RIP Lew Soloff (1944-2015) – with a tribute by Tessa Souter

Trumpeter Lew Soloff died of a heart attack in New York yesterday Saturday March 7th. A hugely popular musician, with a musical range from Blood Sweat and Tears to decades with the Gil Evans Orchestra, he is sorely missed.


​​ I can’t quite believe that dear, sweet Lew Soloff has left us. He was so intensely alive and still growing – like a plant bursting through the earth. My nickname for him was “Teenager”. I feel so blessed to have met him, when someone brought him to one of my 55 Bar gigs on a blind date and he approached me afterwards because (typical Lew) he “had” to tell me how much he loved my singing. And I feel triply blessed to have played with him many times since then.

He truly raised the game of everyone on the bandstand, not only by playing his butt off with such incredible chops, amazing sensitivity and taste, but with his generosity on and off the stage. After a particularly great night at the 55 Bar a couple of years ago, he said it had been literally one of the best gigs he’d ever done – which when you consider how many gigs he’s done (with everyone from Blood, Sweat and Tears to Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion and Carla Bley), was really saying something. It was definitely one of mine. Playing with him was like having an entire audience on stage with you, cheering you on and spurring everyone to bring their best game.

Lew Soloff (after dropping mute- see text) and Tessa Souter
Iridium, New York, September 2014

And he was so honest and spontaneous and right there in the moment. Last August at a gig we had at Newark Art Museum auditorium, he burst out to the audience: “I am sorry, but I have to tell you this. When I was playing with my eyes closed, you all sounded so young that when I opened my eyes again I was shocked to see how old you all are!” Another time, after a playing one of my original compositions about unrequited love, he confided to the audience that his blistering solo had been about “teaching that guy a lesson”. He loved audiences. One night at a gig in the Bronx there was one table of people talking in an otherwise pin-drop attentive full house, and I whispered to him it was upsetting my focus. He said, “Oh, I like it!” The audience was his friend. His confidante. Once when he got lost on ‘The Island’ at one of our 55 Bar gigs, he just took the trumpet out of his mouth and told everyone, “Oh my God. I’m lost! I’m lost!” Everyone loved it.

He was, in fact, rarely lost in the music, but he was always losing things: “Oh my God! Where’s my trumpet/mouthpiece/mute?” It was, of course, always right there. And he was adorably clumsy – almost literally juggling a multitude of mutes and mouthpieces. Last fall we played the Iridium, and during the opener – a very moody and spacious arrangement of Eleanor Rigby – he dropped his mute, which went clattering across the stage. It was all I could do not to burst out laughing mid-song. I managed to hold it in until I introduced him – probably as “my teenager”.

The whole of New York is devastated. He had so many friends, in and out of the music business. He was simply a phenomenal person. I will miss his amazing musicianship, his always reaching for more, his generosity, his freshness, his inspiration, his kindness, his integrity, his open mind, his silliness and his absolute goodness. My condolences to his beloved family, to his dear friends, and to everyone who was touched by his beautiful presence.

LINKS: Jazz Times story.
Lew Soloff’s website

Categories: miscellaneous

4 replies »

  1. I had the pleasure of touring England with Lew Soloff as producer and road manager for Bobby Previte's 23 Constellations of Miro some years ago. I was a little surprised that Lew was into this project as it involved 23 through-composed pieces and no improvisation. But he clearly loved the project and played piccolo trumpet as the regular trumpet. I chatted a lot to Lew about his career on the tour bus and found him a great companion. I always wanted to book his own band, but now it is too late.

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