31 March 2008
Dennis Irwin on the bass
Video: Matt Wilson's Arts & Crafts performing Pat Metheney's "The Bat."
Bassist Dennis Irwin passed on March 10th, just a few hours before a benefit concert held at Jazz at Lincoln Center to raise money for his battle with cancer. His brother Dave recounts the concert on his blog. It sounds like an amazing show: Jon Hendricks, Mose Allison, Joe Lovano, Bill Frisell, Wynton Marsalis, Tony Bennett, and John Scofield among many others. You have to hope that the bassist's departure secured him a front row seat.
Darcy James Argue has collected a fine list of Irwin tributes and memorials on his blog and they are all worth reading.
I saw Irwin play with Matt Wilson's Arts & Crafts at the Blue Room in Kansas City last year. In addition to generously anchoring the ensemble with his work on bass, he also broke out a clarinet for a couple of numbers. In my post about the show, I described it as feeling like a house party. This intimacy is one of the many advantages that small clubs have over festivals and larger venues. Proximity to the musicians is particularly helpful with a music that has never been primarily about volume.
I went to the show mostly on the strength of the buzz around Wilson and because I'd been intrigued and wowed several recordings featuring the ensemble's keyboard wiz Gary Versace. They were both outstanding, as was trumpeter Terrell Stafford. Sitting there a piano's length from the bandstand I could see how intently all three of them listened when Irwin soloed. Several times all three of them would nod in unison at things that I couldn't hear.
So one of the lessons I took away from hearing Dennis Irwin play how much I still don't know. That's almost always a good thing, in life or art.
Posted by Lee at 12:46 PM