I’ve been very hesitant to post this until I was really confident in my info…. I was notified of Ralph’s passing yesterday by pianist, Tom Rainer - someone I know has been quite close to Ralph for many years (and someone I’ve known nearly forever)
And then in the past hour, I saw a post from drummer, Kevin Lehman (an early LAMA graduate), which read, in part…
“Very sad to hear that my guru, Ralph Humphrey has passed. However I am so thankful that he is free of pain, and was able to make his transition with grace and dignity, in the presence of his family, and as his wonderful wife JoAnn shared with me, smiling at the tributes and love all of us were able to share with him this past week.”
To say that Ralph Humphrey was a huge influence of mine as a musician would be an understatement. Ralph’s early recordings with Don Ellis created the blueprint of how to not just play in odd meters, but how to play in them with unrestrained musicality. Those albums pretty much singularly bridged the gap from the early explorations of Roach and Morello and laid out the road map for Mahavishnu and all of the odd meter jazz and rock that followed.
But Ralph also demonstrated an unparalleled versatility that just exuded musical competence - with playing that was always thoughtful, considered, insightful and deeply musical. And all seemingly without stylistic boundaries. Regardless of whether he was playing “Zombie Woof” for Frank Zappa, the Greek influenced jazz of “Baba Ghanoush”, laying down a tango on “Dancing with the Stars” or the music for an episode of “Family Guy”, he consistently did it all…. masterfully.
And none of this has even touched on his accomplishments as an educator.
For myself, I humbly acknowledge everything I was able to learn from him - first as an influence from records and live performances, then briefly as a teacher/mentor. I consider myself blessed to have been able to follow in a few of his footsteps. And have been nothing but honored to over the years to become both his colleague and friend.
Our musical world was certainly made better by his presence.
Rest In Peace
May 11, 1944 - April 23, 2023