Brooklyn Sends Jazz Great Bob Cunningham Off in Style


I remember going to a jazz set in Brooklyn about thirty years ago. I was invited by my buddy activist/Jazz singer Torrie McCartney. She had invited me to the set after praising Bob Cunningham and his trio, which was performing with her that evening.

Torrie was so excited to work with Cunningham and made it mandatory to see them work the room. At first, I thought she was going overboard praising the depth and range over this artist who just plays the music with a bass; as if a bass could dominate! No, not I – I was into the Sax and crooners.

I had no idea that my philosophical and spiritual attitude was about to go through metaphoric transformation, one that would change my narrow-minded world view forever.  After listening and experiencing the Bob Cunningham magic, it was at that point that I saw, first hand, how one could translate the math into music. This is when my new evolving began.

Like Torrie, I also became a disciple of Bass magic and it Brooklyn’s ambassador Bob Cunningham.  Well, thirty years on, April 1, 2017, I got a phone call from my dear friend Michael Howard.  Michael had married Torrie.  He shared with me that Bob had joined the ancestors, and was now with his wife.

During my conversation with Michael, he reminded me of Bob’s wit when he described the bass to life comparison, and the numerous number of gigs he did in any given day. Michael offered a reflection on Bob’s bass.  “The car had to fit the bass or the car wasn’t bought.  While loading the car one night, I could almost hear him say, ‘How’s that fit or you alright!’

At first, I was stunned, even though I had known from friends who would call me in Chicago to let me know that Bob had lost the ability to play and was not in good health. I guess I just didn’t want to think about it; I wanted to see Bob in his greatness speaking God’s glory through the strings of the Bass.

However, I had to come into the reality to acknowledge much too often, lately, that life for us is finite, and that have to take the good with the bad. So, as I prepared to make my visit back to the big Apple, I knew I would have to force to deal with seeing Bob off.

On April 22nd, the time came, and I sit in a crowded Emmanuel Baptist Church in Brooklyn to see what I thought was going to be a traditional sendoff. What I was about to witness was far from traditional, hardly a regular sendoff. My spirit was raised. My enthusiasm was enhanced as the power to transcend life’s meaning took the front and center stage.

Not only did I see friends and musicians too whom I had not seen in two decades, but I was able to watch their testimony through the median of Harmony, Classical Music [Jazz], and the spoken word elevating the moment into the melding of the spirit against the flesh. It was telling of the life of a man who made us love, live, cry.

It was impressive, just simply striking to watch as heavens opened up and received my man Bob in the same manner that we saw Jesus’ riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, the moment when we saw a star rise and the simple telling of a man’s journey teaches us lessons that keep on giving.

I couldn’t even cry; I just smiled, taking in the moment; knowing that my friend was being sent off in the style befitting a king to which his life personified.

So Long Bob and by the way, tell Torrie hello from me.



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