Friday, August 20, 2010

Torches Passed


Saturday morning word came that jazz vocalist Abbey Lincoln had died at age 80. One of jazz’s most original and unique voices, her album Abbey is Blue is among my favorites, always with me on my phone. I respect, too, her body of work tied closely to the civil rights movement.

Sunday morning I heard that jazz photographer Herman Leonard had died at age 87. His black-and-white photographs of the greatest names in jazz – of Charlie Parker, of Dizzy Gillespie, of Miles Davis, of Billie Holiday, of Dexter Gordon, of Frank Sinatra, of Stan Getz, of Art Blakey – are how we visualize these legends.

Then Sunday KC saxophonist and jazz legend Ahmad Alaadeen succumbed to cancer at age 76. Alaadeen played with Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Jay McShann. And with Gladys Knight, Smokey Robinson, the Temptations. His music and sound, distinctive and fresh, built on that experience and history while always reaching for what’s next. He connected Kansas City to an era quickly passing.

But Alaadeen was also a highly regarded teacher. He passed on what he knew and, even more, pressed his students to find their own voice, to reach for what’s next. He regularly surrounded himself with young talent.

Knowing how Alaadeen consistently pressed forward makes last weekend a bit less sad.

Saturday night I was at The Blue Room hearing pianist Chris Clarke’s group. Featured on tenor sax was exceptional young musician Steve Lambert. Also joining the group much of the night was young trumpeter Hermon Mehari, a recent UMKC grad and part of the award-winning jazz group Diverse. Hermon’s Diverse bandmate, young drummer Ryan Lee, also sat in for a few numbers.

I was hearing the future of jazz. I was hearing brilliant talent mastering the bandstand, finding their unique voice, building on all who came before so that they will, in time, play what right now we cannot imagine.

There will never be another voice quite like Abbey Lincoln’s. The sum of his experiences defined Alaadeen as they will never define another sax player. And we will never see another master of photography with the same eye for jazz as Herman Leonard. These talents will not be replaced.

Rather, we will discover new magicians who will carry jazz into new generations.

They’re here now. I heard a few of them Saturday night.

The weekend was bittersweet.

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