"Dennis Irwin, 56, Bassist Popular in New York Jazz, Is Dead
For more than 30 years, Mr. Irwin was a much-in-demand New York jazz bassist. His recent illness became a rallying point for jazz musicians without medical insurance.
The cause was liver failure as a result of cancer, said his son, Michael Irwin.
He died the same day as a benefit concert was presented in his honor, staged by Jazz at Lincoln Center and including performances by Wynton Marsalis, Tony Bennett, Jon Hendricks, Mose Allison, Joe Lovano, Bill Frisell, John Scofield, and many others. Part of the concert’s proceeds will go toward Mr. Irwin’s medical expenses. The rest, in line with his stated wishes, will go to other musicians in need, through the Jazz Foundation of America, which has helped many uninsured musicians — including Mr. Irwin — pay for healthcare.
Born in Birmingham, Ala., Mr. Irwin attended North Texas State University (now University of North Texas) as a classical musician studying the clarinet, switching to jazz and the bass during college. In 1973, while still in school, he got a job as a bassist playing with the pianist Red Garland; he moved to New York in 1974 without graduating and quickly found work with Ted Curson, Betty Carter and Mr. Allison, among others. In 1977 he began a three-year stint in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.