Dennis Irwin 1951-2008

I just got word that my old friend and mentor Dennis Irwin passed away. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt such a deep loss from the passing of a colleague before. Dennis was a person of exquisite qualities. A consummate musician who understood not only the importance of the music but the importance of the musicians. He was a person with a deep respect for music and humanity, who lived that conviction with a grace and humility that I’ve never known in another person. He was a bassist’s bassist, with a beat and sound so perfect that they were easy to take for granted, his lines were so natural that it was like they were always there. I thought I’d had a fairly unique experience in being lucky enough to get to know Dennis and to spend time with him and to have the benefit of his encouragement and deep knowledge of music and culture. It’s only in the last few months, since we all learned of his illness, that I realized how many bass players have similar stories, how many of us he touched. Dennis was a true and genuine friend to many people and gave of his knowledge and experience generously, without artifice or expectation. He was as much fun to be with as anyone I’ve ever known. Funny, erudite, (a word he undoubtedly would have found a way to riff on), well read, open minded and above all else humble. As a musician Dennis had a quality which is always in very short supply, he was generous to a fault. He was the guy in the back who made it easy for the guys out in front to do what they do. His knowledge of all types of music from classical to Brazilian folk music to jazz was encyclopedic and he brought a depth of understanding to every note he played that infused his lines with a musical meaning that very few bassists can approach. Maybe most importantly to him, Dennis was a father to his son. in a business where all the cards are stacked against being able to “be there”, he was there. He may have been known to spend Friday in Tokyo, Saturday in New York and Sunday back in Tokyo, but somehow in spite of all of that, he also found time to be a father. In my own small way I’ll always carry a part of Dennis inside of me and every time I play the bass I know that a lot of what will make me keep trying to make better music, is the inspiration I feel through having known Dennis Irwin. The world is poorer today for the loss of one of the good guys and the rest of the bass players of the world are all going to have to pitch in to try to pick up the enormous amount of slack left by his departure. I miss him already. Tim Ferguson March 8, 2008 New York

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