Each year, in our March issue, we ask prominent musicians to pay tribute to fellow artists who have passed in the previous year. This piece appeared in the March 2016 edition of JazzTimes.
Dave was a hero of mine. I always considered him the Bud Powell of the vibes; his bebop language was so fluent and so eloquent. Outside of Milt Jackson, there was really no one else playing quite like that. Dave really stood on his own as a master of improvising on the vibes. I feel he didn’t get the recognition he deserves, because he was really that heavy. Those of us in the know certainly accord him all respect. The album that really stands on its own as an important document of vibraphone playing in the late ’50s, early ’60s, is It’s Time for Dave Pike. That was with Barry Harris, Reggie Workman and Billy Higgins, and that was just an absolute Bible of bebop vibes playing. Also Pike’s Peak, with Bill Evans, was a very important record to me.
For years my encounters with him were on record. I learned the songs and copped specific phrases from him, trying to get in and understand what he was doing. I did that with Dave Pike the same way I did it with Coltrane or Sonny Stitt or Herbie Hancock, or any great improviser who played something that’s attractive to my ear. Dave had all of this; his language was so hip, and any player would be curious as to what he was doing. He was able to transcend those 37 cold bars and make poetry happen. I always say about the vibes, “If it was easy to do, more people would do it.” But in the history of the instrument there haven’t been that many transcendent players. And not only was Dave one himself, he’s someone who inspired folks that came after him.
I finally met him in the mid-’90s, when I was playing at the Blue Note in New York City with the baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber. So I have to thank Ronnie for the introduction. He came to hear us, and I was thrilled. It was the beginning of a personal friendship. He’d come by the house when he was in town, and I’m sure we played a bit when he did. But we only played together on the bandstand once, and that was in Berkeley, Calif., when we did a two-vibes concert. And that was a great pleasure.
He was someone who was around in a really intense period in New York as well. He told me a story about how he was the headliner at the Village Vanguard, and about a month later he was working as a busboy at the Vanguard. He was giving me advice: Be prepared for the ups and downs of the musical life. He was such an interesting cat, with a lot of interesting stories. I wish he was still around to share them.
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