Saturday, September 16, 2017
I stayed at the apartment in Brooklyn of my old friend Tom Watson, who at the time was an editor for Newsweek magazine. Tom asked me if I was going to say anything at the service. On the number 4 train from Brooklyn to Manhattan, I pondered the idea. I found a bar to have a vodka tonic. What could I say? Elvin was incredible and his life of music exceeded description. My admiration of him was immense but I had only known him briefly. I had a second drink. I called Dave Liebman and left a message that I was in town for Elvin's funeral.
I walked to the funeral home. It was early. The casket had not yet arrived. I recognized Don Alias standing on the corner. Eventually, we were allowed in. The room was lined by flower arrangements from family and friends. I approached the open casket. Elvin looked beatific. In his hands were a pair of drum sticks. The weakness in my knees was matched by the strength of love in my heart.
I joined the growing line in the reception room. Michael Shrieve was shaken and sweating. "She [Keiko] didn't want to come." I could see that Michael was having a tough day. Keiko was sitting in a chair, making her 97-pound frame seem even smaller. I held her bird-like hand and expressed my condolences. I apologized that Jimmy Bennington could not be there. Jimmy was a drummer who studied with Elvin, became his touring tech, and had lived in Portland. I took a seat in one of the pews at the back of the sanctuary next to Gregg and Milo. I recognized the voice to my right. I had heard it many times on the WKCR. It was Phil Schapp.
I told Phil my story about Elvin teaching me how to make a humidor. He told me a story about running into Elvin on an elevator in a dorm.
The pews were full. Keiko sat in the front pew. Max Roach sat next to her. Roy Haynes stumbled on his way into the room and took a seat next to Max. Doors at the back of the room opened and Wynton Marsalis marched in with a second line playing "Resolution" from A Love Supreme. Ali Jackson was on snare and Herlin Riley was on bass drum. After the song, Michael Shrieve welcomed everyone to share memories. Silence. Frank Foster's wife began with a story about how difficult it was for Frank and Elvin to come up with a set list before each gig. Chuckles. Eric Reed played "Wise One" on a grand piano to the left of the casket. Reverential silence. Another band member recalled Elvin comforting him in the hospital when he had appendicitis during a tour. Nods and murmurs of appreciation. Elvin's son Nathan spoke about not knowing his father well but being comforted by the large gathering of mourners. I mentioned the quote by David Williams about "after hearing Elvin, every other drummer sounded nervous." I instantly regretted it. My god! Max and Roy were sitting right there! Frank Foster's wife said, "That's ok," or something like that so that I wouldn't feel so bad.
After the service, everyone spilled out onto the sidewalk. I found myself standing next to Buster Williams who had his bass and was on his way to a gig. He shared some memories that unfortunately I can't recall.
Later, I recounted the event to Tom. He asked if I wanted to write it up for Newsweek. I said I couldn't because of the immense responsibility. Having embarrassed myself enough already that day, I wasn't looking for another opportunity. So here is my story, foolish as it is.