Big Large: In Memory of Curtis Fowlkes

On August 31, 2023, the Jazz Passengers lost their beloved co-founder, Curtis Fowlkes, lovingly referred to as “Big Large.”

A few months earlier in January 2023, the band was hired to perform at a private NYC event. Bradley Jones was flying in from Portugal, and E.J. Rodriguez from Phoeniz, so the band decided to take the opportunity to go back into the studio to revisit their classic songbook to record new tracks that feature the vocals of Curtis Fowlkes and Roy’s son Gabe Nathanson. Marc Ribot also rejoined the band for several of the tracks. Just a few days after the busy week of performing and recording, Curtis, who had already been quite ill with congestive heart failure, was admitted to the hospital for treatment. He never fully regained his strength and passed away a few months later. Subsequently, Hugo Dwyer (engineer) and Roy Nathanson continued to perfect the tracks with overdub sessions.

This incredibly special recording, titled “Big Large: In Memory of Curtis Fowlkes,” was produced and engineered by Hugo Dwyer and recorded at Dimension 70 and the Nathanson basement. Released by Food Records – a label project founded by Isaiah Barr, Spencer Murphy, and Lucien Smith, named in honor of FOOD, the legendary artist-run SoHo cafe and restaurant of the early ’70s.



REVIEW: ‘Old Main Chapel’ by Ron Miles and ‘Big Large: In Memory of Curtis Fowlkes’ by the Jazz Passengers Reviews: Musical Legacies – Wall Street Journal review by Larry Blumenfeld

The music captures the remarkable improvisational and compositional language of a group of truly eccentric master musicians, each with their own unforgettable sound. The ambition of the project was to re-record the most iconic of the Passengers’ vocal tunes as they showcase the band’s lyricism and humor as well as their powerful instrumental ensemble and solo playing.

The lineup includes Fowlkes on vocals and trombone, Nathanson on sax, Marc Ribot on guitar, Bill Ware on vibraphone, Sam Bardfeld on violin, Brad Jones on bass, and E.J. Rodriguez on drums. Roy’s son Gabe Nathanson has joined the band on vocals and trumpet.

For live performances in 2024 and beyond, the Jazz Passengers are expanding their front line with emerging talents Isaiah Barr (tenor sax) and Curt’s student Lucy Hollier (trombone).

At the Bowery Ballroom — hey, I ventured east after all — I felt privileged to witness The Jazz Passengers performing a tribute to one of their co-founders, trombonist Curtis Fowlkes. As I noted in an obituary last fall, Fowlkes was the band’s heart and soul, so it was touching to bask in that sound again. Along with several longtime Passengers — saxophonist and co-founder Roy Nathanson, vibraphonist Bill Ware, bassist Brad Jones, drummer E.J. Rodriguez, guitarist Marc Ribot — the tribute included a sharp young trombonist named Lucy Hollier. There’s an elusive balance of tight and sloppy in the way this group coheres, and it was glorious to behold again.

Nate Chinen’s substack