Singer-songwriter, record producer, bassist, guitarist, keyboardist, drummer, Emmy and Grammy Award winner, Adam Schlesinger.

Celebrating the Philadelphia and New Jersey musicians lost to COVID-19

Death is tragic. Coronavirus is a killer. These are the reasons that city and state governments are pushing all of us to stay home and flatten the curve – to slow the spread of COVID-19.

This virus is killing people, left and right, black and white and brown, woman and man, gay, trans and straight. That’s the saddest news. That it has taken several people in the art world, musicians who have touched us such as Manu Dibango. Ellis Marsalis Jr. and Joe Diffie, is mournful. In the last 24 hours, however, COVID-19 claimed Philly-born trumpeter Wallace Roney and New Jersey-reared indie-pop composer and player Adam Schlesinger.

But. Unlike Shakespeare, I have come here to praise and celebrate these men, not to bury them. 

Whether you came up with the snarky but sincere power-pop of Fountains of Wayne and Ivy, couldn’t help but dance The Pony to the theme song from the Tom Hanks’ film “That Thing You Do!,” or were wowed by the escapist, sophisticated Technicolor fare of his music for television shows such as “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and the opening of the 2011 Tony Awards (Neil Patrick Harris’“Not Just for Gays Anymore”), or his song-score for Broadway’s musical adaption of John Waters’ “Cry Baby,” you were touched by Adam Schlesinger, the pop wonder-kid who passed away, April 1, at the age of 52 from complications related to COVID-19.

Adam Schlesinger.

Of his past of growing up in Montclair, NJ, and attending Montclair High School, you got the feeling that the composer never outran being a Jersey Boy. Far from it, he embraced it, lyrically, in a fashion that goes beyond even more working-class artists such as Springsteen, Valli or Bon Jovi. “One of the great things about putting New Jersey towns in your songs is that there are so many with hilarious names that are fun to sing,” Schlesinger is quoted as saying.

I could spout off at the top of my head all the gorgeous hit moments of comically cosmopolitan songs he created. Or even unexpected tracks such as the theme to Jimmy Kimmel’s “Crank Yankers” show on Comedy Central, or that same network’s “Christmas Special” with Stephen Colbert. Rolling Stone, however, offered a 20 essential songs link that, within its listing, slips in additional musical moments worth your time and energy. And trust me: this list could be quadrupled and it still wouldn’t be enough.

Wallace Roney – who passed away from complications of the coronavirus at the age of 59 – was an odd incendiary character, a Philly-born jazz trumpeter with the hard-nosed skills of someone who trained at Settlement Music School (blame Sigmund Hering of the Philadelphia Orchestra for famously attentive schooling) and with the Philadelphia Brass. 

Wallace Rooney.

The trumpeter came up on the New York City jazz club scene as a dark protégé of Miles Davis, and among the nu-lions of jazz’s 1980s with the likes of Wynton and Branford Marsalis. However, Roney made his own way, crafted his own stark individualism, and found his own shadowy compositional voice and torrid tone – whether it was his Muse label leader albums such as 1988’s “Intuition,” 1989’s “The Standard Bearer,” or, in praise to his patron-mentor with his Grammy-winning 1994 album, “A Tribute to Miles.”Tribute to Miles.”

Danny Ray Thompson.

I should also give a solemn shout out to Germantown’s Sun Ra family who just lost one of its longtime members to the offshoots of Jupiter. Baritone saxophonist, flutist, ensemble manager (to say nothing of Heiskell Street Pharoah’s Den grocery owner) Danny Ray Thompson passed away at the age of 73 – not from COVID-19, but naturally and peacefully. He was a beloved Arkestra member since 1967, started recording with Ra & Co. on 1969’s “Atlantis,” and will rest now with Ra where space is the place.

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