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In Memoriam: Victor Bailey

Victor Bailey
Photo credit: Jack Frisch

It is with heavy hearts that we share the news that bass legend Victor Bailey has passed away from complications with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. He was 56 years old.

Bailey was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania into a musical family. His father, Morris Bailey Jr., was a composer, arranger and saxophonist that wrote songs for R&B artists from the ’60s and ’70s including Patti LaBelle, The Stylistics, Blue Magic, The Spinners, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes and Nina Simone. Victor began his musical path on drums at just 10 years old.

“I joined my first band a week after that, and did my first gig three or four weeks later,” Bailey wrote in his bio. “I did my first recording session about three months later. I’ve been working non-stop ever since.”

The switch to bass came when the bassist in his band quit, leaving Bailey to pick it up himself. “That moment changed my life forever,” he recalled. “Although I had never played before, I instantly understood the instrument. I not only played all the songs but even added fills or ‘runs’ as we called it at the time. My father, who NEVER came downstairs to listen to any of my bands, came charging down the stairs yelling ‘Who’s playing bass, who’s playing bass?’ When he saw it was me he said, ‘You should be a bass player.’ I said, ‘I know.’ My days as a drummer were over.”

Bailey played in a diverse group of bands in Philadelphia before attending Berklee College of Music in Boston. One of the first big gigs he picked up through school was with South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela. After the tour he moved to New York City and continued to work in the scene, playing and recording with Sonny Rollins, Miriam Makeba, Lenny White, Don Alias, Larry Coryell and more. Drummer Omar Hakim shared a pair of gigs with Bailey for Miriam Makeba that would change the bassist’s life.

“At the end of the second gig he said, ‘I have the gig with Weather Report and they’re looking for a new bass player,’ Bailey wrote. “My eyes became the size of the Earth. I had been telling everyone since I was sixteen years old that I was going to play with Weather Report after Jaco [Pastorius]. And when word got out that Jaco had gone solo EVERYONE in New York said ‘that’s your gig’ to me. This was fate.”

Bailey was with Weather Report from 1982 to 1987 and is featured on the albums Procession, Domino Theory, Sportin’ Life, and This is This! After the band’s breakup, the bassist started working on his own albums and toured with musicians including pop megastar Madonna. In more recent years he was a professor at Berklee College of Music.

Bailey had been suffering from the effects of Charcot Marie Tooth disease for 25 years, but his condition took a sharp turn last year. Where it had forced him to walk with a cane before, Bailey was confined to a wheelchair and became too weak to perform and teach. Bass legends from around the world visited him in his final months and the outpouring of love from the bass community helped to keep his spirits up. One of his final Facebook posts read, “In the past days I heard from Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, Ralphe Armstrong, Daryl Jones, Randy Jackson, Hadrien Feraud, and Chulo Gatewood. I am pinching myself to be sure this is only bass player heaven LOL.”

Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Victor Bailey.