Sunday, January 6, 2008

Father Figure

Those of you who know me well, know that I lived with my father & grandparents in Queens from the time I was 2 until I was 5 years old and then went to live with my mother in Riverdale. What you might not know is that, at the time my mother was in a relationship with jazz bassist Earl May and that he lived with us as well.

Earl was a stepfather to me for about 6 years of my life. Though he and my mother had a tumultuous relationship, Earl was never anything but good to me. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of riding around with him in his red, (1967, I think) Mustang convertible. After he and my mother broke up I didn't see Earl for many years.

Then in 1994 I went on a Jazz cruise. I was in my cabin, changing to go to the pool and heard an announcement that the musicians on the cruise were signing autographs. They announced the names and when I heard Earl May I almost fell down. I grabbed my things and ran from the cabin. I got in line with all the other autograph seekers and waited my turn.

Earl looked up at me and I smiled at him. He got this big grin on his face and teased me about having as big a gap between my two front teeth as he did. Then he asked me who he should sign the autograph to and I said my name. It was his turn to almost fall down.

We hugged and kissed and his wife, Lee, who I also knew from my childhood was there and we all caught up. I got to spend time with them during the rest of the cruise and it was wonderful to see them. At the end of the cruise we exchanged numbers and said we would keep in touch. I think I talked to Lee on the phone a few times, and saw Earl at a Christmas party about a year later, but then I forgot to call again and years passed.

I thought of Earl many times over the years. I wanted to contact him each time one of my girls was born, wanted him to meet them - but with kids, the time just passes so quickly, is filled up every minute and it's hard to make time for everyday friends, much less friends from so many years ago.

Then this summer, when I heard that Max Roach had passed, I started thinking of Earl. I knew he was considerably older than my mother when they were together and I realized the years must be gaining on him and that maybe my time was running out to get in touch with him. I looked for his number, but couldn't find it. Then I thought that maybe he was performing in the city somewhere and I could go see him. I searched on Google and discovered he had performed just the night before in Harlem - so close. I wished I'd seen it before and could have gone. Then as things happen, I got busy with the girls and work and life and forgot to try and track Earl down.

Then last night I got a call from my mother. I was certain that she was going to tell me that my grandfather had passed - he is 94 and in ill health and I'm fully prepared to get that call. But instead she called to tell me that Earl May is gone.

I am amazed that the death of someone I haven't seen in more than 10 years and haven't had regular contact with in more than 30 years can affect me so deeply. I feel the empty space he has left in world as strongly as though he were standing right beside me when he went. Something is different in the air - somehow there's less sound.

I went online last night and this morning to look for video of Earl performing that I could post here. I found a couple of videos on YouTube, but the embedding code has been removed for them so all I can do is provide links.

I also discovered a jazz message board where people were discussing his life and death. Fans who had seen and heard him play many times over the years. It was funny to me because I've only heard Earl play maybe two or three times. I didn't know Earl May the musician. I knew Earl the man. Earl the father.

And though it's been many years since he was a father figure to me, I will miss him always.


Ros said...

I'm very sorry for your loss -- and I'm glad he was there in your childhood.

Torrance Stephens bka All-Mi-T said...

I understand, my aunt was Evelyn "whip" Young. Had her ow orchastra in memphis bck in the da and caused a big rukas in our family they say when she left to travel and pla in BB Kings Band at age 16

The Bear Maiden said...

Chickie I'm so sorry for your loss. I hate that time passes so quickly and we get so caught up in our own everydays that we don't get the chance to "shout out" to those people who for brief periods had such intense influences on our lives.

PV's to you.

Mes Deux Cents said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mes Deux Cents said...


I'm sorry to hear of your loss.

Also I too grew up in Queens. I lived in the East Elmhurst area.

Take care

Fat Lady said...

Thanks for the kind words, everyone.