Jesse Hamlin, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, December 12, 2008
Omar Clay, a respected jazz drummer and teacher who recorded with dozens of
prominent musicians - among them Sarah Vaughan, Charles Mingus, Horace
Silver and Marian McPartland - died Dec. 4 in San Francisco of complications
from Lou Gehrig's disease. He was 73.
A valued player on the New York jazz scene in the 1960s and '70s, Mr. Clay
was featured in master drummer Max Roach's all-percussion ensemble M'Boom,
playing marimba, tympani, timbales and xylophone. He was equally at home
working with singer Ernestine Anderson and hard-blowing saxophonists like
David "Fathead" Newman, Frank Foster and Gene Ammons. During the day, he
taught at New York's High School of Music and Arts.
"Omar was one of the great drummers," said fellow percussionist Eddie
Marshall, who praised Mr. Clay's clean playing and steady ride-cymbal beat.
"He was really a traditionalist. He was a total team player. He never showed
off. He didn't thrash, but he swung."
Pianist Larry Vuckovich, who played and recorded often with Mr. Clay in
recent years, put it this way: "Omar was one of the most serious, dedicated
drummer-percussionists, possessing a wide range of knowledge, not only of
jazz but of classical music, both of which he taught. His jazz drumming
roots came from the Kenny Clarke bebop style, but expressed a feeling beyond
the bebop era, including a strong affinity for Latin music and other world
music forms. On the bandstand, Omar held to a very high standard, and at the
same time was very supportive and tuned into the other musicians."
Born in St. Louis, Mr. Clay grew up in Steubenville, Ohio. He had a keen ear
for classical music, listening to the Russians Shoshtakovich and
Rachmaninoff. He got a scholarship to study music at Xavier University in
New Orleans but left after a semester to join the Army. He played drums in
an Army jazz band stationed in Germany, then got a bachelor of music degree
at the University of Michigan. He played and taught in New York for nearly
20 years, working in jazz clubs and in the Broadway pits orchestras for
"Raisin" and "Guys and Dolls."
Mr. Clay moved to California in 1979, first to the Monterey and then San
Francisco, where he performed with various groups and got a master's degree
in music education at San Francisco State University. He taught around the
Bay Area until becoming music director at Tamalpais High School in Mill
Valley, where he also coached the golf team for a spell. He retired in 2000
but continued to perform, tour and golf.
Mr. Clay is survived by his longtime companion, Barbara Chew of San
Francisco; his mother, Elnora Jackson of Akron, Ohio; and a daughter, Wanda
Davis of Hayward.
A memorial is being planned for January.
The family requests donations be made in Mr. Clay's memory to the Forbes
Norris ALS Research Center, 2324 Sacramento St., Suite 111, San Francisco,
CA 94115; the music department at Tamalpais High School, 700 Miller Ave.,
Mill Valley, CA 94941; or the VA Medical Center, 4150 Clement St., San
Francisco, CA 94121.
Tenor saxophonist Joe Romano passed away on wednesday november 25th. You can read his obituary here. Curious his recording date with Art Pepper at Donte's in 1968 and which was issued on Fresh Sound isn't mentioned...
Tony Reedus was born in Memphis in 1959, took up drums at age 14, and
soon after started playing with his school band. Inspired by his
uncle, veteran Jazz Messenger pianist James Williams, Reedus became
interested in playing jazz and began developing his conceptions in
high school through private studies and analysis of the styles of
personal influences such as Chick Webb, Art Blakey, Louis Hayes, Max
Roach, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams and Victor Lewis.
After high school graduation, he enrolled at Memphis State University
in 1978. In addition to music studies, he worked in local clubs with
saxophonist Herman Green and numerous other Memphis musicians. Also
during this period Reedus performed with stellar New York musicians
such as Milt Jackson, Slide Hampton and Frank Foster. During an
appearance at Memphis' Blues Alley, Woody Shaw showed up, and was
impressed enough to ask the drummer to audition for him in New York.
After a successful tryout, Reedus left college in 1980 to join Shaw's
group, which also featured Steve Turre, Mulgrew Miller and Stafford
James. In 1981, he made his recording debut on Shaw's United, and
proceeded to tour the world with the trumpeter's band. He remained
with the group until it disbanded in 1983.
Since then, Reedus has shared the bandstand in the New York area and
around the world with The Mercer Ellington Orchestra, Art Farmer,
Bobby Hutcherson, Freddie Hubbard, Kenny Garrett, Mulgrew Miller,
George Coleman, Benny Golson, Joe Lovano, Phineas Newborn, Jr. and
Mel Graves - jazz bassist, composer, teacher
Jesse Hamlin, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Mel Graves, a gifted bassist, composer and teacher equally at home in
the jazz and classical worlds, died Saturday at his Petaluma home of
pancreatic cancer. He had turned 62 two days earlier.
Mr. Graves was a fluent improviser known for his work with Mose
Allison, Denny Zeitlin, Dewey Redman and other top jazz players, and a
prolific composer and arranger who wrote for the Kronos Quartet and
other new music ensembles. He had hoped to attend Sunday's musical
tribute to him at Sonoma State University, where he was a professor of
music and created the Jazz Studies program.
An overflow crowd turned out to honor Mr. Graves, who nurtured many
young musicians. Among the performers was Zeitlin, who got a call in
1968 from a young bassist who told the pianist he loved his recordings
and had moved to San Francisco hoping to play with him. Zeitlin
invited Mr. Graves over to jam.
"Instantly, I sensed that here was a player of tremendous talent,
musicality, energy and fearlessness," said Zeitlin, who formed a trio
with Mr. Graves and drummer George Marsh that stayed together for a
decade. It was an improvising band that stretched from jazz and rock
to funk, electronic and avant-garde music. The trio continued to play
together intermittently over the years while Mr. Graves concentrated
on teaching and composing.
"It's a tragedy his life was cut short. He had a lot more to say
musically," Zeitlin said.
Allison worked with Mr. Graves on and off for 35 years. "He was a
great player who supported me well and played terrific solos," said
the famed pianist, singer and songwriter. "He was one of the few guys
I knew who could play the bow on jazz solos and swing. I loved him."
Mr. Graves was born in Parkersburg, W. Va., and grew up in Ohio. At
15, he was playing gigs around Grover City, Ohio, with his high school
band director, who had to get a dispensation allowing the minor to
play in joints where booze was sold. It was while attending Ohio State
University that Mr. Graves heard Zeitlin's music and decided to move
West. He got a bachelor's degree in composition at the San Francisco
Conservatory of Music and then a master's degree in composition at UC
Mr. Graves, who played with the San Diego Symphony, also taught at UC
Santa Cruz and Reed College in Portland, Ore., before coming to Sonoma
State. He played with notable jazz artists like saxophonist Joe
Henderson and guitarist John Abercrombie, and received grants from the
National Endowment for the Arts to write works for Chamber Music
Northwest and the New England Woodwind Quintet.
In 1987, the San Francisco Jazz Festival commissioned Mr. Graves to
write "Three Impressions," a piece dedicated to John Coltrane that
featured Kronos and such jazz improvisers as Henderson, Zeitlin and
vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson.
Mr. Graves was "an intense guy with high standards," said San
Francisco Jazz Festival Director Randall Kline, who studied bass with
him. "He was demanding about what he wanted from his students and for
his music, which was great."
Graves' wife, Susan Adams Graves, hosted Sunday's tribute to her
husband, which turned out to be his memorial.
"How can we top that?" said Susan Graves, who had asked her husband
what he was most proud of. "He said it was his teaching. He was able
to pass onto his students the real thing, the real way to play jazz."
In addition to his wife, Mr. Graves is survived by a son, Loren of
Davis; and two brothers, Ron and Harold Graves of Ohio.
The family suggests memorial donations to be made to the Mel Graves
Jazz Scholarship Fund, Music Department, Sonoma State University,
Rohnert Park, CA 94928.
PORTLAND, Ore., Nov. 12 (UPI) -- Officials say Mitch Mitchell, the drummer for the iconic Jimi Hendrix Experience, was found dead in his Portland, Ore., hotel room Wednesday.
The (Portland) Oregonian said Mitchell, 61, was in town performing with a Hendrix tribute band and was found dead at around 3 a.m. at the Benson Hotel.
The Multnomah County Medical Examiner's office said the cause of death was unknown pending further examination later Wednesday.
The British-born Mitchell played for the Jimi Hendrix Experience in the late 1960s and did session work in the years following the guitar legend's death in 1970.