My name is Chris Clermont, and I am a professional guitarist living in Los Angeles. I recently came across your website for Howard Roberts. I can't thank you enough for having the love, patience and tenacity to put together such a wonderful site for a truly special human being.
I had the extreme priviledge to study/work/play with Howard in the mid-Eighties at GIT in Hollywood before he left town. I remember one day coming into the school and hearing a lot of racket coming from a practice room where a guitarist was demonstrating the latest Van Halen-type licks to a jam packed room of students. In the room immediately next door, I heard this amazing solo chord melody playing. As I approached this room, I remarked to myself out loud that if that was a student playing that good, I was going to be 'pissed off!' There I found Howard playing in this practice room all alone with a hand written sign in the door that read "Howard Roberts open couseling today." I was stunned!
I will never forget this particular encounter because it made me realize how he could play the way he did. He said "Hello, wanna play?" I said "Listening to you, I wish I could." He laugh and said, "Let's see what you got." We sat, played and talked for almost 2 hours! What a sweet person he was. I had always love HR for his tone and phrasing, and the unpretentious approach he had to jazz and music in general. I counted him as one of my top influences in jazz.
This must have been a funny time for him. He had co-founded GIT with Pat Hicks, and he spoke to the student body my first day there, but then sort of disappeared. There were rumours that he had a nervous breakdown, that he was a junkie, that he could no longer play, that he was almost like a homeless person. The students were almost affraid of him. I found him to be sweet, gentle, caring with a childlike quality. But it was during one of our long conversations that simutaneously broke my heart and made me love the man.
As I was babbling about something, he suddenly said to me that I reminded him of Wes Montgomery. Not playingwise but something about my spirit energy reminded him of Wes. Then he said, "I can remember this one day having a great time hanging with Wes driving down the Sunset strip in a big Buick." Then he stopped and said "I miss Wes." He had made himself cry. I said to myself "he can still cry just like that, and Wes has been gone about 18 years already? Wow!" At that point, I came to love the person who was Howard Roberts.
I would go see him at Donte's, and there would be 15 or 20 people in the club. I started telling the other students about how amazing his open sessions were, and that nobody would be there but me. After awhile the students packed his room, and I couldn't even get in the room sometimes. He was to be available for open sessions for the month, but after about two weeks, the school made an announcement that he was ill and would not be doing the balance of the commitment. A new rumour started floating around that he had terminal cancer.
Donte's closed down, and I would not see Howard again until I graduated from GIT, when he presented one of my classmates with a Howard Roberts Fusion guitar for winning the academic student of the year award. Yours truly won the overall student of the year award, and I won an Ovation Custom Legend acoustic that was presented to me by the late great Tommy Todesco.
That graduation would be the last time I would see Howard as I think he moved to Phoenix shortly afterward. He was a truly generous and genuine person who is sorely missed today. Thanks again for the time and dedication you put into creating a tasteful and fitting website for possibly one of the world very best musicians.
Chris Clermont email@example.com
About two years ago, I found myself on the road with the same rhythm section as on the VSOP/Magic Band records [Chuck Berghofer on bass and John Guerin on drums].