A few months ago, I wrote about this becoming the "R.I.P. Blog", as so many greats from the 20th century are dying, you could post tributes every day. So I have resisted that temptation. . . until now. A veritable gaggle of important folks have shuffled off this mortal coil in the past few days.
For all his political importance, Boris Yeltsin, the first elected leader in Russian history, impressed me most with his public attempt at dancing.
Howard Dean, John McCain - eat your hearts out!
Boris, no doubt, was, to quote a certain early 70's blaxploitation film, one "bad mutha. . . shut yo mouth", who singlehandedly stopped a coup by a gang of ex-Politboro boys. And then presided as the Russian economy essentially collapsed and slowly made a wobbly recovery.
I loved it when Boris and former President Bill Clinton had "summits".
Boris and Bill were always smiling and red-faced. Stoli, baby! Kind of amazes me that Boris' hand-picked successor turned out to be "Bad Vlad" Putin. I'd rather knock back Stolis with Boris, any day.
We have also seen the sudden passings of choreographer Michael Smuin, economist Paul Erdman, author David Halberstam and composer Andrew Hill. A Tony and Emmy award winner, Smuin's numerous credits followed a lengthy stint as principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre. Erdman was the rare economist who could write entertaining and compelling copy, both non-fiction and fiction. I've only read a few of Halberstam's 21 books, but found them quite wonderful. "The Powers That Be" and "The Best And The Brightest" alone are veritable treasure troves of juicy political stories. The anecdotes about Richard M. Nixon in the former are in themselves worth the price of admission.
The artist who had the most impact on me personally was the one who you will not hear about, jazz composer and pianist Andrew Hill. Hill was one of the greatest jazz artists who ever lived.
I caught one of Hill's last concerts at the 2006 San Francisco Jazz Festival. A skinny little unassuming dude with a high voice, he would sit down at the piano and then blow everyone away with his imagination, creative energy and stark originality. His music was very complex, polyrhythmic and changed tones, colors, rhythms and timbres seemingly every moment. And the living, breathing interplay between Andrew and his rhythm section, in some ways reminiscent of the classic Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett trios, was a thing of beauty.
Andrew Hill's jazz demanded a lot of the listener. However, the effort and concentration always paid exponential dividends. You not only learn a lot musically listening to Andrew Hill, but it is splendid training in the art of being totally, absolutely, in the moment, Zen-like.