Jazz fans everywhere, particularly in Philadelphia, must have wished death would take a holiday following the loss in the past few weeks of two of this town's finest jazzmen. Within just a week of the death from cancer on June 28 of Arthur Harper, one of the world's finest bass players, came news of the death (also from cancer) of Eddie Green, an irreplaceable, protean,piano man.
Arthur Harper, Jr., 65, had a long working relationship with pianist/composer Shirley Scott, also a Philadelphia product, plus such major stars as Charlie Parker, J. J. Johnson, Bud Powell, Mary Lou Williams and Betty Carter. He was in short something of a living legend himself and grew up in the section where Ortlieb's Jazz Haus is located where he often played. Harper, like sax star John Coltrane, was born in North Carolina, but reared here. Mickey Roker, a top drummer who works regularly at Orlieb's was a boyhood class mate of Harper's. Clifton Edward Green, Jr., 71, died July 6 and memorial funeral services were held July 10. Among the many participating in those services was alto sax star Tony Williams, a boyhood chum, former school mate, often band leader or fellow sideman with Green.
Like Harper, Eddie Green worked with many of the world's finest jazz stars. playing at times with Dexter Gordon, Pat Martino, Odeon Pope, Max Roach, Lou Rawls and Jimmy Scott among others. Green is heard on some 50 different jazz albums including two gold record gems by Lou Rawls. He has backed up such local and/or nationally known female jazz singers as Rochelle Farrelle, Susan Cloud, Etta Jones, Ms Justine and Barbara Montgomery. His death left more than one of them in tears including one who called me when she heard of his passing.. Singers loved working with him for his incomparable tasteful accompaniments. It was like having Erroll Garner behind your vocals. He did not, however, tolerate incompetence. I recall one night when a young singer got up and sang at a jam session. He commented , when she finished, "You said the key of G, but that sure as hell wasn't the key you were singing it to."
Musicians everywhere took note of Eddie's piano artistry. Bootsie Barnes, tenor titan of Philadelphia, summed it up. He said : "In all the 40 years I've known Eddie Green no one cold swing or play a more soulful piano than him...I don't see none of the younger cats around that even comes close to replacing him. Man, could he swing. May he rest in peace."
Mifflin Baker, a fine bass man from Philadelphia, worked with Green in the last two years of his life. Baker said: "Playing with Eddie was a spiritual experience. He was always a gentleman, musically had so miuch grace, just a wonderful person and a tremendous inspiration. He was always 'in the pocket' and no matter what was played, he was always there. His whole life was about music and loving people." These sentiments cover it as well as anynone could.
For many of us, it was at places like the Blue Note on Limekiln Pike where we had the unalloyed pleasure of hearing Eddie work along with his lifelong friend, the leader of the group there, Tony Williams. Eddie sitting at his piano with patience as various people sat in on jam sessions, often looked like an ebony Faulkner with his close-cropped gray hair and distinctive, handsome features that looked as if they had been carved from marble.
His playing was incomparable. Apart from his technical virtuosity, there was a delightfully playful quality to many of his accompaniments. He would go through exciting exchanges with Williams that had the best of bop and the blues all wrapped up. His CD, This One's For You was beautifully executed. He was working on a new CD, Shades of Green, right up until the end. It will reportedly be released by Dreambox Media, a label produced by Ms Cloud and drummer Jim Miller.
The lifelong love affair with jazz conducted by Green is fondly noted by Williams. he recalls when they worked together with Tony washing dishes and Eddie doing the pots and pans at Abington Hospital so they could get finished in time to get to the gig playing in the next session. Or when they would, as kids, in a high school group called the Jolly Rompers, play everywhere and anytime they had a chance.
This love affair with jazz for Green was reciprocal. He gave it everything he had and it was returned a hundred fold by fans and fellow musicians everywhere who had the good fortune to have heard or played with him. It was much the same for Harper.
For most musicians, their life is like a song. Inevitably,the time comes when the song is ended. With artists like Green and Harper, the melody lingers on.