by carl wilson

Themes & Improvisations on the Blues:
Leroy Jenkins, 1932-2007


Saddened to hear that Leroy Jenkins is gone. I never got to see him in person, but very much appreciated his contributions to groups such as the Revolutionary Ensemble and Anthony Braxton's or Carla Bley's projects, as well as his solo work's influence on younger generations of bow-wielding improvisors. Troubled too to feel that the deaths among the 1960s-70s generation of free-jazz pioneers seem to keep coming closer together. If you want to make your own web pilgrimage, Destination:Out is as usual the first stop, for sounds to hear and reflections on Jenkins's place in the music; from there, proceed to Darcy James Argue's site for more links to remembrances and tributes.

Update: And here is a touching reminiscence of Jenkins from Zoilus's own stalwart contributor Erella Ganon:

Hearing of Leroy Jenkins's death launched me into a potent reverie. I met him in the early '80s when I was working for a new-music magazine in Manhattan. In the building to talk about recording with some folks at one of the indie record labels in the same building, I would run into this man often. He invited me to hear him play at a Brooklyn church. Could it have been the Bronx? It was before gentrification had grabbed these New York boroughs, I was new there and and I was curious to hear what he was doing in these faraway dangerous places. Turns out his instructions for finding the place were vague by any standards.

I remember telling my friend, David, that these directions were a lot like how I imagined Leroy cooked and played music, with much room for interpretation. It seemed that we hadn't passed any other white people in a while as we explored the possible path we were instructed to take to the venue. We just hoped to make it to the church on time. Realizing we would arrive after the performance had begun, I started to feel stressed. Any trepidation was replaced by a kind of overwhelming warmth when we walked in. He had just taken the "stage", and Leroy's solo violin, playing a sublime version of Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen, drew us in to the hall with such intimacy that the thought, all these years later, conjures it up again for me. Spellbound, we staggered into the church. Leroy noticed us and smiled at me. What a lovely man. It is appropriate that he was playing in a place of worship, with the succession of notes he managed to pull from his violin that night.

He played in Toronto many times with many configurations of musicians over the years. He played at the BamBoo with Oliver Lake and with his funk-fusion ensemble Sting, and various other venues too. Bass player Brandon Ross now plays in Cassandra Wilson's band and Bern Nix (also an Ornette Coleman collaborator) is still playing in various NYC ensembles, as far as I know.

I was glad that my first experience hearing him play was solo, in a little Baptist church. He had great stories to share and many ideas to express. Unfortunately, I don't think it was ever properly recorded. There is something simple and sublime about the kind of human sounds his violin made, whatever the music or collaborators. I feel very lucky to have spent so much time witnessing this and badly that more people were not able to experience Jenkins live.

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, March 02 at 6:00 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)



Thank you, Erella.
Nice to hear your touching tribute.
Leroy jenkins was indeed something special. His playing was most heart-felt and intuitive. Glad to be reminded of Bern Nix too. That's a name I haven't heard in years.


Posted by Walter Walker on March 4, 2007 3:11 PM



I saw and heard Jenkins play solo at the Dewey Redman memorial in NYC 6 weeks ago. For me, Jenkins stole the show in a night that featured some of the best jazz musicians alive. His country/ blues/avant improvisation knocked me out and I thought to myself, I can't wait to see this man play again. Alas, there will not be a next time but I am grateful for the last time.

Posted by original spin on March 4, 2007 7:58 AM



Listening to Jenkins up close was like listening to birdsong, though it was abundantly clear that no bird (and few humans) could possess a heart big enough to encompass its elaborately beautiful emotional syntax.

Posted by Scott Thomson on March 3, 2007 4:00 AM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson