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Popular BassistCopyright © 2008
One of the most-respected bassists of his generation, Dennis Irwin died of liver failure after a battle with cancer. He was 56.
Irwin played clarinet as a child, and only switched to bass after beginning classical music studies at North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas). While still in school in 1973, he landed a job with veteran pianist Red Garland and moved to New York City. He maintained a busy schedule during the late '70s, playing with trumpeter Ted Curson, singers Betty Carter and Mose Allison, and pianist Albert Dailey. In addition, he spent three years with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers.
In the early '80s, Irwin landed a longtime spot in the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, originally led by Mel Lewis, which performs every Monday night at New York's Village Vanguard. He also brought his deep swing feel to bands led by Bennie Wallace, Chet Baker and Horace Silver. In the early '90s, Irwin became a member of the influential John Scofield Quartet, which also featured Joe Lovano and Bill Stewart.
In recent years, he played in bands led by Lovano and Johnny Griffin, and in drummer Matt Wilson's Arts & Crafts.
After his cancer diagnosis, Irwin became a key figure in the crisis facing U.S. musicians without health insurance. He died on the same day as a high-profile benefit concert in his honor featuring Wynton Marsalis, Tony Bennett, Alison, Lovano, Scofield, Bill Frisell and others.
Irwin is survived by his companion Aria Hendricks, son Michael, his parents Daisy Godbold and David Irwin, and a brother, David.