Requiem for heavyweights 1990 saw the loss of many giants in the music world

December 27, 1990|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,Evening Sun Staff

WHEN DRUMMER ART BLAKEY died this year, scores of jazz musicians credited him with big chunks of their success. When David Rose died, his "The Stripper" tune and theme for "Bonanza" were remembered. When Eleanor Steber died, sopranos envied her Mozart arias and later teaching skills. When a helicopter crash killed Stevie Ray Vaughan, his Texas blues guitar melodies haunted fans.

Musicians are still the influential troubadours of our times and they sing the songs of life to peer and people. When they die, quietly or dramatically as the great Finnish bass Martti Talvela did last year after dancing with his daughter at her wedding, their deaths roll back the years for all of us. This has been a year of incredible memories.

Blakey dominated modern jazz for 40 years the way Leonard Bernstein or Sammy Davis Jr. or Pearl Bailey or Mary Martin captured imaginations in their fields. They also died in 1990, as did Elliott Galkin, Peter Herman Adler and Joseph Leavitt who influenced music here for many years.

Two of America's creative geniuses, Leonard Bernstein, 72, and his occasional mentor Aaron Copland, 90, died within seven weeks of each other in the fall, more than a half century after they began a friendship of kindred spirits, sometimes conflicting opinions and dissimilar temperaments. Showman Bernstein was nTC still creating music. The more reticent Copland had stopped a decade ago but their influence on each other mirrored the impact they passed on to others.

If Bernstein was the man who, as Isaac Stern said, "began to teach Americans what classical music was," Copland was the man whose output of orchestral works, choral pieces, ballet music, chamber music scores, film scores, piano pieces and songs exemplified American classical music to many music-lovers.

But other composers died in 1990. One was the 80-year-old Rose, who in a 65-year career, was best known for "The Stripper," "Bonanza" and "Little House on the Prairie" TV show themes, but who produced more than 50 records, scores for 36 movies and music for 24 TV shows. Another composer gone is Jay Gorney, 93, who came to America as a boy from Russia, wrote the Depression hit "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" and said "Words make you think a thought. Music makes you feel a feeling. A song makes you feel a thought." Then there was Jimmy Van Heusen, 77, Hollywood composer of "Call Me Irresponsible" and many other pop songs.

Sammy Davis Jr. was 64 when he died of throat cancer after singing, dancing and acting his way into the American consciousness with scores of hits, such as "What Kind of Fool Am I?" Another popular singing icon who died was Mary Martin, 76, the ultimate Peter Pan, Nellie Forbush and Maria von Trapp. Who will ever forget Pearl Bailey, 72, the warm-hearted, lusty-voiced singer who sometimes talked in puzzles but told "stories to music and, thank God, in tune." Also dead this year were Tom Clancy, 67, of the Clancy Brothers, and Johnny Ray, 63, whose 1950's song "Cry" sold 25 million copies.

Then there were the influential jazz greats who died. Sarah Vaughan was 66 years old. "Sassy" or "The Divine Sarah," as she was affectionately known, sang "Make Yourself Comfortable," "Misty," "Send in the Clowns" and tons more in such luscious ways. Blakey, 71, drummer extraordinaire and band leader, recorded hundreds of numbers with his free-limbed style and hired dozens of young musicians who would become famous. Mel Lewis, 60, was another good one, a fine jazz drummer.

His name may mean little but Louis Nelson, still playing his New Orleans style trombone, was the last survivor of the original Preservation Hall jazz bands when he died at 87 after a car accident. Dexter Gordon, the tenor saxophone player who died at 67, had a late career in films (Academy Award nomination for "Round Midnight," a film about an expatriate jazz musician) but he played be-bop often and influentially in Los Angeles and elsewhere. Another notable be-bop man was Walter Davis Jr., the jazz pianist who died at 57. Stevie Ray Vaughan, the 35-year-old Lone Star blues and rock guitarist, was one of his generation's leaders in exciting variations.

Here in Baltimore, Joseph Leavitt, ex-percussionist and executive director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra from 1973 to 1984, was remembered fondly. Under his leadership, the BSO recorded its first records on major labels, went on its first European tour in 1981 and moved into the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in 1982. He died at 74 in Boca Raton, Fla.

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