Leroy Jenkins, RIP.

The Revolutionary Ensemble
Revolutionary Ensemble
Inner City : 1978

Jenkins, violin; Sirone, bass; Jerome Cooper, drums.


Leroy Jenkins
Lovely Music : 1998
eMusic / CD Universe

LJ, viola (“Folk Song”), violin.

Leroy Jenkins
Space Minds, New Worlds, Survival of America
Tomato : 1978
eMusic / iTunes / DMG

LJ, violin; George Lewis, trombone; Anthony Davis, piano; Andrew Cyrille, drums.

I’m an American artist and I play American music.”
Leroy Jenkins, 1932-2007

We wrote recently about The Revolutionary Ensemble, and that post will stay live for a while as we honor the memory of this great American artist. We have been listening to a lot of Jenkins since hearing the news of his passing; it was always poignant stuff, never more so than today.

Leroy Jenkins has rightly been dubbed the father of free jazz violin. But forget about the “free” part a moment, because his true achievement was opening up the possibilities on the instrument for all jazz players. His innovative playing blended the inflections blues and jazz with bracing shards of atonality and rigorous classical structures. In other words, he found new ways to conjure beauty. You can hear this all over his work – but it’s most nakedly apparent in the two tracks from his spellbinding Solo album.

And while Jenkins was a deep thinker who advanced the cause of this adventurous music we all love, his music was also profoundly emotional. The delicate and achingly mournful “Chicago” from the Revolutionary Ensemble’s rare self-titled LP is one long, langorous sigh. A sublime elegy. Pure goosebumps from the first note to the last.

Through his work with the still-neglected Revolutionary Ensemble, Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, various AACM projects, and as a solo artist, Jenkins cut a formidable swath through the jazz world over the past 30 years as a performer and composer. The brief “Through the Ages Jehovah” showcases some of his talents in arranging and bandleading. During this deceptively simple gospel melody, the players each begin to head in their own direction, quietly dispersing without ever losing the thread of the tune.

Like 2/3ds of The Bad Plus, Drew’s first and only time seeing Jenkins live was at the Dewey Redman memorial show last month in New York. It was a solo turn, unadorned and direct in approach, melancholy without melodrama, and deep without apparent effort. It combined a woolly casualness and spontaneity with a strong, rigorous sense of structure. It was beautiful.

Chilly was fortunate to see Jenkins perform several times during various Vision Festivals. There was always a striking contrast between the taciturn and professorial man and the startling and emotional music coming from the violin. Jenkins was never a flashy player and let his radical art speak for itself. The strongest memory remains the Revolutionary Ensemble’s comeback show, where their bracing and challenging music left the crowd largely baffled. It was clearly the best show of the festival but not many others agreed. Afterwards, fans crowded around a number of the evening’s other musicians, heaping praises and chatting them up. Leroy Jenkins stood alone on the sidewalk outside the venue. I thanked him for the terrific music and we shook hands. Jenkins seemed pleased by the compliment but also quietly confident in the value of his music, which like the best of jazz, will endure.

& & & & &

And be sure to check out:
Olewnick on the Tomato track. (Also here.)
–This 2004 interview with “Blue” Gene Tyranny, with video.
DJA’s notice and full complement of links.
WKCR, with an all-day LJ memorial broadcast, today, Wednesday, 28 Feb.

Category Leroy Jenkins, Revolutionary Ensemble, tributes

9 Responses to THE QUIET RADICAL:
Leroy Jenkins, RIP.

  1. As someone fairly new to Jenkins’ work, I have a question maybe a d:o reader could answer. I love Frank Lowe’s album, *Black Being,* but Jenkins is unfortunately a bit submerged in the mix. Does anyone know if he’s playing through a wah pedal?

    (Admittedly not an earth-shaking question, just to satisfy my own curiosity.)

  2. I was very sorry to hear of Jenkins’ passing. I had the chance to spend a little time with him when he came to St. Louis in the mid-1990s to perform in a concert series for which I served as administrator/producer.

    His music was terrific, but I was even more impressed with what a fine person he was – a consummate professional, yet soft-spoken, down to earth, and willing to talk music with all. After that concert, I tried for several years to arrange for a return appearance, first seeking local funding for a production of his concert piece about the slave graveyard – still got a copy of that proposal around here somewhere, I think – and again for the trio with Myra Melford and Joseph Jarman.

    Alas, the bucks never materialized, but it was a privilege to have known Jenkins even slightly, and he will definitely be missed.

  3. i just downloaded that solo album the other night; the next morning on the train, the gentleman in front of me had the nytimes open and i saw the headline at the top of page, “Leroy Jenkins, 74,…”. naively, for a nanosecond, i thought to myself, “it’s about time somebody wrote a feature about leroy jenkins,” then of course, it became clear that it was an obit. there’s nothing quite like the sound of the violin, and leroy could make his sing and cry. he will be missed.
    [p.s.-thanks for the downloads]

  4. hey- thanks for this. I’ll be featuring the D:O tracks in a Leroy Jenkins memorial show today, 1-3 pm Mountain Time, streaming from


  5. he was great great great . been lovin the tomato lp for years. all the best to his folks.

  6. the D:O tracks caused a stir for sure. I got 3 phone calls, 2 highly enthusiastic, each from a listener who had never heard of Jenkins. The one negative call was from a Bob Brookmeyer fan….who requested some Claude Thornhill and lamented that I didn’t play any Fletcher Henderson this week like I did last week.

    KSFR does 24 hours of jazz programming a week, most of which is either “mainstream,” “neo-mainstream,” or “contemporary” (aka, well, pretty bland to my ears). I’m lucky to have my little 2 hour slot, especially in the afternoon on a weekday. I’m a risk the station seems willing to take for the moment.


  7. That’s great, Peter. I listened to most of the show; still get a thrill over the shout-outs. As always, thanks for mentioning us. It’s a shame that it takes a death to bring certain artists to the forefront, but such is life here.

    This is somewhat off-topic, but if anyone out there likes the music above and is interested in finding out a bit more about the instrument Jenkins plays, I can recommend a quirky little book I’m reading now, THE VIOLIN MAKER. It’s about a journalist who follows a Brooklyn luthier as he tries to make a fiddle for a member of the Emerson Quartet, one that will make him want to put down his current instrument, an old Strad. The violin maker is one of the leaders in this highly specialized field (and happens to be a friend) (although I found out about the book independently). The chapter I’m reading now deals with the difficulty in describing sound with words, a challenge we deal with here at Dest: Out all the time. Apparently, there are books in the violin field that, in a slightly scientific attempt to parse the sound, list key words to describe the music these instruments make; the lists are startlingly not up to the job. Hard; mellow; even; nasal; open; ringing; muted; round; full; hollow, goes one. Anyway, you might pre-order now, at the bookstore of your choice.

    Thanks, too, for the other remembrances. Brent, sorry but can’t help on your query.

  8. this is beautiful music, and we’re lucky to have it. i, too, haven’t heard nearly enough of this man’s playing – and of course i feel slightly guilty that it’s taken his death to prompt me. but all i can do is listen now, and in the future; and he can still be found in the music, just as i’ve found trane and dolphy and all the others before him.

  9. When will somebody reissue the Leroy Jenkins solo on India Navigation as a CD and also “For Players Only” his Jazz Composers Orchestra recording–amazing!