The past year saw the dimming of some of the brighter stars in the jazz firmament. In February, violin shaman Leroy Jenkins died. He was an early stalwart of Chicago's legendary Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and brought wit and elegance to countless recordings and performances. Historian and raconteur Dick Allen departed in April. A cherished figure on the New Orleans jazz scene, he spent half a century compiling an archive of oral histories of the music. Max Roach's long battle with alzheimer's ended in August, adding a final minor chord to his brilliant symphony of lifetime. And last month, ace record producer Joel Dorn (left) split the scene, suddenly, leaving an enduring legacy and a towering heap of vital sides by Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Yusef Lateef, Jimmy Scott and a bevy of other swinging geniuses, their records all midwived to perfection by a cat as cool as a happy dog's nose.
The last day of 2007 also saw the passing of an woman who's generous and dogged contributions to jazz were known by few, and she deserves to be acknowledged and celebrated. Larayne Black, 82, was a longtime resident of Chicago's South Side, where her spiritually inclined pursuit of creative expression led to an appreciation of modern dance, the study of Chinese language and art and an abiding love for jazz. In the early 1960s she began attending performances by a cadre of free-spirited and progressive musicians, who would eventually disengage from the exploitive machinations of the music biz and form the self-help collective AACM. Along with her husband, John, Larayne (right, with musician and past AACM president Douglas Ewart) was instrumental in helping establish the legal founding of the group and was a devoted supporter of the musicians, to many of whom she became a beloved compatriot. All the while raising her own four kids, Larayne became a sort of unofficial den mother to the fledgling AACM. She brought recordings to radio DJs and got them airplay, she helped get bookings at performance spaces and she helped get the musicians to those spaces, sometimes driving them and their instruments to the shows and then back home again. But most of all, Larayne was a wellspring of positivity and inspiration. Always encouraging, always exuberant.
Now in its fifth decade, the AACM continues to thrive, as do many of those free spirits from the sixties — titans like Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill, Amina Claudine Myers, George Lewis and so many others. (Now a professor at Columbia University, Lewis is the author of the forthcoming history of the AACM A Power Stronger Than Itself.) Meanwhile, a younger generation of AACMers are making a name for themselves and Larayne continued to follow and support their progress. Just recently, she was sharing her enthusiasm for the lastest recording by current AACM co-president Nicole Mitchell. Prophetically, that album is titled Black Unstoppable.
Larayne also had a deep and enduring reverence for Buddhist practice and philosophy and shared this enlightenment with many of her AACM friends. A memorial service for Larayne will be held on February 23 at the Buddhist Temple of Chicago. Death notices appearing in the Chicago papers this week ask that in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Buddist Temple or to the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians.