Rifftides was never meant to be an obituary service, but who might have expected that so many people of high accomplishment and value would die in a so short a period. Ignoring their departures would be impossible. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Death comes to all, but great achievements build a monument which shall endure until the sun grows cold.” That consoling thought applies to four men whom we have lost in the past several days.
Bob Belden died yesterday of a massive heart attack at his home in New York City. He was 58. Belden was a saxophonist, composer, arranger, bandleader, producer, historian and writer. As a player, he worked with Woody Herman, Mel Lewis, Donald Byrd, Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner and others in the top levels of jazz. He brought his understanding of music and the inner workings of the jazz business to major ventures. Massive projects reissuing recordings by Miles Davis and Gil Evans won him Grammy awards for producing and for liner notes. His original works Black Dahlia, Turandot, Miles From India and Miles Español and others brought him further widespread recognition. When I wrote notes for the Miles Español set I became aware first-hand of his discipline, humor and openness to ideas. This paragraph from his own notes for the album gives an idea of how he approached his work.
I came to the sessions Tabula Rasa and my mind is still in that place. I knew that these musicians could create an undiscovered world of sound and textures, of light and motion. I just didn’t know exactly what. That is the purpose of jazz. Mystery. Surprise. Adventure. Human Nature. A producer can be an artist only if he/she lets go of the possessive nature of ego. To impose my will on people I respect for their individuality and creativity would be rather imperious. To counter the forces of ‘creative control’, I composed a framework based on pure empirical history and from that template emerged a modus operandi for harnessing the creative energy of the musicians. In some ways, the overall framework for the project is similar to that of filmmaking, where the producer is responsible for the story but not the dialog.
Bob Belden, a musician and impresario of sensitivity and scope. For an obituary, go here.
A day earlier in Inglewood, New Jersey, Bruce Lundvall died at 79 of complications from Parkinson’s disease. As the president of Blue Note Records beginning in 1984, Lundvall brought the label back to the importance it had for decades before its founder, Alfred Lion, sold it in 1971. He attracted to the label Joe Lovano, Kurt Elling, Dianne Reeves and other leading jazz artists including Jason Moran, Pat Martino, Robert Glasper and Cassandra Wilson. On Lundvall’s watch at Blue Note, the singer-pianist Norah Jones became a million-selling folk-pop-jazz performer whose success helped support his dedication to mainstream jazz.
Earlier, after more than two decades at Columbia Records Lundvall became that label’s president and ultimately headed its parent company, CBS Records. His stable of artists at Columbia included Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon, Herbie Hancock and country star Willie Nelson. Between his Columbia and Blue Note periods, Lundvall in 1982 started Elektra Musician, where he launched singers Bobby McFerrin and Rubén Blades, signed trumpeter Woody Shaw and the group Steps Ahead and released albums by Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, Charles Lloyd and Grover Washington, Jr., among others. Lundvall’s professionalism linked to a low-key demeanor helped lead to his election as chairman of the Recording Industry Association of America and governor of the influential New York Chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. To read a full obituary of Lundvall, go here.
William Zinsser was a hero of writers and of people who cherish the proper and economical use of the English language. His 18 books, including On Writing Well and Writing To Learn, are standard guides for writers and just plain good reading for anyone. He once wrote, “My purpose is not to teach good nonfiction, or good journalism, but to teach good English that can be put to those uses. Don’t assume that bad English can still be good journalism; it can’t.” James J. Kilpatrick, himself a writer of great clarity, once said that On Writing Well is the one essential book on the subject and, “Zinsser’s sound theory is that ‘writing improves in direct ratio to the number of things we can keep out of it.’”
Zinsser died on May 12. He was 92. A mutual friend tells me that as recently as a month ago, he was playing the piano in her apartment and seemed well. His books are within reach of my desk. They are worn.
B.B. King’s death on May 15 at the age of 89 received so much attention in print, on the air and in hundreds of digital outlets that reprising his career seems unnecessary. It may be enough to observe that he was one of the best-known performers of his generation, regardless of musical style, and that the way he played blues on the electric guitar has echoes in the work of hundreds of guitarists. Eric Clapton, one of his greatest admirers claimed a few years ago that King was “the most important artist the blues has ever produced.” That could be argued, but it is unquestionable that without King’s example, Clapton and dozens of other guitarists in blues and rock would not play as they do. King suffered from diabetes and had been hospitalized for treatment of dehydration.
Nearly 19-million viewers have seen this YouTube video of King’s greatest hit, performed at Montreux in 1993.
Rolling Stone has a thorough and admiring obituary of King. To read it, go here.