I was blessed to partake in an exciting opportunity over New Year’s Eve in 2015 that has ended up becoming a rather bittersweet memory. I was asked to join pioneering guitarist Larry Coryell for a performance in Naples. The horn section was filled out by fellow Orlando resident Danny Jordan, and the rest of the band was comprised of Larry’s sons Julian and Maurali as well as some other internationally renowned jazz artists. The bassist was Ralphe Armstrong, who among many other impressive credits was a member of John McLaughlins Mahavishnu Orchestra. Larry’s long-time collaborator and inaugural Weather Report member Alphonse Mouzon was on drums.
I was subbing for Randy Brecker, which is a baffling thought first of all. I joked that I was subbing for a man who once was part of a judges panel that placed me third of three jazz trumpet contestants! This is a true statement. Despite the disparity in stature between myself and Mr. Brecker, Larry practically treated me as a peer throughout the experience, and was often quite complimentary, particularly regarding my reading and ability to learn material by rote rather quickly. Getting a nod of approval from an older giant like Larry was an affirming experience that is a source of confidence even now.
I was on something of a "music high" for a time following our performance. I knew I had come into close contact with "giants" from a golden age. The reality of our generational gap came suddenly when news of Alphonse' passing made the rounds, just shy of a year after our meeting. That was truly a shock. The news of elder jazz musicians passing has practically become a weekly ritual, but this was the first time the deceased was someone I had shared the bandstand with in a professional setting. He had seemed so vibrant a year prior, and a titan of a personality, not to mention powerful on the drum set.
It was only two months later, in February of 2017 that Larry Coryell himself passed. I had seen Larry just a few months earlier at a benefit being held for him at the Blue Bamboo Center for the Arts in Orlando. Larry had just recovered from complications due to a surgical "mishap" that had almost taken his life earlier that year. Larry played at the end of the show, a gorgeous solo performance. I remember that when we spoke afterwards he seemed legitimately bummed that he didn't know I was going to be there, and missed the opportunity for us to play together again. I felt certain we'd get a chance to play together again.
In just over two years I had the opportunity to play with two musicians with stature beyond most others I had performed with in my career, only to see them leave this world suddenly. I'm grateful to have been in their "sphere" if only briefly. I like to believe that I've learned to greater cherish those who've given so much for so long to this music. Thank you Larry and Alphonse!