Saxophonist Tim Green, a thoughtful, highly respected presence on New Orleans stages for more than 30 years, has died. His body reportedly was discovered in his Bywater home on Thursday (Aug. 28) by a friend who went to check on him. He had dealt with various health issues in recent years.
Fluent in everything from avant-garde jazz to rhythm & blues to reggae to traditional Indian music, Mr. Green was as skilled as he was humble. His playing, especially in his solos, was conversational, fluent and conducive to the larger whole.
"Tim was about creating transcendent experiences in the process of improvisation," said guitarist Jonathan Freilich, a frequent collaborator. "His art form was about creating high points in improvisation, about pushing boundaries. He was about the big concepts – discipline, and freedom."
He was "very eclectic, a unique personality and a multifaceted talent," said Jason Patterson, the talent buyer at the Frenchmen Street jazz club Snug Harbor. Though Mr. Green's name wasn't well known to the general public, "musicians knew him. Lots of musicians knew him, and had a lot of respect for him."
Mr. Green grew up in Bridgeport, Conn. Raised in the Pentecostal church, he gravitated to the tambourine as his first instrument. It wasn't until high school that he took up saxophone.
As a young man, he often ventured to New York City and Boston to hear musicians ranging from Charles Mingus, Stan Getz and McCoy Tyner to Rod Stewart, Earth Wind & Fire, and Blue Oyster Cult. A chance encounter with Grover Washington Jr. in New York provided early encouragement.
After a brief, unhappy tenure at the Berklee School of Music in Boston in the late 1970s, Mr. Green took a Greyhound bus to New Orleans, having visited only once before. Before arriving, his impression of the city was formed in part by the Elvis Presley film "King Creole." "It was nothing like Bridgeport," Mr. Green told guitarist Jonathan Freilich in a long audio interview archived online. "That sealed the deal for me."
His diversity and eclectic tastes served him well in his adopted hometown, where musicians often ignore genre classifications. He excelled at tenor, soprano, baritone and bass saxophone, but was not fond of the alto saxophone.
At various times, he backed soul legend Irma Thomas and blues, funk and soul singer and guitarist Walter "Wolfman" Washington. For years, he worked a steady gig on Bourbon Street with a rhythm & blues band. He was a member of Gulfstream, the Stick Band, and trumpeter Michael Ray's Cosmic Krewe. He joined Freilich in various avant-jazz projects, including the ensemble Naked on the Floor and the larger Naked Orchestra. He filled in at times with the Iguanas, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Mas Mamones. He recorded and toured with rock star Peter Gabriel.
More recently, he was a regular member of experimental cellist Helen Gillet's trio. He played in the avant-jazz band Plunge and backed rock guitarist Anders Osborne. He collaborated frequently with bassist James Singleton on adventurous modern jazz projects. As recently as Monday, Aug. 25, he performed at the Blue Nile on Frenchmen Street with a reggae band.
Additionally, he was a member of the board of the Louisiana Jazz Federation, and served a term as its president. He worked as the station manager at WRBH-FM, which caters to blind listeners. He also restored antique cars.
Patterson tried to convince Mr. Green to assemble and lead his own group, under his own name, at Snug Harbor. But Mr. Green steadfastly resisted. "He always wanted to play as a sideman. He'd pitch somebody else (as the leader) with him in the band. He wanted to support other people that he respected."
That, Freilich said, "was a conscious decision about what he felt his art form was."
At most, he would allow himself to be co-billed with other members of the ensemble. On Sept. 28, he was to have performed at Snug Harbor with Singleton, Freilich and drummer Johnny Vidacovich. The show was billed as "Singleton, Freilich, Green & Vidacovich."
As news of his passing spread throughout the local music community, stories of his graciousness and kindness turned up on social media. Vidacovich's wife, Deborah, recounted how Mr. Green would invariably send her husband a thank-you note after being hired for a gig.
Keyboardist and composer Charlie Dennard, who has spent much of the past decade touring the world with various Cirque du Soleil productions, recounted on Facebook that "the last time I was in New Orleans doing a radio interview, Tim actually called the station just to say hello and that he enjoyed my music… That's the special kind of person that he was. A gentle soul and brilliant musician who will be missed by all."
Bonerama trombonist Mark Mullins wrote, "Tim taught without teaching. He made you try to be a better person just by being around him, and he played with a style unlike any other saxophonist I have ever heard."
"Anybody that played with him loved him," Patterson said. "He was excellent at complementing others. He took wonderful solos. He was very spiritual, and it showed in his performances."
Funeral arrangements are incomplete.