Thursday, October 1, 2020

Ira Sullivan, Remembered: Jazz Multi-instrumentalist Icon of Florida's Jazz Scene


Brev Sullivan
Sept 22, 2020
Facebook post at

Our father & jazz legend, Ira Sullivan, passed away last night, 89 yrs young.  

 ⭐️ May 1, 1931-Sept 21, 2020⭐️

I’d like to share a special message from my mom...🙏

🎺 This week the music of multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan wound down to a close. 

A life well lived; a life he formed for himself and all who knew him; who heard him.  For his life was made of music he was filled with music; so filled that it spilled from his pores He was MUSIC.

He touched many lives with his horns and his song. They gleamed in his hands and sent love everywhere they sounded.    

Ira left the world but left his love and something else. His strength; for he was a strong man.  The strength and love in his life, for music and for family because he turned his back on fame ... for family (which amazed many) and for life itself was and is a wonderful phenomenon. 

Beyond his love and strength there was his spirit, again, strong, lovely and brave... always brave. 

His sustenance were all these things of Ira; music, love, family, strength, spirit; these came from God. Thee God, the one God whom he knew from childhood. Ira played for God every time he played music.. the evening song-energy he put into the hymn Amazing Grace.  

This was his message to all who heard him, Gods Grace.  🙏😌⭐️

Jazz Encounters

- A Love Letter to Ira Sullivan


David Leon
September 23, 2020
Facebook post at:

"Heartbroken to hear about the passing of my friend and mentor Ira Sullivan. He was one of my earliest heroes and biggest inspirations - one of The Greats. I remember first hearing him at the Young Musicians’ Camp he taught at for years, and being completely taken by his big beautiful sound- on multiple instruments, fearlessness, and spontaneity on stage. 

That summer, I met him in the hallway and he helped 12-year-old me carry a lunky baritone saxophone across the music campus to class. I was already running late, and when we arrived together, we realized that I was going to the wrong class the whole time - the actual building was back where we started. So he helped me carry it back (really, carried it for me), and I talked to my hero for the first time, about music and summer. A few days later, I had my first formal lesson with him - he showed me the notes for the palm keys and the harmony line for Song For My Father (we were learning the melody in another class). He taught everything by ear, and it took me took the whole 2-hour lesson to get it- but the next day, I had it memorized. (Later, I’d come to find out he’d actually played with Horace Silver!!).

Fast forward a few years of following him around and seeing him play all around South Florida, and I finally had an opportunity to ask him to play a gig. The Fish House Miami was my musical home then, and Ira agreed to come play with me. I was ecstatic! He came to my house on a Saturday with loads of sheet music - piano scores for broadway tunes turned obscure standards, and some original tunes of his too, and we spent a few hours playing through them with me on piano and him on trumpet and woodwinds. I was exhausted (I didn’t even really play that much piano) - but he was having a ball and just wanted to keep playing (he was probably 84 years old then!). His energy was downright infectious.

Wednesday night rolls around and it’s time for the gig, I introduce Ira, he introduces the band, and kicks off the set with The Way You Look Tonight (in Eb) at what felt to me like 1000bpm. Solo. The band falls in underneath him - one at a time, crisp and burning - and he nudges the tune up a half step in his last chorus before handing it off to me. Midway through my solo (I don’t think I’d ever played this fast before and it felt like I was just barely wiggling my fingers fast enough), he cues the band out from underneath me and leaves me playing duo with drums (John Yarling is an inspiration to me and was mentored by Ira and played with him for many years too). I’m terrified and wiggling my fingers even faster now - John’s used to this - Ira’s looking over and smiling a devilish smile, pleased with the situation unfolding; a joyous Trial By Fire if there ever was one. We played so much that night. Two hour and half sets (the jam didn’t even happen, and he wanted to keep going but the place wanted to close!). That night really stuck with me - Ira loved to challenge his musicians and called tunes at unusual tempos, unfamiliar keys - and sometimes modulating within tunes, changed up the orchestration on the fly - he himself switching instruments mid-tune. Crazy shit - breaking himself of habits and looking for true engagement and excitement always - having FUN, searching for the real thing and who cares if you mess up along the way. And that was clear and exhilarating to anyone who saw him perform.

After I moved to NY, we’d catch up every few months on the phone or whenever I was back in Miami. He made it a point to come and hear me play and spend the night playing Scrabble and listening from the other room at FH, always asking what I was up to and how New York was treating me. I last spoke with him a few weeks ago, and he was in great spirits. Even then, we talked about the scene in New York when he lived here, and he shared stories. I’ll miss him dearly. Ira Sullivan forever."


Tampa Jazz Club Remembers 


The Tampa Jazz Club, and jazz lovers throughout the world, mourn the passing of an amazing musician and a remarkable man, Ira Sullivan. Known for his artistry on both brass and reed instruments – a rare brilliance on trumpet as well as saxophone and flute -- Sullivan established himself at an early age in Chicago before moving to Miami in his early 30's and inspiring generations of musicians in the following decades. He died at his home on September 21, at age 89.

"Ira was a force of nature," said Bob Seymour, Tampa Jazz Club president. "Total devotion to the music, with a sense of openness to other musicians and the audience, and an in-the-now spirit that makes for the best jazz. And on whichever instrument he picked up, his playing was breathtaking."

Sullivan's early years in Chicago included performances with many of the jazz greats, famously including Charlie Parker, shortly before his death in 1955. He avoided touring or moving to New York, once saying "We'd lay in wait for the cats from New York. I had everything I needed in Chicago." After moving to Florida, Ira continued to prefer being close to home and family, though returning to Chicago regularly for celebrated homecomings. In Miami, he became a leader of the jazz scene, mentor to hundreds of artists, and active in jazz education.

 The Tampa Jazz Club is proud to have presented Ira Sullivan in concert for 17 consecutive years, at the HCC/Ybor City Mainstage Theatre, and at our previous home, the Gorilla Theater in Tampa’s Drew Park. In addition, fans in the Bay Area and Sarasota have had countless opportunities to hear Ira in earlier years in various clubs and churches. He was a pure inspiration every time, and leaves so many fans and friends in our area, and throughout the jazz world. 


 Contact Information:  or call 727-771-7415

Jonathan Sigel

"His passing marks to me, the end of an era here that I have a hard time accepting. In my career and lifetime, I caught the tail end of a music industry where one could still eke out a living playing jazz ("Tin Pan Alley") standards at society gigs (dances and receptions). I did so in and around New York City in the mid 1990s. Back then, the older guys would say "it's not like it used to be". They may have been right, but now those guys who said that are gone. And now I'm the one saying it. But at least while coming up at age 24, there was still a scene. I remember opening fake books and listening to standards, excited to commit more songs to memory so I could get more well-paying society gigs. That would then subsidize my playing in jazz bars. In meantime I try to stay true to what I love by producing my original music. And by performing jazz and seeking out opportunities to play with great players at every opportunity.
I am also introducing my kids to classic jazz. Hopefully, a seed will be planted..."

Catch Jonathan's next gig with his band, "Downtown Groove."
Wed 10/7
508 Lake Ave.
Lake Worth Beach FL


"Ira Sullivan passed away on September 21, 2020, at age 89. Ira was a legendary jazz musician whose musical signature was Amazing Grace, the tune with which he closed every performance for decades. This is the jazz community's love letter to Ira...
Performers: Mike Gerber, John Fedchock, Dave Liebman, Chuck Marohnic, Rose Max, Ramatis Moraes, Peggy Gasior, Tom Lippincott, John Kricker, Antonio Adolfo, Jamie Ousley, Derek Fairholm, Gary Keller, Troy Roberts, Jim Gasior, David Leon, Dana Paul, Debbie Orta, Ron Miller, Brad Goode, Dave Fernandez, Randall Dollahon, Hendrik Meurkens, Shelly Berg, Ivan Malespin, Nicky Orta, Bob Albanese, Joe Donato, Erin McDougald, Carole Ann Taylor, Brandon Goldberg, Stu Katz, Vince Maggio, Dennis Marks, Gary Campbell, Garry Dial, Michelle Amato, Wendy Pedersen, Rodolfo Zuniga, Joanna Griffith, Bob Mover, Nicole Henry,  Mark Berner,  Brev Sullivan, Crystal Fawn, Brian Murphy."

A Tribute by Eddy Balzola & ORIENTE

A rhythmic, heartfelt tribute to a legend and generous friend. Ira Sullivan was a brilliant musician, multi-instrumentalist who influenced our community beyond measure. He will never be forgotten.

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