Here, just weeks before his own passing (from complications relating to lung cancer), Leroy Jenkins performs at a memorial service for saxophonist Dewey Redman.
Leroy Jenkins, live, New York (St. Peter’s Lutheran Church), 2007
Regardless of where I go classically or whatever it is, I always try to maintain that Chicago blues thing. When I came up as a kid, I didn’t hear Mozart. I was hearing Louis Jordan and Billy Eckstine and B.B. King and Duke Ellington, jazz guys like that. That was what I was listening to. So I was fortunate in that way, being in a big city, seeing these people all the time, going to the Regal Theatre in Chicago. I saw ’em all, plus a movie!—Leroy Jenkins
Since I didn’t seem to be welcome with so-called Jazz, I thought I would deal with ‘new music’ . . . . I don’t mind the labels; they can put the labels one right after the other, if it will get me work.—Leroy Jenkins (in George E. Lewis, A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music )
Talking to him [Leroy Jenkins], you forgot after awhile that jazz and classical music had ever had their differences, he flowed between them with such fluid ease.—Kyle Gann
A dignified man so diminutive that he makes a violin appear large, [Leroy] Jenkins focused the listener’s attention not on what was absent—other musicians, multiple lines, an expansive tonal range—but on what was present. . . .
He began most of . . . [his pieces] with a simple melodic statement that sang. Then he would veer off into gradually accelerating repetitions of two-, three-, and four-note patterns. Unlike a horn player, he never had to stop for breath, so these patterns could go on and on. Out of them would emerge long, winding bursts of melody, like swallows taking flight through a swarm of bees. . . .
A master colorist, Jenkins called forth a seemingly limitless array of sounds, from singing to fluttering to stinging to rasping to wheezing. But what was even more impressive that the variety and virtuosity of his playing was its logic and coherence. . . .
Jenkins’ HotHouse set readily calls to mind Richard Goode’s magnificent recent performance at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall of five Beethoven piano sonatas. Neither musician spoke a word to the audience, but neither seemed remote. Both played so wholeheartedly that they virtually disappeared in the music. Both are virtuosos who put their virtuosity entirely at the service of the music, never exploiting it simply for effect. Both played music that often pitted a coming-apart-at-the-seams emotional intensity against an ultimately prevailing clarity and order. Perhaps one day, solo jazz concerts of the caliber of Jenkins’ will be met with the same degree of anticipation and excitement that performances of Beethoven piano sonatas by artists such as Goode typically receive today.— “Flying Solo” (review of Leroy Jenkins, solo performance, HotHouse, 10/21/1994), Chicago Reader, 10/28/1994 (yeah, I’m cannibalizing myself here)
[After Jenkins died a] private service was held in . . . [his] adopted New York City, at the Judson Church on West 4th and Thompson. . . . Various forms of appreciation, spoken, danced, and played, came from Muhal Richard Abrams, Alvin Singleton, Henry Threadgill . . . Jerome Cooper, Anthony Braxton . . . and Joseph Jarman. The attendees at the service, from Ornette Coleman to ‘Blue’ Gene Tyrany, reflected a complex multiethnic crosscut of the New York experimental music scene, and Leroy’s lifelong embodiment of those ideals.
Someone who was at Leroy’s bedside the night before his passing told me that at one point, he suddenly awakened and announced to everyone what he wanted at his memorial: ‘Improvisation . . . and white horses.’ He paused for effect. Then, seeing a group of quizzical faces, he added, laughing, ‘Just kidding.’
Later, he awoke again and exclaimed, ‘Well, I’m ready to go—where are the horses?’—George E. Lewis, A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (2008)