Archive for obituary

Cy Twombly

Sad news arrived this morning (to me via email links from my wife) that Cy Twombly had passed away.  Less than a month ago I wrote a proposal for an article on Cy Twombly and Sally Mann and their shared Lexington, VA roots.  What are the odds that two major post-War artists would be from Lexington and still live there today (most of the time)?  I wanted to weave Frank Hunter into the story:  A little known fact, Twombly was the world’s leading collector of Frank’s large platinum palladium prints.  Over the years Frank and Cy regularly met for lunch in Lexington, including just a few weeks ago.  I always wanted to tag along on one of those lunches.  But Frank, respecting Cy’s reclusive nature, shied away, and I respected that a great deal.  Once, I gave Frank one of my books of Cy’s work and Frank had him sign it.  Cy signed it in black ink very large “To Sam” and a swoosh from the end of the ‘m’ went off the page.  Then he added a large “Cy.”

The only good thing to come out of news of Twombly’s death is that I learned he had a show of new work last year in tribute to Tennessee Williams and specifically the play “Camino Real,” which I wrote about for Paris Review recently.  You can read about that show at the Gagosian site.  I bet Twombly attended the 1953 premier run of “Camino Real” directed by Elia Kazan.  I would have liked to have chatted with him about it, or had Frank ask him about it.

-S.S.

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Don Adcock Tribute in News & Observer

This nice piece on Don Adcock ran today.  HERE is the piece I wrote on him on him last week.

S.S.

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Donald B. Adcock, 1925-2011

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I met Don Adcock and his wife, the great poet Betty Adcock, while I was working at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh 1993-95, while trying to figure out graduate school.  So many of the good things in my life came from that store.  I met my wife Laurie there, plus Don and Betty and countless others.  Don and Betty never failed to be encouraging about my writing and my projects, and most of the time they’d make me laugh while doing it.  I had gotten hooked on Thelonious Monk in 1991 while living and working in Washington, D.C. and my affinity for jazz kicked into overdrive during the early years that I knew Don.  He was a jazz flute player and teacher.  (You can read his whole obituary from Raleigh’s News and Observer).  He could walk into the book store and tell me whether it was Tommy Flanagan or Hank Jones or Al Haig on piano on whatever CD I had playing in the store’s stereo.  This impressed me.  He also knew every tune.  He became a key Jazz Loft Project consultant, identifying music on Smith’s tapes for us.  In particular emergencies I’d play him snippets over the phone and he’d identify the tune within a few bars, often while singing or humming the tune at the same time.

Yesterday Betty called with the sad news of Don’s passing.  Last night I pulled out all the recordings Don dubbed for me on cassettes and later CD’s (my library had a separate Don Adcock Section).  I jotted down the names of everything.  Looking at the list, it occurred to me that there was nothing didactic about Don’s gift giving.  When he sent me new recordings, it wasn’t something he thought I needed to hear; it was simply something he’d been enjoying that week and he wanted to share it.  In addition, the list isn’t iconographic.  He didn’t care what the Penguin Guide or Allmusic said about a recording.  Something about the qualities of this list indicates how original Don was right until the end, always fresh, always looking for new things, always ready to share.  That’s why people loved being around him.  And Betty, too.

Here’s the list:

Two 90-minute cassettes of various renditions of “Body and Soul,” recorded off an old radio show by Gary Shivers at WUNC in Chapel Hill.

Chet Baker “In Bologna.”

Carol Sloane “Songs Sinatra Sings.”

Stan Getz “The Dolphin” and “The Lyrical Star.”

Lee Konitz “Jazz Nocturne.”

Jeanne Lee and Mal Waldron “After Hours.”

Peggy Stern Trio “Pleiades.”

Roy Hargrove “Approaching Standards.”

Jeffrey Smith

Gonsalo Rubalcaba “Discovery”

Miles Davis “The Sorcerer” and “Miles Smiles”

Lee Konitz with the Stan Kenton Orchestra

“Introducing Tierney Sutton”

Dizzy Gillespie at Montreaux 1981

Gerry Mulligan Quartet 1954

Michael Moore and Bill Charlap

Lee Konitz – Franco D’Andrea

Christian Jacob Trio

Keith Jarrett “Live at the Deer Head Inn”

Roberta Gambarini “So in Love.”

“We Three: Tenor Sax Legends” – Cohn, Sims, Gordon.

Martial Solal “Live at the Village Vanguard”

Phil Woods and Johnny Griffin “The Rev and I”

Oscar Peterson “The More I See You”

Red Norvo “The Forward Look”

Don Menza Big Band “Menza Lines”

Lew Tabackin Quartet “What a Little Moonlight Can Do.”

Stan Getz Bossas and Ballads: The Lost Sessions

Oscar Peterson Jam Montreaux ’77 w/Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie, and Lockjaw Davis

Alborea – a quartet of French musicians including an accordion and two bass players

Cecil McBee Band “Unspoken”

Zoot Sims and Lockjaw Davis featuring Oscar Peterson

Stan Getz Quartet in Paris featuring Steve Swallow and Roy Haynes.

Lee Konitz “One Day with Lee”

Art Tatum “Standard Transcriptions”

Stan Getz “Yours and Mine”

Chet Baker “The Touch of Your Lips.”

Stan Getz and Kenny Barron

Rene Marie “Vertigo” and “Live at the Jazz Standard”

Chet Baker “The Last Great Concert”

Miles Davis “ESP.”

Dizzy Gillespie “Impromptu”

Maynard Ferguson “Boy with Lots of Brass.”

Judy Wexler “Dreams and Shadows”

Eddie Henderson “Dark Shadows”

Chick Corea, “A.R.C.”

Michel Legrand “After the Rain.”

Kenny Drew, Jr.  ”Winter Flower”

Janice Borla “Agents of Change.”

Ann Hampton Calloway “Easy Living”

Conrad Herwig “The Latin Side of Miles Davis”

-Sam Stephenson

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A Family Tribute to David Logan

This is a nice piece of work put together by the family.

-S.S.

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David Logan, 1918-2011

David and Reva Logan

David and Reva Logan

(Update January 26 – Chicago Tribute obituary HERE – more obituary links below).

Over the weekend we got word from Chicago that David Logan, age 93, head of the Reva and David Logan Foundation, had passed away on Saturday.  I’ve written many times, including some of the first words in the JLP book, about the Logan family’s role in the JLP project.  The project wouldn’t have happened without them.  In the winter of ’99-’00 David Logan called me at home after my original story on 821 Sixth Avenue was published in Fall ’99 issue of DoubleTake magazine.  I was a struggling freelance writer at the time, scratching my head to figure out how a project based on W. Eugene Smith’s unwieldy and mysterious 1740 reels of tape could launch.  My DoubleTake story was based on Smith’s photographs and my early oral history interviews.  Nobody had ever heard the tapes that required hundreds of thousands of dollars to preserve.  It was a daunting challenge:  How do you raise money to preserve tapes that nobody has heard?  How do you raise money to preserve tapes that, frankly, did not have a very good reputation, tarnished by the upheaval of Smith’s personal life at the time?

David, 82 years old when he called me, said, “We love your story.  What can we do to help?”

The way David found me illustrates the fearless, impulsive manner in which he worked.  The first person he called was the influential New York Times photography critic Vicky Goldberg.  He went straight to the top.  Of course, Vicky had no idea who I was.  But she pointed David to Smith’s Archive at the Center for Creative Photography (CCP) at the University of Arizona and CCP gave David my phone number.  It was one innocent evening in the Pittsboro, NC home I share with my wife that our phone rang.

The Logans’ first grant of $65K made the project real.  It bought the time necessary to write grant proposals to National Endowment for the Humanities, the Grammy Foundation, and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, among others.  Over the next eleven years the Logans gave the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS) more than $600K for JLP.  They roughly matched the funds we brought into CDS from elsewhere.  Without the support of the Logans and a versatile, one-degree-away-from-anything home like CDS, there’s no way this project would have happened in the manner it did, in the manner that did justice to Smith’s chaotic and weird achievement.

Another quick anecdote illustrating David’s tried-and-true methods:  In 1971 Smith mounted a retrospective of his career at the Jewish Museum in New York City.  The show had around 600 photographs, an impossible number.  It drew media attention from everywhere – Barbara Walters and CBS and all the major print outlets.  A knowledgable and voracious collector of art books and photographs, David Logan attended the show.  Later that week, he wrote Smith a letter (which I found a few years ago in the archives at CCP).  David asked:  How much would it cost me to buy your entire show?  I want your show.

As I write this blog post I’m sitting in the Epic Cafe on 4th Avenue in Tucson, AZ, about a mile down University Boulevard from CCP.  I’m here for another week of research, my 20-something trip here since my first one in April 1997.  This week is devoted to Smith’s work in Japan and the Pacific, and the work is in preparation for my efforts to follow Smith’s footsteps in those places beginning in a few weeks.  Among countless ways – most importantly his three sons and their families – Reva and David Logan’s legacy will live on.  I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them.

-Sam Stephenson

p.s. HERE is an obituary emanating from the West Coast.  There will be another coming from Chicago soon.  Check back here for updated links.

HERE is an obituary from the University of Chicago, and HERE from National Public Radio.  HERE from UC-Berkeley School of Journalism.

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Dr. Billy Taylor (1921-2010)

I had only two opportunities to chat with Dr. Billy Taylor.  The first time I called him about 821 Sixth Avenue.  I asked him if he knew Hall Overton and he said, “Of course.”  He didn’t remember taking part in any jam sessions at the loft but he fondly remembered Overton as a congenial colleague and comrade.  The second time I called him was in regard to my research on Thelonious Monk’s background in North Carolina’s coastal plains, a background Taylor shared.  Taylor was born in Greenville, Monk forty miles away in Rocky Mount.  Taylor told me that even though he and Monk moved north as kids (Monk to New York, Taylor to Washington, DC), they often acknowledged that they were “fellow Tar Heels,” sometimes mockingly, sometimes dead serious.  They knew North Carolina was an umbilical part of their heritage and make up, in a manner not unlike, say, Italy for Martin Scorsese or Russia for Bernard Malamud, two great artists born in Manhattan and Brooklyn, respectively.  I always wondered if Taylor and Charles Kuralt talked much about their shared North Carolina roots when they were doing the CBS Sunday Morning show.  If anybody knows if that is part of a public record somewhere, I’d like to know about it.

A Blog Supreme has a number of pertinent Taylor links, and Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus has a thoughtful comment plus a link.

-Sam Stephenson

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Edgar Bateman, RIP

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We were sad to hear that talented jazz drummer Edgar Bateman, Jr. passed away last week at the age of 81. We were fortunate enough to meet him and record a brief interview with Edgar in November at the home of his gracious son, Edgar Bateman, III. In the short time we spent with him, Edgar recounted how he first became interested in playing the drums:

My sister started drumming before I did. In fact, my mother belonged to an organization called the Elks. And they started a drum corps. And I was kind of sickly when I was young so I wasn’t allowed to participate in stuff like that. So my sister was going to drum practice, you know, and she came home one day and was showing me the stuff they were learning on the snare drum. And we got an oatmeal box. Well, that’s how it started.

Edgar Bateman, Jr. appears on W. Eugene Smith’s recordings made at 821 Sixth Avenue in the first three months of 1964. One of these recordings is now featured as track 7 on our Chaos Manor playlist. It features Bateman playing “Yesterdays” with Roland Kirk, various horns; Jay Cameron, baritone saxophone; Edgar Bateman, drums on January 4, 1964. Along with Kirk and Cameron, Bateman played in the loft with the likes of Paul Bley, Eddie Dehaas, Jimmy Stevenson, Roland Alexander, and Ira Jackson. These sessions came between 1963 recording dates with Eric Dolphy and Makanda Ken McIntyre and a March 1964 session with Walt Dickerson.

Read more at Ethan Iverson’s Do The Math

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Gene Lees, 1928-2010

In 1998 when I learned about W. Eugene Smith’s tapes at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, I spent a few days picking through all 1740 reels.  I noted 138 names of musicians chicken-scratched by Smith on the labels.  CCP had the right policy that we couldn’t play the tapes until they were properly preserved, which didn’t happen until we were fortunate with some large grants in 2002.  So all I had in the beginning were the 138 names (and Smith’s photographs).  I was a subscriber to the JazzLetter, a self-published periodical by the great jazz chronicler, Gene Lees, and I was on his email list, too.  One day Gene accidentally sent an email to his entire list exposing every email address on the list (it was the early days of email).  I peaked at his list and saw the names of Bill Crow and Dave Frishberg, who were also on my list of 138.  I emailed Gene and asked him if I could email Bill and Dave, not being sure if it were appropriate since Gene hadn’t intended to expose those addresses.  Gene, who had no reason to know me at all, replied, “If my accident helps your research, then by all means, do it.”  He also gave me Art Farmer’s mailing address in Vienna and I was able to correspond with Art before he died a year later.

I never met Gene Lees and I bet he forgot about his early influence my research.  I reminded and thanked him a time or two later.  I always thought I’d meet him in person one day soon but it never happened.  I regret it bitterly.  His long JazzLetter piece on Bill Evans (“Re: Person I Knew”) made a big impact on me when I was just starting to learn about jazz, plus another piece on Dizzy Gillespie, “Waiting for Dizzy.”  I recommend this obituary by the similarly outstanding chronicler Doug Ramsey.  Make sure to read all the responses to Doug’s post, too.

HERE is the New York Times obituary.

-Sam Stephenson

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Jimmy’s Last Jam

Last week bass player and former resident of 821 Sixth Avenue James “Jimmy” Stevenson died at age seventy.  He was one of the youngest participants in the loft scene, having moved into the building at age twenty-two in the summer of 1961.  Originally from Detroit, James was the oldest of twelve children.  We were told by his son Star Stevenson, his nephew Tom Stevenson, and his ex-wife Sandy Krell that he died peacefully, surrounded by dozens of family members and loved ones.  Up to his last day he was singing and talking and enjoying his time.

I knew about Jimmy (as he was known in the loft) from an early stage in the project but I didn’t know much more than his name. Gene Smith had made an iconic photograph of him playing piano in the loft.  Smith used the image in his 1969 Aperture monograph and in his legendary 1971 exhibition at the Jewish Museum.  Smith’s tapes also had Jimmy’s name written on many labels.  But Jimmy wasn’t a part of the official American jazz annals and I had no idea who he really was or his role in the loft story.  Another obscure musician, saxophonist Ira Jackson, also from Detroit, was the first to tell me that Jimmy was a Detroit native.  In 2002 a volunteer for the project, Natalie Bullock Brown, submitted a random post to a Detroit jazz website asking anyone for information about Jimmy.

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Months passed and we forgot about Natalie’s post on the Detroit site.  We kept trying to find Jimmy by conventional means, which was proving to be painstakingly difficult.  Musicians from the loft hadn’t seen or heard from him in years.  Then in early 2003 we had a wonderful surprise.  Tom Stevenson randomly came across Natalie’s post.  He had been doing research on his grandfather (Jimmy’s father) also named James Stevenson, who had had a local TV show in Detroit in the early 1950s.  Tom’s google search for “James Stevenson” yielded Natalie’s post on the Detroit jazz site.  He was elated that somebody was interested in his uncle.  Tom put us in touch with Jimmy and Sandy.  It was a breakthrough in the project.  A major, unknown chapter in the story opened up.

Jimmy moved into the fifth floor of 821 Sixth Avenue in the summer of 1961 with Sandy and their baby son, Jimmy, Jr.  He had friendships with many Detroit musicians such as pianist Alice McLeod (Coltrane) and saxophonist Joe Henderson, both of whom sublet loft spaces from him in late 1961.  As we learned from more interviews and from Smith’s tapes, which by 2003 we were just beginning to understand, Jimmy was the host of some the loft’s great jam sessions.  There were so many sessions with so many different musicians that Gene Smith took to simply writing “Jimmy Jam” on reels recorded in Stevenson’s space.  Some of the musicians who played there were Ronnie Cuber, Sonny Clark, Lin Halliday, Roy Brooks, the McKinney brothers from Detroit, Booker Ervin, Clarence Sharpe, Eddie Listengart, Paul Plummer, Pete Yellin, Jane Getz, Gil Coggins, Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, Steve Swallow, and on and on.  On April 7, 1964, in a session with musicians such as Chick Corea, Joe Farrell, Joe Hunt, and countless others Smith wrote “Jimmy’s Last Jam.”  The next day Stevenson moved out and Smith took over the fifth floor of 821 Sixth Avenue.  It had been a long and substantial “career” for Stevenson in the building, an era that would have been almost entirely forgotten if it hadn’t been for the obsessive compulsions of Gene Smith.

In 2003 when I visited James (as he was known in his post-loft years) and his second wife, Suzanne Roach, they had a business selling wind chimes in a tent on the side of the road near Forestville, CA, a couple of hours north of San Francisco.  I made a date to meet James there during a two-week trip to visit other loft veterans in California in the summer of 2003 and I spent an afternoon with him.

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In 2004 James and Suzanne visited us for a week at the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS).  He listened to loft tapes and told us many stories.  He told us about driving to up-state New York for a duo bass and piano gig with Sonny Clark one night and they were stopped by cops who gave the African-American Clark a hard time because he didn’t have a photo ID.  James had been driving, so why did it matter so much that Clark didn’t have an ID?  Clark had with him several vinyl records he’d recorded on the Blue Note label and he held up one of them to the police – one with a big picture of himself on the cover – and he said, “This is me.”  Both James and Sonny ended up in jail, for no reason.

On December 12, 2009 I got two voicemails from James, one in my office and one on my cell phone.  Both messages were exuberant and warm.  It was a tone of voice I came to expect from him in the six and a half years I knew him.  Every time I talked to James he always asked about Jazz Loft Project Research Associate Dan Partridge, who began working for the project shortly after my 2003 California trip and who organized the tape listening sessions when James and Suzanne visited CDS in 2004.  In these two messages on December 12 he told me to give Dan his best regards.  I forwarded one of those messages to Dan.  In neither message did James indicate he was ill.  My wife and I had been traveling for the holidays and I planned to return James’ call after the New Year, but by then I’d gotten word from Sandy that he was on life support and would die in a few days.  A day later I heard from Star and Tom, both of whom indicated James had lived the life he wanted to live, without any regrets.

James is one of the numerous people I never would have met if it hadn’t been for Gene Smith’s tapes.  When James visited CDS to listen to the tapes in 2004 he made a statement that is one of my favorite passages in the Jazz Loft Project book:  “Hearing these tapes is like somebody playing back your memories for you, only these are memories you forgot you had.  But these aren’t just memories, this is real!”

Here is the obituary from the Santa Rosa (CA) Press Democrat.

- Sam Stephenson

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Dick Katz, Rest in Peace

Last week while we were in New York City and got word that 85 year old pianist Dick Katz had passed away.  It was a sad day.  Here is a link to his New York Times obituary by Ben Ratliff.

Dick was one of the first people I interviewed as part of the Jazz Loft Project in 1998.  His tremendous respect for loft resident Hall Overton impacted my research.  In my first piece of writing on the Jazz Loft Project which appeared in DoubleTake magazine in 1999 I quoted Dick on Overton:  “Hall should be a famous figure today.  But he had absolutely no capability or willingness to promote himself.  He was satisfied hanging out at that loft and playing music without getting any attention.  But he had an enormous impact on many of us.”

In December of 2000 I interviewed Dick again in his studio and he talked about the kind of jazz he enjoyed:  “My criteria that it must sound new to you.  If it feels new it’s succeeded.  Even if a guy has played something fifty times or a thousand times before, you don’t know that.  It doesn’t sound like a routine.  That’s why Zoot Sims was so great, or Errol Garner or Monk.  They could play the same thing over and over but it never came out the same even though it is the same.”

- Sam Stephenson

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