Robert Northern, the jazz artist, French horn master, and bandleader known as Brother Ah, has died, The New York Times reports. According to the Times, Northern died on May 31 in Washington D.C. following a year-long battle with a respiratory illness. He was 86 years old.
Throughout his six-decade recording career, Northern played in-studio with some of the biggest names in jazz history: John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, Pharoah Sanders, and countless others. Northern also spent a decade playing in Sun Ra’s Arkestra, the legendary cosmic jazz outfit that still performs to this day (albeit without the late Sun Ra himself). Northern played on Sound Sun Pleasure!!, Pictures of Infinity, The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, and more.
While Northern contributed enormously to the jazz cannon as a performer and session musician, he transitioned into the role of bandleader in the early 1970s. Sound Awareness, his first solo album under the Brother Ah moniker, arrived in 1972, and featured legendary percussionist Max Roach. The title Sound Awareness referred to a philosophy that governed much of Northern’s work: That all of the sounds in one’s environment are worthy of close attention. Northern’s next release as Brother Ah was the 1975 LP Move Ever Onward, on which Northern played drums, flute, and sitar in addition to French horn. In 1985, Brother Ah and the Sounds of Awareness shared the sprawling jazz-fusion record Key to Nowhere.
In addition to his work as a musician, Northern was also an educator. In 1970, he took a teaching position at Dartmouth College, where he worked during jazz trumpeter Don Cherry’s tenure at the university. He continued to teach in schools and youth programs for decades until shortly before he died. Northern was also a reputable DJ, hosting a Washington D.C.-based radio program titled “The Jazz Collectors” for about twenty years. Northern’s Divine Music, a box set compiling recordings from between 1978 and 1985, was released in 2017.