Sunday, June 11, 2017


Wesley "Skip" Norris

Dear Skip,

Please forgive me for contacting you out of the blue. Since your death, in January, I have been meaning to check in on you to see how things are going for you in heaven. I figured, however, I’d better wait until you settled in. Surely, God has been keeping you busy, making jazz more popular up there. I bet God has you over for dinner a few times a week, and you have a ball, regaling Him with the stories of all the famous jazz musicians you knew. Skip, the music on Detroit’s jazz scene is still happening, and there’s a gaggle of young talent such as alto saxophonist Benny Rubin Jr., and drummer Tariq Gardner moving the music forward. I’m confident you would have loved the youngsters on the scene today. Anyway, I’m writing you to tell you about the wonderful star-studded tribute concert in your honor Friday evening at Detroit’s Northwest Activity Center organized by your friends Andrew Rothman, Ronald Lockett, Gail Boyd, and Jacques Mullins. Skip, I tell you man that they went all out. They brought in many of your favorite jazz musicians such as pianists Eric Reed and Joey Calderazzo, husband and wife Jean and Marcus Baylor, vocalists Nanny Assis, Tammy McCann, vibist Joe Locke, saxophonists JD Allen, Victor Goines, and Branford Marsalis. If that wasn’t enough the house band for the evening was drummer Bill Higgins, bassist Ralphe Armstrong, and pianist Gary Schunk. Linda Yohn was the Mistress of Ceremony. I’m not exaggerating, Skip, when I say all the musicians played their butts off. The concert open with Eric Reed. You know, Reed is capable of raising hell on the piano, but he was reserved this time out. Reed performed two selections solo. Each rendered so thoughtfully and beautifully Reed’s playing would’ve given the devil goose bumps. After Reed’s set, vocalist Nanny Assis stretched out on two Brazilian numbers. Vocalist Tammy McCann hit the stage next. Right away she let the near capacity audience know that bigger than your love for jazz was your faith in God. Then McCann opened with a gospel number sung so wonderfully that God himself would have blushed had he been in attendance. McCann followed that song with the blues staple “Every Day I Have the Blues.” JD Allen almost blew the paint off the ceiling during his set. The Baylor Project followed Allen. Then Joe Locke set the kitchen on fire with a solo performance undoubtedly one of his finest ever. Victor Goines hit right after Locke. Goines performed an original titled the “The Beautiful One.” Goines had the stage so hot during this number  I feared his clarinet would melt in his hands. Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo closed the evening with Marsalis’s original “Eternal.” I’d put up a month’s salary there wasn’t a dry eye in the audience when Marsalis and Calderazzo finished. One of my favorite moments was when Mistress of Ceremony Linda Yohn informed the audience all the money from the concert would go towards your daughter’s college education, adding the jazz community would help take care of your daughter. After Marsalis and Calderazzo had played, all the musicians returned to the stage and performed the most fitting number of the evening “There Would Never Be Another You.” Skip, I’ve attended many concerts over the years. This concert – a heartfelt love letter to you -- I won’t soon forget. Every musician played as if it was the very last jazz concert on earth.  Jacques Mullins and I hugged after the concert, and he said the concert epitomized everything you were, showcasing every brand of jazz that you held dear.

Skip, you were truly loved, man.