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Eldee Young was at Jazz At The Kemper with the Ramsey Lewis trio in August, 1994.
Eldee Young: 1936 - 2007
`Anchor' of Ramsey Lewis Trio a giant among jazz bass players
By Howard Reich
Tribune arts critic
February 14, 2007
Though he stood just 5 feet 1 inch, Chicago jazz bassist Eldee Young sounded as big as all outdoors.
His sumptuous bass lines propelled one of the most famous jazz bands to come out of Chicago--the Ramsey Lewis Trio--and kept him in demand across the city, and around the world, for more than half a century.
Mr. Young, 71, who during the last two decades divided his time between Chicago and the Far East, died Monday afternoon, Feb. 12, (Chicago time) in Thailand, where he was performing. The cause of death is believed to be a heart attack, according to his family.
"He was a small guy. But when he started playing the bass, which is almost twice as tall as him, people absolutely loved him," Lewis said.
Mr. Young was "the anchor" of the Ramsey Lewis Trio, the pianist added. "He gave us the sound that we loved. Onstage, he was so animated."
The ebullience of Mr. Young's stage manner endeared him to audiences. Extroverted to the core and often venturing beyond the upright bass to play cello or sing, Mr. Young was a throwback to earlier vintage jazz musicians who went out of their way to entertain their audiences.
But there was more to Mr. Young's art than charm.
"He was such a consummate musician," said Chicago bandleader-pianist Marshall Vente, who often performed and recorded with Mr. Young.
"When you're leading a band, if you don't have to worry about a bass player ever hitting a wrong note, that frees you up to play more and to play freer. That's what it was like working with Eldee."
Mr. Young started his musical life on guitar, but he switched to bass. It wasn't until he was a student attending McKinley High School on Chicago's West Side that he realized music would be his life's focus.
"What really turned him around was when he went to see Josephine Baker and Duke Ellington downtown," said one of his three sons, Eldevon Young. "He said when he saw that, he knew that was what he wanted to do."
Not long after graduating from high school, Mr. Young went on the road as a jazz musician. But it was his tenure in the Ramsey Lewis Trio (with drummer Redd Holt) in the 1950s and 1960s that made him a widely recognized figure.
The trio's breakup in the mid-1960s, however, came as a deep disappointment.
"We had worked so hard on this music together, and when the group broke up, it was like a family breakup," Mr. Young told the Tribune in 1996. "I took it very hard."
Yet he bounced back, enjoying considerable popularity in the late 1960s and 1970s co-leading various bands with Holt.
By the 1980s, he began performing frequently in Asia, finding himself in demand in Singapore, Vietnam, India, Malaysia and beyond.
"He liked playing over there because people really wanted the music and really appreciated it," said another son, Tyree Young.
In addition to Tyree and Eldevon, Mr. Young is survived by a third son, Marcus; his wife of 53 years, Barbara; and a sister, Vermel Cameron.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Copyright (c) 2007, Chicago Tribune