Jazz à la Mode Blog

Tom Reney’s writings delve into the history and mystery of jazz, blues, and beyond. The Jazz à la Mode Blog has plenty to stimulate your interest and curiosity in American music.

Steven Sussman

Charles Neville died on Wednesday, April 25, aged 79, at his home in Huntington, Massachusetts. He'd been ill for several months with pancreatic cancer.

April 6 was the bluesman Walter Horton's birthday. When I first read of him, his birth year was given as 1918, but now I see it listed as 1921, which if accurate means he was 51 when I first saw him at Joe's Place in 1972. He was touring with Chicago bluesmen Eddie Taylor (one of his earliest and longest colleagues) and Carey Bell (a young protege), both of whom were on his new Alligator album, Big Walter Horton with Carey Bell.

Steve Kuhn
Steven Sussman

I spoke with Steve Kuhn in 2004. The pianist had just released the album, Promises Kept, which fulfilled his goal of recording a program of original compositions with a string ensemble. The record was a posthumous tribute to his parents Stella and Carl Kuhn. Bob Blumenthal, a close observer of Kuhn’s career for several decades, said that “in giving full reign to his emotions, Kuhn has created both his most personal and his most beautiful recording.”

Jackie McLean
Steve Lehman

Jackie McLean, jazz legend and patron saint of the Hartford jazz community, was the subject of the 1979 documentary, "Jackie McLean on Mars." I attended its Hartford premier in 1980, and have watched it many times since, but thanks to a Jazz Wax post this week, I gave it another look this morning.  Jackie's charisma and patter alone make it worthwhile, but there's some great footage of the master playing "What's New," and discussing the challenges of maintaining his chops and keeping (or not) to a practice schedule.

In the speech he gave before the Lincoln Memorial at the March on Washington in August 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., employed the refrain, “Now is the time.” Was he inspired by Charlie Parker’s, “Now’s the Time,” the bop classic that Parker recorded in 1945? Bebop's urgency had implications stretching beyond music, and many found among the leading figures in modern jazz the embodiment of a new African American consciousness.

Scott Mullett
Ewing Arts

When you look up names beginning M-U-L-L in jazz indexes, Gerry Mulligan (and sometimes Moon Mullins) is about all you get. But for Central and Western New Englanders, and lots of folks who knew him at Berklee in Boston, Scott Mullett was a name worthy of the reference books, a larger than life figure from the White Mountain State, as jovial as all get-out, and a monster saxophonist.

Roswell Rudd
Rudy Lu

Roswell Rudd died on December 21. He was 82 and had been ill with prostate cancer. Roswell, who alluded to his centuries-old American roots in a composition entitled "Yankee No How," lived a remarkably full life of musical exploration and collaboration.

Kevin Mahogany
The Kansas City Star

You've probably heard by now that Kevin Mahogany died on Monday, December 18, at his home in Kansas City, Missouri. A heart attack claimed his life at age 59. I heard Kevin many times in person, got to introduce him on various stages, and talked with him about the musical legacy of Charlie Parker, Ben Webster, Big Joe Turner and other legends from his hometown. He had a profound and humble sense of himself as a keeper of the flame.

December 18 marks the 100th anniversary of Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson’s birth in Houston, Texas. Vinson straddled two divides, jazz and blues, swing and bebop, and was a double threat as a singer and alto saxophonist. He got started in his teens with Milt Larkins, who led a renowned, though unrecorded territory band whose ranks included Illinois Jacquet, Arnett Cobb, Tom Archia, and Wild Bill Davis. Larkins toured primarily in the Midwest and occasionally shared the bill and backed the bluesmen T-Bone Walker and Big Bill Broonzy.

Paul Butterfield in Woodstock, 1976
Catherine Sebastian

Paul Butterfield, who died 30 years ago, was born on December 17, 1942. Most of us who had any connection with Butterfield back then were more saddened than surprised when we learned of his death on May 4, 1987, at 44.

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