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Remembering Don Mayberry


Don Mayberry, a mainstay of Detroit's jazz community, died unexpectedly from a heart attack on Tuesday, April 12, 2011. He was 60 years of age.

It would be difficult to find anybody who knew Don Mayberry and was not his friend. The hearty, resonant laugh, easy continuous smile, and insightful reply to any question were Don Mayberry hallmarks. His musical brilliance was usually on display. Don sometimes turned up his bass amp a little too high, but when he was ‘on' he was great, a bassist who could lift any rhythm section. Singers loved his choice of notes. He worked with Aretha Franklin in New York last year and she was but one of many first-rate vocalists who enjoyed Don Mayberry's playing.

Piano players loved playing with Mayberry; he knew a thousand tunes and knew how to make the pianist sound good, too. When he released a two-CD set a few years ago it was titled Don Mayberry and Friends, and there were a lot of musicians on those discs. We occasionally exchanged books. Don loved history and music biographies, and he always had a fresh perspective on a person or subject. We worked together on the Baker's 70th anniversary planning committee and Don's solid advice and confident directions were invaluable. He respected musical elders and always made certain that younger folks understood their importance. He was a firm leader and would take no excuses from sidemen.

He was constantly on the go, just coming from or going to a gig, whether in Detroit or elsewhere. He was in continuous demand from coast-to-coast and often outside of the U.S. I remember Don racing into the WDET studios moments after the "Detroit Jazz Alive" theme had started, shirttail out, sweating, a look of desperation on his face. He'd been stopped for speeding and had managed to avoid a ticket but I am sure he would have taken the ticket if he would have been on time. He was that kind of guy. He was also handy with mechanical stuff, and could tinker with a furnace or a car and make it run.

He played so many gigs at each Monteux-Detroit Jazz Festival during the eighties that the number became a running joke. He had a somber side to his personality, but he loved to laugh, and his laugh was infectious. Don was genuinely interested in people, and that was one of his strongest qualities. Any news of a friend's passing would tone down his buoyant smile and bring forth comforting words.

Those who knew and loved Don Mayberry — and there are many — feel a huge sadness at his passing, and the loss of his friendship and warm personality will create a gap in our lives. But the many memories of his kindness and selflessness and honesty will remain with us, as will his wonderful music. His laugh will always remain, too.




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