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May 10, 2021

Farewell, David Ades

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Vale one of Australia’s finest improvisers

Mandy Nolan

Despite being diagnosed with cancer, Dave Ades didn’t slow down and played right up until the end. Photo Jeff Dawson
Despite being diagnosed with cancer, Dave Ades didn’t slow down and played right up until the end. Photo Jeff Dawson

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.

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  1. David Ades’ unique soul and his unique magical playing inspire us all to be the best we can be as human beings and in whatever we do. I too shall always have the happy memory of his compelling sax improvisations in concert and on the streets of Byron.

  2. Dave Ades saw something in me when I decided to get serious about the sax just 2 months before auditions at The Con, and he went above and beyond to encourage and push me to achieve so much in so little time (I got in). He taught me not just how to play the notes, but also to feel them and to play from the heart.

    He was truly inspiring, and a great and teacher and mentor. He was not only profoundly skilled with his instrument of choice, but he had such a passion for musical improvisation. It was always amazing to see and hear him “speak” music with other musicians through his sax, as naturally and effortlessly as a conversation between friends.

    Although I ultimately did not pursue a life of music, I’ve always fondly remembered and appreciated our time together, and what he taught me.

    Farewell and thanks, Dave. All who knew you through music or friendship were better for it.

  3. I remember him playing outside my work in Martin Place, and then I realised it was Dave. One of the very few humans I’ve met who could make people cry with his music. From that little wine bar in Curlewis St. Bondi, My life is so much richer for hearing him play. Rest in Peace, and give God Hell.!!x x

  4. It is very strange, but I feel loss for someone I never heard play and never met. I first became aware of David decades ago when he played with Vince Jones. I share his name, and as far as I know am the only other Australian to do so. I have silently followed his career, or at least bits of it, from a distance. I am a poet and when I, somewhat egotistically, googled web references of my work, found numerous references to him. Some months ago I found an email address for him and dropped him a note, but didn’t hear back. Then I found this facebook page and scrolled with fascination through all the wonderful photographs of him playing. I harboured a secret desire to meet him and say hello and all the endlessly positive things said about him and the joy that radiated from nearly every photograph of him fed that desire. I hope to meet him now through his music.

  5. Just came across this and it has made me very
    sad…also I’ve managed to reflect on the moments that dave touched my own life…
    At a time when I was struggling back from a terrible few years of drug addiction I was part of a recording session with dave at SCU…
    And when he played it really did have an amazing impact on me… It was like he was possessed by the gods of the alto sax and channelling the most profoundly beautiful chorous’ …
    We weren’t close but I always had him in my mind alongside the truly great musicians that have inspired me … The ones that I thought really ‘got it’ about music and it’s role in the arts, names like jaco pastorius, james brown, jimi hendrix to name a few…these people like dave knew about transmission of the passion of their genre…that there’s a lot more to it than cleaver notes and phrases… But there’s an undefinable spirit involved… And Dave Ades you oozed that spirit mate… Really loved the times we played together and hope you’re kickin it wherever you are
    Stephen Hopes

  6. I can’t believe its 6 years since the passing of Dave. My lady friend Carol and I met Dave in the streets of Melbourne in Feb “98 where Dave was busking and waiting for his wife Melissa who was having some treatment at a hospital. We spent a great deal of that day hangin out with Dave and Melissa and Dave sat in with a couple of bands. One of the most memorable days I’ve ever had. Regretfully never had a play with him that day. Maybe in the next place. Such an unpretentious, outgoing, warm and creative spirit. He will not rest but in peace he no doubt will be. Don Roberts…


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