As principal trombonist with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, I can honestly say that last Saturday's performance of the Verdi Requiem by the orchestra will be remembered by the trombone section for a long time to come. It won't be because of a triumphant performance. In fact, I can't really remember much about the performance at all. All I remember was sitting on stage, listening to this truly amazing and powerful music, wishing the tears would stop rolling. As the final notes of this masterpiece approached, all I could think were the words, "Goodbye, Steve." The players beside me were clearly moved not only by the sadness, but also by the irony of the situation.
The reason is that the trombone world was recently changed in a really horrible way. On Thursday, May 10, 2001 Stephen King, a 32 year old trombonist, was murdered in New York City. He was originally from the Detroit area, attended the Cleveland Institute of Music in the late 80s where he studied with James DeSano, and moved to NYC in the early 90's to study with Joe Alessi. For those of you who knew Steve this will certainly come as a real shock. He was one of the funniest, most vibrant people I have ever known. He was also an outstanding musician. If you met him, you were not likely to forget him. People who had only met him a few times have told me that they feel the loss. Those of us who knew him well and considered him a great friend will never, ever forget him.
Steve was a terrific trombonist, an ambitious composer of original rock and roll, an accomplished body builder, and possessed an electric personality. The memories I will always cherish of Steve are filled with laughter, his "no B.S." way of dealing with people, wonderful music making, and more laughter. The conversations we would have still make me laugh a decade later.
You may be wondering where the irony comes in. Richard Begel, trombonist with the Ft. Wayne Philharmonic, told me that he and Steve were at Spoleto a few years back. The last piece they played together was Verdi's Requiem. Now here we were, on stage playing that piece, the same weekend of his untimely death.
It seems unimaginable that the world no longer has the pleasure of Steve's vibrant personality. It seems equally unimaginable that he will never again produce that beautiful, full tone on the trombone. Never again will I hear his voice boom over the phone saying "Cooke, you S.O.B! This is Steve King!" in a burst of laughter. Those words began more conversations than I can even remember. He is already missed more than he ever could have imagined.
Steve, we will always love you. The last notes have been played and there is no more practicing to be done. Fine job, my friend. Fine job.
There will be a memoreial service in Detroit, Michigan, on Thursday, May 17, at 11:00 AM. The service will take place at the Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church.
More information can be found at the New York Times web site: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/05/13/nyregion/13SHOO.html. (Free registration required)