The March 2006 issue was the first one in which we ran a section of Farewell tribute pieces about those who had died during the preceding year. The concept was inspired (euphemism for theft) by a poignant piece in Entertainment Weekly written by Tony Randall about his pal Jack Klugman—the Oscar to his Felix, as people of a certain age will recognize. It seemed to me that this approach to remembering the departed would work well in JazzTimes. Indeed, the Farewell pieces we commissioned over the next dozen years proved to be some of the most memorable articles in our history, at least for me. As any editor or publisher will agree, the longer you’re in the job, the harder it can be to remember specific stories, but I still vividly recall Les McCann writing about producer Joel Dorn that “I wish I could know a woman like that,” or Randy Brecker remembering spitting into his brother Michael’s milk when they were kids, or Marcus Miller recounting how guitarist Hiram Bullock played his ass off barefoot in spandex tights. Unlike features and profiles, which can have a certain sameness to them, these pieces tended to be as different from each other as the subjects and the authors themselves—all highly individualistic and often less sentimental than you’d think.
The section also enabled us to audition artists as writers, many of whom would go on to contribute stories and columns for us in the coming years. In a few cases, an author might sadly end up later as the subject, as with Dorn, who wrote a sweet and funny essay on his friend, broadcaster and jazz fan Ed Bradley, a few years before being colorfully remembered himself by McCann. Or Oscar Peterson, who wrote about his longtime bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen and who was later beautifully eulogized by Benny Green.
Looking back at this first edition of the Farewells section, I see the blueprint for future issues in the tributes penned by Dianne Reeves (on Shirley Horn), Sheila Jordan (Oscar Brown Jr.), and Branford Marsalis (Lucky Thompson). The motif was also picked up by both the Jazz Connect conference and Jazz Congress for an annual In Memoriam segment featuring a slideshow with live music composed by Ike Sturm of St. Peter’s Church in New York.
This section hasn’t always been JT’s cover story, in large part because it was argued internally that it would be too morbid. Speaking only for myself, I find the essays full of vibrant life, capturing a personal side to artists that we’d never see otherwise. Ironic that it can take death for us to celebrate life.