There are countless musicians, in any major city, that regularly display an unusual degree of artistry and musicianship. They perform, compose or teach throughout a region and, regardless of their categorized arena, are known to only a few assiduous hobbyists and music fanatics. The musician may, or may not, fantasize about national fame and considerable fortune. But the merits of their relative talents are often unrelated to the degree of monetary success or obvious name recognition.
Although Washington, D.C. is not often thought of throughout the country as a gathering of local and masterful musicians, it has its, perhaps surprisingly, inordinate share of stunning musicians. Saxophonist Buck Hill
and drummer Nasar Abadey
are obvious current jazz examples in this city. Shirley Horn toiled for many years playing dingy clubs in tattered strip malls and clubs while recording on the Danish Steeplechase label, before Verve waived a contract before her. Washington, D.C., however, recently lost Tim Eyermann; few have even noticed.
Eyermann was a multi-instrumentalist, playing alto, tenor, baritone and soprano saxophones, flue, piccolo and bass flute, oboe and percussionall with equal ease and aplomb. He briefly played in the United States Navy Band. He taught for some time at a high school for the arts, and he led his "East Coast Offering group for decades. He was twice nominated for a Grammy award and performed from local clubs to national festivals.
Eyermann was one of the first jazz musicians I ever witnessed in concert, and I have many fond memories of his good natured performances, continually erupting with striking musicianship. The listener never knew what he would play; any of the aforementioned instruments were candidates and almost all were utilized during a set. He used to play a small club in Alexandria, Virginia called the "219 . It is located (it remains operational, although the music presentation has been drastically curtailed) on the second floor of a relatively ornate New Orleans restaurant. Although the upstairs bar area was framed by a low ceiling, the stage opened to a second story loft; the listener could sit at tiny tables before the musicians, or ascend the stairs to the balcony, and peer down upon the group. Twenty years ago, the venue regularly hosted Eyermann. Legendary guitarist Steve Jordan also played with much frequency ("Rhythm Man [University of Michigan Press], Jordan's autobiography, has some photos of him taken in performance at the club). In any event, it was an unforgettable imprint on an impressionable teenager just beginning to listen to jazz seriously.
I can't pretend to be an emphatic and unfailing follower of Eyermann's music. Much of it was transparent and appeared to pander to a "smooth jazz fan base. But one had only to listen closely to find something of interest; the thematic material was often jubilant, and sometimes poignant. The playing displayed a technical prowess and ease with a deft turn of phrase. Although Eyermann often focused on "fusion efforts, the music was never vacuous. It remained emotional, distinctive and tasteful.
Bad luck or star alignment; for whatever the reason, Eyermann never received his undoubted much sought after national recognition. I am probably one of only a handful of people to actually possess his first self-produced LP, "Unity , released in 1977. He recorded an album for MCA ("Easy Coast Offering ) and several for Mesa/BlueMoon ("Jazz on L" is one such title). Nothing remains in print. He has no entries on Amazon.com. EBay.com is bare. He had no website. There are neither articles regarding his recent efforts, nor news of his death, on the web. He once commented and lamented that "Kenny G once opened for me! Perhaps his seemingly unending supply of apparent optimism was crushed. I have no idea, as I never spoke to him about his professional situation. In any event, he relocated from Washington, D.C. to Miami Beach five years ago. He was at work on a performance manual when he succumbed to lung cancer in the age of sixty.
I can't proclaim that I often return to Eyermann's albums. I do, however, reminisce about the wonder and discovery of live performance and the exuberance displayed by a musician in the joy of music. For some time, Eyermann teetered on a precipice of potential fame, and fell back into relative obscurity and anonymity. I imagine that many musicians drown in such fear. I never had either the courage or the temerity to become a musician. But the premature death of Tim Eyerman can serve to remind us of the innumerable artists who do not enjoy the benefit or satisfaction of relative renown, but nevertheless make a distinctive impression and share much joy.
The Washington Post had a brief and obligatory obituary. It simply recounted his life in bare dates and sterile statistics. The final time I saw Eyermann, almost eight years ago, was completely unexpected. I arrived at a "singles event organized by the Smithsonian Institution. The evening's entertainment, meant as mere background noise to the often stilted Washington set, was Tim Eyermann. Although it has been some years since I last saw him, he was instantly recognizable. I vividly remember his crystal toned bass flute surrendering to a ballad. He played beautifully. I listened intently, lost in the musicianship. I met no one that evening.