In Memoriam: Butch Warren

Butch Warren

Jazz bassist Butch Warren, who worked as a house bassist for Blue Note Records in the 1960s, has died. He was 74 years old.

Born in Washington, D.C. in 1939, Edward Rudolph Warren Jr. grew up in a musical family. His father, a part-time jazz pianist, would invite touring black musicians to his home to offer them a better stay and food than they would have in the city. On one occasion, Duke Ellington’s bassist Billy Taylor left a bass at the Warren household, and Butch took to it with Jimmy Blanton serving as an inspiration. After playing in his father’s band for some time, opportunity struck when the 19-year old attended a Kenny Dorham show where the trumpeter’s bassist didn’t show up.

“[The regular bassist] left his bass there, so I picked it up,” Warren told Jazz Times. “Dorham said, ‘If you feel you can handle it, come up. Otherwise, don’t come up.’”

Warren handled it well and Dorham invited him to join his band in New York City. It was there that the bassist became friends with pianist Sonny Clark and got his first Blue Note session in 1961. From then until 1963, Warren was a mainstay at the label and recorded on some of jazz’s most popular songs including Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man,” Kenny Dorham’s “Blue Bossa,” and Dexter Gordon’s “Cheese Cake.” He also went on to work with Jackie McLean, Donald Byrd, Stanley Turrentine, Hank Mobley, and Thelonious Monk. Warren was 23 when he began a year-long tour with Monk’s quartet, but drugs mixed with mental instability led to a breakdown. He quit the band in 1964 and moved back to DC where he checked himself into St. Elizabeths Hospital.

Warren became reclusive over the next few decades, only occasionally appearing at jam sessions until 2008 when drummer Antoine Sanfuentes rallied the community to get the legend a new bass. The gift stimulated Warren’s life musically and otherwise. He put out his first album as a leader in 2011, entitled French 5tet, followed by a second release, Butch’s Blues.

Our thoughts are with Warren’s friends and family.

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