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
© 2008 WBGO
March 11, 2008. Posted by Becca Pulliam.
Dennis Irwin died at 3:30 yesterday afternoon. Four hours later, in the Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Joe Lovano's band led off what was to have been a benefit concert. Like Dennis, Lovano's bassist Cameron Brown is white-haired and medium height -- a detail you notice with bassists. I wanted to believe he was Dennis. Wynton Marsalis spoke of Dennis's "most magnificent attitude." The rest of the night spoke to his most magnificent music. Among the moments, Bill Frisell's phrases and spaces evoking "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," and Harry Allen and Joe Cohn's simple sax / guitar duo of "Body and Soul." David Berger told the story of Dennis coming to BAM to sub in the Harlem Nutcracker, a complicated, fast-paced score which Dennis virtually sightread. At the end of the first act, the band spontaneously gave the bassist a standing ovation. Dennis stayed in David's band for the next 11 years. Adorable in a tiny dress and high high heels, Aria Hendricks -- Dennis's love -- sang with her father Jon on "Doodlin'". Jon sang air bass on his solo.
© 2008 WBGO
March 10, 2008. Posted by Michael Bourne.
I spent the whole show backstage. I didn't even realize that Dennis passed. It was only at the last when Aria Hendricks talked about Dennis before she sang "The Nearness of You" that I knew. None of the cats backstage were being mournful. Whenever anyone said anything about Dennis, it was a joyful story. I introduced Mose Allison in the concert, and when Mose was singing, John Scofield and others backstage remembered that Dennis knew all the lyrics to Mose's songs. I was amazed by the who's who backstage. I remember looking over and all the drummers were hanging out. Jack DeJohnette. Kenny Washington. Lewis Nash. Paul Motian. And then Matt Wilson walked by. They and all of the others at the concert knew, learned from, laughed with, loved, and were swung by Dennis Irwin.
© 2008 WBGO