Thad Jones and Mel Lewis created one of the most enduring rituals in New York. They started a big band in 1966, one that included some of the most gifted composers and improvisers in the city, many of whom were making their living as studio professionals or in Broadway pit bands. Max Gordon at the Village Vanguard booked them for three consecutive Monday evenings, and the rest is history. Both Jones and Lewis are gone, but the spirit of their music (as well as the original compositions and arrangements from their bands) continues with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.
Every February, the VJO plays a weeklong showcase at the Vanguard. On the thirty fourth anniversary of the band, WBGO recorded the group on Monday night, of couse. As it happened, that was Valentine's Day, 2000.
We'll feature "Samba Con Getchu," a composition from Bob Brookmeyer, one of the early members of the Thad Jones - Mel Lewis Orchestra. The VJO included Jay Brandford, Ralph Lalama, Dick Oatts, Rich Perry, Gary Smulyan, Saxophones / Glenn Drewes, Earl Gardner, Joe Mosello, Scott Wendholt, Trumpets / Luis Bonilla, Jason Jackson, John Mosca, Douglas Purviance, Trombones / Ted Rosenthal, Piano / Dennis Irwin, Bass / John Riley, Drums
Very sad news to report. Bassist Dennis Irwin has succumbed to his battle with cancer. Many in the jazz community gathered this evening at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Allen Room for a benefit concert to help with his medical bills.
Saxophonist Joe Lovano stated, “There are certain people in life that make you feel at home no matter where you are. For me, Dennis Irwin is one of those people, one of my closest brothers in the music, a great teacher and scholar of all the beautiful blessings life has to offer.” We'll have more information as it becomes available.
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.
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.