Ed. Note: The inevitability of the life cycle means that obituaries will always be a regular part of news coverage, but the year 2009—not yet in its ninth week—has brought an unusual amount of sad news to the music community. We’ve lost jazz great Louis Bellson (July 26, 1924 – February 14, 2009), who in his multiple roles as composer, arranger, and bandleader, not to mention as a tremendous percussion sideman, helped define swing. Joe Cuba (December 31, 1931 – February 15, 2009), the Spanish Harlem-based composer, arranger and bandleader whose boogaloos introduced a whole new rhythmic vocabulary into Latin music. New Orleans bluesman Snooks Eaglin (January 21, 1936 – February 18, 2009) promulgated a completely idiosyncratic and inimitable take on the traditional 12-bar blues. Percussionist and sound artist Max Neuhaus (August 9, 1939 – February 3, 2009) created a sound installation underneath a traffic island near Times Square which could arguably be described as the most widely heard piece of contemporary music. Conductor John McGlinn (September 18, 1953 – February 14, 2009) introduced a new generation of listeners to the original scorings and presentations of such classic Broadway musicals as Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s Show Boat and Cole Porter’s Anything Goes, making a statement about the importance of these seminal works that parallels what the period instrument movement did for Baroque composers. Plus saxophonist Gerry Niewood (April 6, 1943 – February 12, 2009) and guitarist Coleman Mellett (May 27, 1974 – February 12, 2009)—sidemen for Frank Sinatra and Chuck Mangione, as well as composers and bandleaders in their own right—lost their lives in the tragic crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 near Buffalo last month.
Add to that the deaths of two major American composers which we’ve already noted—George Perle (May 6, 1915 – January 23, 2009) and Lukas Foss (August 15, 1922 – February 1, 2009)—who, in addition to their own contributions to music, were an inspiration to several generations of composers in their role as composition teachers. Steven Rosenhaus (who studied with Perle) and Christian Carey (who studied with Foss) offer their personal reflections on their mentors.