Night Lights Classic Jazz

Pianist Ronnie Mathews R.I.P.

Jazz pianist Ronnie Mathews has passed away at the age of 72 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

Ronnie MatthewsJazz pianist Ronnie Mathews has passed away at the age of 72 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Matthews had been the subject of an all-star benefit and tribute just last week at Sweet Rhythm in New York City. If you’ve spent any time listening to 1960s, 70s and 80s hardbop, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard Ronnie Matthews on the keyboards at some point–Dexter Gordon’s live 1976 opus Homecoming, for example, or Freddie Hubbard’s mid-1960s Blue Note classic Breaking Point. Some of my favorite Mathews on record comes from his stint with Woody Shaw (check out two versions of Mathews’ own “Jean Marie” on Little Red’s Fantasy and Two More Pieces of the Puzzle), but there’s even more Mathews to be heard with Roy Haynes (Cracklin’ and Cymbalism), Lee Morgan (The Rumproller), Max Roach (Drums Unlimited), and on a number of his own dates, beginning with the early-1960s Doin’ the Thang. Influenced early on by Horace Silver and later by McCoy Tyner, Mathews did significant tours of duty with both Art Blakey and Johnny Griffin and was also renowned for his sensitive interpretations of Thelonious Monk’s compositions; like many other excellent sidemen and lesser-known leaders from the 1950s on, he seems everywhere and nowhere at once in post-World War II jazz history.

Condolences to Mr. Mathews’ friends and family, and thanks for all of the listening pleasure that he provided to me and many other jazz fans around the world.

Ronnie Mathews in 1981 with Johnny Griffin at the Village Vanguard (look for his solo from 3:30 to 7:00):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GeWicLeSYfo

UPDATE: jazz critic Larry Kart offers up one of his standard astute observations on the Mathews thread at Organissimo, singling out Mathews’ comping on Teddy Edwards’ “Ladies Man”:

Actually, at times (especially on the ballads) it’s more like he’s soloing alongside and underneath Edwards, in perfect sympathy/empathy. Almost an orchestral effect.

UPDATE: some reactions from around the jazz blogosphere:

Doug Ramsey at Rifftides

WBGO Blog Jazz and Beyond

Who Walk in Brooklyn

UPDATE: New York Times obituary

UPDATE: The Bad Plus/Do the Math’s Ethan Iverson on Mathews.

(Photo of Ronnie Mathews by Giancarlo Belfiore from Jazzhouse.org)

David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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