04/07/13

T.S. Monk Remembers Eddie Bert

May 16, 1922-Sept. 27, 2012

I first met Eddie Bert when I was 8 years old. It was at a rehearsal for my father’s 1959 Town Hall concert. Today, that concert is considered an epic event in the history of jazz. I was young but fully aware of the racial tensions plaguing America, so any white face on the bandstand with dad piqued my curiosity. There wasn’t as much integration in bebop as in the other branches of jazz, but Thelonious was different in so many ways. There were four faces that stood out to me on that stage: Phil Woods on alto sax, Pepper Adams on baritone, Don Butterfield on tuba and little Eddie Bert on trombone.

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T.S. Monk
By Jimmy Katz
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Eddie Bert

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My father could have called any trombone player. He knew everybody: J.J. Johnson, Curtis Fuller, everybody. He chose Eddie. Thelonious, like all the jazz giants, had no time for the racism that was so rampant throughout the country. He was hell-bent for excellence.

Once the band began its performance, I knew everyone playing was culled from the best in the world, including Donald Byrd, Charlie Rouse, Arthur Taylor and Sam Jones. And that little redheaded guy on the trombone was obviously one of dad’s favorites. His lead sound on tunes such as “Monk’s Mood” is timeless.

At the time I didn’t know anything of Eddie’s incredible history in jazz to that point. So many recordings. So many great collaborations. When I formed the Monk on Monk ensemble in tribute to Thelonious in 1997, I was delighted to find Mr. Bert available. I remember saying to myself, “Wow, one of dad’s favorites is still with us and still playing strong. How lucky am I?!”

He supplied a benchmark for everything I was doing in my father’s name. He was incredible in helping me maintain the integrity of the entire project. I realized exactly why Thelonious chose Eddie again for his famous Lincoln Center concert in 1963, another milestone performance. (Woods, Rouse and Eddie were the only repeat performers!) His command of the instrument was impeccable. His sound was crystal clear. His sensitivity, interpretive skills and dynamics were of the highest order.

And he was a great personality. He even taught me how to be first on the plane and tour bus—not an easy chore for most musicians. Even in his late 70s, Eddie was always first. I also concluded, after watching him hang his horn on nails and hooks in dressing rooms all over the world, that he was nutty—just like dad! But he was also so classy, with a terrific demeanor.

Though he never attained the notoriety of a J.J. Johnson or Kai Winding, he fit the profile. He was a giant on his instrument. Though I was the leader, he was gracious enough to treat me as an artistic equal, and if he hadn’t, it would have been fine. I would have loved him anyway. God bless you, Eddie Bert. I’ll miss you, and jazz will never forget you.

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