Final Bar: Jazz Loses Trombonist Curtis Fuller, Bassist Mario Pavone, 3 Industry Stalwarts

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It’s been a challenging few weeks with the loss of trombonist Curtis Fuller and bassist Mario Pavone as well as three legendary jazz industry figures — Bob Koester, owner of the Jazz Record Mart in Chicago; Penny Tyler, another Chicagoan who was instrumental in the development of the city’s jazz scene; and author and jazz journalist W. Royal Stokes, a longtime guiding light for jazz journalism in Washington, D.C.

Curtis Fuller, Influential Trombonist

Trombonist Curtis Fuller, who contributed to some of the greatest recordings in jazz, died on May 8 at the age of 86.

Born in Detroit in 1934, Fuller was raised in an orphanage during the Great Depression after his parents, who immigrated from Jamaica, died when he was very young. A social worker took an interest in his musical talent and encouraged him to play. He was taken to a local club to hear Illinois Jacquet when J.J. Johnson was in the band and fell in love with the artists, and the instrument.

“I kept my eyes on J.J.,” Fuller told DownBeat in 1981. “There was something intellectual about the way he stood there; he was involved with the music. Illinois was involved with crowd-pleasing things: bitin’ the reed and screamin’ and layin’ on his back. And J.J. just stood there and played the music. That to me showed such dignity. J.J. just seemed like he was the man, and I thought, ‘Gee, that’s what I want to do.’”

By the time Fuller hit high school, he was playing around town on an amazing jazz scene that included Donald Byrd, Paul Chambers, Barry Harris, Tommy Flanagan, Kenny Burrell, Pepper Adams, Milt Jackson, Lucky Thompson, Yusef Lateef, Sir Roland Hanna, Louis Hayes, Charles McPherson, and Hank, Elvin and Thad Jones.

“It came together after I got to high school and met Donald Byrd and all those guys, and I got into the high school band,” Fuller said. “It was the only training I could afford. Blacks still couldn’t go into the white neighborhoods, and they couldn’t afford white teachers, so they took what they could get in the public schools.”

After high school, Fuller joined the Army in 1953 and became a member of the Army band directed by Cannonball Adderley with Nat Adderley in the trumpet section and Junior Mance as the company clerk (because he couldn’t march with a piano).

Fuller left the Army and headed to New York in 1957, gigging with Miles Davis, Lester Young, Dizzy Gillespie, Gil Evans and Benny Golson. But he is best known for his musical affiliation with John Coltrane.

He is the only trombonist to record with Coltrane and was a major force on the 1958 classic Blue Train. He was in demand, recording with Bud Powell on The Amazing Bud Powell, Vol. 3 as well as with Lateef, Burrell, Clifford Jordan, Sonny Clark, Jimmy Smith and Lee Morgan. As a leader, he recorded seven albums in a three-year span between 1957 and 1959 for the Prestige, Blue Note, Regent and Savoy labels.

“We did something like three or four sessions a week,” he said. “There was one day I did three different LPs in one day. It’s amazing the way we had the resilience.”

In the 1960s, Fuller played with Quincy Jones before joining what was arguably the best edition of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, a group that also included Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Cedar Walton and Reggie Workman.

His storied career also featured stints with the Art Farmer-Benny Golson Jazztet and the Count Basie Orchestra as well as recording dates with Shorter, Morgan and Joe Henderson, and his own solo recordings.

Perhaps the most touching of his late-career albums is The Story Of Cathy & Me (Challenge Records), which he created in honor of his wife, Catherine Rose Driscoll, after she passed away of lung cancer in 2010.

Fuller was named an NEA Jazz Master in 2007 and received an honorary doctorate from Berklee College of Music in 1999.

Mario Pavone, Bassist of New York’s Loft Scene

Bassist Mario Pavone passed away on May 15 following a long battle with cancer. He was 80.

A stalwart of the avant-garde loft scene of the 1960s, Pavone began playing bass after seeing John Coltrane perform at the Village Vanguard in 1961. He settled in New York City, connecting with the likes of pianist Paul Bley and trumpeter Bill Dixon, later touring and recording with them.

In the mid-1970s, Pavone moved to New Haven, Connecticut, meeting up with Wadada Leo Smith and Anthony Braxton as part of The Creative Musicians Improvisors Forum (CMIF). The collective was inspired by the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians that spawned the Art Ensemble of Chicago and many other artists and bands.

Pavone became involved with New York’s downtown scene in the 1980s at the Knitting Factory, forging a long-standing musical and personal friendship with saxophonist Thomas Chapin and becoming a member of his trio.

Pavone began recording as a leader after Chapin passed away in 1998, touring extensively in Europe and creating nearly three dozen records during his career.

His love of Connecticut and jazz led him to a 26-year association with Litchfield Performing Arts, where he served as a board member, jazz camp teacher and performer at the Litchfield Jazz Festival. The organization will re-stream his 80th birthday concert, which was broadcast virtually last year, which turned out to be his last live performance. The concert will be streamed at 7 p.m. Friday. It can be viewed here.

In his last interview with DownBeat, published on May 4, Pavone told contributor Kevin Whitehead that he knew the end was near and that he had completed two albums that will soon be released.

“I’m just happy to get these two releases done,” Pavone said. “It took every bit of energy, and the music is what got me through. I’ve had a great life and I’m so appreciative of all the players who jumped in and generously contributed, from the heart. I’m grateful, happy, satisfied with my life, ready to move to this next cycle.”

The complete article can be read here.

Bob Koester, Founder of Jazz Record Mart, Delmark Records

Bob Koester, founder of the Jazz Record Mart and Delmark Records in Chicago, passed away May 12. He was 88.

For more than 50 years, Koester owned and operated the Jazz Record Mart, a one-of-a-kind shop that drew visitors from around the globe. A staple of the local and international jazz scene, the Jazz Record Mart specialized in jazz, blues, r&b, gospel and more with a deep inventory of tens of thousands of LPs, CDs, cassettes, books and magazines.

Koester opened his first location in 1962, and used the store to scout talent for another interest, Delmark Records, his recording label. Delmark served as an early example of what a specialized, independent label could do, releasing recordings by Sun Ra, Sonny Stitt, Jimmy Forrest, Wynton Kelly, Curtis Fuller, Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Fred Anderson, Von and George Freeman, Ernest Dawkins, Ari Brown, Ken Vandermark, Jason Stein, Nicole Mitchell, Rob Mazurek, Paul Giallornzo and more, according to the Delmark website.

And that’s just the jazz side. Koester also tapped into Chicago’s deep blues scene, recording everyone from Junior Wells, Little Walter and T-Bone Walker to Big Joe Williams, Luther Allison, Otis Rush and more.

Penny Tyler, Jazz Promoter

Penny Tyler, another influential member of the Chicago jazz community, passed away on May 8. Tyler helped relaunch the Jazz Institute of Chicago in the 1970s and in 1979 worked with then-mayor Jane Byrne and a handful of volunteers to create the Chicago Jazz Festival, which became a Labor Day weekend tradition in the city. Tyler also consulted and booked jazz events for Ravinia, especially its long-running Jazz In June series, and the Jazz at Symphony Center series in Chicago. She retired to New Orleans some 20 years ago, and passed away in the birthplace of jazz.

W. Royal Stokes, Jazz Author

Jazz journalist, author and Washington D.C. disc jockey W. Royal Stokes died May 1 in Elkins, West Virginia, at age 90. According to his son Sutton Stokes, the cause was myelodysplastic syndrome, a form of blood cancer.

A lifelong jazz aficionado who stockpiled hundreds of 78rpm records as a youth, Stokes reinvented himself as a jazz journalist and radio personality while in his 40s, after quitting a career in academia as a professor of classics and ancient history. His historically informed jazz reviews and artist profiles married past with present and spoke to the way the music helped to break down racial and social barriers of his time.

Stokes wrote jazz reviews for the Washington Post from 1979 until 1986, and he served as editor of JazzTimes magazine from 1988 to 1990. He went on to serve as editor of the Jazz Journalists Association’s quarterly newsletter Jazz Notes and wrote for the National Public Radio program Jazz Live! He contributed to numerous jazz periodicals, including DownBeat, and maintained a blog via his website (wroyalstokes.com)

Stokes wrote five books on jazz history — the most recent of which is the anthology The Essential W. Royal Stokes Jazz, Blues, and Beyond Reader, published last year — and he gave frequent lectures on the subject at U.S. universities and The Smithsonian Institution. He is perhaps best known for his long-form oral histories of jazz artists, many of which appear in Stokes’ 1991 book The Jazz Scene: An Informal History From New Orleans to 1990 and the 2005 collection Growing Up With Jazz. Throughout his career, he was known as a champion of female instrumentalists and vocalists who were frequent victims of discrimination on the male-dominated jazz scene.

Born June 27, 1930, in Washington, D.C., William Royal Stokes spent part of his childhood in Baltimore and on Gibson Island in Chesapeake Bay before returning to Washington. After graduating high school in 1948, he served in the Army and later attend the University of Maryland. After moving to Seattle in the 1950s, he received a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s degree in classics from the University of Washington. In 1965, he earned a doctoral degree in the classics from Yale.

As a professor, Stokes taught at multiple institutions of higher learning, including University of Washington, University of Pittsburgh, Tufts University and University of Colorado. By 1969, he was done with academia and began to follow the muse of hippie culture. After drifting to Texas, New Hampshire and Maine, Stokes resettled in Washington in 1971. He lived in Silver Spring, Maryland, for many years before moving to West Virginia in 2006. Stokes donated his collection of jazz books and recordings to the University of the District of Columbia in 2010.

Stokes is survived by his wife, Erika; their two sons, Sutton and Neale; and two grandchildren. DB



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