The great pianist, Ronnie Matthews, is in the last stages of pancreatic cancer and the jazz community is getting together tomorrow night (Monday, June 23rd) downtown at Sweet Rhythm for a tribute and fund raising event for his family. $25 contributions will go will go directly to his family to cover hospital, hospice and future funeral expenses.
Musicians scheduled to perform include: Cedar Walton Band, Charles Davis Band, Randi Weston, George Coleman, Sonny Fortune, Benny Powell, Jimmy Heath, Frank Wess, Louis Hayes, Ray Bryant, Gary Bartz, Steve Turre, Akua Dixon, Bill Saxton, Don Sickler Band, John Lee, Claudio Roditi and the members of the Dizzy Gillespie All Star Big Band, Michael Weiss, David Williams,Larry Riddley, Eric Reed, Donald Smith, Neil Smith, Duane Burno, Melba Joyce, Kathy Farmer, Lucy Galligher and Roni Ben-Hur.
If you've never heard of Ronnie, it's because he's been under the radar for so long:
One of the most prestigious pianists of the past 40 years and yet one of those essential contributors to the puzzle of jazz history who has not received due recognition. It seems "Ronnie Mathews" would be more a household name than it is, for his lofty investment into jazz. According to the New York Daily News, "Ronnie Mathews (is) another stalwart figure who has yet to receive the proper recognition." His years of touring and his many albums, both as leader and sideman, are overwhelming in number. Critics have showered accolades upon his name and affectionately compare him to fellow pianists Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell, with a sprinkle of McCoy Tyner. Not that Ronnie ever imitated them, but rather, that he is in league with these jazz greats.
He's really played with everyone over the past 30 years, starting with Johnny Griffin back in 1978:
One of the highlights of his career and longest associations, was with the Johnny Griffin Quartet. In Ronnie's own words, "This was a very, very special group." For almost five years (1978-1982) he was an integral part of Johnny Griffin's Quartet and forged lasting relationships with Johnny, Kenny Washington (drums) and Ray Drummond (bass). The New York Times describes Ronnie as "a constant and provocative challenge to Mr. Griffin...(he) is the energizer of the group..." Never getting enough of a good thing, Ronnie boasts of a possible reunion of the quartet sometime soon. One of the few Johnny Griffin recordings that features Ronnie's original compositions is "To the Ladies" (Galaxy).
Finally, the following was written by bassist Gary Wang who shared the bandstand with him for many years:
Really a cool guy, very funny and sharp, and it goes without saying, a wonderful pianist, a real jazz musician. His comping was really fantastic, the real thing. He could carry the entire rhythm section with his incredible time and feel that was so funky and soulful and in the pocket. Like a lot of the older cats, there were times, especially at first, when he could be tough on me, as a young player trying to figure things out. But I never had the sense that he was doing this out of spite or maliciousness, but rather always in the interest of making the music better. And in the end, he was like the rest of us....just trying to play well and make the best music he could. There was one time - I always saw him as being super consistent and unflappable - he really surprised me one night when he turned to me after a gig, where I thought he had played as good as he always did, shook his head and said "Well, Wangster.....didn't really get the one I wanted tonight!" Huh, I thought....I guess improvising kicks your ass right to the end, even if you're a seasoned, grizzled veteran like Ronnie.
Yeah, looking back, I'm glad that I had the honor of sharing the bandstand with him for all those years - of all the guys in that band, I probably learned the most from him. He'll be missed, by me and many others.
If you live in the New York area, slip on down to Sweet Rhythm to give your support and check out some of the living legends who are still around playing their souls out!
[where:88 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10014]
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