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In Memoriam: Leroy Jenkins 1932-2007

By Published: April 15, 2007

Leroy was a good friend of many years. He had a very positive outlook in life. It was always a joy to play with such an excellent musician.

- JOSEPH JARMAN, MULTI-INSTRUMENTALIST

Leroy Jenkins was the first person I ever heard improvise on the violin....it was the mid '70s and it was at some church in the village...he started with a little motif, just a germ of an idea, and kept hacking away at it, from different angles, extending, compressing...he really took the audience on an amazing journey...it was not what I expected, but I think it hit me and made a real impression. I had never heard anyone play the violin from that place. Years later I played a gig in Maine with him and Claude Williams - that was a trip...! - three very different approaches to the ax. Just a few years ago I was playing Bach with a friend in a park near 6th Avenue...Leroy stopped by and listened for a while...we talked a bit - he was always so gracious. What a strong internal compass he must have had, to stay true to his sense of how to play. He will be missed, but his effect on violin players will last.

- MATT GLASER, CHAIR, STRING DEPARTMENT, BERKLEE COLLEGE OF MUSIC

I met Leroy at a concert in my hometown of Philadelphia around 1970. I believe he might have been playing with the Cal Massey band. I went up to him after the performance and we immediately became friends. This was my first live concert hearing jazz on the violin. Leroy was very supportive and became my mentor. He was responsible for my first record date in New York City in 1972 with Archie Shepp on the Attica Blues recording. Leroy was an original. He believed in being an originator and not an imitator both as a violinist and a composer. I will miss him very much. He always encouraged me to find my own voice on violin. His friendship and honesty have had a profound impact on my life.

- JOHN BLAKE JR., VIOLINIST

He was one of the most advanced composers and improvisers in jazz and contemporary music. I recall playing with him at a concert in the late '90s in Philadelphia at the Ethical Society. His compositions went way beyond the comfortable intervals for piano. It opened my ears because he had done something that was new and advanced. It was just a bit out of the grasp of current "avant-garde . He played 8-bar and 16-bar phrases, patterns that we call traditional phrasing in Western Music. Harmonies within those phrases, however, were so different that it was like he was deliberately anti-Western in his tonality. The composition became an international blend of his life experience. I heard Mid- and Far-Eastern, African and South American rhyme; he covered traditional sound of European and American violin. His violin has a quiet gentle voice. His accuracy and sensitivity - phenomenal. I was looking forward to the next opportunity to perform with him. I miss him.

- DAVE BURRELL, PIANIST

I loved Leroy Jenkins. He was the best of humanity and his interactions with friends and the people was a deeply expressed loving kindness filled with complete respect. Leroy was a great composer, violinist and artist and we will always miss him and his beautiful presence in this world. Everyone will remember those powerful musical art objects that he left for this planet. They are Mixed Quintet (1979), Space minds, new worlds, survival of America (1978), For Players Only (1975) and his early music with The Revolutionary Ensemble which will live on in the hearts of lovers everywhere.

- WADADA LEO MITH, TRUMPETER

Master composer/violinist Leroy Jenkins was a quirky little guy, always making you laugh. His compositions and violin improvisations contained that same brilliant quirkiness. I recall the wonderful duo we had in the early to mid '80s. His energetic performances and creative compositions have continued to inspire me. It's difficult to conceive that I won't be able to see, call, laugh or play with Leroy again. He was a great musician and a great friend. Fortunately, he left us with all of his wonderful music. We/I will miss him dearly... Much love to Leroy Jenkins.

- OLIVER LAKE, SAXOPHONIST

Wadada Leo Smith and Muhal Richard Abrams first introduced me to Leroy Jenkins in early 2004. Leroy later called and asked me to play his composition "Driftwood with Rich O'Donnell and Denman Maroney at the AACM concert in New York on Oct. 8th, 2004. There was no score '" he set up four different tempos for the four movements, so the musicians could play free as we wished. He was a quiet, kind, humble, intelligent and strong person and played the violin with deep feeling. He respected musicians and always offered encouragement, saying only good things during rehearsals. He was grateful and always said, "thank you . During the concert, his music came alive. Leroy will always be in my memory.

- MIN XIAO-FEN, PIPA PLAYER

Leroy and I go back quite a ways. When I came to New York in 1974, I knew no one and no one knew me. He was the first musician with whom I came into contact and he welcomed me with open arms, giving me my first concert in the city, my first recording date and many subsequent gigs and tours. He introduced me to his illustrious colleagues, which led to more work. He performed on my first recording as a leader. He demonstrated the importance of expressing one's self as a composer. He hooked me up with my apartment on Bedford Street, which was directly over his. Given this proximity, we naturally became very close. In short, no one was more helpful to me than Leroy. There are probably ways in which he helped me that I am not aware of. Leroy was a very open, gifted, inquisitive, robust, giving and friendly man. He had his own sound, his own ideas and his own message/ statement which he conveyed so eloquently each time he picked up his violin or his pencil. I, along with all those who came into contact with him, have been most privileged and blessed to have shared this space and time with Leroy. He remains inspirational. To you and to your memory, beloved one - peace-love-music-light.

- JAMES EMERY, GUITARIST

I had the honor to perform with Leroy at Lotus with Rich O'Donnell in a group called Unknown Unknowns ("things we don't know we don't know - Donald Rumsfeld) and again at the Community Church of New York (AACM) with Rich and Min Xiao Fen. A recording of the latter performance was released by Mutable Music as Leroy Jenkins' Driftwood: The Art of Improvisation. Leroy gave us a score for that concert. It read in part: "To Believe '" Pure Motion, quarter note = zero. Ever since, whenever I think of Leroy, I think quarter note equals zero.

- DENMAN MARONEY, PIANIST

The first time I heard Leroy perform, I was a young college student and had just begun studying jazz. I had never heard anything like his music before and had no idea what he was doing, but something inside me recognized it and the light went on. This was what I wanted to do with my life - find my own way of playing the piano, my own way of composing and improvising. Leroy was a musical shaman transmitting his masterful attainment of oneness with music, igniting my longing for such union. Since then, Leroy's music and friendship have never ceased to guide, inspire and encourage me. With love and gratitude - Thank you, Leroy!

- MYRA MELFORD, PIANIST

Leroy Jenkins, composer, violinist, leader was unique. Music thrives through individuals such as him. His compositional development was as original as his improvisational language, which he developed to the nth degree. He will not just be missed but felt profoundly by those who have an ear to hear. There is not enough time or space to mention his contribution, or my personal thanks for having known such an individual.

- HENRY THREADGILL, SAXOPHONIST/FLUTIST

Leroy Jenkins always seemed to be everywhere at once. He had already invented the postmodern conception of the violin, but he didn't stop there. He created operas, ballets, electronic music, video - you name it. For me, the mobile, ecstatic Leroy, conducting with arms akimbo, never to be held down, comes directly out of the Great Migration, when his great-uncle Buck hopped a freight train headed for Chicago. Buck sent for Leroy's dad, who married the boss's niece and, in 1932, the major improvising violinist of the 20th Century was born, soon to be playing his violin in church with Miss Ruth Jones, later known as Dinah Washington. Now that's mobility, right there.

- GEORGE LEWIS, TROMBONIST

The last time I saw Mr. Leroy Jenkins we were exiting together from the memorial for Jackie McLean at the Abyssinian Church in Harlem. We chatted briefly and departed. We seemed to be crossing paths quite a bit these past few years, including a double bill with Trifactor [Bluiett and Kahil El'Zabar] and Leroy with Joseph Jarman and Myra Melford. Leroy, I can honestly say, has been the single most influential person in my jazz violin career. I first heard Leroy with the group called the Creative Construction Company (with Anthony Braxton, Muhal Richard Abrams, Leo Smith, Richard Davis, Steve McCall). Never hearing a violin completely improvising like his, I was immediately impressed and attracted to his music. I decided that I must track this person down and I almost moved to Chicago to find Leroy and join the AACM. Fortunately for me, he came to New York; I still tracked him down and began taking private lessons. My music rapidly and radically changed due to Leroy teaching me classical training, especially how to shift into the upper positions. I knew he was very proud of my success - as time went by he would tell me, "keep up the good work. It makes me extremely proud to have known Mr. Leroy Jenkins. He and his music will be truly missed.

- BILLY BANG, VIOLINIST

I remember, as a 19 year old, going to Leroy Jenkins' solo concert at the Judson Church in the late '70s. A current of gleeful anticipation pulsed throughout the capacity crowd. I was so excited to hear him play live and he was awesome. Leroy Jenkins not only revealed the untapped possibilities of the violin, but also, the unrealized potentials of our individualism. Leroy was an inspiration. His music helped us become who we could be, through both sound and soul. I am so grateful for his music and his encouragement to me, from the very beginning. Thank you Leroy!

- JASON KAO HWANG, VIOLINIST

I met Leroy when he came to live in New York. Very warm and beautiful person with a warm and beautiful - as well as a big and rough - sound on the violin. I had the honor to record with him, which I can say was some of the best work from the both of us. It was entitled, appropriately, Swift Are The Winds Of Life.

- RASHIED ALI, DRUMMER



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