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Bobby Durham

(2.3.37 – 7.6.08)

Bobby Durham

Bobby was a tough guy. He was a very physically powerful guy and was into boxing, yet he was also very open emotionally. As a young guy playing in his band in Philadelphia, he was very protective of me. If somebody were sort of messing with me in a club he would go straight there, like, “Nobody’s fucking with my piano player.” But there was also a very elegant side to Bobby. He was somebody who could exhibit great sensitivity, especially when he was playing with singers. That’s when he played with such incredible finesse, particularly with brushes. When we would do gigs like that he’d explain how you don’t have to overplay, how you have to caress it more. So he had both of those extremes.

I was introduced to Bobby through the great Philly saxophonist Bootsie Barnes, whom I started playing with when I was 18. Bobby continued the straightahead jazz drumming tradition in Philly, along with Mickey Roker, Philly Joe Jones and Edgar Bateman. Those guys, for me, were like a touchstone for what it was to be a musician. I had the privilege of hanging out and playing with them and learning on the bandstand from them. And a lot of the stories that they would tell after the gig about their firsthand experiences on the road were things that, for us younger musicians, were historic and part of jazz lore. They carried with them so much history, and if you were cool and knew how to approach them with humility and looked like you were trying to get your music together, they embraced you. They were tough guys but they could also be very supportive.

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