Summer 2010 taking a toll on jazz ranks

The summer of 2010 has been a melancholy one in terms of friends and jazz warriors passing on to ancestry. Last weekend’s loss of Abbey Lincoln, and prior to that her compadre Hank Jones were well-noted. Good friend and longtime Randy Weston African Rhythms and Basie band trombonist Benny Powell’s passing, though at the ripe age of 80, was a bit more stunning because Benny had not been the victim of the slow and gradual decline that seemed to befall Abbey and Hank, and had only recently gone in for what seemed to be a fairly routine medical procedure, from which he never recovered. Benny received a beautiful and well-deserved send-off last month at St. Peters in New York, appropos such a true gentleman and great jazz contributor.

Coming right on the heels of Abbey Lincoln’s passing was the ascension of the great photographer Herman Leonard, at 87. It had been such a pleasure getting to know Herman and re-introduce myself to his extraordinary work back in ’92 when Gilbey’s Gin collaborated with the National Jazz Service Organization on a national tour of Herman’s work. Who could ever forget his iconic images once encountered. Herman was a man blessed with not only an extraordinary eye and ear for great jazz, but also with a true zest for life, never losing that warm twinkle in his eye. I remember encountering him in more recent years hungrily shooting images at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. His loss of stock images from the flood that devastated New Orleans post-Katrina seemed to deal him a particularly hard blow, hastening his relocation to the west coast, where he lived out his final years on the planet.

Herman Leonard’s iconic image of Dexter Gordon

Your correspondent in high cotton, with Herman Leonard and two great masters, James Moody and Ray Brown

The weekend prior to the passing of Abbey Lincoln and Herman Leonard saw the passing on to ancestry of one less sung but no less a contributor to this music. On August 6 New Orleans lost a true jazz warrior with the passing of trumpeter-educator Clyde Kerr Jr. During my 16-month 2007/08 residency in New Orleans one of the great pleasures of that stay was being engaged by trumpeter Ed Anderson for a series of oral history interviews for a Dillard University project. Among those interviewees was Clyde Kerr Jr. When we sat down in his comfortable Dumaine Avenue home just around the corner from City Park in the Mid-City neighborhood, it was immediately as if with a friend of 30 years or more. Always quick with a laugh, Clyde Kerr was always a pleasure to be around. Evidence of his trumpet prowess can be heard on the superb recording “This is Now”, released last year through the generosity of the Jazz Foundation of America.

Clyde Kerr  Jr.

I know I’m not alone in relishing annual trips to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival to sample the prowess of exceptional artists otherwise not so readily available on other stages. Such was the case with Clyde Kerr Jr., who could often be heard alongside the free jazz master saxophonist Edward “Kidd” Jordan. In addition to This is Now!, Clyde leaves an extraordinary teaching legacy; in fact his last public stint was as a stalwart teacher at Jackie Harris’ annual Louis Armstrong Jazz Camp this summer, where he toiled tirelessly mere days before his passing, despite the fact that he’s been in ill health for over a year. Among those who benefited from Clyde Kerr Jr’s wisdom are trumpeters Nicholas Payton, Irvin Mayfield, Christian Scott, and Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews. Wynton and Branford Marsalis likewise benefited from Clyde’s tutelage.  Clyde Kerr Jr. was one of New Orleans many music griots, passing down the legacy to succeeding generations.

A native of the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans, now famous from this year’s HBO series and fabled as one of, if not THE, oldest African American neighborhoods in the U.S., Clyde reflects that upbringing in his closing composition “Treme” on This is Now!. Pick up that gem online at the Louisiana Music Factory. My last memory of Clyde was several months ago on a trip to the Crescent City for a NEA Jazz Masters “Live” site visit of a Phil Woods residency at the CAC. I called Clyde on the way in from Louis Armstrong Airport because he’d previously informed me that his long-awaited first release was finally ready. So the first stop in town, before the obligatory fried oyster ‘po boy from Parasol’s or checking into my hotel, was Clyde’s crib on Dumaine Street. He greeted me supported by a walker, which gave me pause, but nothing about his attitude suggested anything but the usual joie de vivre. Clyde Kerr Jr. left us all too soon, at the age of 67 on August 6.

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