Saturday, January 9, 2021

Bobby Few (1935 -2021)

Bobby Few. Photo by Wolfram Biermann-Zeitler.

By Martin Schray

Strikes of lightning at the very beginning. Drums, double bass and especially the piano start with a tremendous force. The descending chords are like a statement. It is music from a time when musicians wanted to change something with their art. The piano playing is forced and pronounced, wild and casual at the same time. The man responsible for this music is Bobby Few, the piece is the title track of his 1973 album More or Less Few. Now this great, underrated musician has passed away at the age of 85.

The powerful chords of the left hand were Bobby Few's trademark. They disciplined the frantic runs of the right. this was something which was hardly to be found in free jazz except with McCoy Tyner. With the right hand Few could accelerate, but the left used the tradition of stride piano to create an orchestral fullness and depth in the alternation of middle and low registers, which was reinforced by somber, yet uplifting arpeggios.

Few was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1935, where he began to study classical piano at the age of 7. He joined the Cleveland jazz scene and played with Bob Cunningham and Frank Wright (among others). In 1962 Few came to New York, where he met and began working with excellent musicians, including saxophonists Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Jackie McLean, Joe Henderson and especially his childhood friend Albert Ayler. Few played on some of his albums and also recorded with Alan Silva, Noah Howard, Muhammad Ali, Booker Ervin, and Kali Fasteau. In 1969 - like many jazz musicians - he went to France with the Frank Wright / Noah Howard Quartet and rapidly integrated the expatriate jazz community, working frequently with Archie Shepp, Sunny Murray and Steve Lacy. In the end, he found a new home in Paris and played extensively around Europe. Mainly his recordings with different groups led by Steve Lacy, whom he met in the early 1970s, are of an outstanding quality. From 2001, he often toured internationally with American saxophonist Avram Fefer, with whom he recorded four critically acclaimed CDs.

I fell in love with the music of Bobby Few rather late, actually it was his recordings with Polish saxophonist/clarinetist Wacław Zimpel that won me over. In the following years I discovered a lot of his body of work. Indeed, he released very recommendable albums. Of course there are Music Is The Healing Force of the Universe (Impulse, 1970), the famous Ayler album, and Church Number Nine (Calumet, 1973), the bass-less Frank Wright Quartet recording. More Or Less Few (Center of the World, 1973), a trio album with Alan Silva (bass) and Muhammad Ali (drums), is always worth listening to, as well as the first album by the quartet Center of the World (1972), a band with the above-mentioned trio plus Frank Wright on saxophone. His collaboration with Steve Lacy produced outstanding albums such as The Condor (Soul Note, 1986). Personal favourites of mine are still his two albums with Undivided on the Multikulti label, The Passion (2010) and Moves Between Clouds/Live at Warsaw (2011) with Wacław Zimpel, Mark Tokar (bass) and Klaus Kugel (drums), the latter featuring Perry Robinson (clarinet).

Those who knew him said that Bobby Few was a “kind and gentle man, who was open to all of the music“ (Patricia Nicholson Parker). Bobby Few died in Paris, January, 7th. He will certainly be missed.

Watch Bobby Few and Henry Grimes play at Gallery Zürcher in Paris in 2013:

3 comments:

  1. I saw him with Avram Fefer the last time he played in Cleveland (he'd appeared with Lacy's groups at least twice before that) and although his playing was still quite good it was obviously more or less a farewell tour. Lots of people from the old clubs were in attendance. RIP.

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  2. Many thanks Martin for your immediate post.

    Truly Bobby Few was a remarkable soft-spoken and sweet human being.
    And a phantastic free piano architect.
    His contribution to one of the premium free jazz groups, the Frank Wright Unit
    as the Steve Lacy bands, were wonderful and unique.

    Big loss indeed.

    RIP Maestro Few

    Jochen

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  3. Only 2 comments on this great artist ...... maybe we need a farewell to the music
    we call Free Jazz .....

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