I was saddened a few days ago to hear about the passing of Gene Lees on April 22 at the age of 82.* His obituary in the LA Times can be found here. Lees was the editor at Downbeat in the early 60s and wrote over a dozen books about jazz musicians such as Woody Herman, Oscar Peterson, Johnny Mercer, Artie Shaw and Dizzy Gillespie as well as issues such as jazz and race. He also was the founder and author of the Gene Lees Jazzletter.
In addition to Lees’ large contribution to jazz historiography, he was also one of the first prominant writers to help me out. Four years ago while in the early writing and research stages of my masters thesis on Leonard Feather’s Blindfold Tests for Downbeat he graciously spoke with me for over an hour and provided me with information I could find nowhere else about my topic. He even suggested I give Dave Brubeck a call and then proceeded to give me his home phone number (I’ve never worked up the courage to make that call). During our conversation he seemed to be a genuinely nice guy and more than willing to help out a young cat at the beginning of his writing career. I wish that I had had more opportunities to speak more with Lees, not only one of the giants of jazz criticism and journalism who knew almost all of the music’s finest players and singers, but a helpful and generous man as well.
With that being said it’s time for me to get back to reviewing a couple records for Downbeat. (There’s nothing to get you writing like a deadline and an impending trip to South Dakota). In the next few months look out for my reviews of the Chris Greene Quartet’s Merge and Ike Sturm’s Jazz Mass in the pages of Downbeat.
*It’s really a downer to have the first three posts on the new iteration of my blog have to do with a death. I promise in the near future to have a bunch of short reviews of new records and no more deaths (hopefully). Upcoming review teaser: Tia Fuller, Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden, Jon Gordon, Michele Rabbia and Stefano Battaglia, and my take on a recent recording by Chris Potter of “My Shining Hour.” So stay tuned.