Obituary of Richard Keene

September 13, 2021

Richard Rollins Keene, age 72, died unexpectedly at home on September 13, 2021. Contributing to his passing was hypertension, a failed heart valve and diabetes. Richard was born 2/23/1949. He was raised in Rye, New York, Lake Forest, Illinois and Tulsa, Oklahoma, where his father produced the television shows for evangelist, Oral Roberts. Richard attended college at the University of Wisconsin in Madison in the 1960s, where he joined a student jazz ensemble taught by the visiting jazz innovator, Cecil Taylor. Cecil soon turned Richard's funky saxophone to the jazz world of composition and improvisation. This convinced him to move to New York City, where he followed this love for the rest of his life. To help put food on the table, he pursued his second love, teaching orchestra in the public schools. It thrilled him, knowing that he helped kids develop confidence and success when performing, especially with his take-notice, one-of-a-kind school concerts.

Taking a holiday break, he enjoyed visiting with his older brother, Rogers (Kaaron), and his family in Wisconsin, including niece, Kori and nephew, Gerry, a skilled trumpet player. Several times we enjoyed meeting his long-time partner, Laura Foremen, an NYU dancer and artist. With video recorder in hand, he'd video tape every moment. He'd often remind us of the 100-stair climb up the fire tower in Wisconsin's Peninsula State Park, to be awed, looking out for miles over the forest canopy and the Bay of Green Bay.

In later years, his favorite visits were to New Jersey, spending many holidays with Grace, his niece, his nephew, James, and their mother, Nilda. Grace and James father (Richard's brother, James Keene) lives in Dominica. Nephew James, accomplished in violin, has performed several times with Richard.

His heart was in NYC. His jazz family gave their condolences on Billy Stein's Facebook page, and here are two of them.

The first is from Michael Moss:
"This is so shocking and sudden. Richard and I go way way back to the '60s at the University Wisconsin--Madison when I would be jamming in the Wis. Union Rathskellar and Richard was a kid in the audience! We have worked together a lot over the years--he got stellar reviews on my cd HELIX, and he appeared after that in the Accidental Orchestra playing concerts in 2019. I really miss him! Smartest cat ever known. Sensitive and loving, we have lost a gentle giant."

Billy Stein said this:
"I met Richard sometime back around 1996 when we were both part of Rashid Bakr's band. The huge sound that he was able to get out of his tenor was filled with both fiery passion and sensitivity at the same time, a rare and magnificent combination. That along with his deep understanding and vocabulary of music made him a very formidable player. We soon became friends and then a little later, music collaborators. We performed in various configurations over the years, the most recent a quarter led by him in October 2018. Richard performed with Cecil Taylor, William Parker, William Hooker, Rashid Bakr, Michael Moss and many others. I will miss creating music with him, miss our sometimes heated discussions about the state of the world, along with our mutual love for the Knicks."

A most valued and emotional experience was his being a part of the Memorial/Celebration for Cecil Taylor a few years back. He felt honored to be among so many talented musicians.

After Richard retired from teaching, he continued to perform, even though he faced health issues. His Facebook page lists himself as "Freelance musician." When a performance was coming up, he would email us about it, thrilled he would be playing, often with labored, but willing breath. If you haven't heard Richard play, check out the YouTube video of the October 29, 2018 performance at Bushwick's with Billy Stein, Adam Lane and Rashid Bakr. Midwest friends and relatives can better understand Richard's world.

Two more condolences capture our loss:
Dave Sweelson's disbelief, simple and shared: "oh man"
Brian Groder "Sail on Richard, Sail on…"

There is no memorial service being planned by the family.

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Richard Keene was my music teacher from the 6th to 8th grade. But in those three years, he taught me to trust my intuition.He helped me Find the notes between the notes and gave me an invaluable gift of not just being satisfied with playing what was on the pagebut trusting in myself that I knew what the music needed that wasn't there. I miss you friend. I'm sorry I didn't get to grab dinner in NY when I was in town. I'll draw that graffiti on your van next lifetime.

Posted by: Afua Richardson - Decatur, IL - February 24, 2022
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