Vale one of Australia’s finest improvisers
Last Friday November 8 at 2.20am Bangalow resident and musician David Ades died peacefully in his home after a battle with lung cancer.
The internationally recognised and nationally lauded saxophonist was on his deck, enveloped in the sweet scent of gardenias and surrounded by the three most important women in his life, his girlfriend Claire, his daughter Amelia and his sister Ruth.
Longtime friend Deborah Pearse said the women were devoted to David. ‘There is no other word for it. Meeting Claire was a great gift from the universe for David. She got to meet him before he was diagnosed so he got to have her with him through the whole thing. It made a huge difference.’
David himself had nursed his wife Melissa Jane, who died of breast cancer just over seven years ago. She also died peacefully at their Bangalow home. ‘I don’t know many men who could have done what David did,’ says Deborah.
David Ades played how he lived, with passion and openness. It was part of what made him such a character both on and off stage.
‘I don’t know anyone with such an appetite for life,’ says Deborah.
‘He had that incredible passion for lots of things: for music, for surfing, for his family and friends.’
I first met David Ades 25 years ago when he moved into the house behind me in Byron Bay in the early nineties.
He was the kind of person who made his presence felt even before you met him. You don’t hear saxophone like that without knowing that you are hearing something – extraordinary.
David performed with classical orchestras and collaborated with esteemed international figures such as Wynton Marsalis, Mark Helias, Tony Malaby, Gerald Cleaver, Tom Rainey, Dr John and Joe Locke as well as Australians Paul Grabowsky, Dale Barlow, Roger Frampton, Vince Jones, The Cat Empire and one of the most influential figures in his life, composer Phil Treloar.
Treloar instilled in Ades the importance of trust, authenticity and the willingness to take risks, even if that meant playing on the ‘edge of the abyss’. As it turned out, this was the place where Ades played the best – right out there on the precipice.
Musician Vince Jones said upon hearing of his passing: ‘It’s been said a man who doesn’t create is like a cloud that never rains. That could never be said about Dave – he poured his creative and beautiful music over us all his life.’
Praised by critics
Writers and critics all agreed that Ades had something different. Jazz writer Craig McGregor believed that ‘Dave Ades was one of the best jazz saxophonists I have ever heard… and a lovely man. I suspect his musical heart was with the black avant garde American musicians of the 70s; shrill high register, abrupt phrases, a searing anger, but joy through most everything he played. But he was also capable of gentle, soulful solos and accompaniments to singers.’
Sydney Morning Herald music critic John Shand was also one to recognise the uniqueness of Ades’s voice in the music scene. ‘There was a life force to Dave’s playing that exploded from the bell of his saxophone and enveloped the room. He made the alto saxophone sound bigger than it had a right to be, and he knew that one played music for keeps, or shouldn’t play at all. His passing is a massive loss to Oz music.’
Up until his recent decline, David Ades was playing and recording music, approaching every gig ‘as a huge opportunity to play. I approach it like it could be my last.’
David sought treatment overseas several times and two months ago he travelled to New York to record what was to be his last album. Ades faced that abyss; the trip caused him great physical duress.
That 11-track album is to be called A Life in a Day and the master arrived the week before Dave died.
Longtime friend Glenn Wright (director of Mullum Music Festival), deeply saddened by Dave’s passing said, ‘He is well loved by the local music scene, has big followings around the country and has an international reputation as one of Australia’s finest improvisers.’
When I reflect on the music and the spirit of David Ades, it is not the numerous amazing gigs that I remember most. It is Ades playing in the street, often to no-one. Or just one or two people. Just a man and his instrument.
Ades played for the sheer joy of playing and, like his infamous New York father, potato-peeler seller Joe Ades, the street was in his blood. Very often you’d hear Dave’s sax drifting through Byron, creating this amazing soundscape, placing you in a film you didn’t even know was being shot.
‘All that matters is relationships’
As he cheekily quipped in our last interview together: ‘It’s like the music doesn’t know I have cancer’.
When he was in palliative care, his friend Deborah Pearse asked him if things would be different if he had his health back. ‘In the end,’ he said, ‘all that matters is my relationships with people. If I had my health back I’d be seeing friends and family more and watching the sunset!’
Vale, David Ades.
And thank you.