Natalie Cole, 65

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Natalie, Nat and Carole Cole

SOME POIGNANT New Years Day news.  Like many, I woke to hear of the passing of Natalie Cole.

For me it was a layered loss. I’d done some work for Carole Cole for a box set of her father’s work that came out about a decade ago. I’d felt lucky that I had been trusted write liner notes that would look at not just  her father’s musical arc but the family’s history in Los Angeles.  Like so many I grew up with stacks of Nat Cole records leaning against the hi-fi. On top of that, simply put, the Coles were L.A. royalty.

It fell to Carole in later years to keep watch over the estate and the music rights and through it was in consult with Natalie. Together they protected that story, the legacy. Every anecdote, every date, every memory was checked and double-checked. Legacy was as important to them as was his burnished voice.

Looking at the photo above, it’s impossible to wrap my brain around the fact that they are all gone. What’s hit me more than anything is that the season started officially — as always for me – on Christmas Eve when I first heard Nat Cole’s “The Christmas Song.” And the season ended upon hearing the news of Natalie’s New Years Eve passing.

Some sad  magic symmetry.

 

Ornette Coleman, 85

ornette

Though his early work— a kind of personal answer to his fellow alto saxophonist and innovator Charlie Parker— lay right within jazz — and generated a handful of standards among jazz musicians of the last half-century — he later challenged assumptions about jazz from top to bottom, bringing in his own ideas about instrumentation, process and technical expertise.

— Ben Ratliff via The New York Times

He was always free. Now fly high. Farewell, Ornette.

David Carr, 58

“Shakespeare describes memory as the warden of the brain, but it is also its courtesan. We all remember the parts of the past that allow us to meet the future. The prototypes of the lie — white, grievous, practical–make themselves known when memory is called to answer. Memory usually answers back with bullshit. Everyone likes a good story, especially the one who is telling it, and the historical facts are generally sullied in the process. All men mean well, and clearly most people who set out to tell the truth do not lie on purpose. How is it, then, that every warm bar stool contains a hero, a star of his own epic, who is the sum of his amazing stories?”

— David Carr
from “The Night of the Gun”

Woke up and it was still true…Heartbreaking.
NYT obit here.

Phil Stern, 95

Phil Stern via Phil Stern Archives

Phil Stern via Phil Stern Archives

WHEN I think back, there have been so many conversations with so many vivid subjects over the last couple of decades, but I will always have a special place in my memory for my talks with photographer Phil Stern.

Stern, who died last Saturday evening,  had been shooting since the 1930s and had been pretty much any and everywhere you could imagine.  And though many might think of his specialty as rarefied worlds of Hollywood and Jazz — he could and would settle into anything with a singular POV and sense of authority. His war photography and quiet interludes and candid moments of everyday life had equal power and resonance.

Edith Irby Jones standing alone in the hallway of the University of Arkansas Medical School

I was honored to be able to sit and listen to his globetrotting stories and even more so, to be able to be one of the people to tell a little bit of it.  For some years afterward he remained in touch via letters, emails and the occasional phone call in which he always greeted me as “George.”

Here is a snip from my 2003 story during an all-day visit to his home in Hollywood:

Stern winds through his sunny living room-cum-studio. Aside from the cutouts, there’s not one photo framed on the wall. There are piles of Stern’s old LP covers stacked in boxes, some prints in matte-boards piled on a side table. Above the kitchen’s breakfast nook, a black-and-white collage of celebrity mugs spells out “Name Dropper”; a tiny cutout of Frank Sinatra, arms outstretched, pasted on a wooden crucifix, crowns the refrigerator: “That,” he says, with a dismissive wave of the hand, “was Frank’s idea.”

He wasn’t just everywhere, he allowed us to ride alongside, to be everywhere as well.

My thoughts and heart are with his family.

The rest of my feature is here.

And of course some of my all-time favorite Phil Stern images:

Stan Getz and Dizzy Gillespie — photo by Phil Stern

Stan Getz – photo by Phil Stern