Friday, April 23, 2010

Gene Lees, 1928-2010

Word came today via Doug Ramsey that Gene Lees – former DownBeat editor, prolific liner note writer and biographer, and talented lyricist – has died.

A fellow Canadian, Lees was a good role model for bringing an 'outsider' viewpoint to chronicling America's native music. Along with songwriter Robbie Robertson, Lees showed that the invisible line only a few miles to the south of us did make a difference about how we viewed issues of race, class and culture.

I never met Lees, but we did speak on the phone – pre-Web days – a few times, and he was always quite helpful about providing insights into musicians he knew well. In particular, he provided a very welcome introduction to his lifelong friend Kenny Wheeler, for an interview that turned out to be my first feature in DownBeat in the mid-1990s. I thought that was a nice 'hand off'.

A few years later, I got the opportunity to write Lees' formal biographical entry in The Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Was the man ever prolific or what?

I spent some great moments with Gene and John Reeves in the early nineties. It was Gene who introduced Bill Evans to the world through his short stint at Downbeat Magazine. I remember him saying to me " Bill, at one time there were 500 big name jazz stars in play what will happen when they all pass. Will there be any with the same charisma and star power to sustain interest in the idiom.

Gene was incredibly opinionated but with serious history and passion to back up his observations. When Gene spoke you listened!