Hemphill was best known for his work with the World Saxophone Quartet -- he was arguably the band's most distinctive writer -- but his work as an improvising saxophonist and composer encompassed a variety of other contexts over the course of his career. Hemphill worked with everything from big bands to duos; he especially excelled at composing for unusual instrumental combinations. Hemphill's primary instrument was the alto; he had a huge, somewhat harsh tone, almost as if he were playing a horn made out of a steel pipe with a sax mouthpiece attached. He possessed a formidable technique and a fertile imagination. The latter probably best manifested itself in his compositions, in which he merged his jazz roots with European classical and African influences.