Friday, December 16, 2011

Mr. Bob Brookmeyer - Spirit Dance Indeed

I had the post planned out in advance.  This coming Monday (December 19), I would wish the composer-arranger-valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer a Happy 82nd Birthday with a sparkling review of his new CD, "Standards" (Artist Share), recorded with his most constant ensemble of the last 15 years, the New Art Orchestra, and guest vocalist Fay Claassen

Instead, this post is 3 days before his birthday and written the day after Bob Brookmeyer died.  There will be plenty of deserving tributes for this man who had a most wonderful talent to write handsome melodies, unique arrangements, and could play with humor.  Oddly, his passing comes at the same time as the writer and political & cultural correspondent Christopher Hitchens.  Although the politics of the 2 men were diametrically opposed (Brookmeyer strongly opposed the Iraq War and it's another odd coincidence that the US involvement in that country - a deployment Hitchens greatly supported - is now history.)   Both men wrote with great passion and disregard for the feelings of those who disagreed with them.  And, both deplored complacency, an attitude that has been in abundance for the longest time.

Bob Brookemeyer leaves behind a legacy of 50+ years of fine recordings (his work in the 1950s and 60s with Jimmy Guiffre and the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band) and splendid compositions and arrangements for the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Big Band.  He co-led a Quintet with trumpeter Clark Terry in the 1960s and recorded a 2-piano date with Bill Evans. After Thad Jones left the US to work overseas, Brookmeyer became musical director of the Mel Lewis Orchestra (the band's 1982 classic, "Make Me Smile", is woefully not available on CD).  He also recorded a duo set with Jim Hall,
recorded in smaller group settings (one quite memorable one with trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and never shied away from experimentation.  Yet, his output with the New Art Orchestra supplied with a vast canvas and he painted so many memorable musical portraits with that ensemble ("Waltzing With Zoe", "Elegy", the entire "Spirit Music" CD) - on the new CD, the opening section of "I Get A Kick Out Of You" channels Aaron Copland, Erik Satie, and Nino Rota without sounding like any of them. 

He also leaves behind a slew of disciples and students ranging from Maria Schneider (who sent out the initial announcement of his passing) to John Hollenbeck (who Brookmeyer installed as the drummer in the NAO) to Ayn Inserto to Ed Partyka to Nicholas Urie and many more.  Ms. Schneider was also the driving force behind the new CD, making the initial suggestion and writing the expansive liner notes.

As I wrote above, in the next few days and weeks, there will be plenty of tributes.  Start here with Terry Teachout, move on to Peter Hum (who has a fine knack of getting quotes from musicians - click here) and then take the time to read this excellent 2009 interview on Marc Myers' JazzWax website (click here for Part 1). Such a great talent - we are so lucky to have so many examples of his music to get lost in.  Losing Bob Brookmeyer and Paul Motian is the space of 3 weeks is quite shocking but that's one of the mysteries of life.

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