The spouses of musicians are valuable partners, cohorts, critics and career builders.
Our Take: When the Spouse Has Passed
Hundreds of words are written when one of the great jazz musicians dies. That is as it should be. Most of their careers span decades, cross over genres and include countless different bands, groups, labels and tunes. I have been collecting “jazz eulogies” for years now. Someday, that might make a very interesting book to read.
But we seldom read about the passing of the spouse of a jazz legend. Often, that occurs subsequent to the death of the player, so its “news” value is somewhat diminished. Even when the jazz legend becomes a widow or widower, not much is said or written. Yet, the impact of the death of a spouse on our jazz legends can be significant. Let me share a few stories with you.
Corine Duke was the first wife of a jazz legend that I knew who predeceased her husband. The SoulTracks obituary read as follows:
“(July 19, 2012) We are very sad to inform SoulTrackers that we’ve learned that Corine Duke, the wife of jazz legend George Duke, has died of cancer after a long illness.
George and Corine Duke were one of the great marriages of the music world,
and had been together for over 40 years.”
Short and sweet, but very complete. George was most certainly a jazz legend and their marriage was the most special marital relationship that I have ever experienced. She was the epitome of grace, dignity and elegance, while being strong, determined and powerful. He, of course, was one of the most talented and lovable people ever. I have shared this before, but it was George and Corine who put their “stamp of approval” on The Smooth Jazz Cruise for other performers. I remember leaving dinner with them on the ship after asking him if he would come back for the next year’s cruise. I felt a tug on my elbow. I turned around it was George. He wanted to know if my “offer” was official! Imagine that. I was nearly in tears.
How could someone that accomplished and that special be so humble and unassuming. I learned later that his question was being asked at the direction of Corine. She did love being on the ship!
In little more than a year after her death, George also died of cancer. The last time I saw him was on one of our cruises. He had lost a considerable amount of weight and his head was shaved. He told me, and others, that he was preparing to enter the dating world and that losing weight and a “clean” look was his new plan. I fell for it, as did most others. The truth was that he was going through chemotherapy. I have always felt like a fool not realizing his situation. I take solace in the fact that his deception served his purpose, gave him a great deal of dignity and helped him avoid painful goodbyes.
Margaret Jones, Annie to all of us, was the wife of Freddy Cole for 50 years. She loved The Jazz Cruise. I would like to say that it was the music, the ambience and the special camaraderie that drew her to the program, but it was more likely the slot machines! In later life, she used a wheelchair but we always made sure that she could join the cruise and have a great time. Her last sailing was in 2015. We knew that her health was worsening so extra steps were taken to ensure her comfort and enjoyment. Sadly, she died within weeks after the end of the cruise.
In my book, Freddy was never quite the same after Annie passed. Yes, his fame grew during that period, largely due to his new-found willingness to sing the tunes of his brother, Nat King Cole. Until then, Freddy’s attitude about following in his brother’s footsteps could be best noted by the title of one of his most successful albums, I Am Not My Brother!
But Annie was his support system, life coach and biggest fan. His always well-dressed style was inspired by Annie. She picked out the ties, laid out the clothes and checked him out head to toe before he hit the bandstand. I remember talking to him after her death. Just like his piano playing, Freddy did not say a lot of words, but the words he said had meaning. I asked him how he was doing. He looked up at me, paused, tried to smile and quietly said: “Only fair … I miss her.” I had not asked about Annie. Yet, to him, “how are you doing” was all about her.
Recently, Rhona Susan Person, wife of Houston Person, died. I had met her only once. Houston was performing at Herb Alpert’s club in California and, for some reason, I was driving Houston and Rhona to the gig. Remembering this event is easy as it is one of the very few times that I have driven a car outside of St. Louis. You see, I have very little ability to follow road directions, signs or now, even GPS. I overthink, overrule and overlook the instructions being provided. I am a minor menace driving at home, but rise to being a potential danger everywhere else.
Anyway, Rhona was delightful and I loved their interaction. Houston is the mayor of The Jazz Cruise and one of the most amazing musicians to mount a bandstand, yet that grumpy, curmudgeon that I have known for almost 20 years was putty in the hands of his wife. It was hilarious. Granted, my laughter at him is somewhat muted due to my own lack of backbone and willingness to fight with my own wife. Our house is not a democracy. It is ruled by Executive Order and, in this case, I am not the Executive.
My concern for Houston is that Rhona was his travel agent, accountant, secretary and assistant as well as a loving wife. Some of us are getting together to initiate an intervention to make sure, in opposite of the Apollo 13 admonition, that Houston does not have a problem.
The loss of a spouse is never easy, but in the jazz world, most of the time our musicians also lose a valuable partner, cohort, critic and career builder. They may not like hearing this, but most of our musicians, left to their own devices, without the kind and knowing hand of their spouse, would be roaming the globe somewhat aimlessly. They may be Gods of the Bandstand, but they are mere mortals everywhere else.
Our Take is written by Michael Lazaroff, Executive Director of The Jazz Cruise, The Smooth Jazz Cruise and Blue Note at Sea. Feel free to express your views or pose questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s not too late to enjoy the incredible music, comedy and conversation hosted by Marcus Miller and Alonzo Bodden during the 4 fantastic episodes of Saturday Night with Marcus Miller & Friends. All 4 studio concert events are now available On-Demand through November 23 ONLY!
Click here to check out each show, featuring the following special guests joining Marcus, Alonzo and the all-star Saturday Night Band at a world-class studio just last month in San Diego:
Episode 1: George Benson and Joey DeFrancesco
Episode 2: Gregory Porter and Patrice Rushen
Episode 3: Stars of The Smooth Jazz CruiseJonathan Butler, Keiko Matsui, Kirk Whalum and Peter White
Episode 4: The iconic funk rock band, WAR
Thousands of jazz fans from more than 50 countries around the world watched last month when the 90-minute Original Concert Streaming Series premiered over 4 consecutive weekends. When you purchase your ticket, you have access to your show On-Demand whenever, wherever and as often as you’d like to watch through November 23. Don’t miss these extraordinary concert events!
As you can tell, we can’t get enough George Benson. Not only was he spectacular on Saturday Night with Marcus Miller & Friends, we just downloaded his new live album — released yesterday (November 13)!
Back in November 2019 the legendary guitarist and singer did a run at the 250-seat Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London. The dynamic performance, which features George and his band doing several of his hits as well as other surprise choices like “Moody’s Mood” and “I Hear You Knockin’,” was recorded for his first live album in 30 years.
The album’s title Weekend in London is a tip of the hat to his 1978 smash album Weekend in LA, which was certified Platinum. Benson says that he’s proud of the improvisational aspect of the new album. “Basically, the whole show is improvised except the melody itself and the ensemble playing,” he explains. “We play the arrangements, to remind the audience what song they’re listening to, but then we can go crazy and do all the improvisation.”
Click here to stream, buy and enjoy a Weekend in London!
Don’t Miss the Final Show:
Kurt Elling’s 25th Anniversary Virtual Tour
Tune in tonight (November 14) for the final show of Kurt Elling’s 25th Anniversary Virtual Tour! Kurt’s special guest will be his fellow star on The Jazz Cruise ’22Dee Dee Bridgewater. With Allison Danielle Semmes, they will re-create “The Big Blind,” which is a jazz musical in the form of an old time radio drama written by Kurt and Phil Galdston.
The show livestreams to you from the iconic Green Mill Cocktail Lounge in Chicago at 3 and 8 p.m. Central Time and the show remains On-Demand for 72 hours as well.
The national and international spread of COVID-19 includes the Greater St. Louis Area, the home of Entertainment Cruise Productions. To help stop the spread and ensure the safety of our team, many of us will be working from home starting on Monday, November 16, 2020.
Phone calls will be received from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. CT as usual, but, since many will be taking the calls at home, the response time may be different than usual. You do not need to adjust the phone number when calling. Our system allows for the transfer of calls automatically to our individual stations, whether we are in the office or at home.
We will continue to respond to all email inquiries as promptly as possible. Below is a list of email addresses of folks that you may wish to contact. Otherwise, send your inquiries to email@example.com and we will forward your message to the appropriate person.
With the great news about vaccine advancements, we are hopeful that this entire situation will be very manageable soon. We do not sail for more than 420 days, so time should be in our favor. Please stay safe and continue listening to great jazz!