Zane Musa Memorial and Celebration of Life
Monday February 16 7pm
Sofitel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills
8555 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, California 90048
by Gary Fukushima
Nearly eight years ago I was the host of a very humble jam session every Tuesday at a spot in Little Tokyo. Among the participants in the session there was, to put it kindly, a diversity of skill level from week to week, but thankfully two guys that came in together on a regular basis helped tilt the room towards respectability. Pianist Dennis Hamm and saxophonist Zane Musa were, I believe, the best of friends, and they made the rounds at nearly every session and late-night hang, sitting in and sounding great, and the fact they even bothered to come to our little session was encouraging to me. Truth be told, I was glad but somewhat terrified whenever Zane got up to the stage and began blowing, because he could make everyone else look silly and amateurish in a hurry if you didn’t step up your game right then. The best part was Dennis and Zane were two of the friendliest guys you could ever meet. In my mind they were kind of a modern-day odd couple, Dennis playing the straight man to Zane’s maniacal brilliance. In that sense they suited each other so well.
Dennis and Zane, of course, would go on to establish themselves as two of the great musicians in LA, each of them finding their way onto good, high-profile gigs in LA and abroad. Zane in fact was on tour with the great Arturo Sandoval when he died, a tragic end to a remarkable career and a life that had embraced so many people in the jazz and music communities of Los Angeles. Pretty much everyone knew Zane, because he made sure to know everybody, and his absence will be an aching wound in the collective spirit of all who knew him.
There are many who were much closer to Zane than I, and below are some links to articles and testimonies that can better honor his memory. All I want to share is a moment from maybe the second to the last time I saw Zane. (The last time, incredibly, was over a year ago when we played together at the memorial concert for one of Zane’s closest friends, pianist Austin Peralta.) This particular time stands out to me because Zane showed up at a very low-key gig to support his friend, vocalist Lynn Cardona, who had hired me to accompany her that evening. Zane sat in and in this quiet setting played some of the most beautiful, flowing solos which I never before had a chance to hear him do. Zane could blow the doors off of any gig with his virtuosity and atomic intensity, but at his core he was simply an exceptional musician, with as much depth and soul as anyone I can think of. We also had a good chance to talk, a sober conversation (he wasn’t drinking at that time) about music and life, and I came away from it glad to have had that time to get to know him better. I also remember Dennis’ name coming up, and when it did he looked me in the eye and said “Dennis…is a good, good person.” God bless Dennis. My heartfelt condolences to him and all of Zane’s close friends and bandmates, and especially his family.
Here is the first news account of Zane’s passing, skillfully and respectfully done with some personal recollections by LA Weekly’s Tom Meek.
Tom Schnabel wrote some good words about Zane on the blog for KCRW.
Violist and composer/arranger Miguel Atwood-Ferguson wrote what I think is the most poignant tribute to Zane.
The singer Aloe Blacc dedicated one of his songs to Zane at a show recently.
Zane had released on album under his own name, Introducing Zane Musa (2005), with pianist Danny Grissett, bassist Carlitos Del Puerto, and drummers Lorca Hart and Tony Austin. It’s out of print but you can still buy a few copies on CD or vinyl at Amazon.
To finish, here are a few videos. First up is a video of the transcription to one of Zane’s solos. You must be doing something right when people are transcribing your solos and putting them up online:
Here is a promo video from a weekly session Zane did at the erstwhile Dinner House M. They are playing Joe Henderson’s tune Inner Urge, which was a signature piece for the young piano prodigy Austin Peralta, which doesn’t mean much until you watch the video:
Lastly, in a video taken by Tom Meek, you see Zane and Austin (and drummer Tony Austin) playing with fire in their bellies on a gig led by excellent bassist Mike Gurrola at the Jazz Bakery:
The videos with Austin (who also died way too early) are especially tragic now, because they only prove the saying by Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu (which Dennis Hamm quoted in one of his tributes to Zane):
“The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.”