A few thoughts on the passing of Ben Tucker

Ben Tucker, the 82-year old jazz great and one of Savannah’s leading citizens, was killed today in a tragic accident on Hutchinson Island.

My condolences to Ben’s wife Gloria, as well as the rest of Ben’s family and friends.

Ben’s passing is no doubt a huge loss for those closest to him, and it’s also a huge loss for the entire city.

From the Savannah Morning News:

A local jazz legend died Tuesday on Hutchinson Island when the golf cart he was in was struck by a car coming off the island’s former racetrack.

Savannah-Chatham police confirmed Tuesday afternoon 82-year-old Ben Tucker was the driver of the golf cart struck by a dark blue Dodge sedan on Resort Drive, an approach to Grand Prize of America Avenue on Hutchinson Island.

A 52-year old man from Texas has reportedly been charged with racing, vehicular homicide, and reckless driving. I’m sure there will be many more details in coming days, but I’ll just throw this out there now: if you build a racetrack and leave it open as a public road that goes nowhere, don’t be surprised if people use it for racing. It’s also worth saying that Chatham County has a pretty sorry record when it comes to prosecuting drivers of cars that strike pedestrians, cyclists, etc.

Obviously, we’ll find out more details in the coming days.

From Ben’s profile at All About Jazz:

By the early 1960’s, he was regularly performing and recording with such greats as Herbie Mann, Billy Taylor, Dexter Gordon, Buddy Rich, Quincy Jones, Marian McPartland, and Mel Torme. A prodigious composer (many of his songs are jazz standards) of over 300 titles, Tucker’s “Comin’ Home Baby” was a blockbuster hit for Herbie Mann, “Devilette” and “The Message,” both recorded by Dexter Gordon and “ Right Here, Right Now” by Billy Taylor are just a few of the many title songs that Ben has written and published.

“Comin’ Home Baby” has been covered a lot over the years. Here’s Mel Torme:

I especially like the last couple of answers in this Savannah Morning News interview in 1999:

Q. What is the most interesting trip you’ve been on? What made it a standout?

“I made five trips to Japan to give concerts and they’re so appreciative of the American culture. I went to Bogota, Colombia, to do concerts and that was a great experience. I was playing for people in the poverty level and I got to see a country trying to make it on barely anything, yet they had a lot of pride in their family affairs. I saw kids leaving out of shacks and they were clean and beautiful. That was a great experience I witnessed. And all through South America, through Rio De Janeiro, I was there with (jazz pianist) Dave Brubeck, (jazz flutist) Herbie Mann and (female jazz singer) Chris Conner. The people down there again were very appreciative of our creative jazz music from America. I saw kids in Rio making music out of bed springs, pots and pans, bottles and anything they could get their hands on that could make a sound. They have a lot of feeling for rhythm, Latin rhythm.”

Q. What is your favorite way to spend the evening alone?

“I don’t. I hate it. I hate being alone. I don’t ever like being alone. I don’t like to eat alone, go on trips alone, sleep alone, play music alone, play golf alone. That’s the most boring thing to me, being alone. Nothing happens when you’re alone. I’m a real Sagittarius. I love to touch and feel. I just love to love. I demand being with people, communication. I don’t give a damn if it’s a fight or a fuss or a laugh.”

An interview with Ben uploaded to YouTube in 2009:

Click here for a nice piece in the SMN previewing the Savannah Music Festival’s 2010 concert honoring Tucker’s 80th birthday.

I simply loved watching Ben play — there was such an economy of movement and such a placid expression, but as you got closer, you could see the nimble fingers and sharp eyes. There seemed to be an easy elegance to just about everything he did.

I saw Ben perform briefly just a couple of weeks ago at Connect Savannah’s Best Of party at the Morris Center. He looked great and sounded great. I was going to stop by the table where he and Gloria were seated, but they seemed to be having such a nice time in conversation with friends that I didn’t want to disturb them.

Here are a few photos I took of Ben at the 2012 Savannah Jazz Festival during an afternoon gig in Forsyth Park. He’s playing with vibraphonist Warren Chiasson and several other standouts of the Savannah jazz scene:

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