upper waypoint

8 Bay Area Musicians We Lost in 2022

Save ArticleSave Article
Failed to save article

Please try again

a photo collage featuring eight men holding guitars, saxophones and trumpets
Clockwise from top left: Muziki Duane Roberson, YouTube; Rich Armstrong, courtesy of the artist; Freddie Hughes, photo by William Mercer McLeod, courtesy of Chris Burn; Richard Hadlock, photo by Andrew Gilbert; Don Lewis, photo courtesy of Julie Lewis; Dave Smith, Wikimedia Commons; Marvin Holmes, photo by Cheryl Fabio; Andrew Speight, photo by Kishore Seshadri, courtesy Stanford Jazz Workshop.  (Collage by Sarah Hotchkiss/KQED)

For the Bay Area music scene, it was a year of grateful if tentative recovery. It was also marked by a steady drumbeat of loss. Here, we remember eight artists from the jazz, soul, R&B and electronic music community who died in 2022.

Among the more recent and raw departures was Australian-born alto saxophonist Andrew Speight, who was killed on Dec. 1 near his home in Burlingame when his Porsche was struck by north and southbound Caltrain locomotives at the Broadway Station. Known as “Hurricane” due to the gale force power of his solos, the 58-year-old Speight was a ubiquitous and often galvanizing presence on Bay Area stages. He also served as the longtime director of San Francisco State University’s jazz program and was a Stanford Jazz Workshop faculty member.

Word of his death sparked a torrent of social media tributes from former students and colleagues who described his vaunted musicianship and generosity. “This man gave and gave and gave,” wrote fellow saxophonist and educator Patrick Wolff. “Heart, wisdom, knowledge, eighth notes, history, mentorship, funny criticism, painful criticism, fire, late night friendship, car advice, reed advice, more eighth notes, the right chord changes, which record to get, which horn to get and probably one or three more choruses than anyone else had to give.”

Speight’s slim discography meant that he didn’t receive as much national recognition as he could have, but he made an indelible impression on albums like 2006’s Marsalis Music Honors Series: Jimmy Cobb, a project honoring the legendary drummer, produced by good friend Branford Marsalis. Speight himself co-produced 2008’s Tough Guys by the Generations Ensemble, an all-star project that brought veteran masters Jimmy Cobb, trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, pianist Ronnie Mathews and bassist Ray Drummond to SFSU. His family will hold a series of events, including a funeral and a flower-powered protest at the Burlingame crash site, on Dec. 18.

Sponsored

While Speight preached and lived the bebop gospel, trumpeter and vocalist Rich Armstrong embodied jazz’s populist possibilities as a charismatic entertainer. He was the kind of player who became a centerpiece in any band he joined, providing a steady live-wire current with his musical ebullience. His sudden death at 55 on Oct. 7 inspired an outpouring of memories and tributes reflecting how widely he circulated on the Bay Area music scene.

Armstrong seemed to be everywhere, and every band he played with took on some of his joyous go-for-broke spirit. Those included Roberta Donnay’s Prohibition Mob Band, Lydia Pense and Cold Blood, the Blue Moon Gypsies, which he co-led, and various iterations of the Jazz Mafia collective. Jazz and funk, R&B and pop, rock and soul — Armstrong was game for anything, and had a sixth sense for adding just what any particular situation needed, like a torrid plunger mute solo with Boz Scaggs.

Oakland jazz pianist Muziki Duane Roberson’s death on Aug. 28, at the age of 76, deprives the scene of a well-traveled artist who made it a point to take younger players under his wing. A Vietnam War vet who spent 12 years as keyboard player and music director for the San Francisco Mime Troupe, Roberson was a mainstay on the Bay Area scene as a bandleader and accompanist. He mentored many younger Bay Area artists, most conspicuously through this work with the Berkeley jazz/funk/Latin/poetry group Mingus Amungus, which emerged out of Berkeley High in the mid-1990s.

The East Bay’s soul and R&B community also suffered numerous losses in 2022, starting Jan. 1 with Oakland guitarist, songwriter, producer, and label owner Marvin Holmes. A patriarch of Oakland funk as the leader of Marvin Holmes & The Uptights, he spread East Bay flavor around the nation with the 1969 hit “The Funky Mule, Part 1 & 2.” His bands served as a proving ground for generations of Bay Area musicians, and Holmes bridged musical eras when he played on several seminal Too $hort albums in the 1980s.

In a one-two punch to the East Bay scene’s gut, vocalist Freddie Hughes followed Holmes in death just two weeks later on Jan. 18. The Oakland-reared soul belter’s international renown, particularly in the United Kingdom, stood in stark contrast to his relatively low profile at home. While his recording career hit an early peak with the 1968 hit “Send My Baby Back,” Hughes played an essential role in shaping the sound of East Bay soul in an era defined by church-trained Black vocalists who brought the fervent pleas of gospel to secular settings. Hughes died at the age of 78 from leukemia and COVID-19 complications, according his son Derick Hughes (the former vocalist with Tower of Power and Roberta Flack).

With a career predating the Bay Area’s 1960s soul pioneers, reed player Richard Hadlock was one of the last figures from the trad jazz scene that flourished in the Bay Area in the years after World War II. (Thankfully, vocalist Barbara Dane is still with us). A saxophonist, publisher, journalist, historian, educator and broadcaster who long called Berkeley home, Hadlock is best known in some circles as the author of Jazz Masters of the 20s (Da Capo), a seminal book of biographical sketches first published in 1965. He died on Feb. 2 at the age of 94.

As a DJ, Hadlock introduced his Annals of Jazz show on the San Francisco station KJAZ in 1959, followed by a nearly two-decade run at on KQED. In 1982, he brought Annals of Jazz to Bay Area jazz station KCSM, resulting in a body of work that earned him the 2020 Marian McPartland-Willis Conover Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Jazz Journalists Association.

But it was as a clarinetist that he first moved to the Bay Area, when trombonist Turk Murphy hired Hadlock for his Dixieland band. Hadlock played with just about all the leading figures on the traditional jazz scene over the decades, while also teaching kindergarten in Berkeley and writing concert reviews, newspaper columns and liner notes (including a Grammy-nominated essay for a Time-Life box set on pianist Joe Sullivan).

Death also took a toll on leading figures who’ve made the Bay Area a crucial incubator of new musical technologies. Electronic music innovator Don Lewis, whose Live Electronic Orchestra system allowed him to simultaneously control multiple synthesizers and other instruments via custom keyboards, died on Nov. 6 at the age of 81. Based in Pleasanton since 1981, he worked widely across the industry, collaborating on the seminal Roland TR-808 drum machine with the company’s founder Ikutarô Kakehashi and designing sounds for the Yamaha DX7 and Hammond and ARP keyboards. In popular music, he collaborated with Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones and the Beach Boys.

Sponsored

San Francisco-born David Smith, who died on May 31 at the age of 72, opened up new possibilities for musicians interested in creating electronic music with the first fully programmable synthesizer, the Prophet-5. The UC Berkeley-trained engineer also spearheaded the development of MIDI, the standard protocol for synchronizing audio equipment with electronic instruments. In 2013, he and Roland founder Ikutaro Kakehashi received a Technical Grammy Award for their role in developing MIDI, a game-changing interface.

lower waypoint
next waypoint
Too Short Is Playing a Free Show Tuesday at the LakeThe Return of East Oakland’s Menudo King8 Refreshing Bay Area Boba Shops to Help Beat the Summer HeatMill Valley’s Sequoia Theatre Reopens With a Week of $1 MoviesThis is Her, Now, in Space: J.Lo Heads to a New Galaxy for AI Love Story in ‘Atlas’Taquerias Come and Go, but La Vic’s Orange Sauce Is Forever10 Collections that Stunned at Bay Area Student Fashion Shows20 New Books Hitting Shelves This Summer That NPR Critics Can’t Wait to ReadMistah F.A.B. Drops ‘N.E.W. Oakland’ Music Video, Nearly 20 Years LaterSan Jose’s Most Creative Paleta Cart Is Leveling Up the Mexican Ice Pop