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Solo: On Belonging and Grieving

Alice Coltrane
Alice Coltrane (photo: Jeff Dunas)

One of the functions of the annual conference held every January by the International Association for Jazz Education is that it effectively unites a community. For that hectic three-day schmooze-athon, 8,000 or so people from all over the globe gather to speak the international language of jazz and revel in their shared knowledge of syncopation, flatted fifths and all things swing. It’s a network of folks bonded by their understanding of jazz lore and their appreciation of Bird, Monk, Miles, Mingus, Max and Trane. It’s a comforting thought to know that you belong. Like one big extended family, it has its share of eccentric aunts and uncles, troubled siblings, black sheep cousins and revered elders. And when bad news hits, we grieve together-like a family.

On the morning of Saturday, Jan. 13, the last day of the conference, we were all drawn a little closer together by the crushing news of the passing of Michael Brecker and Alice Coltrane. Most were well aware of Michael’s valiant struggle over the past year and a half with the dreaded disease MDS (myelodysplastic syndrome) and his ongoing search for a bone marrow donor. Throughout last year’s conference in New York, Michael’s manager, Daryl Pitt, tirelessly operated a donor-screening table outside the Exhibit Hall.

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