RIP, Roswell Rudd
The veteran trombonist has died at the age of 82, succumbing to cancer.
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Roswell Rudd at the 2004 Ottawa Jazz Festival Jean Levac / The Ottawa Citizen
Trombonist Roswell Rudd, who was equally powerful playing with jazz’s leading avant-gardists such as Archie Shepp and Steve Lacy or collaborating with musicians from Mali and Mongolia, died Thursday night, succumbing to cancer that had been diagnosed in 2013. Rudd was 82.
Born in 1935 in Sharon, Connecticut, Rudd attended Yale University and played there with a student Dixieland band that recorded two albums. However, Rudd by the 1960s was making music with such revolutionary jazz players as pianist Cecil Taylor and saxophonists John Tchicai and Archie Shepp. Rudd appears on Shepp’s groundbreaking mid-’60s Impulse! records Live in San Francisco and Four For Trane. Rudd was also the trombonist in the first edition of Charlie Haden’s Libermation Music Orchestra and he appeared on several Carla Bley recordings in the 1970s. The 1980s and 1990s saw Rudd appearing on albums that explored the music of Thelonious Monk and Herbie Hichols. At some point, Rudd dropped out of the jazz scene for a while, as he told the Citizen in an interview for a 2004 profile.
Rudd is survived by his partner, Verna Gillis, his long-long friend with whom he became romantically involved in 2000. Gillis is an ethnomusicologist and she and Rudd travelled widely for their work.
This year, the couple released this video for their piece Awesome and Gruesome, inspired by Rudd’s battle with cancer.
AWESOME & GRUESOME by THE OLDERS - A Ranthem
Rudd’s swan-song recording, Embrace, was released last month. A quartet album on the RareNoise Records label, the album features Rudd, with vocalist Fay Victor, pianist Lafayette Harris and bassist Ken Filiano performing standards including Billy Strayhorn’s Something to Live For,” Charles Mingus’ Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, Thelonious Monk’s ballad Pannonica and the traditional House of the Rising Sun.
At the 2004 TD Ottawa Jazz Festival, Rudd performed on the main stage with West African musicians. In advance of the concert, my former colleague Doug Fischer wrote this profile:
Roswell Rudd: A musical life in reverse
The Ottawa Citizen
Fri Jun 25 2004
Byline: Doug Fischer
Source: The Ottawa Citizen
It’s common for musicians, especially those who play jazz, to pay their dues.
They take jobs at bar mitzvahs and weddings. They perform in seedy clubs with inferior musicians on gigs that have nothing to do with jazz. Maybe they do a little teaching for a bit of under-the-table cash.
The money is often lousy but it’s something to help pay the bills until that big break comes along.
Of course, most musicians pay their dues before they become well-known. Not Roswell Rudd.
In the 1960s and ’70s, Rudd’s trombone was a staple of the adventurous side of jazz. His exuberant, gruff-toned sound could be heard alongside Cecil Taylor, Steve Lacy, Herbie Nichols, Don Cherry, Archie Shepp, Charlie Haden, Albert Ayler, Carla Bley and a long list of other musical explorers.
And then he dropped out of sight.
“I wasn’t making much money anyway,” say Rudd, who plays tonight at the jazz festival with a group of West African musicians. “I thought I might as well see what else was out there.”
He taught college for a few years in Maine, but didn’t fit in. He delivered bread in Woodstock, New York. He trained as a nurse for the handicapped, and drifted around the northeastern U.S. until he caught on with a Catskills Mountain show band.
“I played in a resort hotel for the different acts that came through — dancers, singers, puppeteers, fire-eaters, comedians, all kinds of things that take you back to the days of vaudeville,” he says. “It was very enriching, and I mean that.”
He must. Rudd stuck with it for almost seven years, returning to the jazz scene in New York City in the mid-’90s but maintaining a home in the foothills of the Catskills.
“I took advantage of the whole experience for what it was,” he says. “It was almost a living, and the exposure to the borscht circuit comics was very grassroots. They’re great improvisers. They’re like jazz soloists the way they can work an idea and mesmerize an entire room of people.”
Rudd, 68, doesn’t say much about why he left the jazz scene in the first place, just that he was looking for a steady paycheque, escape from creative frustrations and more time with his family.
Since his return to jazz, Rudd has been busy. He’s recorded two albums of music by Nichols, an under-appreciated pianist who died in 1963, reconnected with Lacy for some CDs and touring and has been engaged in slew of projects that include concerts with trumpeter Dave Douglas and an album with Puerto Rican guitarist Yomo Toro.
In early 2000, Rudd took his trombone to Mali for a cross-cultural recording session with eight traditional West African musicians, including the renowned kora player Toumani Diabate.
“This was a thing that just blew me away,” he says. “It’s a very special music — the melodies, the sounds of the instruments, the way they blend.”
Although the resulting album, MALIcool, is better described as world music than jazz, it includes one tune by Thelonius Monk.
“There’s actually quite a lot of swing on the record,” Rudd says. “It has a real rhythmic propulsion and the colours of their instruments fit so well with what I do on the trombone.”
Looking back, Rudd says it was more difficult for the Malians to absorb jazz than the reverse. “Jazz is such a young music; theirs has been around for centuries. It’s deeply ingrained.”
Rest in peace, Roswell Rudd.