In my circle of friends, when we say “Kim,” we don’t need the last name. We know him — the completely individualistic musician and man, salty, dear, surprising, gentle underneath that Warner-Brothers-gangster’s-best-friend exterior.
And I write to tell you that Kim Cusack has moved to another neighborhood, accomplishing this by going to sleep and not waking up. I got the news from Kim’s dear friend and mine, Bess Wade, a few hours ago. Bess and Kim were friends for sixty years and more, which tells you something about their characters.
I tried to tell my wife about Kim over breakfast but knew I couldn’t get past the first sentence without starting to lose my composure, so I will write a few lines instead. But first, music.
I knew Kim off and on for perhaps a decade — in person, that is, at festivals. He sounded gruff but his humor was never mean-spirited, and if you got him to talk about the people he loved, his true deep gentleness and loyalty came out immediately. He was at home with language (some musicians aren’t) so it didn’t surprise me that he had taught high school English for a time. His emails were brief yet poised and always witty. And if you passed the test (I think it was the no bullshit edition) he accepted you as a friend, an ally. I got the best compliment of this century about this blog when Marc Caparone introduced me to Kim at a festival as the author of JAZZ LIVED. Kim shook my offered hand, looked me over, and said one word, “Tasty!” which I cherish.
Kim liked to sing, and Petra van Nuis and I had a very good time with his half-meow, half-growl of NAAAAOOOOW on this song:
I don’t have to tell you about his sound, his logical yet startling phrase-construction, his tone. He admired Darnell Howard and Pee Wee Russell, but it was clear that Louis and Bobby and his great friend Jim Dapogny had shaped him as well. He swung without strain, and he loved the blues of all kinds.
When I had gotten to know Kim a little better (that is, when I came out from behind my video camera to speak) he eventually entertained the idea of a series of video-interviews which I conducted at his home in Lake Delavan, Wisconsin. There I met his wife Ailene and their feisty little dog Lacey. Here’s the first segment. Alas, Kim was never hired by Diet Dr. Pepper as a spokesperson: corporate short-sightedness.
and Kim remembering Jim:
I took Kim and Ailene out for a meal or two, which was a happy event: Kim loved food, although he told me that when he was on the road with various bands, his colleagues would head off for sushi and tacos and other foreign fare. With the greatest seriousness, Kim said, “Wayne Jones and I ate American food, none of that other stuff.”
And although you can see that Kim was neither tall nor svelte, if he wasn’t playing, you would find him with a candy bar stuck where his clarinet had been, proudly, defiantly: a political act.
Kim’s friends — Ted Butterman — and his wife Ailene left the scene in 2022, and I was hesitant to impose upon him with telephone or email. (Damn it, I should have.) But I thought of him at the very end of the year and sent a box of chocolates. I didn’t hear from him, and pretending to check whether the package had arrived but really wanting to know if he was afloat, I sent him an email and received this reply, which, for me, sums up the whole man — so very dear:
Yes, I did receive your present and it was enjoyed very much. I apologize for not having let you know, but I’m definitely behind in all my correspondence, thanks to the influx of condolence cards I received regarding Ailene’s passing. I, in fact haven’t really tackled them yet.
But I do thank you for thinking of me. Something in or on the package was marked “kosher” but I went ahead and consumed the whole lot anyway.
Thanks, to say the least.
I want to close with something of a whimsical hug. In the glad chaos that was the 2014 Sacramento jazz weekend I saw Kim and his great friend and musical partner Ray Skjelbred crossing the street to arrive near me. You can bet that the cheers were for them.
I cannot think of Kim without tears. Thank you, dear man, for all you gave and give us.