I never thought I would write an obituary on my blog, but then I never thought I would write about cancer. Last week, my dear friend since 1964, Buzz, or formally, Hayward Sylvester Blackledge III died at 56. This is my eulogy for the wake today. In tribute to Hayward, I have interspersed album covers I made up to honor this wonderful jazz musician.
I remember my first impression of this skinny, tall kid in 1964 from the West side of Providence. He seemed so young at 13 but so self-assured, particularly about girls. I had a dance party that year at my house and I knew then that Buzzy had something special with the girls, and I should pay very, very close attention.
When I remember Buzz, I think of when we played with the Fowler brothers band, the Soul Sounds and wore matching blue satin shirts, and did steps. We practiced in the Baptist church on the West side of Providence. It was 1966. The black kids in the neighborhood would come into the church and ask, “Why is that white guy playing in this band?” and Buzz would always defend me. Buzzy’s favorite tune was “Cold Sweat” because it was all about the drum part.
I remember when he came into my house on Olney Street one day so excited to play a new record, something he did very frequently, but this time was special. He put a new album on my record player, and he played “Fire” off the first album of Jimi Hendrix. I keenly remember he did not play “Purple Haze”, because “Fire” was a drummer’s tune. He announced we were going to see Hendrix at Brown University, which we did March 8, 1968.
When I remember Buzz, I remember all the times we would stay up until the morning listening to music. Hayward introduced me to jazz, and we would listen to Roland Kirk and Ahmad Jamal and Horace Silver all night long. We would want to play and I would take out my guitar, and Hayward would get some pots out of the kitchen and use them as bongos. We played until we were so sore.
When I remember Buzz, I think of all the concerts and music we took each other to over the years. He took me to all three Hendrix concerts in Providence – once with counterfeit tickets that cost $8 – but we got in. I remember all the music at the Newport Jazz festival we went to. I remember going to the old Jazz Workshop in Boston with him. But then I remember when he played the Jazz workshop with Victor Brasil and Buzzy was playing at an incredible level. I was so proud of Buzz.
When I remember Buzz, I remember living with him in 1981. He let me move in for several months when I was having girlfriend problems, about which he was much wiser. I remember his cooking. His signature dish was a slow cooked lamb with allspice. I had never seen someone be so patient to cook something for so long, and then when he ate it, he ate it slowly. I gobbled it up, it was so good. But Hayward could out-slow-eat anyone on the planet. He would push his dish away half eaten and you would find him at one in the morning nibbling on a few more spoonfuls.
When I remember Buzz, I remember his years obsessed with clothes. So many clothes, his closets were full and he had racks of them hanging in his Cambridge apartment. He took me shopping for platform shoes and flowered shirts, and he convinced me to buy platform sandals with 4-inch heels and a pair of High black boots with 3-inch yellow heels and a yellow stripe up the side. Hayward, I still have those boots, but I will never ever be as cool or as hip as you were then.
When I remember Hayward, I remember my best man. I think of him playing at my wedding, and coming together with my musician friends from college and later in life. He looked so handsome. He played with finesse. He was so excited about playing with my accomplished friend Dan Siegel. I will cherish that last time I played with Hayward forever.
When I remember Hayward, I think of all the times we never thought Hayward would live to be 56. Hayward lived on the edge, and he scared us many times. But then something happened. What changed everything was this woman Angela came into his life. For the first time Hayward settled down. For the first Hayward had peace. Hayward adored Angela and was enveloped by this incredible, warm, wonderful woman who had so much love for him. Angela is why Hayward made it so far and had a great life, a life we can all honor now.
I remember Hayward.