R.I.P. George Melvin, local keyboard wizard
Awful news via the Daily Progress and straight from his wife Alfreda that local keyboard wizard George Melvin has passed away at 63 due to kidney problems and other medical complications resulting from his diabetes.
Melvin lived in the area for his entire life, and toward the end was a particularly intriguing local character who could be found playing piano a staggering six nights a week out at Keswick Hall in addition to sporadic other dates around town, many of which also involved him simultaneously puffing away on his pipe. The unique "Group Sound" gigs at the South Street Brewery had him bouncing his hands across several keyboards while backed by a drum loop to effectively cover all the parts of a small jazz combo by himself. He was a key lynchpin in local composer John Carden's jazz group Greenwich Swing Time, and he was particularly enthusiastic about his larger band format gigs with the hefty Hammond B3 organ he'd nicknamed "Miss Lucy."
"He was my soul mate, and I was very lucky in all the years that I've been performing to know him," says Carden. "He really loved this community and was the musical godfather for every musician in this town."
Melvin's Type II diabetes led to serious kidney problems beginning in 2005, and the whole situation came to a head in 2009 when his doctors finally decided he needed a transplant–- Melvin was uninsured, so local musicians rallied around him for a benefit concert. This closely mirrors what happened when longtime local bassist Steve Riggs suffered a heart attack earlier the same year; elsewhere, we're reminded that influential Big Star frontman Alex Chilton avoided seeking medical attention for his warning signs in the weeks before his fatal March 17 heart attack due to his lack of health insurance, and that medical bills to the tune of $70k may have contributed to the depression that led paraplegic singer-songwriter and occasional Gravity Lounge performer Vic Chesnutt to commit suicide on Christmas Day.
"George was a beloved man, and he touched a lot of people's lives deeply," says friend and associate Chris Munson, one of the organizers of the "Jazz-In for George" last November. "[The benefit] paid off all his medical debt. The outpouring was stunning and showed how greatly respected he was."
"Jam session in the sky" is what they usually say about these things, in which case Melvin joins Dave Matthews Band sax player LeRoi Moore and frequent collaborator Johnny Gilmore. Hopefully they'll play "Superstition."
Meanwhile, back down here, the recent landmark health care reform bill might soon make the prospect of being a musician with a medical condition somewhat less grim. To those that are still with us: please take care of yourselves, guys.
The funeral will be held at Mount Zion First African Baptist Church on Tuesday, April 20 at 2pm with visitation beginning at 1pm. There will also be a graveside ceremony on Wednesday, April 21 at 12pm at the First Church of Jesus in Hurt, Virginia.