller asked who I was. I told him, then asked him. "It's Sunny Murray." ME: "Sunny Murray the musician?"  - This was how we met. It was the year my daughter was born, the year my idol, Philly Joe Jones passed away, and the year I became a student and lifelong friend of Sunny Murray. This New York Times article, I feel, best captures the complete picture of Sunny Murray, drummer, musician, composer, artist. My heart-felt condolences to those who knew Sunny by his other roles: dad, brother, uncle, companion. To James, Hanif, Pia, Oforie, Conny, Isabelle and your entire family, you are in our thoughts and prayers. We remember fondly and are so very grateful to have shared some time with Christine. Love and Light to all, Tracey and Kevin Diehl & family."

This tribute was added by Jessica Newton on 24th December 2017

"Sending you Light and Love Uncle Sunny!"

This tribute was added by Neil Turner on 22nd December 2017

"When we see our uniqueness as a virtue, only then will we find peace. Rest in peace, my brother until we meet again..."

This tribute was added by johnny case on 21st December 2017

"I had recently been writing about Sunny Murray on my website blog entitled: "Ye Olde NEW THING". Then I learned the sad news this week.
So I added an update which ends with these two lines: "Sunny Murray, who was born September 21, 1936 in Idabel, Oklahoma, passed away in France, a citizen of the universe! May he rest in peace.""

This tribute was added by Mathias Le Feuvre on 20th December 2017

"You made me discover Coltrane and Debussy, then music became the biggest part of my life.
For this sharing there are no words, but i have to say thank you.
See ya.

(1969) Hommage to Africa
(2004) Désert de sel [& Gilles Torrent]"

This tribute was added by Soumilliard Didier on 19th December 2017


Cet en train que tu m’as obligé de venir
Tu m’as fait marcher, comme jamais je ne le pouvais
A l’image de l’arbre, tu as donné
Sans rien prendre que le subtil
Étonnant et donnant le manque
Balayant le temps, tout les temps
Le subtil est ce qui nous nourris
L’immonde est ce qui se décompose
Nous mettant en carence de ce qu’il leur manque
D’un seul coup tu as balayé toutes les balivernes enseignées
Sunny, pour tes Enfants, Compagne et Compagnons,
Tu m’as fait marcher, baguette magique
D’Idabel à Isabelle
Mes respects merveilleux


Depuis Concarneau"

This tribute was added by Jonnette Newton on 19th December 2017

"James, Jr., Haniff, Oforie, and Pia, I send my condolences to you and your families. Sunny will continue to be a part of me as he has always been. May you sleep in peace, my uncle. And if your old pals are still playing music, I know you will be right at home. You will always be in our hearts."

This tribute was added by Soumilliard Didier on 17th December 2017


Toute mort est un meurtre, un point c'est tout."

This tribute was added by mike Devine on 15th December 2017


This tribute was added by Gino Scott on 14th December 2017

"I heard wonderful stories seen great videos even other celebrities as spoke well of you in the presence of other artists and musicians I was told that I look like you that was so funny everytime I would hear that but today I honor you as my uncle and this nation honors you as the great Sunny Murray wish I had the chance to spend more time with you to get to know you but my heart flutters today that's a branch from this tree has failed but strength has build a legacy and do we have a history in this family of great singers and musicians and performers Myrtle Lee Turner Rice what a powerful woman to have three powerful children strong-willed it and talented. My love condolences and prayers go out to my cousins and the Murray family God bless you and may the music of Sonny Murray live on in our hearts in this nation and in the music industry will people can learn what Jazz hip-hop and fusion jazz is really all about the study of Sunny Murray you will be missed uncle love your nephew Gino Scott of Atlanta Georgia"

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This memorial is administered by:

Haniff Murray
Oforie Murray
Pia Roper


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