New Orleans Music Community Loses A Valued Member

Tim Green, a very well-known local saxophonist in New Orleans, LA passed away last Thursday. Tim was held in extremely high regard by everyone that worked with, heard, and knew personally. I only saw him a week ago setting up for a gig after my band at the BMC. I had heard he was sick and had known about his sleep problems but never knew the extent; he still seemed like such a young guy (I’ve learned he was 57)

I first heard Tim at Snug Harbor shortly after I moved to New Orleans. Aashish Khan was the bandleader, an amazing Indian sarode-player (though I had never heard of him, I was intrigued by Indian music at the time and with few friends I had a lot of free time on my hands and decided to investigate what I had been hearing about Frenchmen St – little did I know I would be a Frenchmen regular in a few years) that had been advertised as fusing Indian and jazz music. This was about a month after I moved to town; when I would tell people what I was into, it was Tim they’d recommend checking out. He did not disappoint in the least.

Short aside: In Philadelphia I studied with a saxophonist named Ben Schachter, who, aside from being a thoroughly excellent player, improviser, composer, and educator, was an extremely humble and honest person, and his demeanor inspired me as much as his actual playing. He was and still is probably the most influential figure in my musical upbringing.

At this particular time in my life, I was very lonely, trying to settle in a new community where I knew almost no one. This concert at Snug Harbor greatly helped assimilate me to my new surroundings, but in particular it was Tim’s playing, his demeanor, his obvious thoughtfulness, that reminded me of Ben (though they are very different players) and by relation, home, and my youth/education, and partially helped to ease my transition.

A fellow saxophonist myself, and knowing that Tim was such an important figure in the New Orleans music community made it an easy decision to pick him as the subject of a “local artist” paper I was charged with writing at UNO. I was warned that though Tim was sometimes quiet, once he warmed up to you he’d talk your ear off. I was on the phone with him for over two hours. I had a list of 20 questions I wanted to ask but because he’d expound on everything I asked I barely made it through about 7-8 of them. I only decided to record the conversation simply to make sure I’d remember everything he said, and thought no one other than me would ever care to hear it. It mostly concerned his upbringing, how he ended up in New Orleans, etc. which is somewhat well-known among the community, but there are some other gems.

The following is that full conversation (split into two parts)

tim green interview 1

tim green interview 2

If you want to skip the long audio, an abbreviated version of the paper I wrote summarizes most of it:

Tim Green was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, one of Connecticut’s most industrial cities.  His interest in music started at an early age, as mother had studied some piano in college and played around the house regularly.  Unfortunately, as he grew older and his budding musical interest became apparent, his parents actively discouraged a career in music, instead attempting to persuade him to move into a more lucrative field.  Luckily, he was close enough to Boston and New York that when he was old enough, he was able to make relatively short drives to see live music performances of any style.  His interest was not strictly tied to jazz: “One night I’d be hearing Sonny Rollins, the next night I’d be at a Blue Oyster Cult concert.  I was listening to a lot of stuff”.  He was highly interested in folk music from many different cultures, pointing out that he had a lot of curiosity about “other people”.  Bridgeport’s wide array of cultures provided a fertile environment for him to listen to and learn about all the different musics of the world, as many of the ethnic restaurants and food markets would feature authentic ethnic folk music performances.
He took up saxophone after a chance meeting with several prominent jazz musicians in the 1970s.  During a trip to New York to see some concerts, he had an encounter with both Hank Crawford and Grover Washington, Jr.  On their way to perform at a festival in Central Park, they noticed Tim in the park and thought he was working at the festival and had asked for help.  He ended up spending the rest of the weekend hanging out with and learning from Grover Washington: “He introduced me to so many jazz greats… I met Freddie Hubbard, Ron Carter, Esther Phillips.  Everybody that was around there, he introduced me as a young, up-and-coming musician; I hadn’t even had a saxophone in my hand yet, I didn’t even own one!”  At the end of it all, Grover offered to give him tips and pointers through the mail if he picked up a saxophone and decided to pursue it.  Tim was inspired enough to purchase his first saxophone, an old soprano he found in a pawn shop, and began his introduction into the music world.
His first real professional performance came as a member of a horn section with an R&B band called Soul Unlimited.  The gig really fell in his lap, as the sax player in the band, Kevin Ward, heard Tim practicing and immediately stopped, knocked on his door and offered him a spot in the band.  He used this time to hone his skills but decided he needed more serious, formal instruction, and applied for enough grant money to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston for one semester.  Unfortunately, his experience at Berklee was short-lived and quite negative, as he was largely self-taught by ear and could barely read any music at all, which did not mesh well with the much more formal atmosphere at Berklee.  “It seemed so rigid, the methodology, of how you teach someone to learn or how to play.  When I went to a few of my classes, I found that it was kind of a cookie-cutter sort of thing, and everybody sounded like everybody else in school.”  The professors did note his obvious talent when they heard him play, but his lack of formal training and inability to read music made it difficult to find a spot for him.  His own private saxophone teacher, Billy Pierce, even lied to him and refused to give him lessons because, he said, he only taught tenor players; when he went to the length of purchasing his own tenor sax, he was told it wasn’t the right horn.  At the conclusion of the semester, he had decided he had enough, and hopped on a Greyhound bus straight to New Orleans.  He had read about and been fascinated by New Orleans since he was a child, and had declared, even at a young age, that he wanted to live there someday.  He exited the bus in New Orleans with only three dollars, a duffle bag, and his two saxophones, and went directly to Jackson Square and started playing.  Within 45 minutes, he had been offered an apartment and a gig by a local musician who had happened to be passing by, and by then he knew that that was where he would be staying.
He says New Orleans affected what he did musically in three ways.  First, he viewed New Orleans as “the school of hard knocks.”  It resembled the old bebop days of the ‘cutting contests’, where other jazz musicians would essentially be competing with each other through their music.  “These guys would make me come to the gig and stand there from the first note to the last and make me play.  They would make me play!”  Some of the bands he was in with older musicians would even trick him by playing tunes a half-step above or below the key he specified, only to teach him that he didn’t ‘really’ know the tune until he knew it in all twelve keys.
The second way it affected him was that New Orleans was a town that he, like most, immediately recognized that people that came here “couldn’t get away” because of the variety of the specifically New Orleanian culture.  Being a curious person, and having been curious about other cultures and ways of life only made Tim want to stay here for good.  He was amazed at the amount of influence African culture had in New Orleans and was immediately fascinated.
The third way New Orleans impacted him was how cheap it was to live here at the time.  According to Tim, he “may not have been able to do that anywhere else, because I wouldn’t have been able to afford it.  I could eat for about $15 a week.”  He spent nearly all of his time holed up in his apartment practicing the workbooks he had gotten at Berklee, and he would wait around til Friday or Saturday, depending when the gig was, and go out and play, and come home and use the gig money for groceries.  He “had no social life whatsoever”, but was grateful for the opportunity to be able to practice all day and into the night, learning tunes on piano, working out exercises, and working on tone.
Green practices religiously, as he is one of the most intelligent, disciplined, and motivated musicians in New Orleans, if not the world.  This stems, in part, from his challenging upbringing with an often-discouraging mother; it is also largely due to his unabating interest in other cultures.  He works often with groups from out of town, such as musicians from Africa and masters of Indian music.  He has made a career out of playing many different kinds of music, but in relation to jazz, he feels that the next generation of jazz performers mostly have the same drive and spirit that he and his associates had in the 70s, when he really came into the scene.

~ by kylecrippsmusic on September 3, 2014.