Roswell Hopkins Rudd Jr.

SHARON — Roswell Rudd died Dec 22, 2017, at his home in Kerhonkson, N.Y., after a long battle with cancer. He was lovingly cared for by his long-time partner, Verna Gillis, and surrounded by his extended family and devoted friends who brought him so much joy over the course of his life. 

Ros was born Nov. 17,1936, in Sharon, the son of Roswell Hopkins Rudd and Josephine (Bauman) Rudd. He is a descendant of Alexander Hamilton Holley, 23rd governor of Connecticut. His grandfather, Malcolm Rudd, was director of the Holley Manufacturing Company and wrote books on Salisbury history and local Native American tribes. 

Roswell’s love for music began with his maternal grandmother, Caroline Bauman, who led the Methodist Choir in Lakeville, and his father, Hop, a Dixieland jazz enthusiast who loved playing drums whenever he got the chance. Jam sessions in the Rudd home and at Salisbury School, where both his parents taught, were enjoyed by the steady stream of visitors to the Rudd home and was where Roswell’s passion for jazz began to take hold.  

Ros graduated from Indian Mountain School, Hotchkiss School and Yale University. Upon graduating from Yale, he moved to New York and began his life-long career as a jazz musician. He soon became a pre-eminent trombone player in the avant-garde jazz movement in the 1960s and was part of the nucleus of the Free Jazz Movement, playing with such greats as Sun Ra, Archie Shepp, Cecil Taylor and many others. Often the only white musician working and traveling with all-black bands, he was part of the early struggle for civil rights, participating in freedom rides and sit-ins. 

He first recorded in 1957 and continued recording right up to the time of his death, participating as a leader or a sideman in more than 50 recordings. Ros loved to perform. 

A true global musician, his talent and passion for music took him all over the world. Over the years, he performed and recorded with an incredibly diverse group of musicians, from choirs of Mongolian throat singers to Toumani Diabate in Mali, Africa, where he recorded one of his most influential albums, “Mali Cool.” In a 2002 interview on “Fresh Air,” Terri Gross summed up his sound with the words “ebullience, humor and big heart.” He expressed that his sound represented freedom. 

Roswell was respected as a creative and talented musician but was also adored by his family and by the many friends he developed over his long career. He radiated kindness, love and a nonjudgmental outlook on life that lifted anyone who was in his presence. 

He is survived by his sons, Greg and Chris; his brother, Bennett; his sisters, Eve Webb and Priscilla Wolf; and by his loving partner, Verna Gillis. 

A memorial service is planned for the spring as well as a concert in New York City to celebrate his life.