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In Memoriam: Leroy Jenkins 1932-2007

AAJ Staff By

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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.


Leroy Jenkins was the first person I ever heard improvise on the 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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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