Musicians say Jim Goodwin taught them how to play music — and how to live.
He was a musician’s musician, largely unknown to the public but legendary among jazz cognoscenti and to those who played with him. His authoritative, stunning cornet leads and spontaneous outpouring of original, appropriate ideas awed other musicians and inspired them to play better.
His music reflected his soul — he was a gentle person with an oddball, oblique wit; he was brilliant, generous and unerringly true to himself. He was charismatic and immediately charmed everyone he met. Friends stayed friends forever; no one knows of an enemy he ever had.
Jim died April 19 of alcoholism at age 65.
Jim enjoyed a 40-year career as a cornetist.
The outpouring of grief after his death is made more bitter by the realization that such a happy, life-absorbing personality could self-destruct. But most of all, it is grief that his music is silent.
Jim’s music echoed that of Louis Armstrong, Wild Bill Davison, Bix Beiderbecke and Henry “Red” Allen.
He was a natural musician who learned to play by ear and never wanted to taint his spontaneity by learning to read music. He could pick up any horn and make it sing. He also was a well-known piano player and earned money playing drums and vibraphone.
Jim wasn’t interested in fame or fortune. He turned down an offer to tour with the Freddy Martin Band, among other offers, and refused to promote himself. He cherished his freedom.
Once he got out of the National Guard, he was never tied down. He often left for Europe with his underwear and toothbrush stuffed in his cornet case and $40 in his pocket. He returned the same way.
Jim never had a backup plan or the stability of a day job, health insurance or any regular source of income. He lived with friends, rented here and there and sometimes, especially when he was young in Europe, slept outdoors.
Still, he lived well. He had a series of cars, including a 1954 Jaguar, a Triumph TR3 and a 1950 English Singer Roadster, that he traded, swapped or adopted out as his cash fluctuated.
Jim was adamant about never owing anybody money and paid back every nickel he ever borrowed. He liked to pick up the tab when he could.
He had an innate sense of style. Aspiring musicians copied his look, a 1970s version of the 1930s, including wool newsboy caps, L.L. Bean duck shoes and thrift store tweed jackets. He was proud of his Northwest lumberjack clothes but also knew cashmere when he saw it.
He was organized; everyplace he lived, everything was orderly and filed away. And every friend has a story about Jim’s humor. Once, he and a fellow musician put their shoes on the wrong feet and, in the middle of a set, splayed their feet in front, never knowing whether anyone noticed. He had long discussions about how to tie shoes. He built mannequins and placed them on his front porch or in a darkened room complete with lit cigar and a glass of wine. They were so realistic that people were often fooled. He once recorded a tape of himself painting a fence — the only sound was an occasional car rolling by.
He and friends started Portland Brewing Co. just as microbrewing took hold. He asked to be bought out early because he didn’t want to be tied down to a business. Instead, for years he played regularly at the company’s Flanders Street Pub with Dave Frishberg.
He was raised in Hillsboro. His father was a stockbroker, and Jim earned money at his firm as a “board boy.” This led him to stockbroker school in New York right out of high school and a brief stint as a stockbroker in Portland. He liked to say that he was the country’s youngest stockbroker and youngest retired stockbroker.
Jim and his high school band, The Riverboat Six, once climbed over a fence at the Oregon State Fair to play for Louis Armstrong. Armstrong asked who the trumpet player was, and told Jim, “Make sure you floss your teeth.”
He served in the Oregon National Guard (playing drums and horn), and that took him to Fort Ord, Calif., where he became absorbed into the nearby Bay Area music scene. He played in all the legendary jazz haunts and, for a long time, in the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. He played for the Oakland A’s pep band and went with them to three World Series.
Jim was athletic. Besides playing baseball for Hillsboro High School and softball for musicians’ teams for years, he climbed to the summit of Mount Hood several times. He once bicycled and ferried from Holland to London to visit a friend and another time walked from Berkeley to Concord, Calif., for dinner. For years, he took long walks through the forest early every morning. Portland’s Forest Park was a favorite.
He was married once, to a Dutch artist. He later lived with Aretta Christie off and on for 25 years, mostly in Brownsmead. After they separated, she kept him going through the final years of his life.
This last picture of Jim was taken aout a week and a half before he died April 19.
He was devoted to jazz and knew it upside down and backward. He and Ray Skjelbred played for years at the Bull Valley Inn in Port Costa, Calif., and could play for weeks without repeating a song. Still, Jim loved listening to classical music, particularly Charles Ives, Edvard Grieg and Jean Sibelius. He was clueless about rock.Most of his life was filled with music and friends. Parties lasted for days without an incident. Jim never used drugs or smoked. He was never known to tell an off-color joke or to use foul language.
But somewhere along the line, he crossed the “point,” as he said. Alcohol was no longer fun but dominated his life. He refused to take care of himself.
He told friends that he didn’t like what drinking was doing to him but that he didn’t want to stop. He refused help to see a dentist, lost a tooth and could no longer play the cornet.
People still ask his musician friends: “What’s going on with Jim?” “Do you hear anything from Jim?” He was, says Skjelbred, everyone’s favorite musician.
–Joan Harvey; firstname.lastname@example.org