[JPL] Tribute to Herb Pomeroy

Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Tue Sep 11 17:25:46 EDT 2007

  Tribute to jazz man made in song

By Peter Schworm, Globe Staff  |  September 10, 2007

Steve Kuhn began to recall renowned jazz trumpeter and teacher Herb 
Pomeroy yesterday from the pulpit at Emmanuel Church - an inspirational 
musician and educator, a dear man, and a good friend - but the loss of 
his longtime colleague, who died last month, overtook him.

So the influential jazz artist sat at the piano and played a sad, sweet 
tune that filled the 19th-century church on Newbury Street and drew 
applause from some 300 people who had gathered to pay tribute to 
Pomeroy's life and lasting influence on generations of musicians.

Playing pieces by legendary figures such as Dizzy Gillespie and Benny 
Golson in a church where Pomeroy and others had performed some 40 years 
ago, musicians from the close-knit Boston jazz scene honored one of 
their giants in the language that was his lifeblood - soaring, majestic 
trumpets, rumbling bass guitars, shimmering cymbals, surging alto sax. 
The music gave the stately church the soulful, late-night feel of a jazz 
club, and some swayed in the pews, cheered, and called for more.

A musical tribute was fitting, speakers at the memorial service said, 
because Pomeroy believed in jazz's healing properties, its ability to 
lift people and bring them together. It was right, too, because nothing 
but the sound of jazz could properly celebrate his life and ease the 
sadness of his death, friends and family said.

"He was too good, too good to be true," sang jazz vocalist Rebecca 
Parris, lingering on every lyric at the end of an elegant piano ballad.

Parris described Pomeroy, who died Aug. 11 of cancer at 77, as a 
generous spirit who sacrificed personal glory as a bandleader to help 
young musicians reach their potential. "His criticisms came from such a 
lovely place that it never hurt," she said. "He shared all that he had 
rather than keep it for himself."

Born in Gloucester, Irving Herbert Pomeroy III began playing 
professionally as a teenager. He spent a year at Harvard, then left to 
become a full-time musician. At 23, he played with Charlie Parker, the 
legendary saxophonist who helped found bebop. He later formed the Herb 
Pomeroy Big Band, which performed often at the fabled Stables jazz club 
in Copley Square.

During a distinguished career that spanned decades, Pomeroy played with 
luminaries such as Stan Getz, Lionel Hampton, and Sonny Rollins, backed 
Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, and became a fixture on the Boston jazz 
scene. He also helped create the field of jazz education as a teacher at 
Berklee College of Music and MIT, casting a vast influence on 
generations of musicians.

"He helped bring jazz to the universities, where it had been a 
four-letter word," said musician Phil Wilson, who first played with 
Pomeroy when he was 17 and later played full time in his band. "Now it's 
taught at every school in the country."

Jeffrey Leonard, a former student of Pomeroy's and a music teacher, 
called Pomeroy an exemplary teacher who was as inspired by his students 
as they were by him. "He catered to the wide range of individualities of 
his students," he said. "He loved and respected them, and he never 
stopped learning from them."

Leonard said that when he works with students, he is unsure "when what I 
teach begins and what Herb taught me ends."

Pomeroy's daughter, Perry Pomeroy, said she deeply admired her father's 
career as a musician and teacher, but loved him as a father who bathed 
his family in unconditional love. "Or as I called him until the very 
last day of his life, Daddy," she said.

Pomeroy was a man of strong beliefs who valued tradition and saw beauty 
in daily life, she said. He preferred live performances to recorded 
music, amateur sports over professional, old over new.

She recalled a recent Sunday when Pomeroy, though in declining health, 
found the strength to play his weekly set at a Beacon Hill restaurant. 
When she visited him later that night, he was tired, wrapped in a 
blanket in a wicker chair. But his first words upon her and her 
husband's arrival, she recalled, were typically selfless.

"He said, 'Joe, I understand congratulations are in order! How are 
things at the new job?' " she recalled. "He made everyone feel that he 
was more interested in them than himself." 

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The New York Times Company

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