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Frank Hewitt: Never Stop Playing

Frank Hewitt

He died of pancreatic cancer, possibly compounded by untreated lymphoma, on September 5, 2002. At the time of his death Frank Hewitt was 66 years old and, in practical terms, homeless. In his final years, he had often slept in a stripped-out walk-in refrigerator in the back of Smalls, the Greenwich Village after-hours jazz club where he had played piano two or three nights a week for nine years. At the time of his death he had no known living relatives, and no recordings under his own name had ever been released.

Here the story would end were it not for Luke Kaven. While participating in a graduate internship program at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., Kaven got hooked on Smalls, with its all-night sessions, close community and culture of openness. He decided to start a record label to document the Smalls scene and focus on the player who was acknowledged as its master-Frank Hewitt.

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