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Ode to Jef Lee Johnson: The Promise of Lovolution

Charles Blass By

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"When the music's happening, life is happening.... Why must we only join hands after the storm?... How true are you? Nothing else even matters." —Jef Lee Johnson

Jef Lee Johnson, prolific, virtuosic, humble, was in some ways not made for this world. "I'm over the world," he sang. He was certainly made for music though.

Time to tell the truth about Jef Lee Johnson. For too many, it's better late than never. His brilliance was evident enough, however in his lifetime many people, including fellow artists and the entertainment industry, weren't able to face his truth.

News of Johnson's passing (from pneumonia and diabetes complications on January 28, 2013) spread like wildfire across the interwebs. Fans and fellow musicians, associates and bystanders, expressed heartfelt shock and dismay.

This will hardly be comprehensive as a survey or "proper" obit. The magnitude of Jef's ability and output deserves at least a Wikipedia page and ultimately a book and film.

Below (get comfortable, it'll be a while) I've gathered plenty of high energy reflections from the worldwide Jef Lee Johnson community (concentrated in Philadelphia, New York and Europe). The voices of a multitude of artist associates, friends and fans attest to Jef's greatness and to the chasm between his tremendous significance and the low level of acknowledgement during his life. Dogpile-style, this is a town meeting on Jef Lee Johnson, maybe reminiscent of a WKCR marathon memorial.

Also contained below are several related links including information on a scholarship fund in Jef Lee Johnson's name.

The odyssey of Jef Lee Johnson could be considered a tragedy, in that he died without "widespread" recognition; yet he touched everyone in his path with pure beauty, wisdom and humor, which is a miracle. Jef's prolific output and furious globetrotting (not to mention continual orbit between New York and Philly) meant he was always a moving target, and real quiet about his accomplishments. I've assembled some of the events and highlights in Jef's world that intersected the orbit of my attention and most grateful experience. Perhaps laying the groundwork for a more comprehensive examination, the overall result will be more impressionistic. Someday his full discography, sessionography, videography might be approached. Here is a work in progress, collection of links and resources relating to Jef Lee Johnson at Pearltrees.com

Jef's been at the pulsing heart of my musical-spiritual universe since I first basked in his tones, thanks to Mitch Goldman's organizing the earth- and sky-shattering Mondays with Ronald Shannon Jackson's Decoding Society at the old Knitting Factory in 1989-90. I barely missed a single set.

Since that moment, barely a week went by without my telling someone about "my favorite living guitarist." Barely a day has gone by that I don't think about Jef, or a week when I don't listen to his music and tell someone how great he is; as he left the planet, that just turned into a moment. Almost every episode of "Audio Gumbo" or "Sun Radio" for over twenty years featured some of Jef's music. He's still among the most sublime players ever, alive or post-alive. Of course, they're all still breathing their special brand of fire and light.

For a time in the early-mid 1990s Jef and I worked together closely, and over the years I've supported his efforts especially promoting and sometimes booking, producing, recording.

My journey with Jef, as ally and supporter, sometime "manager" or unwitting adversary, all-time believer, include so many bright moments. Looking back, the amount of driving he did between Philly and New York was extreme. And considering the amount of bread involved in most cases, it was absurd. He was so giving, for what seemed to be small gigs, which made all the difference to whomever was involved. He touched many of us with his presence, even though not so many were in attendance.

Beyond supreme musicianship (on nearly all instruments), Jef's artistry was complete: He excelled in poetry, filmmaking and the technical aspects of producing contemporary audiovisual media. His lyrics demonstrate word mastery that must be discovered to be believed.

Jef's instruments and machines included: vocals, guitar, bass, drums, chromatic harmonica, saxophone, sequencing, recording, video production... Jef's use of the recording studio, sound effects, drum programming, rhythm and vocal arranging abilities are all uncanny. Live, one of his preferred setups was two Fender amplifiers angled to envelop the room with his stereo beam. He always impressed me with the gorgeous and perfectly original sounds he created with his gear.

Jef's own music, performed mainly in trio format, is exquisite, blissful. In Philadelphia, New York, France and a few other places, for years audiences were treated to Jef's incendiary appearances. With Rob Reddy's Honor System and numerous other projects, Jef was featured prominently, along with bassist Dom Richards and drummer Pheeroan akLaff among others. Fans of Jef were thrilled to catch him any time with anyone, and Reddy's groups and adventurous compositions provided important channels for Jef.

Jef also appears on a handful of seminal hip-hop/R&B albums with some premier recording artists who generally under-utilized (perhaps wasted) his talents. One bar looped, down in the mix? Why get Jef? A couple of exceptions in which Jef is permitted to do his thing include Common's "Jimi Was A Rockstar" featuring Erykah Badu, and The Roots' "Water." It's telling that upon Jef's passing Erykah Badu tweeted "Rest in Beats," as he is barely heard on the many sessions he did for her albums.

Onstage, for example with D'Angelo or Esperanza Spalding, it seemed often the same story, like having a rare sportscar in the driveway and hardly driving it beyond the courtyard. Those superstars deserve recognition for hiring Jef, but it was a mixed blessing. Few bandleaders were confident enough to let Jef shine under their auspices. He was mostly kept in the background blend save for a few precious slivers here and there.

George Duke is one notable exception. His ego didn't prevent him from giving Jef room to stretch and blow, and many documents of their fruitful collaborations are available.

Whatever the reason Jef had in recent years for taking on the cryptic moniker, there seems to have been a strong resonance with the symbolism of "Rainbow Crow." At times Jef could be considered a "dark" character but his sounds are so full of light.

Yes, there was a Guitar God who walked among us, now departed from this plane, on to the next gig. Reckoning, grappling with Jef's death. Death becoming Life. One of his last albums is called Longing Belonging Ongoing.

Jef left behind generous heaping scoops of soul, infused with so much wisdom and love, overdubbed into eternal horizon. Like Etoy's conception of eternity, Jef lives in perpetuity online. YouTube, MySpace, MyFunk and other areas remain for all to seek and behold. May you be blessed to watch and listen to Jef Lee Johnson's soul shining.

He wrote a song called "Lovevolution," and I've often wondered if in part it was a personal message (I've used the name Lovolution since around the same time I met Jef). In any case it remains a testament to Jef's magnanimous vision and diplomatic mission.

I was fortunate to see Jef this past November here in Zurich, when he passed through with Esperanza Spalding. He seemed tired but not particularly ill—I guess he was absorbing his illness within deep exhaustion, maybe carrying it in stride. I gifted him with some sounds from my radio programs including his trio performance at WKCR, and a mix containing Velvert Turner, Dungen, Burnt Sugar, Cal Tjader and Ed Blackwell. He was polite, gentle and wry as ever.

Circa 1990 I acquired a guitar pick that had belonged to Hendrix, and gave it to Jef. It was a light one, and he used it only once, to record acoustic guitar on a tune called "Pray for Rain." The only thing to ease the pain: We'll be forever listening to the Rainbow.



"You can fix it, make it like brand new." I'm a supercool attendant in the carpark of life" "I once was free, now I'm changed..." "We all wanna be free from something..." "You're as free as you wanna be." "Never fret, never fear, always true, always here."

"I have to put these records out myself. The music is to be heard, not just me sitting around and improving upon what's been done. It's like having paintings hanging in the house. people have to see them—in my case, hear them"


—Jef Lee Johnson

Related Links

Jef Lee Johnson Scholarship Fund donations Jef Lee Johnson Memorial "Sight Sound Mission" Jef Lee Johnson Memorial, Sun Radio All About Jazz Interview All About Jazz Review: St. Somebody All About Jazz Review: Hellion Undercover Black Man Interview Jef Lee Johnson at Audio Gumbo



a pause for sweet surrender for lasting serenade a voice heard over and under one moment spun eternal a pause for lasting serenade the sound of gentle thunder a life of song silently held tender jef lee johnson remembered —Rick Iannacone



The Crow flies... —Reggie Washington



JLJ is traveling... in out all through my door/window, all around... circle beyond circle. —Morita Wuji Hiroxi



Jef was one of the most unique guitarists I've worked with. His sound, choice of notes, style—all uniquely Jef. He will be dearly missed.— George Duke



Everyone listen to as much of his music as you can get ahold of. Besides being an incredible player Jef was an astounding lyricist. Still not ready to accept "was," though! —Chico Huff



We are forever touched and inspired by your sonic magic. Your beautiful being will always be treasured. —Venissa Santi



Jef was indeed a master, a mentor, and blessing to know who has left an everlasting imprint. There are many sides of him the world has yet to know and hear. Although he had played for everyone, he never ever cared about anything but the music. His bright smile and honest perspective led us to many conversations about how to navigate through the hype of different popular music opportunities, while still maintaining integrity and musicianship. At the end of the day, for Jef it was all about honesty and authenticity. —Crystal Torres



It is truly a cloudy day as guitarist Jef Lee Johnson has passed.— Bruce Mack



Having an extremely difficult time processing the steady departures of God's Best Work as part of 'God's Plan.' I don't know if I can believe in anything arbitrarily that cuts angels down in their prime while leaving evil and mediocrity to fester unchecked. Always remember, do whatever you do at FULL SPEED because we don't all make the finish line. ...BIG shoes to fill... —Darrell McNeill



The only possible lesson, the only possible message is to love each other, care for each other, appreciate each other while we can. All we have is now. —Brian Cullman



What a great musician and very humble guy. It sucks that most of us are "self employed" so we don't have health care. And people wonder why musicians pass on at an early age. Me, him, Trevor [Clark], and Nate Adderley got the Aretha gig from the NY audition at SIR in 88. I didn't know how great he was till I left the rehearsal room on a break, and he stayed-playing-and blew me away. —Atticus Finch



One of the great talents of his generation, carried death inside him since his wife was taken in a car accident... I hope you get to see her again Jef, and finally put your sorrow to rest! —Jacques Schwarz-Bart



Here's a sleep dream I had... we're riding in a car, someone is driving, I'm in the front passenger seat, Jef and another guy are in the back seat. This guy in the back with Jef is talking all kinda shit about intervals and musical structures, the feeling was not that the cat was truly inspired as much as he was trying to impress Jef. Well Jef is looking at me with this satirical look on his face trying to be cool wit dude, dude is goin on and on, and finally Jef interjects... "Man it's really just about the CRY TONE system..." Well dude was so busy rappin when Jeff spoke dude was somewhat startled, paused for a second and continued rappin... "Oh yea the tri-tone system bla bla bla," Jeff interjects again..."No! The CRY TONE system!..." Dude is like... "Yea root flatted 5th bla bla bla" Jeff just looked out the window with this twisted look on his face. That was some funny shit, that look on Jef's face. The next day I called Jef and told him about the dream and thanked him for turning me on to the CRY TONE system. Oddly enough this was right before his wife's sudden death. I guess the Cry Tone System will take its place in the archives with all the cats. —Rick Iannacone



He is so lyrical it hurts!!!!!!!! A humbled gentleman, with chops so intense he didn't have to brag. He had a universal talent... to share with everyone! —Andre Lassalle



Before Jef joined my band he played for my brother's Punk Funk Rock band Jimi Ernesto and the Absolute Waist Band. That was a crazy band. I heard Jef and was like wow, where did you find this guy. They did a version of Peter Gunn that was off the chain.

I think that some of Jef's first major recordings were at Philly International Records. I was the house bassist there for a time and would see Jef in sessions with Leon Huff. Huff love him some Jef Lee Johnson. Next I remember Jef got the gig with Dave Letterman's band on TV then McCoy Tyner and the rest is history.

Jef played in my band the Elevators for a few years, so did his wife Trish. We also played in a funk swing band the Big Push. We both loved boots and would hook up to go boot shopping. Once he found a pair of electric green iguana cowboy boots and rushed to pick me up to go by them. He said they were meant for me. They were some hot boots! He could always play anything he wanted to, no hesitation just play it. Jef was Philly's Monk. Unique, complex and full of life. Trish was the love of his life. They were a beautiful couple. After Trish was killed in a horrible car accident, Jef slipped into a very dark blue cave. There was no light there. We kinda lost touch for a couple years. I ran into him last year in LA and was so happy to see the light in his eyes. He had come out that cave and had the most beautiful smile on his face. We had a great hang and I thank God that he found that happy place in his life. —Steve Green



Jef is on to his new adventures but it's comforting to know energy never dies. All-One in the Quantum. We played on numerous projects during the 70's in Philly and our mutually extreme twisted sense of humor and outlook on life gave way to very interesting times of exploring the unlimited realms of creativity. He was true to himself which brought forth the originality he was known for. Watching his massive contribution to the world of music and art through the years was not surprising given his unrestricted approach to this existence. Jef and I played in some cover bands and worked on some original material but nothing was recorded except for idea tapes. The highlights were just the fact we were working on original material and spent a lot of intense time improvising through various styles. The art of improvisation came naturally to both of us as well as the group of Philly musicians we had regular sessions with. All during this time was also the constant off-the-wall humor, extreme wordplay and running commentary on life. Jef had the rare ability to really go "out there" without regard to boundaries or limitations. In other words, we got along famously. —Darren Ginn



He changed the way that many of the young guitarists that I grew up with in the Philadelphia area conceive what is even possible on the instrument sonically, technically and as a vehicle for expression. I think he literally melted my entire face off on several occasions and he certainly left a lasting impression... —Mike Spiegel



I'm glad that I brought tears to his eyes sometimes from laughter when we was travelling or hangin back stage, cracking stupid jokes. Because I know he was troubled about his lost love. Just two weeks ago we was sendin old skool rap videos back and forward for laughs. He was really into Son Of Bazerk. —Deejay Grazzhoppa



Here's my first cab ride to soundcheck with Jef: "All this is part of the song... We're playing that tonight... You see these flowers?... I'm playing them tonight...." Of course, with absolutely no rehearsal beforehand. —Pat Dorcean



We went over to Morocco to do trio gigs. One of the gigs was a double bill with Hamid el Kasri and at the end we played together. Wild! I asked one of the musicians where 'one' was and he had no idea what I was talking about. Jef totally understood it instantly, as he always did. Incredible experience. —Chico Huff





Jef Lee Johnson was by far the most talented guitarist I know. He often joined me on live gigs adding more vibe and greatness to the shows than I could have imagined. In the studio he was generous with ideas, always innovative. And as a friend, he was caring and "real," always pushing me to be the best writer, artist, person I could be, always believing in me. That is a very huge thing, to have someone like that in your corner.

He taught me so much without even trying to; he changed the way I thought about music. I used to struggle with writing, always wanting my songs to be perfect. I think we all do that. But the truth is, life is imperfect in every way, so then so should art be. He taught me that, gave me the freedom to know that what I was writing, my voice, the understated way I play my guitar...was good enough... no, was right, just as it should be. —Lizanne Knott



Jef Lee Johnson, Prince of Humility, was uncomfortable when we confessed all the good we thought of him. He loved to be loved just like he loved others: discreetly. A glance, a sympathetic ear was enough. His guitar said the rest. —Frederic Goaty



Jef Lee was never widely known to the outside world as he should have been, but he is (I can't write 'was') one of the greatest musicians of our time. His time here was full of tragedy, and we wish somehow we could have made this a better world, to deserve and honor and celebrate a person of such exquisite quality. We will keep on trying for that new world. We love you always, Jef Lee. —Margaret Davis Grimes



Jef Lee is a real manifestation of the blues, and beyond that, a genius. The music he plays transports us all. —Henry Grimes



A sad, sad day for music-lovers. Describing one of my friends as "an unrecognized musical genius" might narrow it down to a few dozen people but if you asked THEM who that phrase best described they might likely have chosen Jef Lee Johnson.

He did what no one else could do. Look him up on youtube—there are plenty of clips—and you will see. And don't be hypnotized by his brain-crushing guitar playing; check out his songs to experience his humanity.

We have only just started to miss him. —Mitch Goldman



A guitar crooner in a world of guitar screamers. Jef, Thank you for all your wonderful time here with us making music and making the world better. I only wish you could have known the joy you have given me and so many others with your music and your spirit. Meet me in the middle of the air... —Dean Bowman



It was an elliptical experience being around Jef. He brought out the truth in people. As soon as he was in your orbit you would know if you were bullshitting musically (and yourself as a human). It was always a surreal experience. —Deb Silver



One of the most sensitive souls I have ever met. One of the greatest musicians I have ever met. One of the best friends I have known.—Cindy Blackman-Santana



Jef Lee Johnson has brought me to another truth. Rest now and laugh as some will only now understand the gift. Jef Lee Johnson an American Composer Guitarist Vocalist Producer Sonic Dancer......Play On Brother. Fly on...it does rain but I will still burn !! —Ronny Drayton





There is no way to overemphasize, especially at this point in time, how my own writing on music is completely embedded in musicWitness art original picture-Testimony, within the full-scale hands-made analog source of the reduced digital versions seen on your screen. Just like the rhythms of the marks and colors, everything is emerging directly out of the live listening experience in real time.

It was the intense experience with Sonny Sharrock's huge, palpably buoyant river of rainbow-colored sound, still carrying my body on through the past 20 years, that prepared my readiness for Jef Lee's stunning, completely-inhabited Sonny-spirit playing Space Ghost in tribute the first time I heard him in 1998.



musicWitness policy has always been to offer the art first of all in enduring applause for the performing musician, so Jef Lee had visual prints of each encounter and just today, Margaret Davis Grimes recalled this sweet, funny observation, "Jeff handed Jef Lee a print of one of Jeff's art works, and I think Jeff wasn't sure Jef Lee would like it or want to have it, and Jeff asked to have it back for a minute for some reason, and Jef Lee pulled himself up to his full height and intoned: "You'll have to fight me for it!" "

Jef Lee had also received a full-size 100cm high-definition color print of The THRILL five years ago at the Jazz Standard in New York. Looking in deeply, he expressed, in his own natural, quiet, extra- humble way, an intimately-articulated direct feeling for the movement of the layers of colors in close touch with his personal sound. At the end of that evening when Time FOX was thrown down, we loaded the framed THRILL together with his axe into his car across the street from the club and he rolled home to Philadelphia.



In Philadelphia, the first roots of the musicWitness Project had begun to grow down at Pep's and the Showboat Lounge back in the late 1950s. Listening then to Art Blakey, Chico Hamilton, Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie and Sonny Stitt, Miles Davis with John Coltrane and Cannonball live with a sketchbook on the bar, I can realize now how another ripple was already expanding out of the actual birth of Jef Lee Johnson's ever-resonant 'Circle and Sound.'

JLJ's sound is all about the Mystery. He loved to play it out of his standing shadow, not the spotlight. A few more souls may get connected and tune in to the sounds. —Jeff Schlanger





We worked together with George Duke and Rachelle Ferrell for many years and he TRULY will be missed by all who really knew and loved THE REAL Jef Lee Johnson.

On the outside, Philly-born guitarist Jef Lee Johnson could seem aloof to most people. He seemed very distant and unfazed by anything or anyone. Constantly pondering life and all of its questions. But there was another Jef Lee Johnson that most people never took the time to know.

"The Little Rascals" (Hal Roach Studios 1920's -30's) was one of his very favorite subjects to laugh and talk about during breaks at recording sessions or while on the phone. If Jef could have been any one of the characters from that early comedy series, he would have been the little black child known affectionately as "Stymie." The reason I say that is because in my view, most of what went on around Jef Lee as far as the world was concerned... well, it stymied him. It puzzled him. It made him look and shake his head in confusion and amazement and then quietly lower his head once again to begin yet another creative guitar excursion.

Jef's inner light came on once he met the love of his life, his lovely wife Trish. They shared something rare that only a few of us ever really get to experience... Being in love with someone who truly "gets us." They "got" each other and it was evident whenever I would see them together. Trish was a musician as well; an accomplished sax, flute and accordion player. From the first time I met her I could see that they were a pair of matching bookends. In 2001 Trish was abruptly taken away from Jef and everyone who loved her one morning in a head-on collision with another vehicle while on her way to visit her mother. It's my understanding that Jef was still sleeping when she left the house that day. I heard that she didn't want to disturb his sleep, so she just left a note and quietly slipped out of the house and into her car. He didn't get to say goodbye. Jef was devastated by her loss. I know that his heart died that day.

After Trish's death, Jef went underground. I and many other friends tried to call and rally around him but he would not answer. Remember, Jef was a loner. He had to deal with this tragedy in his own way. So I and others stopped calling and just let him be. Jef Lee did eventually emerge from his grief and he did begin to play and perform again.

A trendy and sometimes flamboyant dresser (wish I could have worn half the cool stuff he would come up with!). He was a loner; a dry wit; a warm and wonderful heart and soul. A hell of an innovative guitarist while at the same time staying extremely musical and therefore reachable. A quick smile while peeking out from under his round pink tinted sunglasses and then back to the groove. And if you could get him to really laugh out loud, there was nothing like it... Jef could sometimes laugh until he cried! I'll miss you my friend... Those of us you leave behind are far better for having known you. —Larry Martin Kimpel



I first met Jef in the summer of 1989 on a tour working for singer/songwriter Miles Jaye. It was a small tour and we traveled in a converted van that was to take us around the east coast and the middle states.

At first I wasn't sure what to make of this very uniquely different individual, but as soon as he picked up the guitar, I knew to pay attention. Jef was an amazing musician and quite a character.

Soon after that tour, I would play with Jef quite often with Jerry and Katreece Barnes throughout New York City. Jef was a very special friend with a very distinct sense of humor that I adored.

We always had a great time on and off the bandstand. In 1993 I was signed to Polygram Publishing and called Jef anytime I could get him to play on my song demos. What a joy to have access to a musician such as Jef that could make your music sound better than you heard it in your own head; I didn't want to write a song without him on it.

In that same period of my publishing deal, I was blessed to produce a record on Chaka Khan for Warner Bros. Records. Jef was so instrumental in making the song happen, even Chaka Khan wanted to know who he was when she heard the track. To this day his performance is unforgettable!

It was not released: "Queen of Hearts." Warner blocked all production of Chaka that year. They released a greatest hits record and then they dropped her from the label. The song also features Michael Bearden on piano and synth strings, Steve Kroon on percussion. The rest is my programming.

I watched as Jef's career was rapidly building. He was in demand by amazing artists including George Duke, Rachelle Ferrell and so many others. The blessings and gifts that were bestowed upon this wonderfully soft-spoken and caring spirit was clearly a once in a lifetime phenomenon. I had never before met anyone like Jef Lee Johnson and I am sure that I never will again in this lifetime.

Through the trials and tribulations of his life, he maintained such a wonderful and loving aura, one would have never known the pain and losses he had suffered.

Music, friends, family and the world has lost an angel. I am sure he was called home to do bigger and better things. —Ivan Hampden Jr.



It was shocking and painful to lose Jef Lee. His song, such a screaming of joy within the modest and unsuspecting frame. —Pheeroan AkLaff



I met Jef musically and personally in 1994 on tour in Europe and recording "What Spirit Say" with Ronald Shannon Jackson's Decoding Society. In this musical endeavor I've been fortunate to find a sonical kindred spirit and great brother with whom I'd swap Jimi Hendrix dreams when they would come to pass. This earthly realm was blessed during the 54 years he existed here and the universe is rejoicing in the newest addition to the galactic ensemble! Peace be upon my brother Jef Lee Johnson. —James Carter



Playing and recording with Jef Lee was like watching/hearing/feeling the time delayed blossoming of a dozen roses coming from a six string guitar. He sung the melodies I wrote with such warmth passion and humor that it made me laugh play and cry at the same time inside. A true Avant-Garde Harmolodic original, Jef Lee Johnson's spirit will never die. —Ronald Shannon Jackson



I don't compose for instruments, I compose for people. I've had the privilege of having Jef Lee Johnson's sound and soul and spirit in my head for many years now. His sound, phrasing, unbelievably unique approach will never ever dissipate. —Rob Reddy



This man is so humble it makes YOU humble just being around him. No ego. Because of this, he didn't have anything to prove, and when you truly don't have anything to prove you make art from an unadulterated place. Very few people have this. If even an ounce of this this rubbed off on me from our years playing together I am a way better musician and person because of it.

I think it's important to celebrate Jef for HIS music; for his prolific solo albums and his live trio concept. Most interviews over the years and now obituaries tend to focus on his career as a side man, and rightfully so since it's so immense. Jef was adamant about creating in the moment... having the exploration on stage be part of the audience's experience. "Play More," "This is the anti-gig where you play everything you wanted to play but held back...""Play whatever you want." As a drummer, these are the words you've wanted to hear your whole life! However this is equally daunting. I remember drummer Michael Bland talking about going through the same thing...most times drumming is all about structure and we're always trying to boil down to the essence of a song and support support support. Jef wanted everyone in the conversation...listen listen listen, flow flow flow. The improvisational journeys I've been on playing with Jef are the deepest musical experiences of my life.

Zimmerman Shadow was conceived and produced by Jean Rochard. He did pick most of the tunes, however each tune's interpretation was all Jef. It was funny, like Jef put on a disinterested vibe towards the record all the way up to the day of recording. I was calling him and asking "whats the vibe?, what are the tunes" etc. And he said these exact words: "Man, we're just gonna go in there, make some noise, and leave. I don't even want to hear playback." ...Not in an angry way, just in a nonchalant "just another day" kind of way... When it came time to actual moment of tracking, he was very much into it, spewing out tempos, feels, bass lines he'd clearly thought through... we'd come up w a groove and 30 seconds later He'd say "OK OK lets cut lets cut" ...Everything on there is a 1st or 2nd take with very little overdubbing. Never been more on my toes in the studio than that day. Because of that fresh hyper-awareness there's no time to focus on anything else but the moment, and that's what Jef wants the listener to feel.

Words cannot describe the impact he's had on me as a drummer and a person playing in his band the last 6-7years—soul, groove, improv, noise, authority, sensitivity, when to play nothing, when to unleash, what really matters, and what really does not...and that X factor that will bring someone to tears and leave them with a "stank lip" at the same time. I am forever grateful for him seeing something in me when I was young and inviting me to play his own music on six European tours, many Philly/NYC gigs, and an incredible trio record The Zimmerman Shadow. Through these trips and experiences I got to know Jef and his one of a kind "call it as I see it"/"take it or leave it" outlook— totally unimpressed by any level of celebrity, a true non-believer in hype or anything material (aside from guitars and clothes of course), and a preacher of being in the moment both on and off the stage. I cherish these memories and every second we've spent making music together. Jef is truly a rare musical energy. His playing is liquid; like a faucet of pure unadulterated creativity that's gushing when the guitar is in his hands, sounding like a master with infinite years of wisdom and simultaneously like a child that just discovered the guitar.

This is a huge loss I can barely wrap my head around. My deepest condolences to his family and the vast musical world he's touched over the years. —Charlie Patierno



My wife and I were very close to Jef. We loved him like a brother, and we are grieving. We had been close for so long, and been through so much together. The tragedy of the death of his wife Trish, with whom my wife was very close, was unfortunately the dominant factor in the rest of Jef's life. He was profoundly sad and hurting.

I was inexpressibly fortunate to spend so much time with Jef, both musical and personal. Either circumstance was a lesson, for he was a singular and unique thinker. Whether making music or just hanging out together, I always learned from him.

Musically, of course, he was in his own category, with no equal. Truly a gift, a talent, and skills obtained through constant probing, on a par with the great creators of our time ('Trane, Monk, Hendrix, etc.) To be around someone of that ilk is a rare gift, indeed. To make music with them regularly over time is beyond description.

I was fortunate to have Jef on four of my records, and I was honored to play on two of his. We did many crazy and memorable gigs together, mostly in Philly, one or two in NYC. (Guttbucket, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Rob Reddy, our own trios and quartets, etc.)

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