Top 10 Favorite Tribute Songs for Musicians/Friends

The recent release of my Love Right project has made me reflect on the many others who have used music to paid tribute to those who have departed, whether loved ones or heroes and whether musicians or not. This list centers on those in the middle of this Venn diagram – musicians paying tribute to fellow musicians who were also their friends, and doing so with music created for that purpose.

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Top 10 Favorite Toots and the Maytals Tracks

Frederick “Toots” Hibbert has been my favorite reggae singer (and indeed one of my favorite soul singers, period) since I first heard him when I was around 15. Because 2020 is relentless, we now only have his recordings (including his latest studio album, released soon before he suddenly fell ill), but my goodness are there gems in his discography.

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Top 10 Favorite Sonny Rollins Tracks

What a gift that a soul as wise and deep and creative as Sonny Rollins has been around for 90 years as of today and is still with us, playing retirement notwithstanding. Even if he never played a note, I would be moved by his approach to art and his wise words about life. But fortunately for us he did play notes, sometimes lots of them. I’m reticent to describe his style in a setting like this, but his mixture of stunning fluency (on the horn and with harmonic structures) and relentless pursuit of idea-development is incredibly inspiring, and if you add to that his robust sound and the extreme clarity of his articulation, the results are incredible. And I mean that literally – I listen to Newk sometimes and think “how is this even possible for a human to come up with this?” I can confidently say (and, mind you, I would cite John Coltrane as my favorite musician, period) that no greater saxophonist has ever lived than Walter Theodore Rollins.

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Top 10 Favorite Tracks Featuring Jimmy Cobb

Ironically, I began this list a few days ago as part of a determination to recognize some of my favorite living musicians while they’re still around. Obviously not fast enough in this case, as yesterday was time to say goodbye to maestro Cobb after 91 profoundly productive years. If all he’d ever done was play with Miles Davis for a few years, his place in the history books would be secure, but his pocket was more versatile than that, while at the same time being so swinging that it helped define a musical generation (when I was in my early 20s, I recall observing that there were young drummers on the scene in NY who sounded more like Jimmy Cobb than Jimmy Cobb did). Without any further ado, here is a sampling of some of my favorite Jimmy Cobb moments among many (and with apologies for all I omitted), presented in chronological order.

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Top 10 Favorite Mickey Tucker tracks

Every day is a good day to listen to and celebrate Mickey Tucker’s music, but it’s his 79th birthday today, so it’s a particularly good day for it. In early 1996 I was formally introduced to Mickey Tucker’s music. I don’t always remember precise timings of such things (and had heard several of the recordings…

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Top 10 Favorite McCoy Tyner Tracks

While I knew it was coming, it is surreal to now inhabit a world without McCoy Tyner. If the ONLY thing he had ever done was play in the classic Coltrane quartet, people would be quite rightly eulogizing him left and right. But at the same time, he was playing on some other superlatively important albums, including some of his own, and (with apologies to fans of Paul McCartney, Diana Ross, etc.) I can’t think of a single artist whose work AFTER leaving an acknowledged “supergroup” can match McCoy’s output in terms of sheer amount, consistent quality, and scope of influence. That’s just one way in which he was a singular figure in music.

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Top 10 Favorite Albums of Each Decade

This is my most stupidly broad Top 10 list undertaking to date. As I started to see folks’ Top-10-(whatever)-of-the-Decade lists, I thought “gee, what are MY 10 favorite albums of the decade?” That was harmless enough, except then I thought “gee, I never compiled my top 10 albums of the 2000s either.” And so on, until I realized that I needed to break it on down by decade going ALL the way back to the 1950s, the first decade when LPs were a thing.

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