Born in 1928 in Houston, Texas, Land grew up in San Diego, where he started playing sax at age 16. He made his recorded debut for Savoy in 1949 leading his All-Stars with Leon Petties, Froebel Brigham, and others. Following a move to Los Angeles in the mid-'50s, he joined the Max Roach-Clifford Brown quintet, replacing Teddy Edwards. Land stayed in the group for over a year, appearing on such classic albums as 1954's Brown and Roach Incorporated and 1955's Study in Brown. He then left the group to play with Curtis Counce from 1956 to 1958, during which time he recorded with the bassist for labels like Contemporary and Dooto. There were also sessions with Herb Geller, Cal Tjader, Victor Feldman, and others.
As a leader, Land made his debut with 1958's Harold in the Land of Jazz, playing alongside trumpeter Rolf Ericson, pianist Carl Perkins, bassist Leroy Vinnegar, and drummer Frank Butler. A year later, he returned with The Fox, an superb quintet set with trumpeter Dupree Bolton and pianist Elmo Hope. By the '60s, Land was dividing his time between leading his own groups, as with bassist Red Mitchell on 1961's Hear Ye!, and playing with bandleader Gerald Wilson and his orchestra. In 1963, he showcased his wide-ranging taste reinterpreting traditional folk songs like "Tom Dooley" and "On Top of Old Smokey" on Jazz Impressions of Folk Music. There were also dates with Wes Montgomery and Kenny Dorham for Jazzland, and sessions with such notable players as Carmell Jones, Bud Shank, Gary Peacock, and Thelonious Monk, among others.
While Land never went completely avant-garde, he did expand his approach throughout the '60s, influenced by the work of John Coltrane and other progressive players. He formed a lasting quintet with vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson which they debuted on 1968's The Peace-Maker and continued through the early '70s. Land also co-led a group with trumpeter Blue Mitchell from 1975 to 1978, recording albums like 1977's Mapenzi.
Beginning in the early '80s, he and Hutcherson often appeared as members of the Timeless All Stars, a group of veteran players connected to the Timeless label, also featuring pianist Cedar Walton, trombonist Curtis Fuller, bassist Buster Williams, and drummer Billy Higgins. Though his own recording slowed in the '80s (he released 1981's Xocia's Dance), Land continued his association with the Gerald Wilson Orchestra and performed live, often working with his son pianist Harold Land, Jr. He also moved into education, working as a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. He also joined guitarist Kenny Burrell's UCLA Jazz Studies Program. In 1995, he released A Lazy Afternoon, a lush orchestral album featuring arrangements by Ray Ellis. Following a long recording hiatus, Land returned in March 2001 with Promised Land, a hard-swinging quartet date featuring pianist Mulgrew Miller, bassist Ray Drummond, and drummer Billy Higgins. Land died in July 2001 after suffering a stroke at the age of 72. ~ Matt Collar, Rovi
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