Missing Gene Lees

Gene Lees died two years ago this month, on April 22. That day I wrote, “We lost a writer unsurpassed at illuminating music and the world that musicians inhabit. I lost a cherished colleague whose work inspired me, a dear friend whose companionship brightened my existence.”

The Portland, Oregon, broadcaster, poet and visual essayist Lynn Darroch was another of Gene’s friends and admirers, although, he said in a message, “It wasn’t a smooth ride.” There were no smooth rides with Gene. There were lots of rewarding ones. With Lynn’s permission, here is the video remembrance he posted this week. Piano is by Tom Grant, audio mixing and mastering by Jonathan Swanson.

For more of Lynn Darroch’s work, visit this page. To read my musings on that sad day in 2010—and the outpouring of comments from Rifftides readers—go here.

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  1. says

    I miss him, too. He got me started writing again, and was most supportive for several years. His enthusiasm cooled a bit in his last year or two, and I never knew what was wrong. He became uncommunicative, and that was that. But, noticing some typos in one of his Jazzletters, I offered my services to him as proofreader, and he accepted, for one issue, in which I saved him from a couple of mistyping gaffes. He didn’t last very long after that, so I wasn’t able to restore the old friendship as much as I wished to. But done is done. I loved and admired Gene, and treasure the years we were close. Thanks for remembering him.

  2. Terence Smith says

    I hope that all sentient beings eventually get to hear the Gene Lees lyric that illuminates Bill Evans’ “Waltz for Debby”. The lyrics rang through my mind as I read the words of his friends.

    They will miss him, I fear/
    But then so will I

  3. Terence Smith says

    I just read your 2010 eulogy piece on Gene Lees-you’d already expressed the same! When appreciating something like Gene Lees lyrics, maybe redundancy is good.
    I’ll bet I’m not the only listener who heard the first versions of “Waltz for Debby”, first the sketch on New Jazz Conceptions, then the Vanguard epic treatment, and who thought, here is a feeling, a statement that is completely beyond adequate words. Only to find an amazement: that Gene Lees could write a lyric quite up to the task.
    The Gene Lees English lyrics to the bossa novas ain’t too shabby either!
    Thanks for reminding us of Gene Lees. I for one would enjoy a column about the productive arguments you had with Gene.

  4. says

    Gene Lees had some Toronto time in the early 1970s, when I got to know him personally. We both had connections to St. Catharines, Ontario, where I was born-and-raised, and where his teen years were spent (along with Kenny Wheeler).

    In those years I was on Monday to Friday, from 10pm to 1am (as well as Saturday mornings, 6am to noon). Gene agreed to be a guest , to do the entire three hours as a co-host, presenting some of his favourite recordings by his favourite artists. We were to record the 3-hour show live to tape for the next evening’s broadcast. I had the studio set aside from 1-5 pm.

    Gene arrived at about 2:30, having had a bad day already — car troubles or something, and in those days pre-cell phones, couldn’t get in touch to warn me he’d be late. It didn’t really matter, because it was already ‘one of those days’ for me. He (and his wife Janet) rushed in, full of apologies and more than a bit frazzled. We finally settled down, put the 90-minute tape 1 of 2 on, and got the show going. Given the circumstances, it wasn’t what you’d call free-flowing or comfortable. Gene was still a bit out of sorts and unfocused, I wasn’t very responsive to him, and, and, and…but we carried on.

    Ninety minutes up, time to switch to tape 2 for the last half of the show, and I discovered that the recorder, while indicating it was recording, wasn’t. There was nothing on the tape. Moaning and expletives on my part, head-shaking by Gene. Neither one of us wanted to do it all again, and studio time had evaporated, so with resigned attitudes we both cleared time to try again the next day.

    As we packed up for the afternoon, Gene said the usual sorries for having a bad day, I told him it hadn’t been good for me either…we were equally misbegotten. Janet, quiet at the back of the room said “Ted, when is your birthday?” “February the 8th”. “That’s Gene’s too…”

    Our stars had collided that day.

    Gene came back the next day and the taping just sailed along — the three hour show took three hours and one minute to record, and of course both Gene and I were (well, Gene was…) witty, articulate and authoritative, with anecdotes and inside information flowing…

    Every year from then on we’d call one another on February the 8th and ask how the day was going…