Top 50 JAzz Blog

Friday, November 20, 2015

Remembering Chris Rich

Chris Rich was the guy who started this blog. His first post was on 7/18/09. His posts concentrated on musicians like Matthew Shipp, Bill Dixon and George Russell, whom he thought deserved wider recognition and on free jazz in general. His intelligence was palpable and his profane articulateness, his ability to find the right word and put it in arresting context, was startling. No surprise that his writing was insightful, powerful and pulled no punches. 

In 2010, he invited me to post and soon after asked me to take over the blog. I tried to get him to stay, but there was a lot of fucked up troll activity and I think he just got tired of it. When Chris left the blog, he took on this troll behind the scenes, in a long-term grudge match. He chased him around the globe, trying to flush him out and get him, if not arrested, then at least banned. I think he got partial satisfaction on that.

He was a squarish, solid guy, who apparently came from what has been referred to as "good stock;" at least, he referenced ancestors who settled in Yankee redoubts around Massachusetts. He walked ungodly distances and his robust physical presence made him seem like someone who'd be around for a hundred years, but his ingestion of various substances made you suspect that his time here might be shortened.

Chris was a kind of gatekeeper/factotum/contractor at Prof. Chalfen's 186. His digs there were spartan-a mattress, some shelves of cd's and books, ashtrays and tins with pot and tobacco and his computer. He relished the nocturnal accumulation and parsing of data, putting his face inches from the computer screen and extracting information that was invisible to me and probably to you.

He tried hard to help me get a gig when I sorely needed one and hooked me up with the people at

He was a complicated cat and I didn't quite "get" him. I had heard him turn on people and become an enemy you didn't want and I suspected that with a bit of miscommunication, this might happen with me, so I distanced myself. I missed hanging with him, but had enough drama in my life and wanted to avoid any more.

So, I only saw him occasionally in the last few years and what I know about him during that time is limited to what someone else told me. I retain a strong vision of this very vivid person, but mine is an impressionistic view of the man. I invite readers to contribute their own stories and help flesh out the story of the sui generis Christopher Rich, who died last week. 


Alex said...

Chris Rich's radical truth-telling on this blog back in 2009 was a major source of inspiration as I began my foray into jazz blogging then. His writing was passionate, impolite, and always glowing with some kernel of truth that nobody else ever seemed to really acknowledge.

Russ Gershon said...

Well said, Steve. I met Chris around 79 or 80 when I was doing a lot of jazz radio at WHRB. He heard me on the air and liked my perspective, and we met at live shows. He obviously knew his shit. I think I offered him airtime the first summer we managed to keep HRB on the air, when the jazz dept grabbed all the airtime and we needed DJs. I think he did airtime, but I can't quite remember.

I agree that there was something a little borderline about him which made me slightly wary. But he was nothing but completely sincere, heartfelt, and consistent in his feelings about music. He was not greedy or egotistical, and even his most stubborn opinions fit into a broader context that made them seem less rigid, once you understood his big picture.

He did have that hermit/outsider vibe that gave the sense there was a story he wasn't telling about himself. I never really dug into it. I'm sure there are others who can fill us in. He referred to himself as "Crass Wretch" and for the subway used the term "slobway," which always cracked me up.

I'm sorry he's gone - the world needs a lot more Chris Rich's and a lot fewer, well - you can fill in the blank.

Does anybody know how he passed? Was his sick?

rob chalfen said...

he went in to Mt Auburn in the middle of Oct with a leak in his stomach - when they went in to repair it they found liver cancer, which had spread, and had shut down his kidneys. He was given months at best.

Katt said...

I wrote the following on my feed when I heard he had passed on. I was planning to find him and hang out when next I visited Boston:

Brilliant, about a vast array of bizarrely disparate subjects, super rude-er and crude-er than anyone I’ve ever hung out with, honest as hell in a bukowski-esque sort of a way, and he taught me a lot of things about music, things and people around music and also how to re-point masonry, paint houses, fix windows and do some basic carpentry. I am tired of my friends dying for really fucking stupid reasons. Maybe you are too.

And here is a long series of videos he made about a journey through the Charles Rivers Greenways :

In his honour, I will listen to a lot of really good music he might have dug, try to be as honest and non-cowardly as I can, and utilize the term “fucking nimrod” this week. RIP Chris.

Hjärtliga - The Kid

Ken Field said...

I looked back thru some old emails, and saw that I've known Chris for a long time. In fact here's what I wrote about him in 2011 to someone who had recently received a typically cryptic email from him about something music-related, and I can't figure out how to say it any better now:

"I've known Chris Rich for a long time. He is a very energetic and committed guy, extremely dedicated to supporting music that would otherwise go unsupported. That said, he's totally out of his mind. And I mean that in the best possible way."

So sorry to lose him, but so glad to have had his energy and spirit in the mix of our creative music community.

Bobby Naughton said...

The genuine article. RIP

Max Micheliov said...

I knew Chris online only. Can't remember how exactly our acquaintance happened some 5-6 years ago, but it gave an important impulse to my professional life. Chris put me in touch with Michael Ricci (All About Jazz) and soon after I joined Michael as a developer to became a 100% jazz web designer. Chris also introduced me to a lot of musicians in Boston. Ken, Bobby, I found in mail archive that he recommended my web design services to you. He helped me to edit some of my tech articles for AAJ and this blog.

The thing is - he was possessed with a concept of "rich data" or "rich content" in contrast with traditional text only articles. He believed in video. We had a lot of conversations about the role of video in promoting music. Video blogging is what he did consistently in the last few years. Yet another thing was his passion for web design and big scale web platforms. Though not a developer himself, Chris could talk about it a lot and appreciate the concepts. We chatted with him about "best engines" for musician websites and such. He would send some articles to my attention. Also, his contribution to AAJ was quite measurable, working under a pseudonym "data gnome" he fixed a huge number of listings.

Weird I've heard before and hearing it now, that he could be a somewhat hard to deal with person. That he could actually make enemies for no good reason, etc. But I never felt any "danger". We chatted on Skype a few times; such conversations could continue for a few hours in between other things. I can't remember him being anything but a friendly, quite positive character with a good sense of humor.

I can't be grateful enough for his support. So sorry to lose him like this.

Todd Preston said...

I met Chris in Portsmouth NH at a party in the early 90's and thought he was incredibly funny but probably full of shit to some extent. Nobody could have that kind of nimble access to so much information. We started to run into each other around town at shows so I decided to "test" him. I went to the library and grabbed random books off the shelf and scribbled down notes...I brought up this stuff in conversation...I recall asking about some weird Siberian mushroom species...and he knew about it. I was floored.

We had a warehouse space where we were living and playing, paying the rent with rehearsal spaces (Gandhi's Lunchbox, The Queers, The Bruisers) and some recording in a cobbled together studio in the basement. Chris became a fixture at the space, smoking incessantly and talking, giving (usually very good)advice. He was always supportive and cheerful.

Years later we lived together in several place in Seattle. I remember well when he showed up in town- I saw him from across the street, squinting up at the sun- wearing pants that were too big held on by a scrap of rope and a black t-shirt that said "Los Angeles" in gold.

I got him a job as a stock boy at the spiffy store I was running the deli at in Pike Place Market- he lasted 2 days. I remember coming down the isle and overhearing an exchange between him and a customer- he was asked "Which one is the nonfat cheese?" To which he responded "I don't know...guess I'll have to read the label."

So yes he could be a handful- cantankerous, curmudgeonly, crude, often time he was bragging to a bunch of horrified yuppie chicks about how little money he made...fucking hysterical.

But man...hanging out all those nights with the anemic grey drizzle of the Pacific Northwest...listening to jazz and punk and talking about everything, drinking horrible malt liquor.

More recently I would stay with him when I flew into Boston. I'd take him out to those Brazilian meat fest restaurants that are like taquerias in Cambridge.

He became a pretty good photographer in the past 5 years or so- I told him "You take really good pictures for a guy who can barely see."

I learned a lot from him...and we had a blast was just fun to be his friend.

I already miss him.

"Chris Rich was a man who ate butter like cheese and cheese like cake." He loved that quote.

Stanley Jason Zappa said...

A huge mind, a towering (and piercing) intellect, a devoted friend of a music that everyone else hates.

The music community (which in this instance, I am a part) has lost a huge advocate and leader of the anti-bullshit movement.

In his honour, let's leave the thermostat at the Outpost alone, at least for today.

Jaya Chris Rich. You are already missed.

Lampal said...

It is so sad to hear of Chris’s death. I have not seen him in well over 20 years, maybe even 30. The descriptions of him in all these comments have been spot on: brilliant, piercing, passionate, odd, complicated. I would say he may be one of the strangest characters I have ever known, and as some have said, a person to be wary of. A Crass Wretch indeed. I first met Chris when I was doing radio at WMFO back in the early 80’s. He began hanging around the station more and more, did some shows on occasion; even lived there for a while if I recall correctly. What I remember most was his drive to segregate the jazz library by separating out really bad jazz into its own genre, Whazz, and relegating/banning it to its own corner of the studio. Whazz, White Jazz… Funny as shit that he made that happen (despite some shock, dismay, and opposition from others at ‘MFO). Tons of records were re-labeled and reassigned to this genre, so as not to water down the good stuff when one went searching in the stacks for something to play! So long Weather Report, Kenny G, etc. Of course, not all Whazz was by white musicians (George Benson, Winton Marsalis anyone?), and not all white musicians made Whazz (ROVA?), but you get the point. The debates were a blast….
Well that sure took me back many years. Thanks for the memories and RIP, Crass.

Ben Paulos said...

I was Crass' roommate in the late '80s in Somerville, and knew him through WMFO.

I definitely remember Whazz, and the controversy that kicked up. Endless all-staff meetings to debate whether Whazz was racist.

But I especially remember that he wrote a grant from the Mass Arts Council (I think) to get Ornette Coleman to come to Tufts, compose a new piece (Skies of America I think), and reconvene the original Quartet at a show at the Channel, alone with Prime Time. I got to drive some of Ornette’s band around in my ’73 Super Beetle to their rehearsals in various Somerville apartments.

I think he also got Butch Morris a gig as a visiting artist at Tufts in the late '80s or early '90s. That was when Morris did the "Tribute to Paul Gonsalves" with David Murray and a big band, with Morris leading the comprovisation.

So Crass wasn't just a fan. He made sure some cultural money flowed into the pockets of deserving artists.

RIP. said...

I know Chris as the Data Gnome... forever on the roam. He was incredibly generous with his time and analytical insights and he helped me in the early days of Jazz Near You. Chris didn't suffer fools and I wouldn't have wanted to be on his bad side, but I found his acerbic wit hilarious as he was always right on the money. Chris also converted some of his favorite vinyl records to CDs and sent them to me. He had good taste too. RIP.

Jeff Rich said...

Yes, my brother certainly had some issues...but he confessed to me that he enjoyed his life, had no regrets. With my birth it was the "Rival Arrival", and he treated me accordingly. I grew up with our mother, he with my great grandmother. One of the times I went to visit him, he gave me the gift of a Bela Bartok album and a very scary Weasel's Ripped My Flesh album. This set up 50 plus years of a bipolar relationship, he accusing me of narcissism and me accusing him of something else...The good times were great and the other times, not so much. I was always taking him in and he was always taking off and leaving. Even after the last time I took him in and all the chaos he brought, the door was always open. He chose to make me a boogy man and in the end he came back one last time. It was all done with his usual flourish even at the last moment. He chose exactly what he wanted to do always. Who is ever able to do that? So I am left with his ashes and the conflicted feelings about how to disperse them. He had his own ideas about being part of a landfill, I would like it to be special.

Steve Provizer said...

Jeff, thanks for your comment.

Louis Byron said...

I was one of Chris's closest "friends" (if you could call it that) for about 5 years (1985-1990). I learned a lot from Chris and he could be a very kind person (particularly towards those he felt were historically oppressed). I was his assistant for the two Mass Council for the Arts grants that he wrote with Prof. Lewis Porter to bring Ornette Coleman back together to perform with his original quartet and to commission Butch Morris as an artist in residence and composer for a semester at Tufts. We shared a love of the outdoors, centered around backpacking & bushwacking in the wild and rugged North Country of New Hampshire & Vermont (above the White and Green Mountains). Since Chris, to my knowledge, never did learn how to drive (my one attempt at teaching him was truly life threatening lol)...he was more than happy to accompany me to these remote locales. I still have some of our old topo maps & notes from our hikes. Chris was actually one of the most talented descriptive writers (for nature and music in particular) that I have run across. As some have already mentioned on here, he could also be petty & vindictive once he turned on someone. That happened to me shortly before I moved from the Boston area in 1990 (needless to say, the fact that he also had recently ripped me off for a large quantity of marijuana didn't help matters much). Even after I somewhat "got over" and forgave him for that action, Chris held fast to a "sheepish" aloofness. On my return trips to Boston, I tried to reconnect with him--to no avail. Oh well, I certainly forgave Chris...even with all his faults & White "guilt" were a hell of a guy. God Bless.

Michael Kerpan said...

I realized I hadn't heard from Chris for a while (then again I only rarely check Google+, where we had been keeping in touch). Sorry to see he has left us. Thanks for the post about him (even if I found it only belatedly).