Wednesday night’s memorial service for Bob Brookmeyer attracted friends and admirers from many compartments of his productive life. The valve trombonist, composer and arranger—influential in jazz since the early 1950s— died at the age of 81 last December 15. The memorial was at St. Peter’s Church in Manhattan, long a site of worship services incorporating jazz, and of events commemorating the music and its makers. The Rifftides staff thanks saxophonist, composer and bandleader David Sherr, who attended the memorial and sent this account.
The program included music and reminiscences by family and long-time friends and associates—speakers and musicians who had known Bob Brookmeyer for years, in at least one instance since he was a teenager.
Featured throughout was the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, with which Brookmeyer had been associated since its formation in the 1960s as the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. Bill Kirchner organized the event and gave “special thanks to John Mosca, Maria Schneider, Judy Kahn, Douglas Purviance, Elizabeth Mosca, Nancy Oatts, Kristy Kadish, and Bill Prante.”
In addition to Kirchner, the speakers were drummer Dave Bailey, bassist Bill Crow, record producer John Snyder, author and critic Terry Teachout, Greg Bahora (one of Brookmeyer’s stepsons), the poet and drummer Michael Stephans, trumpeter Jimmy Owens, Brookmeyer’s student Darcy James Argue, Joel Thome, Ed Dix*#151;in whose band a teenage Brookmeyer was featured—trumpeter Clark Terry, who spoke via audio tape; and guitarist Jim Hall. There was a video presentation by composer and Brookmeyer colleague Maria Schneider, Ryan Truesdell, and Marie Le Claire with recordings, photographs and film clips going back more than 60 years. The video presentation, edited from still photos and film clips, will soon be posted on YouTube.
Between speakers were performances by the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and various other ensembles. The Orchestra began the program with “Hello and Goodbye,” composed and arranged by Brookmeyer. Rich Perry, tenor saxophone, and Scott Robinson, baritone saxophone, were the soloists.
After Bailey and Kirchner spoke, a small ensemble played two Brookmeyer compositions, Open Country and Remembering. Along with Robinson (pictured) and Perry were Oliver Leicht, clarinet; Ed Neumeister and Christian Jakso, trombones; Kenny Werner, piano; Brad Shepik, guitar; Martin Wind, bass and John Hollenbeck, drums.
Bill Crow and John Snyder were the next speakers, after which the full Orchestra played Hoagy Carmichael’s Skylark in Bob Brookmeyer’s arrangement. Dick Oatts was the alto saxophone soloist and spoke briefly after the performance.
Terry Teachout, Greg Bahora and Michael Stephans spoke, and Stephans offered a poem in memory of Brookmeyer. The Orchestra followed with “First Love Song,” composed and arranged by Brookmeyer and featuring Jim McNeely as piano soloist and speaker.
Jimmy Owens spoke and played an unaccompanied flugelhorn solo in tribute. He was followed by Darcy James Argue, a composer who introduced himself to Brookmeyer online and wound up studying with him.
Joel Thome’s remarks were from a different perspective; he had been Brookmeyer’s composition and conducting teacher. Joel had a stroke in the late 1990s and was in the hospital for seven months. During that time, Brookmeyer called him daily. I have known Joel since before the stroke and have always found him to be a relentlessly positive person. But he said that during the seven-month hospital stay he considered suicide. I’m not sure I believe that it was a serious consideration but he credited Bob’s wisdom and sense of humor for getting him over the idea.
Bill Kirchner played a beautiful solo version of “Body and Soul” with Steve Kuhn, piano, one of only two pieces on the program with which Bob Brookmeyer had no connection. It was followed by “In a Rotten Mood,” composed and arranged by Brookmeyer and played by John Mosca, trombone; Steve Kuhn, piano; Bill Crow, bass and Michael Stephan, drums.
Ed Dix, who knew Brookmeyer when they were teenagers, spoke next. Bob had played both piano and slide trombone with Dix’s band in the middle 1940s.
The final two musical selections were “Seesaw,” composed and arranged by Bob Brookmeyer and featuring John Hollenbeck on drums with the Orchestra, and “I Remember You” (the only piece other than Body and Soul with which Brookmeyer had no involvement) played by Lee Konitz, alto saxophone, and Kenny Werner, piano. Brief remarks by Jim Hall (pictured) ended the program.
Throughout the evening, every speaker made reference to Brookmeyer’s wonderful playing and writing, his biting wit, his honesty and his wisdom.
Shortly after the memorial service Bill Crow, who played bass with Brookmeyer in the Gerry Mulligan Quartet and Mulligan’s big band—among other mutual associations—sent this:
The Brookmeyer memorial tonight was a great program. Vanguard jazz ork sounded beautiful, and played the S out of Bob’s compositions. Lots of good memories from the speakers, including me, Dave Bailey, Jim Hall, and one of Bob’s stepsons. A recorded encomium from Clark Terry was played, and Maria Schneider put together a film presentation of photos through Bob’s life accompanied by music from his early Kansas City days through the last CD with the New Arts Orch. Very touching. I played a couple of tunes with Steve Kuhn, Bill Kirchner and Michael Stephans, Lee Konitz did a duet with Kenny Werner, and Scott Robinson led an octet in a couple of Bob’s tunes. It was good to see so many old friends, and a few young ones.
They read your nice contribution at the beginning.
My contribution, requested by Mr. Kirchner, was this:
With Bob, jazz was never a Last Chance. No matter what the Bracket, no matter what The Wrinkle, even when he was In A Rotten Mood over Big City Life, for Brookmeyer music was always Open Country.
Kirchner also read what Brookmeyer’s contemporary and peer Bill Holman wrote for the occasion:
The term “highly evolved person” is being thrown about a lot lately, but no one personified it more than Brookmeyer.
I met him in 1957 when, after reading in a record review that his playing was “erudite,” and wanting to meet such a person, I introduced myself at the Lighthouse in LA. Fifteen minutes later we were at a liquor store buying a jug of Scotch. I imagine that he paid; he was always a tabgrabber.
Intelligence, humor, honesty (brutal), enthusiasm, patience, care, and most of all, love. These are a few of the words that come to mind, though there are probably others that haven’t been coined yet.
Bob had a way with words as well as with music; could have been a literary writer. When he was living in LA he made a few rehearsals with my band, and one day I asked him what he thought of a chart that I had brought in and rehearsed. His answer: “Glad you did, wish you hadn’t.”
That was a friend.
Finally, Bob at work: a good way to remember him.