Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The sad decline of a great bassist

Good writing is good writing, no matter what the subject or where the writing happens to be published.

Case in point: Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher's beautifully written, moving piece on bassist Butch Warren, once house bassist for Blue Note Records, the four-stringer who played on the original recording of Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man."

Warren, 66, has lost his way because of severe mental/emotional difficulties. Whether he will return from the brink of insanity is anyone's guess. And Fisher's smart word portrait aptly captures the bassist's sad plight.

The story, published May 21, opens like this:

"The staff at Springfield Hospital Center -- Butch Warren refers to it only as "the loony bin" -- knows him as "Ed." He's one more guy whose mental illness got him in trouble and landed him in a state hospital 50 miles from home, locked up in a secure ward, behind a chain-link fence.

Warren, 66, looks older than that. He has lost a lot of teeth. His gait is uncertain; his gaze, distant. "This is about the best place I've ever lived," he says of the mental hospital, with its barren walls and eerie silence. After a couple of years living on the street, sleeping in shelters in the District and Montgomery County and doing a stint in the Prince George's Correctional Center in Upper Marlboro, he is grateful for a roof and three meals and the prospect of being allowed, someday, to walk up the road a bit to the campus canteen.

Hardly anyone at Springfield knew who Butch Warren is, or was, until a few weeks ago, when a worker on the ward got curious and Googled him. Thirty-five thousand pages on the Internet describe the life's work of a man who spends his days waiting for his next meal, scrounging up a cig, playing pool and hoping someone might find him a spot in a group home, a place where maybe he can get his bass back."

The story continues here.


Marc Fisher said...

Thanks for the kind words about the Butch Warren column. I've been fortunate to hear from a great many jazz legends this week, people who played with Butch and lost touch with him. And I'm happy to report that the Jazz Foundation is going to try to reconnect Butch with his music, seeking an appropriate living arrangement for him.

Philip Booth said...

That's great news.
As a jazz lover (and bassist) I really appreciate the work you've done to bring attention to Butch's situation.