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    Posted: 14 Sep 2023 at 2:45am
Curtis Fowlkes, avant-jazz pioneer of the 1980s, dies at 73
A founder of the acclaimed Jazz Passengers, he was also a sought-after sideman who played trombone for both jazz and rock heavyweights.

by Alex Williams 

NEW YORK, NY.- Curtis Fowlkes, a trombonist and vocalist who was best known as a founder of the Jazz Passengers, a playfully eclectic ensemble that emerged from the New York avant-jazz underground of the 1980s to achieve critical acclaim while collaborating with the likes of Elvis Costello, Debbie Harry and Jeff Buckley, died Aug. 31 in Brooklyn, New York. He was 73.

His son, Saadiah, said he died in a hospital of congestive heart failure.

Blending sly humor and artistic daring with soft-spoken dignity, Fowlkes was the “balancing magician” of the Jazz Passengers, Roy Nathanson, the band’s co-founder and saxophonist, said in a phone interview.

The Jazz Passengers released 11 albums, starting with “Broken Night Red Light” in 1987, without ever achieving more than modest commercial success. But with a fan base largely consisting of cognoscenti and fellow musicians, the band’s reputation far outweighed its sales.

Fowlkes’ supple trombone stylings also stood out in his work as a sought-after sideman for jazz notables such as Henry Threadgill, Charlie Haden and Bill Frisell, as well as for rock stars including Lou Reed and Levon Helm.

“He was equally at home with boppish fluency or a gutbucket blare, often incorporating the array of lip slurs, wobbles and pitch slides that can make a trombone evoke a human voice,” Nate Chinen, a former New York Times music critic, recently wrote for the Philadelphia-based public radio station WRTI.

He also provided rich, nuanced vocals for the band, which made waves in 1994 with the album “In Love.” That album featured vocals by Buckley, the star-crossed sensation who was then just beginning his career (he would die young in 1997), as well as Mavis Staples and Harry, who became a regular member of the band.

The band’s 1996 album, “Individually Twisted,” included a duet with Harry and Costello on the jazz standard “Don’cha Go ‘Way Mad.”

“Its pleasures are various and manifest,” the critic Robert Christgau wrote in a review, “and if they’re over the head of the average Costello completist, that’s because this pop move isn’t aimed at any kind of average.”

The Jazz Passengers were part of a wave of musicians pushing the frontiers of jazz in the 1980s and ’90s that was centered in clubs such as the Knitting Factory in downtown Manhattan and included saxophonist John Zorn, clarinetist Don Byron and saxophonist John Lurie, who became a face of New York cool as an actor in films such as Jim Jarmusch’s “Stranger Than Paradise” and “Down by Law.”

from https://artdaily.cc
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