Memorial for Dennis Irwin
March 11, 2008. Posted by Simon Rentner.
I drifted in to Dennis Irwin's benefit concert at the Allen Room late. Joe Lovano's octet just finished a joyous, foot-stomping song, and then came the shock: trumpeter Wynton Marsalis announced bassist Dennis Irwin was dead. He passed away four hours earlier, at 3:30 in New York City.
Suddenly, this joyous benefit turned into a memorial. To learn of Irwin's condition late last week was disturbing enough - he was diagnosed with spinal cancer in its fourth stage. To hear the news of his death while sitting in the audience was too much - it resonated through me like thunder. How could he be gone so quickly? The musicians learned of Dennis's death moments before Wynton announced it. That must have been a disconcerting moment. Does the repertory change when a concert turns from a charitable affair to a concert of remembrance?
I suppose there are no right or wrong ways to grieve or celebrate a life, and the musicians who performed for Dennis last night drove home that point.
After Wynton called for a moment of prayer and pause, pianist Bill Charlap offered a moment of consolation with Leonard Bernstein's "Some Other Time." Tony Bennett joined Charlap's trio for a somber reading of "But Beautiful." Then the mood shifted abruptly: Bennett concluded with Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm," Mose Allison romped through his tongue-and-cheek originals, and pianist Dom Salvador and saxophonist Dick Oatts offered two spirited Brazilian pieces.
Then, the music highlight of the evening: two unexpected trios took the stage, each guided by a forward-thinking guitarist. John Scofield joined John Patitucci and Jack DeJohnette for an upbeat groove; then Bill Frisell linked-up with Ron Carter and Paul Motian for a lament -- the audience, especially the folks from the jazz industry, were equally weeping and salivating.
Wynton Marsalis performed with David Berger's Sultans of Swing, but never stepped onstage. He performed his remarkable solo on "Stardust" while he walked down the aisle of the Allen Room, sharing his grief not only with all the musicians, but also with everyone in the audience. - Simon Rentner
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