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April 2005

Fradley Garner By

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I saw Warren Vaché (Sr.) at recent Jersey JazzFests, but I don't think we met. Sorry about that. If I didn't live in Denmark, I would have joined the well-wishers at Shanghai Jazz, Nov. 28. What a productive life! The obituary below is formal, in the style of this space. It may offer little new, but was written with care and is dedicated to Warren's wife, Madeline, and his sons Warren Jr. and Allan.

Warren Vaché, Brooklyn, NY, Nov. 27, 1914 - Rahway, NJ, Feb. 4, 2005.

Warren Vaché, a co-founder of the New Jersey Jazz Society and for 19 years editor of Jersey Jazz, died of pneumonia complications and prostate cancer at Rahway Hospital, Rahway. He was 90.

Vaché was a double bassist, bandleader, jazz writer and impresario who played in Garden State venues for more than six decades. To help support his family, he sold musical instruments and home appliances. His son, the cornetist Warren Vaché Jr., called him a musical "weekend warrior who played most weekends of his life. He also convinced several nightclub owners to adopt a jazz policy. The Cornerstone in Metuchen still features Dixieland and mainstream music. In the early 1970s, Vaché spearheaded a write-in campaign that led to a series of U.S. postage stamps bearing the images of jazz icons, starting with Louis Armstrong.

"He had a deep love for traditional jazz and he wasn't demure in championing it, staff writer Zan Stewart began an obituary in the Feb. 5 Star-Ledger. "He also performed with his two now-renowned sons: cornetist Warren Jr., of Rahway, and clarinetist Allan, of Orlando, FL.

"He was a great friend to jazz, a marvelous writer, a great storyteller and a fine musician, Leslie Johnson, the editor of Mississippi Rag, wrote in an e-mail of condolence the day Vaché died. She added that her newspaper "was proud to publish many of his articles, and I can recommend his books. The bassist's five books include: This Horn for Hire: The Life and Career of Pee Wee Erwin (Scarecrow Press) and Crazy Fingers: Claude Hopkins' Life in Jazz (Smithsonian Institute Press).

Dan Morgenstern called Vaché "a man of strong opinions reflected in his answers to readers' letters while he was editor of Jersey Jazz from Jan. 1974 until Jan, 1993. But the veteran critic said it was the Rutgers Institute of Jazz publications with Scarecrow Press that led to a fruitful personal friendship. "Warren became our most productive author, with five of nearly 50 titles to his credit, the Rutgers Institute director noted in an e-mail, adding that "Unsung Songwriters, a more than 700-page compendium with "much information not readily found elsewhere, would be published this year. Despite health problems, Vaché managed to complete an as-yet unpublished autobiography.

The New Jersey Jazz Society celebrated Vaché's 90th birthday with a musical party on Nov. 28, 2004 that packed Shanghai Jazz with members and friends. The event was organized by Frank Nissel and hosted by Warren Jr., who joined pianist Tardo Hammer, bassist Nicki Parrott and guitarist Ron Jackson in entertaining the gathering. Vaché Sr. started playing drums as a youth, but finding that "all the band leaders were drummers, he told the Star-Ledger in 1994, he bought a bass when he was 26—"no case, just the fiddle —for $40 in Elizabeth. A friend who played trumpet promptly knocked on the door to ask if Warren would rehearse with his band. "I don't know one string from another, Vaché said. "That's okay, the friend said, "as long as it makes a bass noise.

Jimmy Smith, Norristown, PA, Dec. 8, 1928- Scottsdale, AZ, Feb. 8, 2005.

Smith, a poll-winning seminal influence on jazz organ from the mid-1950s through the 1990s, died of unspecified natural causes at his home in Phoenix. Most reference books give 1925 as James Oscar Smith's birth year. Citing a birth certificate, Michael Ward, his former manager, said he was 76.

Before Smith, according to The New York Times, the electric organ was little more than a novelty in jazz. He "made it an important instrument in the genre and influenced nearly every subsequent notable organist in jazz and rock, among them Jimmy McGriff, Jack McDuff, Larry Young, Shirley Scott, Al Kooper and Joey DeFrancesco. "Jimmy was one of the most innovative musicians of our time, DeFrancesco, the organist's protégé and close friend, was quoted in an obituary by Concord Records. The pair recently did a studio album together. Legacy, Smith's last CD, was released in February.

Mort Fega, New Rochelle, NY, July 4, 1921-Boynton Beach, FL, Jan. 21, 2005.

Mort Fega, 83, a leading New York disc jockey in the late 1950s and 1960s who helped introduce the music of Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk and other masters of the period to WEVD listeners, died of complications of back surgery. Fega was master of ceremonies at many jazz events, including the Newport Jazz Festival. He retired to Florida in 1986, where he was heard until recently on a weekly show on WXEL-FM, a public radio station in South Florida.

Joe Bithell, a washboard and tuba player who led the Silicon Gulch Jazz Band in Sacramento, CA, for many years, died Feb. 19. The traditional jazz player and blues singer was a fixture in the San Francisco-San Jose area.

Reader comments and obit tips are always welcome.

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