A reposting of something I wrote in October of 2013, for what would have been Claude's 81st Birthday. This Sunday, January 17, marks the third anniversary of his passing.
Things I remember:
His dedication to others. He mentored many young musicians including my teacher Geri Allen, Kirk Lightsey, and Curtis Fuller, among countless others. He never failed to ask about all members of my family any time I saw him, and stayed in Detroit to be around his. It was a trial getting him to talk about his career, often only saying a sentence or two about many of the greats he knew. He hated playing trio, despite being unparalleled at it. He preferred to accompany and interact with others.
His dedication to the piano. Although I never heard his practice sessions, (I certainly heard him warming up, often on JJ Johnson’s ‘Lament’) Jim Gottron told me they consisted mostly of technique, broken up by short ballads. Last summer, while at the Dirty Dog and I offered to take him to lunch, but he called first thing in the morning saying that he really needed to practice instead.
In the time I knew him (73-80 years old) he started taking piano lessons (Bartók Microkosmos, Bach) at the U of T. As he said in a tape of a 2009 concert, “now I am a student of the piano, so hopefully I will be getting better!”
His reassuring baritone voice. Whether in conversation, on the phone, or singing an occasional ballad.
His hat collection. Seriously! Berets, a derby, baseball caps and straw hats in the summer, many others.
His ability to shape a gig. Starting relaxed; cookin by the end of the first tune. Well-placed burners, even hopping off of the bench in the heat of passion. He was the epitome of getting ‘honest house:’ humoring and feeding off of the audience while serving the music. Ending slow, often with Lotus Blossum, Christo Redentor, Lucky Old Sun, or Thanks for the Memories.
Thank you Claude for gracing our lives with your presence.