Jazz often gets pushed to the side in this day of electronically-generated beats and ripped loops. That's why the world needs musicians like Ben Tucker, who in his decades of thumbing the bass also deeply understood that no other genre captures life's capricious hum quite like the loose rules, improvisational riffs and cooperative synergy of jazz. Indeed, the title on his business card read "jazz ambassador."
I would also like to point out that "ambassador" is an anagram for "badass roam." Though a consummate classy gentleman, Ben traveled around with all kinds of gonzo-mouthed musicians his whole life, so I don't think he would object.
Those who knew him well will attest that his diplomacy skills stretched far beyond jazz. Though I was more fan than friend, he displayed this generosity of spirit as the band leader at my wedding. While Jewish weddings aren't necessarily known for their jazz themes, my husband and I had spent many a Savannah night hanging on to every sizzling note when Ben played at Hannah's East, and we knew he would bring the party.
After discovering that my elderly grandfather had been a working jazz musician for 70 years, Ben invited him up to join the band. I don't know what happened to the original piano player (I hope he enjoyed the open bar), but my Grandpa George and Ben Tucker played all night long, from our first song, "Sea of Love," to "Tangerine" and other standards full of meandering improv solos, and finally to a rollicking rendition of "Hava Nagila" that spilled out into the Hyatt lobby and scared attendees at the electrician's convention in the ballroom next door.
It's been almost 15 years since we've danced to those tunes. Since last Tuesday, my husband and I have had "Sea of Love" on heavy rotation in the iTunes queue, grossing out the kids as we twirl around the kitchen, thanking the heavens that this time there are no drunk relatives around to carry us around on chairs.
The loss of Ben Tucker reminds us that if we're lucky, life is so much like jazz: Unpredictable and full of syncopation that switches up on a dime, sometimes difficult to get through but rewarding if you can stick it out until the chorus comes back around.
So love hard, hang on tight and swing, baby, swing.