The year 2012 witnessed the passing of many influential authors, actors, musicians, directors, dancers and others who contributed greatly to our region's vibrant arts scene. They challenged and changed us with their words, melodies, movements and visions. But mostly, they entertained and inspired.
Some were born here, others arrived later in life, but each left a legacy. Here, Bee critics and reporters remember a few whose work affected them both professionally and personally.
Dec. 6, 1920-Dec. 5, 2012
Legendary jazzman Brubeck, who had close ties to the region (he was born in Concord, grew up in Ione and attended college in Stockton), died earlier this month, a day shy of his 92nd birthday.
He left behind a brilliant career spanning seven decades. Undoubtedly, he will be best remembered for the ground-breaking "Take Five."
I remember the first time I heard the piece and thinking "What was that?" I was instantly drawn to the playful opening piano line and I marveled at how it sounded buoyant, with the music as playful and deft as a cat prancing along a thin fence line.
Later, when the music evolves into Paul Desmond's distinctive smoky sax line, I finally got what people liked about jazz.
See, jazz was not my thing as a late teen. I wanted nothing to do with it. Instead I was totally immersed in the downtown New York rock and punk scene. But with "Take Five" I knew there was something special going on, especially rhythmically. So, for me, "Take Five" was a portal to jazz.
I regret that, in my later travels as a music critic, I did not get to meet the man. I had the rare chance when the Sacramento Philharmonic performed "Ansel Adams: America," co-written by Brubeck and his son Chris Brubeck, in 2009.
Sadly, Brubeck was not able to make it to that performance of the work. Those who did meet him, however, remember a man of tact and great humility.
"He was completely humble and accessible," said Stockton Symphony conductor Peter Jaffe, who collaborated with Brubeck on several of his classical compositions, including the Adams work. Most of Brubeck's classical works were premiered by the Stockton Symphony.
At one point, at the end of their working together on a symphonic work, Brubeck drew Jaffe close and said: "Don't forget about me." That request speaks volumes about the kind of man Brubeck was; the music did the rest.
Jan. 19, 1958-April 6, 2012
We could all learn a lesson from "the Painter of Light."
Proclaimed as America's most collected artist, Thomas Kinkade made pastel scenes of rose- covered cottages into mass-market sensations at malls nationwide. In 2005, more than 350 franchised galleries bore his name, and his images hung in one of every 20 homes.
A Kinkade night light a little illuminated cottage used to hang in our bathroom, a kitschy reminder of time and place. Earlier this year, the light burned out and we never replaced it. That seemed appropriate. Kinkade's sudden death at age 54 due to an accidental overdose of alcohol and Valium was like that light going dark.
His death shocked his fans, who loved his glimmering fantasies of perfect Christmas mornings and majestic mountain vistas. Behind his work's shining facade, he had dealt with financial troubles and the breakup of his longtime marriage. (Just before Christmas, his wife, Nanette, and girlfriend Amy Pinto secretly settled their dispute over his $66 million estate.)
Derided by art critics but adored by millions, Kinkade will forever be linked to his hometown of Placerville, which provided inspiration for many of his early works. But he also painted tributes to New York, San Francisco, London and Paris as well as California landmarks. His later work branched out into NASCAR, the Indianapolis 500, baseball stadiums and Disneyana.
His commercial appeal was unmatched. In 2002, he was inducted into the California Tourism Hall of Fame for helping to sell the dream of the Golden State.
Just like his intense colors, he oversaturated his market. Often tinged with Christian symbolism, his imagery extended beyond canvas to textiles, collectibles, music, movies, books, even La-Z-Boy loungers and housing tracts.
But Kinkade's earliest work depicting the play of sunlight on fresh snow or dusk on a mountain top may have been his purest and most reflective of what he wanted to do before fame, fortune and ultimately death complicated his legacy. His message as he said on his official website was pretty simple: "to slow down, appreciate the little details in life, and to look for beauty in the world around us."
Jan. 30, 1923-April 24, 2012
I first spoke to Jack Lynn over the telephone when he called to talk about a theater review I'd written. He was a polite, direct, gravelly-voiced Englishman and got right into it.
It was a fairly negative notice, but Lynn thought it could have been even more so. He had seen the production and spoke very precisely about what he thought the faults were, how certain ones were fixable and other problems were due to lack of talent that could not be corrected.
Lynn also told me a little bit about himself, though he didn't really need to as I had heard of him, and during the fascinating conversation it was obvious he had probably forgotten more about theater than I would ever know. It was also obvious that theater was his life.
We decided to meet monthly for lunch and what he called "a good theater jaw." We did so for the next several years until Lynn returned to England in 2007. I'd try to hold up my end, telling him about local productions I'd seen, and he'd tell me stories of his extraordinary life in the theater.
Lynn started training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in England in 1939 when he was 16 years old, and eventually he taught there. His mentor was the great Robert Donat, who suggested that Lynn emphasize directing and teaching, which he did.
Lynn came to the States in the late 1940s, taking a teaching position at Pasadena Playhouse, and he soon became dean of the acting school. There he worked with many soon-to-be- famous actors including Charles Bronson, Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman.
He returned to Britain in the '50s, teaching at RADA with actors Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt and Ian McShane, among many others. He also successfully produced on London's West End for many years.
Lynn's contemporaries and associates were a who's who of British theater in the second half of the 20th century Paul Scofield, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen and John Gielgud are just a few. He knew them well and told many revealing stories that he eventually compiled into a one-man show which he performed here and in England. The last professional work he did in London was playing Cardinal Wolsey (in the play "A Man for All Seasons") opposite Charlton Heston.
He'd met Jerry and Laura Grisham, who ran the old Stagedoor Comedy Playhouse near Arden Fair, and they suggested he come here. Lynn arrived in Sacramento in 1986, staying 20 years, finally living with his good friend Laura Darzell. Occasionally he would act or direct, and he maintained a film society, screening classics like Ernst Lubitsch's "To Be or Not To Be" or Alfred Hitchcock's "The 39 Steps."
While Lynn could and would dish on Laurence Olivier or Ralph Richardson, he could also just as happily remark on the talents of people he saw or worked with here, like Gillen Morrison, Shelly Sandford, Matt K. Miller or Jerry Lee. I requote Lynn from the story I wrote about him as he directed his last show here in 2007.
"I've been so lucky over the years with people I've worked with or people I've known," Lynn said. "I think with very few exceptions great actors are some of the nicest people. They have a basic humanity and a basic kindness. They have no prejudices. Because when you have an open mind like that, you can understand the characters you play."
Omar Shariff (born David Alexander Elam)
March 10, 1938-Jan. 8, 2012
On first hearing Omar Shariff play piano I thought, "What is this guy doing playing this kind of music here?" The music was a blend of jazz, boogie woogie, stride, basically a history of African American piano music with a decidedly blues base, played by a virtuoso musician.
Shariff was playing in Old Sacramento at one of his regular gigs serenading hungry diners at Jazzmen's Art of Pasta. It's the kind of job known in the business as a "casual." Shariff was stuck in a corner of the room with a rinky-dink electric keyboard, but his genius was evident in every note he played or sang.
Shariff had that confounding happy/sad, melancholy/euphoria of the blues in his piano playing and his life. He was a particularly gifted artist but also often profoundly frustrated and unhappy that his talent hadn't done more for him. Shariff could have played just about any music with any band and been the brightest light on the bandstand. And he knew this.
Born in Shreveport, La., he grew up in Marshall, Texas, where he died, and there was plenty of that state's grit in his playing. He recorded three stellar albums here between 1993 and 2000 for Mike Balma's Sacramento-based Have Mercy Records including the 1995 classic "Baddass." The legendary record included Shariff originals and also covers of Jimi Hendrix's "Machine Gun," John Coltrane's "Trane's Blues" and Ludwig van Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata."
That was Omar; he wanted you to know he could do it all.
Balma said it's the best record he ever produced, and it was so successful he and Shariff went on a European tour behind it. The tour included three other piano players, and even though Shariff performed abbreviated sets during his performances, he blew the others off the stage.
"The other piano players told me they'd never play with Omar again because he just kicked everybody's ass," Balma said.
Shariff won two Living Blues Magazine awards for "Baddass": best piano player and artist most deserving of wider recognition. Those awards could have been Shariff's epitaph.
April 28, 1936-Oct. 8, 2012
The saxophonist and composer John Tchicai always carried an other-worldly presence. A sense of calm and peacefulness emanated from him and he seemed forever ready to smile at some clever joke he'd remembered.
Tchicai was a legendary figure when he and his wife, Margriet Naber Tchicai, moved to Davis in 1991. He had been one of the architects of New York's free-jazz movement of the mid-'60s not some tangential figure but a major one, performing and recording with most of the central avant-garde players of the time.
Tchicai played on John Coltrane's "Ascension," Albert Ayler's "New York Eye and Ear Control" and Archie Shepp's "New York Contemporary," all seminal albums in the free-jazz movement.
He co-founded the New York Art Quartet with Ayler and Roswell Rudd. The music they made still stands as the most influential and revered of the jazz avant garde. Tchicai even jammed with John Lennon and Yoko Ono at a 1969 concert in Cambridge, England.
Tchicai was born in Denmark to a Danish mother and Congolese father and came to Northern California to teach at UC Davis, having been awarded a lifetime composing grant from the Danish Ministry of Culture.
He and his wife played in numerous groups, and he formed a band called the Archetypes which performed regularly. Tchicai was unfailingly generous and supportive of the numerous musicians who gravitated to him, and despite the enormity of his accomplishments and experience, he was relentlessly humble and sincere.
In 2001 Tchicai left Davis to settle in Claira in southern France.
The locally based drummer Mat Marucci knew Tchicai well, playing and recording with him for more than a decade. Said Marucci, "He was not only a great spirit who gave those who played with him tremendous inspiration, but was a real educator in the free-music genre and probably the most creative musical artist I've been involved with."
In the 1965 liner notes to the New York Art Quartet album "Mohawk," Tchicai wrote: "There is so much talk about the freedom of this music, but the musician still has to abide to the rules of artistic responsibility, and they should never forget that whichever way the technique develops: the content (the feeling) must always be there (passion, energy, lyric, strength)."