Ben Tucker: Jazz double bassist who played with Quincy Jones and Peggy Lee

 

Ben Tucker, who was killed in a car crash on 4 June at the age of 82, was a jazz bassist who performed with such stars as Quincy Jones to Peggy Lee before he settled in the 1970s in Savannah, where he became one of the Georgia city's best-known musicians.

Tucker, an avid golfer, was driving a golf cart across a road on Hutchinson Island when a car slammed into him at high speed. The driver of the car that struck him was charged with vehicular homicide and other criminal counts.

The news stunned musicians and jazz enthusiasts in Savannah, where Tucker had been a musical fixture for around four decades. Tucker made his living playing upright bass – an instrument he named Bertha and claimed was 240 years old – at jazz festivals, wedding receptions, nightclub gigs and bar mitzvahs.

"One of the most interesting things about playing with Ben was he was so beloved by so many people in Savannah," said Howard Paul, a jazz guitarist who played and recorded with Tucker for more than 20 years. "You could count on being interrupted at least three times in a song because Savannahians would walk up and shake his hand while we were playing."

Before he moved to the Georgia coast, Tucker had success as a songwriter, most notably with "Comin' Home Baby," co-written with the jazz singer Bob Dorough, which was recorded by Mel Torme, Herbie Mann and more recently Michael Bublé. By the end of the 1960s he had toured with Lee and performed and recorded with jazz greats such as Dexter Gordon, Buddy Rich and Jones.

Paul was a young Army lieutenant scheduled to deploy to Operation Desert Storm when he arrived in Savannah 22 years ago. A friend sent him to a nightclub Tucker operated at the time, and the bassist invited him on stage to play that night and all week.

"He was on the music scene for so many years and performed with many of the greatest names in jazz, yet he spent so much time with local musicians and children as well," Paul said. "I think he grew up in an era of jazz musicians where they felt obligated to give back."

Julius "Boo" Hornstein, a Savannah psychotherapist and jazz writer, befriended Tucker and worked with him for years in the Coastal Jazz Association, which organizes the Savannah Jazz Festival. He said Tucker took excellent care of himself for a man in his 80s and kept a steady gig playing Sunday brunch at a Savannah hotel, where he had been scheduled to perform the night of his death.

"He was a working musician right to the end," Hornstein said. "He was so instrumental in the music life of Savannah."

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