Saturday, March 15, 2008

Memories of the Tenor Conclave -Von Freeman,Teddy Edwards and Buck Hill

"Tenor Conclave" (Timeless) was one of those recordings that somehow got past me. I recently copped a 'used' copy while down at the Jazz Record Mart. Imagine the three tenor tandem of Von Freeman, Buck Hill and Teddy Edwards blowing up a breeze in front of a 'live' audience. In the vaunted tradition of the old jam session tenor sax battle they come out guns blazin'. European pianist supreme Rein De Graaf's brainstorm for this session, each man being from the midwest, east coast and west coast of America was stroke of pure genius. Each man from the same generation of gutsy, gritty urban tenor saxophone playing.
Plus my own personal ties to each man was piqued. I'd follow Von Freeman around Chicago from 1971 to the present day. His floating jam sessions are the stuff of legend (In fact I'm near completion of a chapter on Von Freeman to be included in my hopefully soon to published book on Chicago jazz. As of yet I've not decided on a title). Von was always willing to be quite candid with me whenever we talked. He was 'hard core' jazz deep in his bloodlines.The epitome of the word 'jazz'.
Teddy Edwards I met some years before he died. He was to be a guest with an All star band that included Barry Harris at Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase celebrating Charlie Parker Month - August of every year since Bird's untimely demise in 1955. Edwards however came up quite ill and had to recuperate at an area hospital the day of the gig. While tuning into a radio program hosted by Bill King (of WBEE once an all jazz AM station), let it slip that Edwards was convalescing at Mercy Hospital on Chicago's near south side. I made a beeline straight to the hospital to visit Edwards who I had never met before. Walked into his single bed room and there seated beside him was none other than Barry Harris. The Master Harris and I had a warm friendship over the years because he enjoyed my enthusiasm for jazz (and he once wrote me a nice letter that I will always cherise). He introduced me to Mr. Edwards and we sat and had a wonderful chat. Mr. Edwards would go on to recoup and head back to California.
About two years ago I was sent Buck Hill's newest CD of the time by his record label. I had always admired his playing and history as one of the unsung saxists in America and wanted to get him on my radio show for a talk about his life. I did get in touch with him and we scheduled a time to talk 'live'. Well it didn't go too well for Mr. Hill is a man of few words. I damn near had to coax every sentence outta him. Best put he lets his saxophone do the talking. While I was rather embarrassed that he didn't seem comfortable talking he was genuinely very nice and I could feel his warmth regardless.
And on this CD, Tenor Conclave these true giants of their profession more than ably meet the task. The session is from the word 'go' fun. They mix it up with the usual standards - Perdido/Wahoo, How High the Moom/Ornithology, Red Top plus each get to solo on a trio of ballads. One has to believe there is more material in the vaults to share.
As I sit and listen to this session all the joy and honesty of these commited men to their art form brings back fond memories and gives us a valued moment of jazz history. They've made their mark. I'm just grateful to have met and to have been touched by them all.

Jazz Bassist Dennis Irwin Dead

I met bassist Dennis Irwin in the late 70s when he came to town on his first tour with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. He was always very amiable and had a pleasant continance. Great to be around. Plus he had a deeply resonant sound on the bass fiddle...

March 12, 2008
Dennis Irwin, 56, Bassist Popular in New York Jazz, Is Dead
Dennis Irwin, who for more than 30 years was a much-in-demand New York jazz bassist and whose recent illness became a rallying point for jazz musicians without medical insurance, died on Monday in Manhattan. He was 56.
The cause was liver failure as a result of cancer, said his son, Michael Irwin.
He died the same day as a benefit concert was presented in his honor, staged by Jazz at Lincoln Center and including performances by Wynton Marsalis, Tony Bennett, Jon Hendricks, Mose Allison, Joe Lovano, Bill Frisell, John Scofield, and many others. Part of the concert’s proceeds will go toward Mr. Irwin’s medical expenses. The rest, in line with his stated wishes, will go to other musicians in need, through the Jazz Foundation of America, which has helped many uninsured musicians — including Mr. Irwin — pay for healthcare.
Two New York City jazz-club benefits in February, one at Smalls and one at the Village Vanguard, also raised money for Mr. Irwin’s living expenses and for alternative cancer treatment.
Mr. Irwin’s swing was deep and dependable, and he played on more than 500 albums. Since the early 1980s, he had performed almost every Monday night with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra at the Village Vanguard.
Born in Birmingham, Ala., Mr. Irwin attended North Texas State University (now University of North Texas) as a classical musician studying the clarinet, switching to jazz and the bass during college. In 1973, while still in school, he got a job as a bassist playing with the pianist Red Garland; he moved to New York in 1974 without graduating and quickly found work with Ted Curson, Betty Carter and Mr. Allison, among others. In 1977 he began a three-year stint in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.
In more recent years, he played in bands led by Johnny Griffin, Mr. Lovano, Mr. Scofield and Matt Wilson.
His case has already brought help to uninsured musicians. Michael Pietrowicz, vice president for planning and program development at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in Englewood, N.J., said in an interview on Tuesday that the hospital, in conjunction with the Jazz Foundation of America, would create the Dennis Irwin Memorial Fund, making free cancer screenings available to veteran jazz and blues musicians who are uninsured. (Mr. Irwin was initially evaluated and treated for cancer at the hospital late last year.) And Adrian Ellis, executive director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, said Tuesday that the organization would produce an annual concert to benefit jazz musicians in need.
Besides his son, Michael, of Manhattan, Mr. Irwin is survived by his companion, Aria Hendricks; his brother, David Irwin, and his mother, Daisy Godbold, both of St. Petersburg, Fla.; and his father, David E. Irwin of Monticello, Ga.