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Norman Atwell of the Kansas City area died this weekend at age 79. He wasn't famous. His name will not be familiar to many outside this area. He played with a few name leaders, but only when they were playing in Kansas City and picked him from the list at the Musicians Union Hall. He almost always had to keep a day job, but music was his passion.

Norm epitomized the dedicated musicians who kept live music as a viable option for thousands of people. He started playing for pay in the late 1940s. A Marine in Korea during the Korean War, he found some instruments stored at headquarters and formed a small group that played military clubs. After his discharge, he returned home to play sax and clarinet with a number of local pros. Under the name Kenny Royal (Norm always thought that was a good name for a band leader) he started his own big band that remains active today. For years he also played in and sometimes led community concert bands.

Although Norm could barely walk this past year, he continued to lead his big band and 5- and 7-piece groups and be a sideman in a Dixieland band. A couple of months ago he turned over his big band to a much younger musician, but continued to play a sweet, bluesy lead alto. Norm's lifetime collection of charts, most of which were originals he bought from local bandleaders who had retired, were given to the new band leader.

Norm did what he wanted to do -- he played 'til the end. His last rehearsal was this past Tuesday. He still sounded great, and he was still pointing out what I should do better. Thanks for the impromptu lessons Norm. And by the way, you're still the only guy I've heard with a really good alto clarinet sound.

You and people like you are the real soul of music.
 
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