Last week’s mega-jam session, tribute and fundraiser for the late Rudy Robinson at BoMacs was so successful that we despaired of ever finding a seat. No, we despaired of ever finding a decent standing spot among the throng, though we did the neck-crane to try to see the stage and listened as best we could for a bit. We nodded in agreement to the testimonials to Rudy’s prowess as a musician. He had, after all, played keys with Motown legends, etc., etc. But folks crowded BoMacs in tribute to his generosity in something like a decade of Thursday jam nights in that downtown club. Officially, it was saxophonist Jerome Perry’s gig, but Rudy’s presence was integral.
Want to sing and don’t know your own key? Just hum a little, and Rudy would make you feel like a member of the jazz aristocracy.
Got your ax unpacked and can’t find your nerve? Robinson would saunter over between sets. “You gonna play?” “Yeah, just waiting for a tune to hit me.” “Good, ’cause I thought you had some new style where you just looked at those bongos long enough and they’d start playing themselves.” It could have been a put-down. Rudy made it an invitation.
We thought back to many nights with Rudy and Detroit musicians, from the aspiring to the established to the stars: jazz standards that turned into seances; the self-styled Downtown Brown doing Soul Brother No. 1’s wriggles across the floor; Martha Reeves, just a few weeks back, wailing on “God Bless the Child” with James Carter adding velour obbligatos.
Robinson died of a heart attack at his Detroit home on Feb. 18 at the age of 61. The Thursday night jam sessions, we’re told, most definitely will go on.W. Kim Heron contributed to The Hot & the Bothered, which is edited by George Tysh. E-mail him at [email protected]