Yusef Lateef’s neologism for jazz was autophysiopsychic, meaning “music from one’s physical, mental and spiritual self.” Lateef condensed in this term a very considered conception linking the intellectual and the spiritual based in his faith as an Ahmadiyya Muslim and his lifelong commitment to both Western and non-Western intellectual explorations. Lateef’s distinctive voice as an improviser is traced with respect to his autophysiopsychic exploration of world instruments including flutes, double reeds, and chordophones, and his friendship with John Coltrane. The two shared a love of spiritual exploration as well as the study of science, physics, symmetry, and mathematics. Lateef’s ethnomusicological research on Hausa music in Nigeria, as well as his other writings and visual art, deepen our understanding of him as an artist-scholar who cleared the way for the presence of autophysiopsychic musicians in the academy.
It is no secret that the use of the word “jazz” to describe the canonic music we associate with Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane has long been contested. The “J-word,” which, according to many, began as sexual slang, has been viewed as a marketing category, a white-perpetuated label to place African American music in a box, and a term that through its voyeuristic association with illicit activities became racially offensive. Duke Ellington found it a category he did not want to be associated with, a feeling shared by musicians across many generations from Charles Mingus and Max Roach to Nicholas Payton and Muhal Richard Abrams. Yusef Lateef was among those who objected to the word. Lateef’s word to describe this music was . . .