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Chuck Workman Tribute at the Jazz Kitchen 

click to enlarge Chuck Workman at the Jazz Kitchen celebrating David Baker's 80th birthday. - MARK SHELDON
  • Chuck Workman at the Jazz Kitchen celebrating David Baker's 80th birthday.
  • Mark Sheldon
The May 6 Chuck Workman tribute at the Jazz Kitchen was a powerful way to spend a balmy Sunday afternoon. With seating near capacity, the warmth and connectedness between players and listeners, between old friends and brand new, was palpable. The whole scenario rather like being in a large living room full of dear friends. And all had, of course, one friend in common: Mr. Workman.

Space won't permit a listing of names, but suffice it to say that pillars of the jazz community came forward with sublime offerings - playing, singing, and reciting heart-felt poems and stories - reimbursements of a past debt.

Frank Smith was the sole bass player that day. After having performed for two hours without a break, he said, "I was playing for Chuck, man," undoubtedly speaking for every performer present. Bill Lancton put in extra effort as well, doubling as busy emcee (a "natural") and as jazz guitarist.

The price of admittance, one potluck dinner or desert, provided such an array of delectables - from barbecued ribs to sweet corn casserole, and from homemade apple pie to pineapple upside-down cake - that going hungry was not an option.

Nostalgic photos of Chuck beaming from overhead monitors filled the room with his presence, while "his" table, adorned with white roses, remained conspicuously empty. The table, placed as usual against a wall in the narrow passage between dining room and bar, an area through which most everyone would have to walk on an evening, always allowed him easy access to his public.

As afternoon gave way to evening, in between spirited swing and funk performances, tongues untied themselves and verbal tributes came forth more readily. The most irreverent was given by Ralph Adams, whose forty-two-year association with Workman was encapsulated into a ten-minute standup bit which was at times humorous and at times serious. And though the memories and stories of each speaker were unique, the sentiment was the same - Chuck Workman as devoted friend, as knowledge fount, as ubiquitous supporter and promoter who went above and beyond, always.

The evening closed, suitably, with remarks by Workman's daughter, Courteny Workman-Perry, who recalled seeing her father albeit briefly as a child, usually right before bedtime after returning from a performance somewhere. She closed by singing the Victor Herbert-Al Dubin standard, "Indian Summer," a song her father often played for her, the words of which now seem so apt: "Indian summer... you were here to watch over... fading too soon... I say farewell to you... "

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