By Don Heckman
I’m still experiencing some of the stunned feelings I had last weekend when I received an email from Bobby Colomby telling me that Lew Soloff had died. And to say that I couldn’t believe it doesn’t at all describe my reaction.
Lewie died?! How could that be? This great trumpet player, irresistible humorist, incomparable character gone? But it was true. It is true. And music and the world will both be a little emptier than they were when Lewie was still with us.
Bobby knew Lew longer than I did. Bobby was the founder and the first drummer of Blood, Sweat & Tears. And Lewie was the band’s lead trumpet in their salad years from 1969 – 1973. During which time Bobby and the B,S&T players gathered a virtual book-sized collection of Lewie stories – all of which became told and retold memorabilia, and which will no doubt be with us forever (and probably gathered into what would be an immensely entertaining book).
“Possibly the most beloved person I’ve ever known,” wrote Bobby in another email he sent the day after we got the news,“and most beloved musician. I can only smile when I think of him. It’ll be a while before I’m able to process that he’s no longer with us”
I first met Lew in 1971 when I was co-producing Blood, Sweat & Tears 4 with Bobby and Roy Halee. At which time I, too, became one of the many members of his array of friends and admirers,. And over the following decades I gathered my own Lewie memories – musical, humorous and otherwise — along with my own collection of Lewie tales. At times, he was a little kid in a grown man’s body; at times he was an imaginative jazz trumpeter with the skills and the ideas to place him on the Olympia of jazz greats. But he was always lovable, always humorous, always warm and supportive of young players, and always a pleasure to hear.
Ordinarily, I would have written his obituary for the Los Angeles Times, but budget glitches at the paper intervened, and the obit was written by a staffer. I regret not having had the opportunity to write about some of the real Lewie story, reaching beyond the list of celebrity stars he backed.
Even so, the memories of Lew Soloff, himself, will always be with me, as they will with everyone –- musicians, fans and friends – who had the good fortune to spend time within his captivating, unforgettable aura.