We have been deeply shocked over the past two weeks as news unfolded of Abram’s illness and rapid deterioration. Then, on Saturday afternoon, came the devastating news that Abram had lost his fight with cancer. It is unimaginable that such a charismatic and health-conscious individual as Abram could be ripped out of the jazz community at such a young age, just short of his 39th birthday. So unanticipated, and so unfair that this should happen just as he had at last settled down, found love, and was thriving.
As Artist in Residence, and then as Assistant Artistic Director at Tomorrow’s Warriors, Abram contributed enormous amounts of energy and enthusiasm to both our Artistic and our Learning & Participation programmes. Most notably, he established our Teenie Warriors programme for children aged 9-11 where his youthful playfulness and multi-instrumentalist skills made him especially inspirational and uniquely effective as a music leader for children – a kind of modern-day jazz Pied Piper who, rather than killing, helped inspire an appreciation of jazz in our children. As part of the award-winning band, Jazz Jamaica he brought fun and charisma, forever the showman on stage whilst, in Gary Crosby’s Nu Troop and in each of his own ensembles, he brought the bluest of blues and classic jazz styling to the set. He also created and recorded some wonderful music that, in 2006, earned him top prize in the International Songwriting Competition for his track, Monk (from his debut album, Jazz Warrior), and the British Jazz Award for Best CD in 2007 for his second album, Ride! Ferris Wheel To The Modern Day Delta. Possibly one of his most memorable and impressive works came in 2007 with the commission of Roll Jordan Roll in tribute to the Fisk Jubilee Singers as part of our celebrations to mark the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act.
In 2011, just over a year after releasing Life Paintings – his final album with us and a musical portrayal of some telling moments in his life – it was time for Abram to move on and, having set up home with his new love (our former Development Manager, Jennie Cashman), looked set to continue a successful career as a jazz artist and educator. However, such a terrible and premature end is not a painting that he, or indeed any of us, had pictured. Nobody could have anticipated this horror.
Knowing Abram, he would have been deeply upset, and very likely furious, at having to cancel his tour, though we’re certain that, even when cancer was diagnosed, his eternal optimism would have given him the confidence that he would be able to overcome it, if only because “Doggone it, I’m Abram Wilson!”. Indeed, his final post on his website on 28 May testifies to this when he says: ‘Hopefully I’ll be back on the road soon’.
Abram loved to play. He lived to play, and we give thanks for the nine years (2003-2011) he was part of the Tomorrow’s Warriors/Dune family and, for the best part of this period, part of our own family. As in all families, we didn’t always see eye to eye but, with Abram, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. On balance, it was the best of times.
We send our sincere condolences to his widow Jennie (tragically, his wife for just a day), to his family, and to his band members and close friends at this desperately sad time.
RIP Abram, and oh goodness, if there is an ‘up there’, they sure are in for a great party!
Janine and Gary