Today marks the first year anniversary of the passing of Tim Green, musician, educator, activist, and, let’s just say what is true, a “Renaissance man of our time.” Tim Green was a man whose warmth and friendship still causes those who were fortunate to have known him to call up his many qualities: spiritual, transcendent, classy and so much more!
Tim Green would have been pleased to know that among his peers, all these adjectives are inseparable from what he recognized as his true vocation, music. Standing in front of the New Orleans Post Office a few years ago, I ran into Tim. He told me then that doctors had recommended that he undergo surgery to have one of his lungs removed.
“Doctor, would I still be able to play my horn? No?! Well, then… it might as well be over right now.” Tim Green thought of life without being able to play his horn as being buried alive.
This past Thursday, August 20, the City Council of New Orleans issued a Proclamation that August 24 would be Tim Green Day. Nadine Ramsey of the Council included in her presentation a roster of the musicians Tim had worked with – the Neville Brothers, Johnny Adams, Irma Thomas, James Singleton, Peter Gabriel, Stevie Nicks, and many more – and noted how beloved Tim was by his peers.
Claude Bryant and Helen Gillet were two musicians attending the ceremony. While we waited to receive the proclamation, Claude Bryant shared that he first met Tim at age 15 while delivering newspapers. “Tim had just moved here with his wife Rita,” said Bryant. “He had a shed in the back of his house where he would go and practice.” One day, Bryant confessed, he got up the nerve to knock on the shed door and told Tim Green, “listen, I don’t know who you are, but that stuff you’re playing in there … you oughta’ be playing out here!”
Claude spoke about Green’s affinity for reggae. “It didn’t matter what kind of music, he got into it and gave it his stamp. His soul.” Gillet, a cellist noted for her experimentation, spoke of how sympathetic Green was as an improviser. “For Tim, it was always about the music and more than the music. Everyone who played with him talked about how spiritual the experience was. His playing was transcendent.”
I recalled then how Green’s spirituality carried into his life apart from music.
Early in our friendship, in the middle of the 1990s, Green was occupied every day of the week with expanding the services of WRBH, New Orleans’ radio station for the blind. Later I learned that Green refused to take a paycheck for one whole year so that the station could have more resources. “I was touring with Peter Gabriel, and could support myself with my music,” he said.
On Saturday, my husband Don Paul and I shared the proclamation of Tim Green Day with musicians who had gathered for our Music and Arts Day at the Ashé Cultural Arts Center. Alfred Roberts, Professor Longhair’s percussionist during the 1970s, smiled behind his congas. “Finally Tim is getting what should be coming to him.” Johnny Vidacovich said, extolling Green’s humility and his “complete openness to any kind of music.” Johnny said, “It didn’t matter what kind of music you were playing, Tim made it better.”
And so, one week before the first-year anniversary of Hurricane’s Katrina’s landfall and the subsequent failure of Federal levees and canals that led to the flooding of New Orleans, we have a beacon of integrity and caring. We must thank Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey, Belle Moore (the former WWOZ show-host known as ‘Brown Sugar’ (Bob Dylan’s favorite New Orleans’ DJ), Lena Stewart, and Jonathan Freilich for circulating the poster of Tim Green signed by 42 musicians last year during a musical tribute to Tim at Cafe Istanbul. The poster is now a centerpiece of the Proclamation that August 24, today, is Tim Green Day in New Orleans.
During the City Council’s ceremony for Tim, Don Paul used his brief time of tribute to suggest: “Maybe this can be the start of more monuments to musicians here.”
Thank you, Tim Green, for giving us so much as an artist and friend. We can work further now to make your legacies even larger.