Savannah is still reeling from the sudden loss of its greatest musical ambassador, Ben Tucker.
The man with the mighty jazz hands was killed Tuesday as he was playing his other favorite thing, golf: He was driving his golf cart across an abandoned race track on Hutchison Island when a Texas man illegally racing his car struck Ben at 90 mph. He was 82 and scheduled to play a gig that night, “a working musician to the end.”
Though our sadness is great, I can’t help but think it might not be such a bad way to go: Instantly with (please God!) no suffering, only a life full of accomplishments and stories and love behind you and an evening of good times and good music ahead.
Most everyone around here who loves music has a story about Ben Tucker, and this yenta is no exception. Much of it is going into a longer piece I’m working for the next issue of Connect, but I must say here that he played a significant role in my transformation to the Jewish mother I am: He was the band leader at El Yenta Man’s and my wedding.
There he played with my other favorite jazz musician in the world, my late grandfather, George Blumenthal. The memory of the two of them jamming onstage to “Tangerine” (one of my faves) stands out, as does the terrifying flashback of being carried around the room on a chair by a bunch of drunk people as Ben and the band kicked out an epic rendition of “Hava Nagila.”
This photo of the two of them does no one any justice, but I couldn’t remove it from my wedding album without shredding it, so it’s a photo of a photo. No digital photography back in 1997.
I’d also love to show you the video, except it’s on VHS. I have no means to even play it, let alone record it on my phone, download it to my computer, upload it to Youtube and embed it into WordPress. The world has changed tremendously since El Yenta Man and I were starry-eyed newlyweds, and certainly since my grandfather and Ben were every-night-a-new-gig musicians. But I think they would both agree that “Tangerine” will always be a great song.
Instead I give you WorldLive’s tribute to Ben, including an awesome interview in which he casually mentions that Nelson Mandela is a fan:
May the memory of Ben Tucker be a blessing. And may we always remember to hold close those dear to us and enjoy the music.