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Farewell: Butch Warren, 8.9.39 – 10.5.13

D.C. saxophonist Brad Linde remembers a collaborator and musical hero

Butch Warren, February 2012
Bassist Butch Warren and saxophonist Brad Linde at Washington, D.C.'s Blues Alley (photo: Antoine Sanfuentes)

As so many others had, I first heard Butch Warren on some of my favorite albums including Dexter Gordon’s GO and Sonny Clark’s Leapin’ and Lopin’. I had even seen footage of Butch with Thelonious Monk’s quartet in Japan on a VHS I borrowed from the music library at UNC Chapel Hill. I was just beginning to learn about all of the great jazz musicians and bands, but I immediately recognized the big beat, great time feel and melodic lines that worked in tandem with Billy Higgins and Frankie Dunlop.

I never imagined that 10 years later I would be working with Butch Warren. I knew Butch had lived a troubled and challenging existence since moving home to Washington, D.C., in the 1960s, but he had recently resurfaced with a bass and a series of performances around town. A few weeks before Christmas, I called Butch to play with my quartet on our Saturday night steady in Northwest D.C. Butch was the first one to arrive at the club. He was dressed in a white sport jacket and tie, a fedora and blue jeans and tennis shoes. We started out with a Monk blues and after only a few choruses Butch shouted, “Take it out!” Butch explained after repeating this process on each tune that he liked for us to play short solos so that he had the opportunity to play more songs. For me at that time, a four-hour gig would stretch my repertoire thin, and now I was playing with this great bass player who knew all the tunes and wanted to play them all.

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