Cornelius Bumpus

Soulman of the saxophone

Cornelius began his musical career at age ten playing alto saxophone in the school band in Santa Cruz, California. Through the encouragement of his parents, his love of music grew, and by age twelve he had joined his first working band. He then led a rhythm and blues band for seven years.

In 1966, Cornelius spent six months performing with Bobby Freeman, writer and recording artist of the classic song, "Do You Want to Dance?" In 1977, he joined Moby Grape and wrote one tune for the "Live Grape" album.

During the 1980's, Cornelius rose to worldwide acclaim performing with The Doobie Brothers. He contributed a song on the "One Step Closer" album. Cornelius recorded two solo albums and toured with his own band. Stints were also put in with Jeff Lorber and Lacy J. Dalton.

There’s an old cliche about musicians who don’t talk much: They speak with their music. As tired as that old saw is, it best described Cornelius Bumpus, the native Santa Cruzan, woodwind and keyboard player. Bumpus performed and recorded with the Doobie Brothers, Boz Scaggs and Steely Dan. He also turned up with Etta James, Robben Ford and Jeff Lorber and made several records of his own.

Bumpus had a great approach to his art of playing- "When it comes to improvising, there are no set rules, so everything is very fresh. You want to be thinking about the solo somewhat, but you can't be so rigid where something new can't creep into the playing. The key for any musician is to keep that level. The more you go after that, the more it happens and it becomes a natural thing. Then gradually, some new ideas come into my playing. Sometimes it's quick, you don't know from minute to minute what is gonna happen."

"It wasn’t about chicks. It wasn’t about money. It was always about the music," said Fritz Burden, 53, Café and Rain’s bass player now living in Walnut Creek. "And he was able to make a living out of it. God love him for that."

For Bumpus, no job paid too little or was too far to drive.

Bumpus listened to all the music and that was a clue as to why he played with such a diverse range of artists. His taste ran the gamut from country-western legend Hank Williams to avant-garde saxophonist Ornette Coleman.

Ultimately, it was Bumpus’ sound that no one will forget. He played his horn like a African griot, possessed with story-telling magic. While some musicians would crank out endless lines of fast notes only to peter out and quit, Bumpus would construct solos like elegant narratives with a beginning, middle and end. His saxophone playing really hit me when I heard the urgency and depth of his sound....plus the feel on his notes. Everything related to the music, plus his flute playing was beautiful.

Listen to his solos on the Doobie Brothers hit " Taking It To The Streets" or the tasty lines on "Minute By Minute" .

After relocating to New York in 1986, Cornelius performed and recorded with a host of artists, including Etta James, Hugh Masakela, Nite Sprite, and The New York Rock and Soul Revue. He was a member of Steely Dan from 1993 to 2004. During that time he released another solo album, “Known Fact” on Palmetto Records.

Bumpus was known for his silk-degreed sax lines for Boz Scaggs, Jeff Lorber, and the Doobie Brothers, and on many Steely Dan recordings, including Two Against Nature. On Known Fact, Bumpus spotlights his sparkling and soulful sound, which encompasses the cry of the inner city of Junior Walker sound and the fluent jazz phrasings of Joe Henderson and Stanley Turrentine. Musical genres are no obstacle to Bumpus. He knew what to do and when to do it.

Bumpus suffered a heart attack during a flight from New York to California, where he was scheduled to perform at the Columbia College Jazz Concert Series. The plane made an emergency landing in Kansas City to try and help him, but Bumpus died by the time the plane reached the ground, according to the Associated Press.

Thus ends a chapter in soulful saxophone and a rule book on how to make a living in the music business. Bumpus lived to play-and played to live. Even though people might not know his name...I'm sure at least six times a day, at the least , somewhere on this planet there are one of his solos playing on pop-rock radio with the Doobies. That says something pretty deep right there.

As he said - "The tenor is an important voice for my personality. It's like an extension. "

May his style and commitment to " playing the horn" never be forgotten! What an inspiration to all musicians and a soulful saxophonist. His sound was so inspiring on tenor.


BUMPUS AT A HIGH SCHOOL CLINIC..with the kids blowing the truth into the music for them.


Cornelius Bumpus, Chris Potter, Michael Leonhart, Jim Pugh with Steely Dan live.