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Overdue Ovation for Curtis Fowlkes

Jazz Passenger, genre-hopping journeyman

Curtis Fowlkes
Curtis Fowlkes

Half a lifetime ago, in the summer of 1982, a year after he and his wife moved into the Bedford-Stuyvesant brownstone that his grandfather purchased in 1921, 32-year-old trombonist Curtis Fowlkes met 31-year-old saxophonist Roy Nathanson in the Big Apple Circus band at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Each made an instant impression upon the other; a musical marriage ignited, most famously begetting the Jazz Passengers, the avatar jazz-to-art-pop ensemble that would mirror the eclecticism of the band in which they met.

“I’d just been in a Haitian band when I got the call,” Nathanson recalled recently. “I wasn’t reading shit. Some of the music was poppish jazz, with occasional solos, some was traditional circus stuff and some was crazy, fast two-beat music. Curtis played it all so perfectly I couldn’t believe it-his soulfulness, his sound, his reading ability, how deep the blues is in his thing, and all so understated. He got me through the first couple of days by playing my parts for me.”

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