Final Bar: Kidd Jordan, Karl Berger, Harrison Bankhead


The jazz world lost three of its most impassioned and dedicated practitioners in early April of this year. Here, we honor the lives and legacies of the late tenor saxophonist Edward “Kidd” Jordan, composer-educator Karl Berger and bassist Harrison Bankhead.

Kidd Jordan: 1935–2023

Edward “Kidd” Jordan passed away on April 7 in his hometown of New Orleans. He was 87.

The cutting-edge tenor saxophonist and music educator explored the outer edges of jazz improvisation from the 1940s until his passing.

He performed with an array of musicians from well beyond the jazz world, including Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder, Art and Aaron Neville and Fats Domino.

Inside the jazz world, Jordan performed with Cannonball Adderley, Dewey Redman, Archie Sheep, Fred Anderson, Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, Ellis Marsalis and many others.

Jordan picked up the saxophone in high school, digging into jazz after hearing Charlie Parker and Lester Young recordings. He continued to study at Southern University in Baton Rouge and later taught there for 34 years. It was at Southern as a student that Jordan met and befriended his future brother-in-law, clarinetist Alvin Batiste.

Jordan maintained a strong connection to Chicago, getting a master’s degree from Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, and doing postgraduate studies at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He founded the influential Improvisation Arts Ensemble, a free-blowing, avant-garde force. But even more impressive than his own work might be the students he taught, including Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Donald Harrison Jr., Trombone Shorty and Walter Smith III.

Karl Berger: 1935–2023

Musician, composer and educator Karl Berger died on April 9 in Albany, New York. He was 88.

The founder of the Creative Music Studio, Berger collaborated with everyone from John McLaughlin, Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman and Jack DeJohnette to Dave Brubeck, Lee Konitz, Carla Bley, Anthony Braxton and more.

His Creative Music Studio, founded with his wife, singer Ingrid Sertso, was an outgrowth of the couple’s Creative Music Foundation and its mission of musical cross-pollination based on improvisation.

Berger’s distinctive education career led him into professorships and administration roles at Frankfurt University of Music and Performing Arts and at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

Berger was born in 1935 in Heidelberg, Germany. He studied classical piano as a child, but turned to jazz at 14. After working as the house pianist at Cave 54 in Heidelberg in the 1950s, Berger moved to Paris, where he later worked with Cherry on the album Symphony Of Improvisers. He went on to make dozens of albums as a leader and sideman and won Vibraphonist of the Year in the DownBeat Critics Poll six times.

His last album was a 2022 trio date with cornetist Kirk Knuffke, bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Matt Wilson called Heart Is A Melody (Stunt Records).

Harrison Bankhead: 1955–2023

Chicago-based bassist Harrison Napoleon Bankhead III passed away at home on April 5. He was 68. Born in Waukegan, Illinois, he began his musical journey in grade school, gravitating to guitar and picking up the bass as a teenager.

Beyond touring and recording with the Harrison Bankhead Quartet, the bassist was an active member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians playing with the likes of Fred Anderson, Von Freeman, Roscoe Mitchell, Nicole Mitchell, Ed Wilkerson Avreeal Ra, Ari Brown and many more.

Bankhead’s final album, Blue Velvet (Engine Studios), featured the title track dedication to Anderson’s Velvet Lounge in Chicago. Ra, Wilkerson and saxophonist Mars Williams performed on the album. The bassist also played marimba and piano on the album. DB

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