Nothing you can say about Bob Brookmeyer can possibly rival the truth about him. He was one of the giants of jazz, a great valve trombonist, a composer of the first rank, and an astonishingly gifted teacher whose pupils included Maria Schneider. He was also a man of ear-shattering candor who liked nothing better than saying whatever was on his mind at any given moment, especially when he knew it would give offense. Unlikely as it may sound, he was genuinely lovable–unless you happened to be on the receiving end of one of his diatribes, and sometimes even then–and I adored him.
I met Bob when I interviewed him in 1999 for a profile that appeared in the Sunday New York Times on the occasion of his seventieth birthday:
Today is the jazz trombonist Bob Brookmeyer’s 70th birthday, and he’s surprised. He never expected to outlive such illustrious colleagues as Al Cohn, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan and Zoot Sims, with whom he worked back in the days when he was doing his best to drink himself to death. “I didn’t think I’d see 30,” he said in the matter-of-fact tones of a man whose memories were horrendous enough to need no embroidery. “I almost didn’t make 45. My major accomplishment back then was not falling down more than, oh, 10 times a day.”
He was amused by what I wrote, and a friendship resulted. We didn’t see much of one another–he stayed as far away from Manhattan as he could–but our rare meetings were full of raucous laughter and much affection. Alas, what would have been our last meeting failed to take place because of the illness that claimed his life last night. He was too depressed to want to be seen, and I was too shy to insist on seeing him.
Now he is gone, but his music will always be with us, for which much thanks.