Say Adieu to 2002
Jazz and classic pop music music fans were singing the blues during 2002 with the passing during the year. of the world famous greats who made the world a brighter place.
Peggy Lee, perhaps the all-time sultry swinger and singer of songs, who could cheer us up with her sparkling rendition of It’s A Good Day (which she wrote) and remind us of darker moods with Is That All There Is? left us. Her sensuous rendition of Fever and her winning work with I Love Being Here With You, which she also wrote, are unforgettable. From her break-in work as a Benny Goodman singer to her glory days at Basin Street East, she captivated all who were lucky enough to hear her.
Rosemary Clooney, who first broke in with Tony Pastor’s band along with her sister, going on to improbable fame with a hip novelty song she did not even want to record called Come On A My House also died. Somehow, as she gained weight and lost a husband, her vocals became richer and even more mellow with her star treatments of Tenderly and It Never Entered My Mind.
Another singer of a sort only the cognizonti might know today, Roy Kral, who did those delightful ditties with his long-time partner, Jackie Cain, also left us during the year. Their breakthrough recording of I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles with Charlie Ventura, a nationally known Philadelphia jazz star, added a new dimension to vocal harmony.
There were so many others, of course, that lighted up the jazz skiesRoland Hanna-pianist and composer, John Lewisarranger, composer, piano-playing leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet, Lionel Hamptonvibes playing drummer and band leader and far too many others.
Philadelphia, something of an inexplicably unsung jazz mecca, who’s artists are known worldwide, lost some of its brightest stars.
Shirley Scott, called the Queen of the Organ in recognition of her outstanding work on the Hammond B-3 organ died at 67 after a long bout with heart trouble. Everyone from radio icon Bob Perkins (who noted the B-3 was considered “a man’s instrument” only until she took it over) to local jazz tenor sax stars Bootsie Barnes and Larry McKenna paid tribute to her.
Another local lady luminary, Evelyn Simms, a singer who could bring new life to old songs, died in July of 2002. She was a magnificent vocalist who sang with some of the finest musicians working and her rendition of any song was sure to make the composer happy she gave it voice. She was, in addition to being a great jazz singer, who could break hearts with her rendition of Angel Eyes, a singularly sweet lady. She was the sister-in-law of Bootsie Barnes, Philadelphia tenor sax giant.
A major jazz figure of the early days of Philly jazz, W. F. “Billy” Krechmer died at age 92 last year. He played a jazz clarinet and ran a jazz club on Ranstead Street in the lat e 1930s everyone over 40 here still recalls with misty eyes. It was appropriately named “Billy Krechmers.” He worked with everyone from Ted Lewis to Red Nichols and at the old Mastbaum and Earle Theaters in their glory days. He even worked in a burlesque house pit band at one time.
In February, we lost Wilbur “Dowtown Sonny” Brown, a colorful singer, drummer, keyboardist, bandleader and story teller. He worked with such nationally known top talent as Stan Getz and Herbie Hancock. He sang in a perfect take-out of the late Nat King Cole. He was something of an old school singer-musician in that he not only delivered the music, but entertained the audience. His clothes were as stylish as his vocal deliveries and there were times you felt you were watching Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess when he took the stage. He worked just about every jazz club in Philadelphia including the 23rd Street Cafe where weekend warriors display their wares just for the fun of it. That was as much a part of him as his songsthe joy he brought to people.
I occasionally meet people who used to go to the old Film Forum run every Saturday night by that marvelous movie magic man Dave Grossman who died in 2001. Inevitably, they express their sorrow at his passing. I remind them that he (like the musicians and singers we lost just last year) lived a life that made the world a brighter place. There is no better way to live.