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Musicas art form, as healing force, as communal enterpriseunequivocally lost its best friend when Tom Terrell, after an inexorable bout with prostate cancer, made his transition from madcap music-addicted earthling to truly extraterrestrial brother. The world of musicians, music people, and even the damnedmusic journalistsis now significantly smaller, more entropic, more unsound, more unwise and unwitty without Tom around to bind us up, wind us up, crank us up.
I met Tom at Howard University during the 1970s, when D.C. was a post-civil-rights Black Utopia experiencing a golden age of live music and free-form radio a time when the likes of Funkadelic, War, and Mandrill played every other week, and you judged a man by the size of his jazzrockfunkfusionsoul album collection. Tom had amassed more vinyl than anybody then considered humanly possible, from across every genre and from every continent. When punk and reggae hit town big-time in the early '80s, Tom had already figured out what was hip besides the Clash and Bob Marley. You often heard it first on Tom's radio shows: Grace Jones, Black Uhuru, Sly and Robbie, Steel Pulse (whom he booked for their first D.C. show), Dennis Bovell, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Melvin Van Peebles. Tom was often playing the hippest U.K. joints before they'd even turned up in the hippest U.K. magazines. He was also a monster photographersome of the most moving shots you'll ever see of Miles and Marley are in his archives; one day soon there should be, will be, must be an exhibition.
Tom also threw the absolute best D.C. house parties back in the day, affairs eagerly awaited and renowned among men and dogs for their hot fusion of wine, weed, women, and song. Like me, Tom left DJing (and concert production) to scribe in New York: a natural transition, except Tom went on to also do, as he had in D.C., just about every job you could do in the music business without singing, strumming, and dancing. Not just promotion, marketing, and a&r, but tour managing (for Steel Pulse) and rigging lights 50 feet in the air above outdoor stages, too.
Like most of the deep cats I befriended at Howard, Tom and I could see each other once every decade and still pick up where we left off. The last time I did see him in the flesh was April '06, when our fellow alum/main man Lewis "Flip" Barnes and I helped him move all his worldly possessions out of a loft in Newark and head to D.C. for what would be his last two industry gigs, one with the Thievery Corporation, the other with XM Radio. During that time, he also completed his incandescent liner notes for Miles's On the Corner box set.
Just four months later, as that be-atch goddess Fate would have it, Tom and his legion of friends and acolytes learned of his illness. He carried it, as usual, with far more nerve and grace than we did, comforting his community more, as usual, than we could comfort him. There are (surprise, surprise) very few universally beloved figures in the music business, that lower circle of service to genius, hokum, and hype, where all who fit the humbling description of suits, stagehands, publicists, and critics must dwell. Let the following anecdotal evidence show Tom Terrell was the cherished exception who proved the rule: the cat who always brought love and found love in places where love was rarely in the job description.
A writer, but not a critic.
Just one of us, but with a pencil and a camera.
And always a smile.
Miss ya already Tom. Steven Bernstein, musician
Over the years, I got to see firsthand what a true renaissance man he was. He did it all and could hold discourse on all manner of things. In turn, he touched so many folks with his kindness, advice, recommendations, and just plain Terrell-ness that I know I'll be getting e-mails for years to come about something the man did or said that has finally panned out for them. For me, his Terrell-ness also means his ability to pull out a jam that no one else has heard yet. Tom attacked my jadedness with the wonderful, eye-opening sensation that there was still an uncharted future. Brian M. Bacchus, producer/a&r, SoulFeast
It was years into our friendship before I knew that Tom was a photographer, when he told me in an offhand way that the Parliament project at hand could use some new photos and that he just might have something. In he'd walk, wearing beautiful Alain Mikli glasseshow did he find those?and out of an old bag would tumble prints from the old-school gods.
Tom coined a singular music-industry phrase: As someone more than happy to take free goods, he called himself a "promosexual." I still laugh when a visitor grabs a few freebies. I can see Tom, smiling. Harry Weinger, producer, Universal
Ultimately, Tom Terrell always reminded me of Charlie Parker, who was once asked about his religious affiliation and replied: "I am a devout Musician." The same can be said of Tom, too. (And I have no idea whether he ever played a lick on an actual musical instrument.) Tom Terrific was a devout Musician, and he was beloved for his devotion. I have always been proud to call him my friend. Bill Adler, writer/gallerist, Eyejammie
In a life, love defines us. Nothing else. As we define him by the love he gave and received, Terrell was/is a great man. Thank you, Tom, for coming and being with us. Thanks for letting your little light shine, shine, shine. . . . Brandon Ross, musician
Family and a story. Two things you really knew. But who else would know, as we could do that so-cool hip Negro thing to our own laughter. Hey man, I am pissed you can't see the tree right now. It would appeal to that rich, romantic streak that fed your soul. I'm remembering all that blather about bad pop music, the Tad Low talk show, and (oh, hell) terrible adult films. But we would talk, and you were rarely without words. News, sports, pre-postmodernism, my cooking but not yours. Well, I already bought you a garbage can as a Brooklyn housewarming gift. Introduced you sorta to some of your past gal pals. Gave you my locktician, though the frugal Terrell found her expensive. So what's left? Memories. I will keep those as the greatest gift from you and for you. I'll let others tell about your career, and just leave with what you knew best: "When you're smiling, when you're smiling, the whole world smiles with you." Don Palmer, writer, chef, world traveler, arts administrator