10/06/13

Bassist Butch Warren Dies at 74

Blue Note house band member in early ’60s played with Monk, Hancock, others

Butch Warren, who served as the house bassist for Blue Note Records in the early 1960s, then virtually disappeared from the jazz scene later that decade until recent times, died yesterday, Oct. 5, at a hospital in Silver Spring, Md., according to an obituary in the Washington Post. Warren, who was 74, had suffered from lung cancer and emphysema.

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Giovanni Russonello

Butch Warren, February 2012

Warren, who was the subject of a 2012 feature article in JazzTimes by Giovanni Russonello, was a longtime resident of Washington, D.C. His work on recordings by artists such as Sonny Clark, Herbie Hancock, Jackie McLean, Donald Byrd, Thelonious Monk, Dexter Gordon and Joe Henderson, helped to define the music released on the label during that golden era.

Edward Rudolph Warren Jr. was born in D.C. on Aug. 9, 1939. His father, according to the JT profile, was a musician who often welcomed jazz musicians into the Warren home, where the younger Warren first picked up a bass that had been left behind by Duke Ellington’s bassist, Billy Taylor.

When Warren was 19, he played his first high-profile gig, with the trumpeter Kenny Dorham, who then invited the bassist to join him on the road for the next six months. In 1961, Warren played his first session for Blue Note, with pianist Clark; he also contributed an original song, “Eric Walks,” to that album, Leapin’ and Lopin’. Warren was subsequently invited to join Blue Note’s house band, and he played on dozens of recordings, but a drug overdose in early 1963 put a damper on his career. He spent a year touring with Monk but then left the band and checked himself into a psychiatric hospital in D.C., never recording in New York again.

Although he performed occasionally into the ’70s, Warren’s professional career as a musician effectively ended during that decade and he lived in obscurity until 2006, when an article in the Washington Post spurred “NBC News D.C. bureau chief and sometime jazz drummer Antoine Sanfuentes,” according to Russonello’s JT profile, to raise proceeds to outfit Warren with a new bass. Warren moved from the hospital and began playing gigs at two D.C. clubs and subsequently released two albums as a leader—his first ever—titled Frech 5tet and Butch’s Blues.

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