Today is Thanksgiving. In the spirit of Abram I woke up at the crack of dawn (he was an exceptionally early riser, much to my horror) and thought about all the things for which I’m thankful. Abram and I had planned to be in the States this week, I was finally going to meet his family and we were going to have a very rare vacation together. As it turned out there was a different plan and I suppose it would be very easy for me to not feel thankful at all. It’s true that everything I thought was going to happen has been completely turned on its head; life could not be more different if it tried. And yet, amidst the pain and the sadness there is a lot of joy and beauty as I continue to marvel at the life Abram has left me.
An example of this is the truly inspiring time I had during the London Jazz Festival. Pia and I kicked off the week by going to see the legendary Terence Blanchard. Another trumpeter and composer from New Orleans, he was part of the Branford Marsalis Quartet for the 1990 Spike Lee film, Mo' Better Blues. It was one of Abram’s favourite movies, so much so that growing up his nickname was Bleek - the talented jazz trumpeter played by Denzel Washington. It was a great way to start the Festival and true to his New Orleans roots, Mr Blanchard was warm, charming and funny. It was mine and Pia’s last opportunity to catch up before she headed off into the world for three months, mentoring an up and coming director in Australia, visiting Singapore and Malaysia and opening an opera with the Scottish National Opera in January.
Later in the week I took Reuben James and Alex Davis (Abram’s bandmates) to see the Marcus Roberts Trio. Marcus is a truly exceptional jazz pianist. Affectionately dubbed ‘The J Master’ by Wynton Marsalis his knowledge and understanding of the music is second to none. He was joined by his regular band members, our good friend Jason Marsalis on drums and Rodney ‘Swing’ Jordan on double bass. It was a wonderful and moving evening for many reasons, not least because they were performing at Kings Place in exactly the same concert hall where Abram played with his quartet last December, with Jason Marsalis joining the band as a special guest. It felt strange sitting in the audience with Alex and Reuben, watching Jason without Abram at our side. Moreover, in March this year Marcus Roberts was performing at Ronnie Scott’s and invited Abram on stage in the second half. Marcus was one of Abram’s heroes and he was deeply honoured to have the opportunity to play with him. Seeing the Trio play together again was difficult and uplifting all at the same time. Afterwards I had a chance to talk with Marcus and his lovely manager of 20 years, Lyn Moore. We agreed I’d come earlier before their last gig on Saturday so I could explain a bit more about the Philippa Project and what Pia and I were looking for in terms of help and advice.
Saturday came along very quickly and I was still buzzing from seeing the incredible Sonny Rollins at the Barbican Centre the night before. It really was like watching God play jazz! The 82 year old maestro performed for two straight hours, demonstrating an energy and enthusiasm that most people half his age could only dream of. On Saturday, Reuben and I met Marcus and the band after their afternoon gig and joined them for some food, which was a privilege in itself. They were kind and generous and Marcus gave me his full attention whilst I told him about the Philippa Project and the type of composer we were looking for. We chatted for a good hour before they had to be whisked off to their final Kings Place gig, which I attended with Reuben, Dave Hamblett (Abram’s drummer), my very good friend Tara and one of Abram’s students Frank Heather. It was another amazing performance, this time with the Guildhall School of Music and Drama Big Band. At one point Marcus gave us a piano solo which I think I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
After the gig we headed backstage where I was able to talk to Marcus a bit more about his ideas for possible composers. We also spoke about Abram and how much Marcus had wanted him to be part of his London Jazz Festival residency. Abram’s replacement was a young and gifted trumpeter called Etienne Charles, his performance was a credit to my husband and I very much enjoyed meeting him. In the end Marcus, Jason, Rodney and Lyn joined us for drinks at their hotel. It turned out to be an unforgettable night where we drank, laughed and talked till 2am. Whilst there we were briefly visited by some other jazz greats having just finished a gig at the Barbican – drummer Brian Blade, bassist Christian McBride and 16-time Grammy winner, pianist Chick Corea. They were preparing to leave for Paris but such is the love and respect they all have for Marcus they couldn’t not take some time to say hello.
At some point during the evening Rodney turned to me and said “you know you’ve joined a big family, don’t you?”. And he’s right. The warmth of spirit that was present that night was very comforting because it reminded me so much of Abram; we were surrounded by genuine, talented, beautiful and inspiring people. I thought about Abram and how much he would have enjoyed being there, he would have joked, reminisced and asked a thousand questions. Meeting Abram, loving him and working with him was a gift that will stay with me forever. It has opened the door into a life that I didn’t even know existed, allowing me to appreciate the music of jazz and the company of some extraordinary people.
Today is Thanksgiving. And I am thankful for all that Abram gave me and continues to give me. I’m thankful for Team J-Bram, for Reuben, Alex and Dave, for Pia, for Abram’s family and for my family. I’m thankful for all the musicians, from the ones just starting out to the ones who’ve been playing for decades, who had the chance to meet Abram and appreciate his music and vision. I’m thankful for the new trustees of the Abram Wilson Foundation and for those friends who remained close to Abram and were there when he needed them. And of course, I’m thankful for you and all the support you’ve shown me over the last few months. It’s been tough, but there is much to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving.