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Bill Lee, Bassist and Composer of Son Spike Lee’s Films, Dies at 94


Bill Lee, a jazz bassist and composer who scored the early movies of his son Spike Lee, wrote folk-jazz operas, led an acclaimed ensemble of bassists and was a prolific sideman for Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin and others, died on Wednesday morning at his house in Brooklyn. He was 94.

Spike Lee confirmed the demise.

Over six many years, in 1000’s of dwell performances and on greater than 250 file albums, Mr. Lee’s mellow and ebullient string bass accompanied a pantheon of music stars, together with as properly Duke Ellington, Arlo Guthrie, Odetta, Simon and Garfunkel, Harry Belafonte, Ian & Sylvia, Judy Collins, Tom Paxton and Peter, Paul and Mary.

Mr. Lee wrote the soundtracks for Spike Lee’s first 4 characteristic movies, a musical problem that referred to as for capturing the independence of a romantic Black lady in “She’s Gotta Have It” (1986), a satirical take a look at life at a Black faculty in “School Daze” (1988), racial violence in “Do the Right Thing” (1989) and the poignant hardships of a Black jazz musician in “Mo’ Better Blues” (1990).

Bill Lee had small components in all however “Do the Right Thing,” and Spike Lee’s sister, Joie, had roles in all 4. Bill Lee additionally scored an early Spike Lee brief, “Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads,” the primary scholar movie to be showcased at Lincoln Center’s New Directors/New Films Festival, in 1983.

The characteristic movies gained largely optimistic opinions and reaped sizable income. Bill and Spike Lee had a falling-out within the early Nineties, over household issues, cash and different points, that ended their collaboration. Later Spike Lee movies — he has directed greater than 30, showing in a lot of them himself — have been scored by the trumpeter Terence Blanchard.

Born into an Alabama household of musicians and educators who instilled a ardour for music in him and his siblings, Bill Lee discovered drums, piano and flute early on. He attended segregated small-town public colleges and studied music at traditionally Black Morehouse College in Atlanta.

Inspired in his early 20s by listening to the good jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, Mr. Lee mastered the double bass, the biggest and lowest-pitched stringed instrument, and carried out with small jazz teams in Atlanta and Chicago earlier than migrating to New York City in 1959.

Over the subsequent decade, Mr. Lee, who favored a battered straw hat and infrequently recited his personal poetry between numbers, carried out typically in piano-bass duos and piano-bass-drums trios in smoky golf equipment that served soul meals with jazz, many on the western fringe of Greenwich Village, squeezed amongst meatpacking homes and trucking depots on Manhattan’s Hudson River shoreline.

He recorded extensively on Strata-East Records, a musician-owned label, and based and directed the New York Bass Violin Choir, a troupe of seven basses, typically accompanied by piano or saxophone. Critics lauded the ensemble for weaving an agile concord of pastel and harsh moods in performing Mr. Lee’s folks operas at Town Hall, Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center and the Newport Jazz Festival.

His quite a few operas, together with “One Mile East,” “The Depot” and “Baby Sweets,” have been based mostly on individuals and occasions from his adolescence within the South. They typically drew on the singing abilities of Mr. Lee and his two sisters, Consuela Lee Moorehead, a jazz pianist and music instructor at Hampton University in Virginia, and Grace Lee Mims, a librarian, whose voices lent grandiloquent shade to the tales.

In a evaluate of a efficiency by the Violin Choir on the Newport Jazz Festival in 1971, John S. Wilson of The New York Times wrote: “Mr. Lee served as bassist, singer and narrator of his sketches of small-town life in Snow Hill, Ala., constructing each his tales and his music from a wealthy vein of people sources. His group of bassists, bending over their unwieldy devices, produced ensemble passages that have been by turns gorgeously heat and singing or so surprisingly mild and ethereal that one suspected a few flutes could be hiding amongst them.”

In the Seventies, when the electrical bass grew to become an instrument of alternative in lots of jazz ensembles as a result of its thumping tones suited the business sounds of jazz-rock fusion, Mr. Lee, an acoustic bass purist, refused to go alongside and misplaced work consequently. “Some belongings you simply can’t dwell with,” he instructed The Boston Globe in 1992. “Just fascinated about doing it, my intestine response hit me so laborious within the abdomen. I knew I may by no means dwell with myself.”

Spike Lee explored the issue of commercialism, with its racial implications, in “Mo’ Better Blues,” which starred Denzel Washington as a jazz trumpeter who fights exploitation by white membership house owners.

“Musicians are low-priced slaves, whereas athletes and entertainers are high-priced slaves,” Spike Lee instructed The Times when the movie opened. “It’s their music, but it surely’s not their nightclub, it’s not their file firm. They have an understanding solely of the music, not of the enterprise, in order that they get handled any outdated method.”

Despite different variations, Bill and Spike Lee agreed about integrity. “Everything I learn about jazz I obtained from my father,” Spike Lee instructed The Times in 1990. “I noticed his integrity, how he was not going to play simply any sort of music, irrespective of how a lot cash he may make.”

William James Edwards Lee was born in Snow Hill on July 23, 1928, to Arnold Lee, a cornet participant and band director at Florida A&M University, and Alberta Grace (Edwards) Lee, a classical live performance pianist and instructor. In addition to his sisters Consuela and Grace, he had 4 different siblings, Clifton, Arnold Jr., Leonard and Clarence.

Their maternal grandfather, William J. Edwards, a graduate of Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute, based a log-cabin arts faculty for Black college students in Snow Hill in 1893. By 1918, the Snow Hill Normal and Industrial Institute had 24 buildings and 300 to 400 college students pursuing educational topics and vocational coaching. Mr. Edwards died a couple of years later, however the institute survived as a segregated public faculty till 1973, when it closed. Bill Lee graduated from there within the mid-Nineteen Forties.

Mr. Lee and his first spouse, Jacquelyn (Shelton) Lee, an artwork instructor, had 5 kids: Shelton (Spike), Christopher, David, Joie and Cinque. After Jacquelyn’s demise in 1976, Mr. Lee married Susan Kaplan. They had one son, Arnold. Christopher died in 2013. Mr. Lee’s sister Consuela died at 83 in 2009.

In addition to Spike Lee, he’s survived by his spouse; his sons David, Cinque and Arnold; his daughter, Joie; a brother, A. Clifton Lee; and two grandchildren.

After arriving in New York, Mr. Lee settled in Fort Greene, a Brooklyn neighborhood that grew to become a magnet for Black musicians and different inventive artists who took delight of their life and their artwork. The neighborhood was the setting for “She’s Gotta Have It.”

The Lee family, overlooking Fort Greene Park, all however banished tv however was awash in music, typically with jam classes that went late into the evening, prompting noise complaints from neighbors however spawning jazz artists who discovered their sounds within the coronary heart of Brooklyn.

During a 2008 interview with The Times at his house, Mr. Lee performed piano and double bass. “His music has the complicated harmonies of bebop and laborious bop, but it surely additionally has a honest, down-home, churchy really feel,” the reporter Corey Kilgannon wrote. “His passages transfer in attention-grabbing and sudden locations, however they resolve earlier than lengthy in a method that’s easy and honest, earthy and one way or the other very satisfying.”

Content Source: www.nytimes.com


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