Bill Dixon has passed away at 84, yet another jazz master I’d never seen perform.
Fred Anderson has suffered a heart attack at 81. His family has asked that the Internet stop obsessing on this so much; Twitter mentions, in particular, add up to a morbid countdown, as one news report pointed out. I’ve never seen Anderson perform, but I’ve frequented his Velvet Lounge (old and new locations) multiple times and bought drinks for the cause.
Every year brings more reminders of the holes in my jazz education, of the musical heroes that I never managed to see live. Geography plays a role (i.e., I’m not in New York). But often, I’ve got no good excuse. Max Roach was always my safety, the one “old cat” I’d someday go and see. Why didn’t I, when the chance came? How about McCoy Tyner, who’d spent two weeks at a time at Yoshi’s?
But wait. I’ve seen any number of contemporary masters: Tim Berne, John Zorn, Myra Melford, Vijay Iyer, Eric Bogosian (yeah, he counts), Matthew Shipp. Beyond that, I’ve watched scores of local musicians, many of whom belong on those same pages. That’s been tremendously rewarding.
And yes, I really have managed to catch a couple of the old cats. Marshall Allen, playing with Shipp and Joe Morris. Cecil Taylor in Grace Cathedral, in a solo performance that included some of his poetry. Sam Rivers, playing heart-stopping stuff with a powerhouse of a trio. Henry Threadgill, if I can get my act together in October.
So, yes, let’s pay proper homage to those who’ve passed, and let’s double the efforts to appreciate those who haven’t. But the broader lesson is to experience the music that’s around you, because that’s once-in-a-lifetime stuff, too. Get out and support your local artists. Music, to be nurtured, has to be heard, and an audience matters to your local scene as much as it does to the venerated few who still shine.