Musicians played when friends and family laid Cleve Williams to rest June 1, 2007, at the Riverview Cemetery. It was a jazz funeral.
Now, with the death of pianist Eddie Wied just 10 days later, another key figure from the heyday of modern jazz in Portland is gone. Both Williams, a trombonist and singer, and Wied came of age when that busy scene was centered in the African-American neighborhood along Williams Avenue, and they played together over the years, most recently as part of The Original Cats. Wied even passed away in the same bed that had been occupied by Williams at Hopewell House Hospice.
In the 60 years since their apprenticeship, the work of Wied and Williams as teachers and mentors as well as musicians — has provided a crucial link between the city’s jazz past and the scene today.
I was living on Williams Avenue for a while, Wied said of his early days in Portland in the book Jumptown. Williams was like Harlem on the Willamette, he said about the street where races mixed and music played night and day in 1947.
Even when he was still attending Roosevelt High School, Williams would join jam sessions stocked with players from out of town, where he and Wied learned their craft.
Cleve was so warm and personable, always positive, remembers former Portland City Commissioner Dick Bogle. He always wanted to get better.
And he did, opening for Billie Holiday in 1949. But the highlight of my life, he said, occurred when Dinah Washington hired him for her band in L.A. After the mid-60s, though, Williams didn’t often play professionally, devoting himself instead to supporting youth in the Job Corps a role he’d played already in the music world.
They were like godfathers to us, recalls drummer Mel Brown, 63.
Wied and Williams passed on what they learned to the next generation, just as Brown has done with younger players, who are now, like pianist and Portland State University associate professor Darrell Grant, doing the same.
When Eddie Wied died, says Grant, 44, I thought, It’s on me now to do what he did to keep that culture alive. All that he gave, we have to carry on.’ And Eddie gave so much.
Known as the Professor, Wied, born in 1925, put his stamp on Portland as a teacher as well as exemplary player. He even recorded one of his two albums with former student Giovanni Ciccarelli (The Street Dancer), and he’s mentored local professionals such as Mark Simon and Johnny Martin.
Perhaps that impulse also made him the consummate accompanist, says Nola Bogle, who sang with Wied in the 1970s. He was an extremely schooled musician who really listened to vocalists.
Subsequent to Williams University, as he called it, Wied attended Lewis and Clark College, Juillard School of Music, and earned a masters degree in Art from the University of Nevada. But music was always his full-time job.
During 15 years in Las Vegas, Wied was pianist for the Modernaires, touring and appearing with them for four months on The Johnny Carson Show. He performed in New York with tap great Honi Coles, and when star players came through Portland, they’d often appear at The Jazz Quarry with Wied, who led the house band there as he did later at The Hobbit and Suki’s. His ease, intelligence and fluidity captured the essence of modern jazz.
I usually won’t play with a piano player, guitarist Herb Ellis said. But Eddie Wied, well, he’s a giant.
What he gave to music, it returned to him.
He had such a rich life, says former wife and companion, Patricia Caringella. And in his last year, he had many visitors. Some played with him while others, in the end, played for him. Now they’re performing and teaching on their own, carrying with them the legacy of Eddie Wied and Cleve Williams.