Curtis Fuller – The Story of Cathy and Me – Challenge Records CR73309, 64:19 [Distr. by Allegro] *****:
(Curtis Fuller, trombone; Lester Walker, trumpet; Daniel Bauerkemper, tenor sax; Akeem Marable, tenor sax; Nick Rosen, piano; Kenny Banks, Jr., piano; Brandy Brewer, bass; Kevin Smith, bass; Clarence Levy, percussion; Henry Conerway III, drums; Tia Michelle Rouse, vocals)
Listening to The Story of Cathy and Me is a very emotional experience. On Jan. 13, 2010, Fuller’s wife, Catherine Rose Driscoll Fuller died. This CD is a tribute to both Catherine and the life that she and Curtis led together. It reflects the three phases of their life together: how they met; their life together; and how Curtis is dealing with her passing.
The liner notes to this CD were written by Benny Golson, whose relationship with Fuller goes all the way back to when they were members of Dizzy Gillespie’s band many decades ago. As Benny so aptly points out, this CD “is the most unusual presentation of music” (that Golson had ever heard.) It is like listening in to some of the most intimate moments in someone’s life. There are four “interludes” in which Fuller introduces himself; discusses his children; describes Catherine’s cancer; and lastly, how he will honor her memory by continuing to play his instrument. A review of the song titles below are as emotional and revealing as one might expect from a man baring his soul and dealing with his grief.
Curtis was born in Detroit and grew up in a Jesuit orphanage. He was childhood friends with Paul Chambers and Donald Byrd, and knew Tommy Flanagan, Thad Jones and Milt Jackson. After serving in the Army, he played with Yusef Lateef before moving to New York City, where his career took off with Blue Note Records. His legendary career included stays with the Art Farmer-Benny Golson Jazztet, and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the early 1960s, as well as the big bands of Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie. It was when Fuller was playing with Basie in Spain that he met Catherine.
“Little Dreams” follows the first interlude. It is a gentle piece in which Fuller, trumpeter Lester Walker, and tenor saxist, Daniel Bauerkemper, each solo. Fuller’s solo increases in intensity as the track progresses and you sense that something special is happening here. “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face” has Akeem Marable on tenor playing the familiar melody, but with an emotional intensity that expresses Fuller’s memory of his wife of 30 years.
“I Asked and She Said Yes” is an upscale tune (catch the cow bell) in which the mood changes to elation as the title indicates their married life together. Lester Walker has a brash solo and Nick Rosen’s piano solo is noteworthy. Tia Rouse’s vocal is poignant on “The Right to Love” as she emotes about how the world can be cruel in judging a couple’s right to be together. Mid song, Fuller’s solo is gut wrenching as he pours out his soul.
“My Lady’s Tears” finds its emotional core in the opening solo of Bauerkemper, followed by Nick Rosen’s sparkling piano chorus, but the tenor tells the story in searing tones. Curtis then shares in his second interlude how he turned down work in order to be home with his three children.
“Sweetness” momentarily brightens up the mood as the melody expresses good times as the trumpet and the horns blend in ensemble. “Look What I Got” done in ¾ time signature with the conga drum giving a Latin beat sets the stage for Akeem Marable on tenor, and Fuller to play off each other.
The third interlude is heart wrenching as Fuller shares Catherine’s losing battle with lung cancer, a diagnosis that Curtis had faced himself earlier in life. Appropriately, “Life Was Good What Went Wrong” follows and the frustration and agony Fuller faced is poured out in the cacophonic solos of the band.
“Too Late Now” gives Lester Walker center stage to emote with his round warm tone as he gives musical expression to Fuller’s expression of the reluctant acceptance of Catherine’s cancer, which was so hard as she was 22 years younger than Curtis.
Frank Loesser’s “Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year” has Kenny Banks, Jr. playing a moving melody before Brandy Brewer on bass has a gorgeous solo. Fuller’s choice of this classic tune shows his outlook as a survivor, which he shares on the closing interlude, “My Wish for Cathy and My Friends” as he relates that he still “talks to her daily.”
May we all share the grief of the passing of a soulmate with the dignity and class expressed on The Story of Cathy and Me…
TrackList: My Name is Curtis DuBois Fuller, Little Dreams, The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face, I Asked and She Said Yes, The Right to Love, My Lady’s Tears, My Children, Sweetness, Look What I Got, Cancer, a Horrible Experience, Life Was Good What Went Wrong, Love Was Everything When Love Was You and Me, Too Late Now, Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year, My Wish for Cathy and My Friends
A 10-year anniversary of Esperanza Spalding’s Radio Music Society gets a welcome vinyl upgrade.