I’d been meaning to blog for a couple of weeks, since I received the news about the retired Tim Bell passing away, but, I also think that today being All Hallow’s Eve, and tomorrow being All Saint’s Day, that this is actually befitting that I am writing this now. His obituary from the Racine Journal times, HERE. The funeral service was very nice, and while I was sad that there will be no more conversations or concerts involving him, here, it was a celebration of life, and what it means to be a part of his greater legacy. As long as the rest of us are here, playing, listening, promoting, or teaching music to others, Unc’s music lives on. Keep paying it forward. That is what is cool, it’s like being able to celebrate life anyway, any day. I thank his lovely wife, Gerry, whom I had the pleasure of working with at the Women’s Resource Center, for being such a classy and elegant woman, who went with the flow of sharing the joys of all the people who also loves Tim. I think the world of her, too.
Jammin' on his sax
For those who may not know him, Tim was the Jazz Studies professor at UW-Parkside, who taught classes such as Jazz Band, Jazz Appreciation, Jazz/Blues Improv, and other Jazz related academics. He was also the lessons instructor for clarinet and saxophone. Of course his talents expanded out from Jazz. He also played classical, dixieland, and probably just about everything else. It wouldn’t surprise me if Unc’s blood cells looked like music notes under a microscope. Here is a glimpse into who, exactly Tim Bell is, in this clip from WGTD.
Posing with his clarinet, while chilling outside
Growing up, I’d never had the opportunity to take any clarinet lessons, though I’d always wanted to. Being meek, I was a bit tentative about approaching a college professor to ask for lessons, since I was an International Relations major. I’ve always considered myself a student of Music. One day, at the end of Wind Ensemble (under the direction of Mark Eichner) to speak to a music student to set up and schedule her lessons. I’m still not sure what came over me, but I spoke up and wondered if there was room for me in his schedule to take lessons as well. He was surprised, but, I think he was also glad to have other students to share his talents with. The two other gals who sat on the other side of me also signed up for lessons as well. I remember listening closely to Jazz in high school, and while I didn’t understand it, the music and the improve kind of intrigued me, and piqued my interest, as well. (I’ll get back to this later).
Gifting his love of music in one of MANY gigs
That decision to speak up was a well worthwhile decision. Not just because I always wanted the lessons, but, his gusto for life was infectious. To him, life is all about people. And, of course, music. While all of the arts combined make up culture, music is the heartbeat that keeps it all going. Tim saw what ever talent, and knew it was going to be a challenge to bring it out, because I was this meek person, who usually tended to shy away from playing solo/alone in front of anybody... From the jokes, to the love of music, and especially because life is all about people, and music = life, I unofficially adopted him as my uncle, to which the nickname “Unc” came about. I had my rough patches back then. Each time I went in for my lesson, the rough time disappeared. Even during the weeks that I wasn’t the best student (from not practicing as much as I ought to have), I think I still had improvements in my playing. Not that it is 100% accredited to Unc, though he definitely was a part of the combination of it all. There are so many more, who also shares in the legacy, as you can read here.
Showing his pride/love of his talents in music.
It was a happy surprise for me, when one semester, Unc needed a tenor sax player to be in Jazz Band. He brings me into the practice room, and let’s me check out the Selmer tenor for me to borrow. Wow. Me. Tenor sax. Jazz. I played for at least 2 semesters, and while it wasn’t long enough to become proficient, much less really good, but damn. I. Was. Doing. It. Nothing can take away that experience, and, I am forever grateful for that experience. So, to me, it was also befitting that Unc not only played a concert, but soloed also, the night before he passed. I bet he is jamming right now. The only thing I was kind of bummed about, was that I picked up the tradition of giving something to the person who passed away, and for me, it is something of significance, and because he had already gone to the cemetery, I was unable to do so. Fortunately, at the service, I was able to meet up with Unc’s son, Steve. at the funeral. He is taking the tenor sax reed I wanted to place with the Chief, to put on the headstone. I am forever fortunate and for this gesture. I was also able to meet Tim’s daughter (Steve’s sister), whom are kind of like my adopted cousins. Our shared legacy is now stronger for this.
His ever famous smile
Out of all of the pictures available, this is my favorite. That smile, with that twinkle in both eyes, where you’re not sure if a song or a joke was going to fall out of him... He had this comb over that when he flipped it, looked exactly like a bird wing, and he’d always do a double peace sign, and say, “Chief”. I’m still not sure if he was called chief because of this, or if getting the nickname helped him come up with this funny. Everyone would laugh, and I remember thinking that he is missing one wing. When I was able to sit with Unc at the same table with Mark, Esther, Gerry, and Barb for Eichner’s retirement party, I enjoyed a nice conversation with this character. As I was leaving, I realized that all those years, I was wrong about him missing a wing. No. He was not missing anything. Each and every one of us, individually and in various collectives, are his other wing... As long as we carry the love of music and performance with us, Unc will continue to fly. Keep flying, Chief. Keep jamming. The Saints are your new audience, and we will play together again, in due time.
I dedicate this - Benny Goodman’s Sing Sing Sing, with the Christopher Columbus introduction: https://youtu.be/6_YG9XBX04Y
Until next time...