Monday, November 27, 2006

R.I.P.: Vic Hall, Walter Booker, Robert Altman

Sad news in the jazz and entertainment world, locally and nationally.

First, I read last week about the passing of Vic Hall, an incredibly knowledgable and passionate jazz aficionado whose voice was heard on WUSF, 89.7 FM for nearly four decades. His was the voice of authority on all things jazz, and he will be sorely missed. Kurt Loft, a longtime music and science writer at the Tampa Tribune (and my down-the-street neighbor), recognized Vic with a thoughtful expanded obit.

Hall, also an active member of the International Association of Jazz Record Collectors (IAJRC) was deadly serious about the music that he loved. I recall visiting him once, for an interview for the Tampa Tribune, at his home in Seminole Heights. He showed me the little, overstuffed room where he dutifully spent hours every day listening to new -- and old -- jazz records and, later, CDs. His wife indeed was a "jazz widow."

Next, I found out, by way of the Jazz Programmers List, about the death of Walter Booker, the reliable Texas-born bassist best probably best known for his work with bands led by (Tampa natives) saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, and, later, cornetist Nat Adderley. He would have turned 73 this Dec. 17.

Booker, a genial guy, modest about such impressive skills as a rhythm man and capable improviser, was a familiar face to Central Florida audiences: As Nat's longtime sideman, he frequently came to Lakeland to play the Child of the Sun festival at Florida Southern College, where Nat was a longtime artist in residence.

I got to know Bookie, a little bit. For one edition of Child of the Sun, probably one that I played with either my band, Greenwich Blue, or the FSC Faculty Jazz Group, he borrowed my bass. It was great seeing Booker use his big hands to apply a gentle but assured touch to the instrument: He was great at laying down a solid harmonic foundation and soloing, often playing in the high register of the instrument. I remember thinking that his fingers seemed to skate across the strings.

Later, on the sad occasion of a memorial concert for Nat Adderley, FSC music guy Larry Burke asked me to bring my bass to Lakeland so that Bookie could use it. I was already planning on going to the show, to cover it for Billboard and Jazziz. As it turned out, Bookie, already in town, was struck with an asthma attack, and with just a couple hours' notice I subbed for him on a concert with several great veterans -- Jimmy Cobb, the drummer on Miles' Kind of Blue album; pianist Larry Willis -- and numerous younger notable artists, ncluding saxophonists Antonio Hart and Vincent Herring, pianist Rob Bargad and Tampa singer Belinda Womack. Of course, I was no real substitute for Booker, but I played passably well (I'm told) and the afterglow of that peak musical experience lasted several days.

Here's Booker's bio from the All Music Guide, which apparently has yet to learn of his death.

"Not a flashy player, Walter Booker's a reliable bassist and underrated stylist. His big tone and ability to play well in the bass's highest register reflects his knowledge of vintage and contemporary approaches. He's also an above average bowed soloist. Booker played clarinet and alto sax in college with a concert band. He began on bass while in the service. Booker worked with Andrew White in Washington after his discharge, playing in the JFK Quintet during the early '60s. He later worked with Donald Byrd, Sonny Rollins and Ray Bryant, Art Farmer, Milt Jackson and Chick Corea in the '60s, before joining Cannonball Adderley. Booker was in Adderley's band from the late '60s until Adderley's death in 1975, regularly touring and recording. During the mid-'70s and through the '80s, Booker's played and recorded with Betty Carter, Nick Brignola, Billy Higgins, Richie Cole, Phil Woods, John Hicks, Pharoah Sanders, Nat Adderley, Arnett Cobb and Clifford Jordan. He has no sessions available as a leader, but can heard on many CDs by Adderley, Sanders, Jordan, and many others."

Booker's sound and good energy won't be replaced.

I was going to say that Robert Altman, the masterful, idiosyncratic film director who died last week, doesn't belong in a jazz-themed column. But he does. Do you recall his terrific use of young and older jazz musicians in his 1996 crime drama Kansas City, and the way that he wove jazz into the texture of the film, set in the titular city, in 1934, when swing bands played gigs that lasted into the wee hours of the morning?

Good cast, and it was great seeing and hearing so many first-rate jazz players in a major feature film. The long list includes James Carter, Craig Handy, David Murray, Olu Dara, Joshua Redman, Jesse Davis, Olu Dara, Nicholas Payton, David Fathead Newman, Victor Lewis, Geri Allen, Ron Carter, Christian McBride, Russell Malone, Kevin Mahogany and on and on.

Much has been written about Altman, the director of such stand-outs as Nashville, The Player and M*A*S*H, including a great remembrance and a terrific career retrospective, both penned by A.O. Scott for The New York Times. Rick Lyman's survey of Altman's unfinished works, also published in the Times, is worth reading, too.

I'll just say this: Altman's voice as an artist was distinctive and left of center, and his movies, including this year's A Prairie Home Companion, were never less than surprising. That can't be said about very many filmmakers working in Hollywood, circa now.

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