Village President Sheena Collum said it perfectly – “Never easy to pay tribute to someone who was one in a bazillion. Lee May, who we all called “Boz”, is such a tremendous loss for the South Orange community but she wouldn’t want tears or sadness. I grabbed this picture from Gregory Burrus because it just reminds me of her vibrant personality. She was the type of individual you would fall in love with, she made it very easy.“
Lee Boz May (RIP) – Live Music Advocate Sep 24, 1945 – Apr 17, 2020
She passed Friday 4/17/2020 and at the moment we don’t know why yet due to all the Coronavirus Social Distancing mandates. However Lee was kinda known for not being most responsive on the phone but I’d send an email and boom I’d get an answer back – ” all is ok”. It was such a shock to get a call from her family telling me she has moved on to rejoin Earl May in heaven.
I am going to miss my buddy Lee Boswell May aka Facebook “Boz May” because as much as social media can give you a name change it was clear she loved the real world. Lee was always out in the community, supporting the community and being a staunch advocate for live music and of course the town of South Orange, NJ. Yes Fox and Falcon used to be a car dealership back in the day.
Lee May – South Orange Performing Arts Center
She curated the very popular South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC) series Jazz in the Loft and the highly regarded Giants of Jazz series with her jazz partner bass player John Lee, would become a jazz vocalist when the mood hit her in addition to being an active SOPAC volunteer .
Lee Boz May doing what she does for SOPAC Giants of Jazz and Jazz In the Loft series with Linda Beard, John Lee, Mike Griot, Vince Ector , Steve Schnall and Clarence Conover
Lee May was always deep into Jazz and Blues being the wife of the prolific bassist Earl May who was an idiodextrous jazz bassist. Earl was one of those rare bassists in the history of jazz who played the instrument ‘back-to-front’ playing ‘left-handed’ on a ‘right-handed’ double bass. In addition Earl recorded with John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Frank Foster and Chet Baker, toured with Cab Calloway and Charlie Parker, featured in the Barry Harris Trio and was a protegé of the legendary bass player Charles Mingus.
Darryl Clark Mid 80s playing at Jazzmobile, today on bass and Earl May on Bass
Jazz Vocalist Catherine Russell “Oh my Goodness!!! I am shocked and saddened by this news!!! I worked with Earl May, he was my jazz ‘godfather’. Boz was so sweet and kind to me for so many years. So hard to believe. Thank you for posting this, or I wouldn’t have known. I hope I can find out about her tribute when it happens. Lee Bozwell May R.I.P.”
Legacy – Earl May Keeping The Music Alive
Earl was known for nurturing the careers of countless emerging talents. One local musician on the Jazz scene is local West Orange Bass player Darryl Clark who studied under the direction of Lee Mays legendary husband during Jazzmobile days way back when. Darryl has always credited Earl May as the one who encouraged him along in his playing career. Well if you play any instrument around here especially bass Lee “Boz”May picked up the nurturing of musicians’ mantle from Earl May without a doubt as fast forward to today. Lee always said that Earl left her with the mission of “keeping the music alive” and that we had big fun doing.
Lee Boz May Sitting on the Spiotta Park Stone Seats in Downtown After Sundown event featuring Darryl Clark and Nat Adderley Jr and of course Donna Seidman dancing to the music
Downtown After Sundown – Spiotta Park and Jazz On Sloan at the Gazebo – Lee was at just about every event I was at. Guess what? No comfy chair for Lee she came for the music. Residents are always encouraged to bring their chairs but Lee May sat on the stone seats right in the front of the band.
“My favorite moment of Boz, was from the first time we played in Spiotta park for Downtown After Sundown”, she stayed for both of my sets. At the end she came over and gave me a hug and said “you nailed it! . My buddy Nat Adderley Jr.tried to mess with me afterwards and I reminded him “did you hear what Boz said? I nailed it, end of discussion!” Bass Player Darryl Clark
Gregory Burrus with Lee Boz May and Carl Scariati in the back on the bass
I also have to tell this story. After we finished the first set, a woman immediately came up to me and said how much she enjoyed my playing and acknowledged the importance of the bass in an ensemble. I said, “Thank you. You are very kind.” I continued, “Most of the time, no one even notices the bass, much less goes out of their way to say how much they are enjoying it.” She must have noticed the look of astonishment on my face, and she extended her hand and introduced herself. She said, “I am Lee May, widow of Earl May.”
For those who may not know, Earl May was one of the great jazz bass players. He has played with major jazz figures that are far too numerous to list here, but the list includes giants such as John Coltrane, Billy Taylor, Max Roach, Barry Harris, Cab Calloway, and Elvin Jones, to name just a few. To say that this encounter made my day would be an extraordinary understatement. I find moments such as this priceless. — Bass Player Carl Scariati and Boz May in South Orange, New Jersey.
Lee May – About That Bass
Another way Lee was keeping the music alive was when Bassist/Producer Mike Griot embarked on a journey through jazz history – through the lens of the late jazz bass legend Earl May’s 165 year old upright bass. Earl May played the bass on many now-famous jazz recordings. Lee May, gifted the heirloom instrument to Mike Griot upon deciding that the instrument’s world-class pedigree needed ongoing preservation. Fast forward, the Bass is repaired, alive and well. Recently a concert was held and Mike Griot, Al Gold and friends performed with the historic bass and dedicated it to Lee and Earl. It was a beautiful tribute.
Around South Orange
As mentioned previously Lee was a community advocate for the hometown she loved South Orange New Jersey. Mayor South Orange Sheena Collum phrased it – “As you’ve likely read or already knew, Boz was huge in the music scene particularly her support for blues and jazz – organizing, promoting, celebrating – just all of it.” Yes Lee was always in the middle of hometown events giving selfishly and supporting the town.
In my events I never had to ask twice, sometimes Lee would just show up and start working. Whether it was in the Maplewood 4th of July music event which seemed to always have almost 100 degree heat days, Boz May stayed around all day managing the stage, all the way to the end. For Downtown After Sundown when not helping out she became the best supporting attendee ever. Every Friday and Saturday she was there. For 24 Hours of Music Jamboree which is a very long affair, Lee managed the Jazz On Sloan program at the South Orange Gazebo every year and she hung in there all day and late into the night every year.
24 Hours of Music
Lee Boz may with us at the start of the Annual 24 Hours of Music Jamboree Kickoff
24 Hours of Music Volunteer CC Minton who worked the event with Lee May a number of years stated it this way. : “Boz had such a lovely spirit and was a gem of the community. Whenever we talked, I loved hearing the stories about how jazz was at the center of the life that she shared with her husband earl May.”
Boz May Supporting the Cause with Blues Jam Master Andy Lackow
Local Blues Jam / Guitarist Andy Lackow: I am heartbroken. The sweetest woman. You take things for granted that someone will be there at the next jam or gig and now I wish I spent more time with her, getting to know her. She was at nearly every Tuesday Night Jam and at many of my gigs, especially in Greg’s Downtown After Sundown series in Spiotta Park in South Orange. Rest in peace dear, sweet Boz. My condolences to you Gregory Burrus and everyone whose life she touched.”
Newark Bethany Baptist Church
Lee May in Service to the Community
In Newark Lee worked with the Bethany Baptist Church Jazz Vespers History committee which has a few folks with historic jazz connections. One such member with the title “First Lady of Jazz” bestowed upon Dorthaan Kirk by John Schreiber, president and chief executive of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. She is also wife of the former famed blind instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk and a hardcore WBGO jazz station advocate. It’s this type of deeply Jazz focused environment Lee May was associated with and the Jazz Vespers always produces world class performances.
West Orange – Arts for Kids Inc
Lee May Board Member Arts for Kids with Fellow Board Member Drummer Vince Ector and Saxophonist Anotonio Hart
In the community Lee was also an Arts for Kids, Inc Board Member and was always there helping out and supporting the organization. Vince Ector Executive Director, Professional Musician and Educator summed it up as: “She was a tireless advocate of the arts and loved us just the way we loved her. We are just devastated beyond words right now so excuse the rambling. LEE MAY Rest in Heavenly Peace”
Judy Wukitsch “I am so, so sorry to hear this. Lee was instrumental in keeping Giants of Jazz going. Lee and Earl volunteered from the beginning. What a special woman. So sad”
Ken Graham Tennis Court Dedication for a Longtime South Orange Resident. Everybody around south Orange knows Lee Boz May was a big friend of Kenny Graham (RIP) the Tennis coach. She was there of course at his Tennis Court dedication.
“Just as another example, when we dedicated the tennis courts to Kenny Graham, she was there front and center. Boz had shared with me all the history of tennis in our community and our awful past of this sport as it relates to access for black tennis players. She could remember everything and freely shared her knowledge and wisdom with others.” Mayor South Orange Sheena Collum.
I could go on forever with the heart and soul of Lee “Boz” May.
Also want to”
Thank Mike Lee for his family’s Coronavirus Social Distancing version of the song she loved Confirmation. We all know she always asked for at our events. So here you go to Mike Lee and Matt.
Big thanks to James Gibbs Coronavirus Social Distancing Tribute. James sat in his truck for over an hour pouring his heart out in Tribute to Lee Boz May. Here’s my Tribute with Classic James Gibbs Trumpet.
Heres the complete 1 hour and 16 min Link Thank you James
And another big thank you to those who have said just call me whenever we can do a tribute – I taking all names and if interested let me know. I will be in touch at the appropriate time.
Big huge thanks if you made it this far as my heart goes out to everyone that knew her and will miss her madly like I will.
Thanks for your condolences and I am in contact with the family and making sure the family sees all the love from our communities.
As Boz would say “time to keep the music alive. “
Folks Weighing In
Bassist Darryl Clark – DC Fusion West Orange NJ – In the late 70s I was fortunate enough to learn at Jazz Mobile in Harlem. Jazzmobile was meant to promote jazz through educational performances with industry musicians. Earl May was one of my instructors for the year.
What I remember most was that he was such a nice man and never once mentioned anything about who he had played with or that we should check out his records. It was only after words that I earned about his amazing repertoire.
He had the ability to make everybody in the class regardless of how skill level feel like you were really good. A proud moment came when he told me that the guitar class needed a bass player to work with them on blues progressions. He told me I was the one from his class that should go represent the bassists.
As the semester ended I told him I was going to college but I wanted to be a professional bass player. He told me, “you finish college and if you still want to do this I’ll help you”. He didn’t step on my dream he left it open for me to decide if I was serious enough to take him up on it. One more thing that made him a memorable teacher.
I didn’t see Earl after that until I saw him at Shanghai Jazz some 30 years later. I’m not sure if he remembered me from Jazzmobile but he treated me like I was a long lost son.
Fast forward, I met Boz May at one of Greg Buford‘s Jazz session nights. Someone was singing a Nina Simone song called “I wish I knew how to be free”. I said, my group does that song but we do it the way Earl May did it on his Shanghai Jazz CD. That’s when she said Earl was her husband. She let me know that Dr. Billy Taylor wanted it sung the way Earl did it on the CD not the way Nina Simone made it famous! My favorite moment of Boz, was from the first time we played in Spiotta park, she stayed for both of my sets. At the end she came over and gave me a hug and said “you nailed it! . My buddy Nat Adderley tried to mess with me afterwards and I reminded him “did you hear what Boz said? I nailed it, end of discussion!”
She was always there with that supportive smile and losing her is like taking a leg out of a chair.
Charlie Apicella – http://www.IronCity.nyc – Lee May was a tireless supporter of great music. Many of us saw her as a matriarch of the jazz community here in NY and NJ. I always looked to her as a mentor and I had so many wonderful conversations with her these past few years. I was always delighted to hear stories about her husband, legendary bassist Earl May, and his work with Billy Taylor, John Coltrane, and so many others. I was honored she was such a big supporter of my work and booked Iron City to play at SOPAC‘s Jazz In The Loft a few years back.
Photography credits if not stated