Bill Lee, the accomplished jazz musician who collaborated with the likes of Cat Stevens, Aretha Franklin and Bob Dylan and also scored many of his son Spike Lee’s films, has died according to multiple reports. He was 94.
Bill Lee composed the memorable original music for many of Spike Lee’s early, seminal films, including She’s Gotta Have It (1986), School Daze (1988), Do the Right Thing (1989) and Mo’ Better Blues (1990). The elder Lee had small roles in each of those films, except for Do the Right Thing. He also scored his son’s early short, Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads.
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The director posted a series of photos on Instagram remembering his father, the first accompanied by the phrase, “DEEDS NOT WORDS.”
The deeds of Lee’s father made an impact on his son.
“Everything I know about jazz I got from my father,” Spike Lee told the New York Times in 1990. “I saw his integrity, how he was not going to play just any kind of music, no matter how much money he could make.”
As a bass player, Lee worked alongside many artists including Harry Belafonte, Chad Mitchell Trio, Gordon Lightfoot, Simon and Garfunkel, Burt Bacharach, Peter, Paul and Mary, Arlo Guthrie, Tom Paxton, John Lee Hooker, Josh White and Duke Ellington. On the original version of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” Lee is the only musician heard performing other than Bob Dylan himself.
Lee moved to New York in 1959, and worked in the jazz clubs in Greenwich Village. He founded and directed the New York Bass Violin Choir, a troupe of seven basses. He also composed folk operas which were performed at Town Hall, Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center and the Newport Jazz Festival. Those works include One Mile East, The Depot and Baby Sweets.
He is survived by his wife, Barbara; his sons David, Cinque and Arnold; his daughter, Joie; a brother, A. Clifton Lee; and two grandchildren.
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