Jazz bassist and composer Bill Lee dies at 94

Bill Lee is a jazz bassist and composer who scored early films for his son Spike Lee, wrote folk jazz operas and led an acclaimed bassist ensemble , and prolific sideman to Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin and others, died Wednesday morning at his home in Brooklyn. He is 94 years old.

Spike Lee confirmed his death.

In thousands of live performances and more than 250 recordings for six years, Mr. Lee’s mellow and impassioned string bass has accompanied music stars including Duke Ellington, Allo Guthrie, Odetta, Simon with Garfunkel, Harry Belafonte, Ian and Sylvia, Judy Collins, Tom Paxton and Peter, Paul and Mary.

Mr. Lee composed the scores for Spike Lee’s first four feature films, a musical challenge to capture the independence of a romantic black woman in “She’s Gotta Have It” (1986), ironically looking at ” School Daze” (1988), racial violence in “Do the Right Thing” (1989) and the poignancy of a black jazz musician in “Mo’ Better Blues” (1990).

Bill Lee has small roles in all but Do the Right Thing, while Spike Lee’s sister Joy has roles in all four.Bill Lee also scored Spike Lee’s early short “Joe’s Bed – Study Barbershop: We Cut Our Heads”, the first student film display At the New Directors/New Films Festival at Lincoln Center in 1983.

These feature films earned largely positive reviews and raked in solid profits. Bill and Spike Lee ended their collaboration in the early 1990s after falling out over family matters, money and other issues. Spike Lee’s later films—he directed more than 30, many of which he starred in—were scored by trumpeter Terrence Blanchard.

Born in Alabama to a family of musicians and educators who instilled a passion for music in him and his siblings, Bill Lee learned drums, piano, and flute early on. He attended segregated small-town public schools and studied music at the historic Blackmorehouse Academy in Atlanta.

In his early 20s, inspired by the great jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, Lee mastered the double bass, the largest and lowest of the stringed instruments, and practiced with Atlanta and Chicago musicians before moving to New York in 1959. A small jazz band performs together.

Over the next decade, Mr. Lee, who liked to wear battered straw hats and often recited his poetry between numbers, would often perform as piano-bass duets and piano-bass-drum trios in smoky clubs that Serving jazzy soul food, many are on the western edge of Greenwich Village, squeezed between meatpacking plants and truck depots along Manhattan’s Hudson River.

He recorded extensively on the musician’s Strata-East Records label and founded and directed the New York Double Bass Ensemble, a troupe of seven bassists, sometimes accompanied by piano or saxophone. Critics praised the ensemble’s performances of Mr. Lee’s folk operas at City Hall, Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall and the Newport Jazz Festival, for its masterful blend of soft and piercing moods.

Many of his operas, including “A Mile East,” “The Warehouse,” and “Baby Candy,” were based on characters and events from his early life in the South. They sometimes draw upon the singing talents of Mr. Lee and his two older sisters, Consuela Lee Moorehead and librarian Grace Lee Moorehead, the former of Virginia A jazz pianist and music teacher at Hampton University, whose voice adds bombastic color to the story.

In reviewing the violin choir’s performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1971, John S. Wilson of The New York Times wrote: “Mr. Sketches of Small Town Life in Snow Hill, Alabama , Lee acts as bassist, vocalist, and narrator, constructing his stories and music from rich folk sources. His team of bassists, bending over their bulky instruments, craft ensemble passages that are at times ornate And warm, sometimes singing, sometimes light and brisk, one suspects that there may be a few flutes hidden in it.”

In the 1970s, when the electric bass became the instrument of choice for many jazz ensembles because its thumping tone suited the commercial sound of jazz-rock fusion, acoustic bass purist Mr. Lee rejected it and lost his job as a result.” There are some things you just can’t live with,” he told The Boston Globe in 1992. I know I will never be able to live with myself. “

Spike Lee explores issues of commercialism and its racial impact, at “Mo’ Better Blues” Denzel Washington stars as a jazz trumpeter who fights exploitation by white club owners.

“Musicians are low-priced slaves, and athletes and entertainers are high-priced slaves,” Spike Lee told TIME at the time of the film’s release. “It’s their music, but it’s not their nightclub, it’s not their record label. They only understand music, not business, so they’re being treated very stereotypically.”

Despite other differences, Bill and Spike Lee agree on integrity. “I learned everything I know about jazz from my father,” Spike Lee told The Times in 1990. A kind of music.”

William James Edwards Lee was born in Snow Hill on July 23, 1928, to Arnold Lee, cornet player and bandleader at Florida A&M University, and classical music Pianist and teacher Alberta Grace (Edwards) Lee. In addition to his sisters Consuela and Grace, he has four other siblings, Clifton, Arnold Jr., Leonard and Clarence.

Their maternal grandfather, William J. Edwards, a graduate of Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute, was educated in Snow Hill in 1893. Hill founded a log cabin art school for black students. By 1918, Snow Hill Normal and Industrial Institute had 24 buildings and 300 schools to 400 students pursuing academic subjects and vocational training. Mr Edwards died a few years later, but the Institute survived as a segregated public school until its closure in 1973. Bill Lee graduated there in the mid-1940s.

Mr. Lee and his first wife, Jacquelyn (Shelton) Lee, an art teacher, had five children: Shelton (Spike), Christopher, David, Joie, and Cinque. After Jacqueline’s death in 1976, Mr. Lee married Susan Kaplan. They have one son, Arnold. Christopher passed away in 2013. Mr. Lee’s sister Consuela died 83 years old in 2009.

In addition to Spike Lee, his survivors include his wife; his sons David, Zink and Arnold; his daughter Joey; and two grandchildren.

After arriving in New York, Lee settled in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn, attracting black musicians and other creative artists who took pride in their lifestyle and art. The neighborhood is a “she’s gotta have it” scene.

The Lee home, which overlooks Fort Greene Park, has few televisions but is brimming with music and often late-night impromptu performances, drawing noise complaints from neighbors but spawning jazz artists who have found their voice in downtown Brooklyn.

During an interview with The Times from his home in 2008, Mr. Li played the piano and double bass. “His music has complex harmonies of bebop and hard bop, but also has an earnest, earthy, church-like feel,” wrote journalist Corey Kilgannon. “His passages move in interesting and unexpected places, but they quickly work out in a simple, sincere, unpretentious way that is somehow very satisfying.”

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