Dobbin's Den

July 2004

There will be a memorial to celebrate the life of bassist Skip Bey on Wednesday, July 14 at 7pm at the Lion d'or (1676 Ontario Street East) near the corner of Papineau and the Papineau stop is the closest metro. Info: 514-598-0709.

The news of Skip's death on July 8th, although not entirely a surprise, was none the less a shock to the Montreal jazz community. Skip was 67 and I was fortunate to have been asked to emcee his 65th (surprise) birthday celebrations, also at Lion d'or. That was quite a night with many of his musical friends showing up to add their music to the evening. I remember opening (as he was brought into a standing room of cheering friends) by asking him, "Skip, do you know what's going on? I thought this was a Tupperware party." Skip played for the last time on June 27th when he joined his longtime (22 years) musical buddy, pianist Tim Jackson in the same locale. Another memory is of those two always segueing into Cedar Walton's "Bolivia" if they saw me enter the room.

Life began for Kaspar Crumby Bey on May 24, 1937 in Toledo, Ohio and ended at 2 am, Thursday, July 8, in Maisonneuve-Rosemount Hospital in the east end of the city he adopted in 1980 at the instigation of the late drummer Charlie Duncan, another American who had settled here much earlier, he was a member of Alfred Wade's "Stablemates" back in 1958. The first time I remember hearing Skip was in the company of Duncan and guitarist Nelson Symonds at Club Miles on lower Bishop Street (it was later joined by an adjacent club called Club Mingus). Skip hooked up with Tim Jackson a couple of years later and they were sometimes known as "Skim and Tip" and had long runs at the Sheraton Centre and Jazzons. Skip also worked with pianist Reg Wilson and on my 50th birthday those two and vocalist Arlene Smith provided music for one of those memorable nights I have experienced as a longtime member of the Montreal jazz community. Skip and Reg also made a jazz festival appearance at the Spectrum backing jazz giant Benny Carter. Before settling here Skip worked in the U.S. with Nina Simone, Betty Carter, Tony Bennett and Sarah Vaughan as well as Nat Adderley, Frank Morgan and Milt Jackson. he also worked with a marvellous lady pianist, Lee Shaw, who trekked up from the Albany area to play for his 65th birthday and later for some Festival jams at the Quartier Latin on Ontario.

Tim Jackson says that just hours before his death, Skip was discussing what tunes they would record on a planned CD of ballads !

Please come out and join his wife and longtime partner, Diane (Gagne) and friends at the Lion d'or--I wouldn't miss it !


The week of July 18th was a sad one indeed, one where we lost James Williams, Illinois Jacquet and Sacha Distel.

JAMES WILLIAMS was a wonderful pianist and teacher and a dear friend. James died at 6:20 am, the morning of Tuesday July 20; he was 53, born in Memphis, Tenn. on March 8, 1951. He began playing piano as a teenager and before he discovered jazz was active in the gospel and R&B fields. After studies at the University of Memphis, he played the 1973 Newport Jazz Festival and then taught at the Berklee College of Music in Boston from 1974 through 1977. He Travelled to NYC with saxophonist Bob Mover in 1977 and that led to a gig with Art Blakey's "Jazz Messengers", one that brought James into the International spotlight. He was with Blakey into 1981 and recorded with that band as well as with people like Curtis Fuller, Rickey Woodard, Karrin Allyson, Peter Leitch, Marvin "Smitty" Smith, Emily Remler, Bill Easley, Kevin Mahogany, Eddie Gomez, Bill Mobley, Art Farmer, Clifford Jordan, Billy Pierce, Javon Jackson, Jon Hazilla, Andy Goodrich and (in tribute to Phineas Newborn, one of his musical heroes) with the four piano group, The Contemporary Piano Ensemble. Of late he'd been teaching at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J. A funeral will be held on July 31 at noon at St. John Baptist Church, 640 Vance Avenue, Memphis, TN 38126--info (901) 525-1092. A celebration of his life will take place in NYC on a date to be announced.

ILLINOIS JACQUET died at his home in Queens, N.Y. on July 22. This influential and renowned tenor saxophonist was 81, born Jean Baptiste Illinois Jacquet in Broussard, Louisiana on October 31, 1922. He grew up musically in Houston, Texas and was originally an alto player, switching to tenor when the Lionel Hampton band had an opening in the saxophone section for that instrument. That was when he was 19 and a solo in 1942 on a recording of Hamp's theme, "Flying Home", brought him to fame and, after a spell with Cab Calloway, more fame came with release of the first Jazz At The Philharmonic concert on record. He toured with that troupe and then played with the Count Basie band recording "The King" which also featured a young J.J. Johnson on trombone in 1946. The following year he led his own band and had great success with pieces like Sir Charles Thompson's "Robbins' Nest" (a dedication to DJ Freddie Robbins) and his own "Black Velvet", a piece that later, with lyrics added, became "Don'tcha Go Way Mad". Although better known for the excitement of his high note playing with JATP, Jacquet was also a sensitive player of ballads and blues. He was a great influence on our own Richard Parris, who took up the tenor sax after hearing Jacquet at the Forum. Jacquet last appeared in Montreal when he brought an exciting big band into the St. Denis Theatre for a Montreal International Jazz Festival appearance. He had played Lincoln Center in NY on July 16 and can be seen in the wonderful 1944 Gjon Mili short "Jammin' The Blues", one which garnered an Oscar nomination.

SACHA DISTEL, best known as a crooner, died on July 22, at the age of 71, in Southern France. He was born Sacha Alexandre Distel in Paris on January 29, 1933. He was the nephew of renowned bandleader Ray Ventura and took up the guitar after hearing Henri Salvador (who appears at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier on August 1) and developed into a fine jazz guitarist playing with Mimi Perrin, Art Simmons and Pierre Michelot (in NYC), Sadi, Barney Wilen, Bobby Jaspar and Wray Downes (who played his "The Good Life" as a tribute at Upstairs last Friday). In 1993 he himself did a big band tribute album to his uncle, one called "The Collegiens". Like Rene Thomas, Django Reinhardt and Jimmy Raney were his guitar influences. He recorded with Jaspar, Jean-Pierre Sasson and Slide Hampton and is featured, along with David Amram, on some Lionel Hampton tracks, including "Crazy Rhythm", in 1955 and a recorded "Afternoon In Paris", a six track John Lewis CD (now reissued on Koch Jazz) in 1956 with a quintet of Barney Wilen, Pierre Michelot and Connie Kay (on three tracks) and Percy Heath and Kenny Clarke (on the remainder). One obit mentioned him recording with the Modern Jazz Quartet but I could not uncover any such session. His last Montreal appearance was at the Franco Follies.

All three musicians will be heard on edition 489 of Dobbin's Den, 11am--1pm, Sunday, August 1 on CKUT-FM,

90.3fm in the Montreal area and on the web at Dorothee Berryman is also scheduled on the show to discuss Henri Salvador.

© Len Dobbin 2003
Montreal, Quebec, Canada