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December 2005

Fradley Garner By

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New Orleans struck up the band one Sunday this fall for the first jazz funeral in the music's birthplace since Hurricane Katrina opened the levees and laid waste to the Crescent City. "The brass band ... toted donated instruments, reported Shaila Dewan in The New York Times. "The procession leaders wore salvaged bits of their traditional funeral finery. Just after 2 p.m. ... the strains of 'Just a Closer Walk With Thee' streamed past the heaps of stinking garbage and fallen roofs like milk and honey and sweet Abita beer, a flash of grandeur and ritual that hearkened to a New Orleans past and, many in the crowd swore, future. The funeral, for a famous chef, sent a message: We shall overcome.

The Times continued: "After the mourners 'cut loose the body,' as people here say, the procession turns into a celebration, winding through the streets, playing in the funky style invented in, and still largely the sole province of, New Orleans. Sounds like a scene Clarence Brown, who lived here in the 1980s, and the other departed below would have loved to see. Not a funeral so much as a welcome home.

Clarence "Gatemouth Brown
Guitarist and Singer
Vinton, LA, April 18, 1924
Orange, TX, Sept. 10, 2005

Clarence Brown, a widely traveled and much-recorded guitarist with a style called "as rich and varied as the American musical tradition itself, died at age 81, a victim of lung cancer and heart disease. An eschewer of musical labels, Brown preferred to call what he played and sang "American music, Texas style. His music blended down-home blues, jazz, country, Cajun and rhythm and blues. Brown won a Grammy in 1982 for "Alright Again," a big band tune echoing the sound of his old, blues-based records. Timeless, his last album, was released by Hightone last fall.

Steve Marcus
Saxophonist
New York, NY, Sept. 18, 1939
New Hope, PA, Sept. 25, 2005

Stephen David Marcus, a tenor and soprano saxophonist and bandleader who fused avant-garde jazz and rock, but then went back to straight-ahead big band jazz with Buddy Rich, died at 66 in his sleep, at home, of unspecified causes. Marcus had recorded and toured, among others, with Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, Herbie Mann, Gary Burton, and his own groups. "He was able to play mainstream jazz and yet cross over into the rock idiom with a completely natural understanding of the music, Andy Fusco, a fellow saxophonist and member of his last group, told the Associated Press.

Marcus was touring with Steve Smith and Buddy's Buddies, a band dedicated to Buddy Rich and his music. Marcus was featured with Rich from 1975, and led his own bands from the next year. When Rich died in 1987, he stepped in as leader while continuing to lead his own groups. In 1995 the Rich band recorded a two-volume album, Burnin' for Buddy, with many guest drummers sitting in, among them Joe Morello, Max Roach, Ed Shaughnessy—and Rich himself, via a pre-taped recording. Several of Marcus's albums were recently reissued on CD, including Count's Rock Band, which he led in 1973-1975, and Tomorrow Never Knows, awarded five stars by Down Beat magazine on its release.

Shirley Horn
Vocalist and Pianist
Washington, DC, May 1, 1934
Cheverly, MD, Oct. 20, 2005

Shirley Horn, one of jazz's slowest and softest voices—"heart and soul expressed at a piano bench, The Washington Post called it—died at 71 from diabetes and cancer complications at a nursing center in Cheverly, Maryland. Newspaper obituaries reached to describe Horn's artistry. The New York Times spoke of "a powerfully confidential, vibratoless delivery. Under the headline, "She Sang Softly but Carried a Big Swing, The Wall Street Journal wrote that Horn "wrung previously unheard irony and drama from well-worn lyrics and "made use of thoughtfully original chord voicings on piano to underscore her vocals. The Post headlined "The Innate Tempo of Shirley Horn, and the opening paragraph spoke of "a whispery voice that conjured cashmere and cognac. "I speak like I sing, Horn said in an interview with National Public Radio in 2002. "I've always been a little slow '" my friends laugh at that. She explained, "I don't much hurry because I do believe in time and space. I think I can paint that picture for you slowly, so you can see.

Shirley Horn was trained as a classical pianist, studying music at Howard University and working as a teenager in Washington clubs. She was discovered by Quincy Jones and Miles Davis, who heard her first record on a small label. Davis hired her to play with him at the Village Vanguard in New York, over the protests of owner Max Gordon, who did not want an unknown singer on stage. Davis, known for his dislike of "chick singers, insisted. "Either she does it or I don't, Horn quoted him as saying. She went on to make several albums with the trumpeter. Otherwise, she stayed at home and played around Washington for most of her career.

Horn's second break came with joining the Verve label in 1987, with the bassist Charles Ables and drummer Steve Williams, a trio that stuck together for the rest of her career. They hit a groove and "kind of melted together musically. At its best, "it was like the best sex ever, she told The San Francisco Chronicle.

In 1990, France's Academie du Jazz awarded Shirley Horn the Prix Billie Holiday. Her best-selling album, You Won't Forget Me, featured a solo by Miles Davis, shortly before he died in 1991. Horn's tribute to the trumpeter, "I Remember Miles, brought her a Grammy award. Music, she told NPR, is "not work for me. It's how I feel normal.

Eli "Lucky Thompson
Saxophonist
June 16, 1924
July 30, 2005

This department only recently heard about the great tenor and soprano saxophonist's passing, at age 81, in Seattle. Search Google for "Lucky Thompson obituary to learn more.

Happy holidays!

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