Saxophonist Tim Green, R.I.P.

Numerous superlatives have been utilized by professional writers, fans, and fellow musicians to describe the musical prowess of the consummate sideman who passed away last week. Over the course of over 30 years he performed on stages of every size within every style on the vast musical continuum we call “New Orleans music.” From avant-garde jazz to hard rock, he played with hundreds of musicians and seemingly preferred none of them to any other.

What he brought to every performance was an intense spirit and focus regardless of whether he was on stage in giant venues with musical superstars like Peter Gabriel, in sold out clubs with local icons like George Porter, Jr., or in an empty bar with a pick up blues band. This video is short, but it defines his aesthetic.

Over the course of those 30 plus years I saw Green perform hundreds of times. If I had to choose one adjective to describe his abilities, it is synergistic. He made every musician he played with sound better. He made every band he played with sound better. And he made every performance sound better to every listener in the room.

I first saw Green, who arrived in New Orleans in 1978, playing regularly with Cyril Neville and the Uptown Allstars in the early 1980s. The band was Neville’s side project throughout a period when the Neville Brothers went from playing at Tipitina’s to becoming internationally known sensations synonymous with the now clichéd musical “gumbo” of New Orleans music.

Green was fierce even back then. He played muscular solos rising in intensity or simmering with soul to match the transient energy of a young band developing a new style combining funk and reggae, which Neville dubbed, “Uptown reggae.”

For a long period beginning in late 1999 or early 2000, Green played with Anders Osborne. The Swedish guitarist was coming into his own as a New Orleans musician after a long period experimenting with different sidemen. Sousaphonist Kirk Joseph was a constant and Kevin O’Day was usually the drummer, although Doug Belote played some of the early gigs. Mark McGrain occasionally appeared on trombone and other players rotated in and out depending on availability.

This band defined musical synergy. Although Osborne is known as a “rock” musician, it was thoroughly a jazz band. Each song featured long intricate solos anchored by a peerless rhythm section. The tunes were punctuated by Osborne’s vocals rather than the other way around. The video above is rather rough, but just check out his solo in the first minute or so.


Before his untimely passing, I only saw Green play twice this year. The performances, as different as could be, defined Green’s musical personality. He played with Big Chief Juan Pardo and Jockimo’s Groove at the Jazz Fest and with former Radiators’ keyboardist/ singer/ songwriter Ed Volker at Chickie Wah Wah.

At the fest, he was the sole instrumentalist playing Mardi Gras Indian music—loose, spirited, primal songs from the ancient tradition ramped up by a new generation leader surrounded by children in colorful suits. Few in the crowd even noticed his highly sympathetic support as cameras flashed and Indians pranced.

With Volker, he provided the same powerful level of musical sophistication in the service of original songs from the pianist’s deep catalog and reimagined classics from the blues and rock canon. His sinuous solos brought new life into the veteran musical chameleon’s shamanistic dance party.

A memorial will be held today (9/3/14) at Mount Olivet Cemetery, 4000 Norman Mayer Ave., at 12:00 noon. A musical Celebration of Life will follow at Café Istanbul at 3 PM.
Photo above: “Baton Rouge” Bill Boelens

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  • NerissaCohen

    So well said. Thank you for writing about my dear friend so beautifully.

  • Jaymazza

    He was amazing!

  • Jaymazza

    Thanks Nerissa- he was amazing!


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