Eulogy for Leroy Vinnegar
Above: Leroy and Mel Brown
There was Jimmy Blanton. There was Paul Chambers. There was Jimmy Garrison. And there was Leroy Vinnegar.
He occupies a very special place in the jazz world; his 'walking' style, full of subtle turns and rhythmic skips, had a solidity and assertiveness that was uniquely his own.
We made three albums together (Encounters I and II, and Boss of the Walking Bass on the Jazz Focus label), and they're CDs that I listen to with great frequency, mainly because they swing so hard , and because his lines snake around and through my improvisations in such a fascinating and unpredictable fashion. We had the world's finest drummer, Mel Brown; together, we formed a gestalt that swung like mad.
Above: Jessica and Leroy
Leroy valued simplicity and groove. You never heard any superfluous adornments or decorations in his playing.
He was an essentialist. And this quality permeates the work of all great artists and musicians; a profound underlying focus, a purity of purpose that never seems studied or insincere.It's there in Miles and Trane and Monk. It was all through Leroy's music.
As a man and a spirit, he shines as an example of integrity, courage, and dedication. He was reserved in his praise of others; and when he gave clear approval of your work, it really meant something!
His valuation of his own work was equally stringent: his critical assessments always included himself as their foremost recipient.
Leroy had deep convictions concerning freedom and civil liberties. He gave his respect to those who earned it, and always had a kind word and a smile for you if he felt you were doing your job in life. Life really is about doing our jobs. Not just our work but our journey.
We can make the journey kicking and complaining and gnashing our teeth; or, like Leroy Vinnegar, we can realize that life is the supreme gift. With the gift comes huge responsibility, and a vast array of possibilities. The achievement of a 'life well-lived' leaves us all richer and fuller.
When I heard that Leroy had 'graduated' I was sad. Sad for myself, sad for us. For Leroy himself, I just felt love. And a great sense of satisfaction at having been his friend, at having played so often with him, at having seen his wonderful smile, of being hugged by him and respected by him.
I will always feel that deep love for him.
Leroy 'walked the walk'. He is alive within each of us that knew and loved him.
That kind of immortality is rare, and precious.
The Leroy Vinnegar Room
At the McMenamins Grand Hotel in Portland, OR: my friend Suzanne stayed in the Leroy Vinnegar room with Jessica Williams quotes all over the walls! I had no idea there was such a room.
The narrative was from my Eulogy for him.
Leroy Vinnegar was a great man.