Lew Soloff, a jazz trumpeter who reached a broader audience with the jazz-rock band Blood, Sweat & Tears, especially with a memorable soloon the original version of the 1969 hit “Spinning Wheel,” died on Sunday in Brooklyn. He was 71.
The cause was a heart attack, his manager Nancy Meyer said.
Mr. Soloff had little use for genre limitations. He was a session musician for Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra and Lou Reed; he was the lead trumpeter of both the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra; he tackled Bach as a member of the quintet Manhattan Brass.
“For lack of a better word I call it jazz, but I consider any music that’s improvised to be in that genre,” he told The Jerusalem Post in 2002. “The key to what I like to do is to improvise.”
He did not do much improvising while he recorded and toured with Blood, Sweat & Tears, one of the first rock bands to include a horn section, after replacing Randy Brecker in 1968. But his playing was essential to the success of the band, whose self-titled second album, released in late 1968, won the Grammy Award for album of the year and included three singles that went gold and reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100: soulful covers of “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” originally recorded by Brenda Holloway; Laura Nyro’s “And When I Die”; and “Spinning Wheel,” an original composition by the band’s lead singer, David Clayton-Thomas.
The album version of “Spinning Wheel” featured a bebop-inflected upper-register solo by Mr. Soloff that captivated ears more familiar with rock ’n’ roll. The solo was removed from the 45 r.p.m. version to shorten the song for radio, but many musicians say it was transformational.
“There was no jazz-rock before Blood, Sweat & Tears,” the keyboardist Paul Shaffer, the leader of the “Late Show With David Letterman” band, said in a telephone interview on Monday.
“You changed the idiom,” Mr. Shaffer said, speaking of Mr. Soloff, a close friend, in the second person. “After you, rock ’n’ roll was no longer limited to triads and three chords.”
Mr. Soloff toured the world with Blood, Sweat & Tears. In 1970 the band played before 14,500 fans at Madison Square Garden; their opening act was a sextet led by Miles Davis. But Mr. Soloff left the band in 1973, seeking new musical challenges.
“It gave me the life experience of once having been a sort of rock star — not individually but certainly as a member of the band,” he said in 2002. “At one point it was the second-biggest band in the world. I’m thankful for that, but there was never enough improvisational freedom.”
Lewis Michael Soloff was born on Feb. 20, 1944, in Brooklyn. He grew up in Lakewood, N.J., and took up the trumpet at 10.
After graduating from the Eastman School of Music in 1961 and briefly studying at Juilliard, he began playing in New York with Maynard Ferguson, Tito Puente and Machito. He released eight albums as a leader and performed or recorded with Gil Evans, Paul Simon, Dizzy Gillespie and many others.
Mr. Soloff lived in Brooklyn. His marriage to the classical harpist Emily Mitchell ended in divorce. He is survived by two daughters, Laura Solomon and Lena Soloff, and two grandchildren.