On Friday we lost another great artist, Leroy Jenkins. I first heard him in the glory days of the Revolutionary Ensemble, the improvisatory jazz trio featuirng Jenkins on violin, Sirone on bass and Jerome Cooper on drums. The idea of two string players and a drummer was striking enough, something that wasn't seen much in jazz at mid-century, but this wasn't any Stephane Grappelli jazz (though that would have been worth lending an ear); this was full on free jazz of an uncompromising order. I first heard the group on their A&M LP, THE PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC, with its eye-catching cover and ear-catching performances. The group wasn't able to stay on the road for long, but they made a lasting impression and the individual members went on to make major statements in other contexts. Among my favorite Jenkins outings were his LIFELONG AMBITIONS release, a 1981 performance with Oliver Lake, and a stunning solo violin concert at Ann Arbor in 1977. That one was broadcast over NPR, with an introduction by poet A.B. Spellman, on the unforgettable JAZZ ALIVE series.
Just two years ago, the Revolutionary Ensemble was reunited and released the appropriately titled AND NOW. They still played with the fervor and inventiveness of decades earlier, and the sound of a violin-fronted innovative jazz unit was still as unusual as it had been on first hearing. Jenkins was a wonder to hear and a frequent collaborator with artists in other fields. He was a poet of the strings and will be missed wherever music gathers.