R.I.P. Jim Kurzdorfer

Discussion in 'Bassists [DB]' started by crentest, Apr 26, 2011.

  1. R.I.P. Jim Kurzdorfer
    from an email i got today

    Just to let you know that Jim Kurzdorfer,

    passed away this morning. Jim was known for his music,

    playing the bass
    (Spyro Gyra); he was a Professor at Villa Maria College in

    Buffalo NY.

    I'm not sure if he was more know for BG or DB.
  2. Every time I've seen him, he was playing electric, even in a big band, and sometimes with a pick — and he sounded great.
  3. klyph

    klyph Supporting Member

    Mar 28, 2009
    Cape Cod
    Most times he played gigs on electric (that I saw), but he was a doubler. The first time I saw an Ampeg Baby Bass was when he was playing one on a gig back in the 80's. He was a nice dude and a hell of a player.
  4. bottomzone

    bottomzone Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 21, 2005
    Jim played some great bass on Spyro Gyra's Morning Dance project......RIP.
  5. Kragu


    Feb 18, 2011
    I had the great honor to be one of his private students these last three years. I believed he played more DB than BG over the years but due to the side effects of the chemo it became easier for him to play BG in the end. He was a very talented and generous musician and the best teacher I've ever had. He loved playing and he loved teaching. He was a very special human being and I'm a better person to have known him. RIP Jim.
  6. ScotchRocks


    Apr 28, 2004
    Charlotte NC
    Endorsing Artist: Lehtela Guitar Craft
    Sorry if this is long-winded, but I just had to get it out there:

    It is with great sadness that I learned of my former teacher and mentor Jim Kurzdorfer’s passing today.

    For those who don’t know Jim, he was the bass player for Spyro Gyra during their Golden Age in the late ‘70’s. He played on the hits “Shaker Song”, “Morning Dance” and many others on the first three records.

    If that had been all he’d done with his life, that would have been more than enough. He could have been like many players we all know, trading on his 15 minutes of fame as “the former Spyro Gyra bassist” for an extra $50 from some club. Actually, he seemed rather bemused by the whole fame thing. I once had a lesson at his house, and noticed a framed royalty check on the wall next to his gold record for Morning Dance. The check was for ONE CENT. Typical Jim…

    “Kurz” became so much more than just the bass player on a couple of smooth jazz hits. When I was coming up as a young musician in the 1980's, Jim had a reputation in Buffalo as one of the top 2 or 3 first call guys on every gig or recording session. He had become a champion of electric bass, starting a college level program, first at Buffalo State College, and then at Villa Maria College.

    As a mostly self taught electric bassist with more drive and desire than formal training, my options for higher learning were limited. I had been accepted to Berklee, but simply couldn’t come up with the money to make it happen. I had heard great things from other musicians I respected about Jim’s new program at Villa, so I decided to give it a try.
    Everybody has those “watershed” moments that change the course of your life. Studying with Jim was a major turning point for me as a player and as a person.

    The odd thing is, I can’t point to any one thing that made my three years of study with Jim so amazing:
    Jim didn’t have a “chord/scale tone system” or a “Berklee Bass Method” or any sort of master pedagogical plan that I could discern. We didn’t use a method book at all.

    He didn’t teach licks; in fact, he HATED even showing you how HE played. The only time I ever saw him actually get mad was when I asked him to show me a lick he had played while improvising on “Donna Lee” during a lesson.

    Even though he brought his bass to every lesson, He rarely touched it, preferring to demonstrate his concepts on piano, and accompany my playing. One of my favorite memories was watching Jim play his solo piano version of “Georgia”, which he said was one of his favorite standards .

    ( Every time I have to play a hackneyed bar band version of that tune behind some questionable singer, I think back to the simple beauty of seeing Jim play it for an audience of one. Every time.)

    He never got angry if you didn’t practice. In fact, sometimes it was BETTER not to practice - not practicing meant that you would do the same lesson over again, and it was a way for him to take you deeper into the concepts that he was trying to impart.

    Jim also taught Music Theory at Villa. Out of all the stuff we learned in 4 semesters, the thing I remember most about that class was Jim teaching me how to ear train by using the Bb produced by the steam radiator as a reference tone.

    What Jim DID was make you THINK about every note that you played and WHY you were playing it from EVERY aspect – practically, theoretically, philosophically, metaphysically, logically. He believed that you could play any note over any chord and make it work if your approach was grounded in some way. And he was right.

    His live playing was an extension of his teaching philosophy – never a hint of flash or shtick; On electric or upright, every note was beautifully round and in the pocket. Every improvised solo sounded like it had always been written that way, just waiting for him to come along and play it. I was in awe then, and still am now.

    The strange thing is that what I remember most about those years is not the bass playing, but just being around Jim and absorbing what he had to offer.

    He would often hang out around Villa after school, in that “dead zone” between the end of classes and the start of evening ensembles, always ready to talk about anything and everything.

    I think most of the conversations we had: Everything from Zen philosophy, to the role of black people in country music, to his Thelonius Monk research (for his Theory MA), to politics, to the 1960’s. Often, Jim would take the “devil’s advocate” position, to make sure you knew what you were talking about, and not just spouting off BS.

    He was the only other person I had met up until then who read philosophy for fun; who liked avant garde music and mean tone tuning as much as rock and smooth jazz. ; who loved “finger funk” in the era of MIDI rubber band basslines and slap bass. As a teenager who had always felt somewhat on the “outside” all my life, I finally felt like I found someone else who understood.

    He saw potential in a young kid who was very rough around the edges and turned him into a player. Since then, I’ve gone on to higher degrees, taught hundreds of students, played thousands of gigs in every style imaginable, written books, recorded albums, built basses, and toured around the world. To this day, I still consider my Villa Maria Associates Degree in Electric Bass Performance as my most important achievement. Without the time I spent learning from Jim, none of other things I’ve done would have been possible.

    Jim’s lessons are the foundation for how I teach my own students today. I frequently use his JS Bach transcriptions of the cello suites and 2 voice inventions with my own students. In fact, I’ve spent the last 20 years doing my own transcriptions of keyboard, cello, and viola da gamba music for bass, following Jim’s lead.

    I rarely play bass in my lessons, and I often teach from the piano. I ask lots of open ended questions and make my students find their own answers. And I never use a method book.

    When my students ask why, I tell them it’s how I was taught.

    When I play live, I think ideas rather than licks.

    (About the only piece of Jim’s advice that I ignored was when he told that it was too hard to make a steady living as a gigging musician, and that I should get a teaching degree of some sort. He was probably right about that too.)

    I found out Jim was diagnosed with cancer when I came back to Buffalo for a gig last year. I contemplated calling him many times, but in the end I decided not to.

    The music business is unusual in that you work and live closely with other musicians for weeks, months or years on end. As you are the only other people you know who get “the life”, you tend to know them better than your own family; in some ways it’s like being married.

    And then one day the gig ends, and everyone goes their separate ways, maybe to meet up again somewhere down the road, maybe not. You don’t think of it as a loss or an end; it’s more like “see you later”. It’s just how it is.

    Saying goodbye is too final for me. I prefer to think that this gig is just over, and we’ll run into each other again, somewhere down the road.
  7. Kragu


    Feb 18, 2011
    That was no where near long winded- it was perfect! Like I stated in my post, I had the privilege of having Jim as my mentor a friend for three years, the last half while he was fighting his cancer. Like you, some of my best moments with Jim were when we were just hanging. Lucky for me I was able have a lot of Jim hang time right up to the day he passed. To say I will miss him is such an understatement. I will never ever forget him. There is going to be a memorial celebration for him at Villa on Weds. May 11 at 1:00pm. I do not know if you are local, but if you are-please come!
  8. Roy Vogt

    Roy Vogt

    Sep 20, 2000
    Endorsing Artist: Kiesel, Carvin, Accuracy, Hotwire, Conklin Basses, DNA, Eden
    Sounds like a wonderful teacher! I know from his recordings that he was a wonderful player! What a loss....
  9. Robrage


    May 1, 2011
    I too was a former student of mr.kurzdorfer, during my stint at Villa Maria. I came there to learn Bass from one of the greatest. I was up until then self taught and very unstructured. He didnt judge, or make any judgements on "this kid needs alotta work, " which I did at that time.
    He treated me like a professional,.

    Of course he gave me alotta music theory, scales, chords, ect... He gave me the structured playing I so despirately needed. He trained my ear to hear exactly how things should be played. The Greatest thing he taught me is, beginner, intermediate, expert, ect... If you want to play something, or some style, if you believe you can,whatever you aim for you can achieve. He taught me there is never a "Oh Ill never be good enough to play that." James taught me , You can play what ever you beleive you can play, if youre willing to put in the work.
    Honestly, anything and everything I have done, from Hard Rock, Classic Rock, Blues jam, jazz, ect... I believe it truly began with Mr. Kurzdorfers polishing this dirty stone and making me sound like a real bass player. I will miss him, and am eternally grateful for all he's given me.
  10. ScotchRocks


    Apr 28, 2004
    Charlotte NC
    Endorsing Artist: Lehtela Guitar Craft
    I'll be reading a version of my above eulogy at the Memorial Service on May 11 at Villa Maria College, 1PM. It's an 11 hour drive from Charlotte to Buffalo, but it;s worth it.

    If any of you are there, stop over and say hi.
  11. Kragu


    Feb 18, 2011
    How cool of you to drive all that way to be there. Pat mentioned to me that one of Jim's former students will be driving up from NC to speak. I look forward to meeting you. We'll be sure to spot each other as i will be speaking also. Please drive safe. See you on Weds.
  12. Kragu


    Feb 18, 2011
    How cool of you to drive all that way to be there on Weds. Pat mentioned that one of Jim's former students would be coming up from NC to speak. We'll be sure to spot each other as I am going to speaking also. I look forward to meeting you. Please drive safe and I'll see you on Weds.
  13. i will also be there.
  14. Kragu


    Feb 18, 2011
    Fantastic job yesterday! It was so very thoughtful of you to come all that way to share your Jim story. He touched so so many.. It's kind of cool now that all his students are somewhat bonded together in one great "JK" club... What an honor. If I can be half the teacher to my students as Jim was to all of us, I'd consider myself a very successful. Good luck in your future musical endeavors. And... Enjoy that 6 string!!! K
  15. ScotchRocks


    Apr 28, 2004
    Charlotte NC
    Endorsing Artist: Lehtela Guitar Craft
    Thanks man. That was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I was just trying to plow through without falling apart.

    And I'm just BLOWN AWAY to have received one of Jim's basses; I was not expecting that at all. It's a weird synchronicity that my primary bass is also a 6 string.

    It's amazing how many people turned out too. Every A list player in town was there as well. To have Bobby Millitello and Bobby Jones as a "warm up" act was an incredible tribute. I forgot how much world class jazz talent there is in Buffalo.

    Stu Weissman's solo version of "Shaker Song" was beautiful and touching, as were all the other music and spoken tributes. I feel honored to have been asked to be a part of it.
  16. Kragu


    Feb 18, 2011
    Hey, when you get a chance, check your messages in box...
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