This photo shows Leroy in Houston with friends. It was taken a couple of years before his passing. Leroy, of course, is the smiling man holding his bariton sax. To his left are John Bryant, drummer, and Ernest Vantrease (the Deacon), keyboard player.
This week marks the one year anniversary since we lost Leroy Cooper and his music. It occurred to me that his passing took place on January 15, 2009 but at the time, I didn't realize that the date was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. My focus was so glued to my friend, Leroy, that I completely missed the significance of the date.
The next morning, when Leroy's wife called to tell me of his passing, I spent much of the day contacting his friends and musicians who knew him, both personally and by reputation, to give them the news. The news was shocking at the time. I had seen Leroy weeks before and done a final interview for the book about his life. During that interview he had given me a valuable piece of information which he had withheld up until that point. I didn't know it would be the last thing on his mind to share.
Of course there was sadness. I miss him still. I listen to the recordings of his voice, telling me his stories and I can see him in my mind. I listen to Ray Charles' CDs and pay special attention to the horns, hearing Leroy bringing up the bottom.
Leroy Cooper was a gentle soul. For anyone who has forgotten, his passing was followed by two of his friends and sax players, David 'Fathead' Newman and Hank Crawford. Last January was one of great loss to the music world.
During 2009, I attended five funerals, Leroy's being the first. Three of them were personal friends, all under 60 years old, and one was another musician and friend, Billy Hall, also in his 50's. It was a year of loss.
Now that we are into a new year, I look back and realize that as much as I miss Leroy, he was 80 years old when he died. He lived a very full life, which has been chronicled and will be published this spring. The other friends that I lost were so young to pass on, some after long years of suffering, others more suddenly.
The sadness is deep for all but I celebrate Leroy's life and am grateful that he did not suffer from a long illness. I watched him grow older during the few years that I knew him. Towards the last year, his physical strength weakened and his final show he played the alto in lieu of the baritone saxophone because he just didn't have the lung power to blow that big horn anymore. That was five days before he died.
January 22 will be the anniversary of his memorial service. My thoughts are with his family who miss him more than I do, I'm sure. Although he was a quiet man, his presence in the household was a calming one and his smile always sweet.
It is important that Leroy is not forgotten. He leaves a long legacy of music and a life that was defined by it.