A man named Aaron lived on the floor above me until his death last week. He seemed like an ordinary man, but looks can be deceiving.
Aaron Sachs was a protege of Benny Goodman but exceeded even that great mentor in his ability to make the transition from swing to be-bop and Latin jazz. In addition to Benny Goodman, Aaron played with Earl Hines, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Tito Puente and a host of other jazz greats. In 1945 he was given the New Star Award for clarinet in an Esquire Magazine poll of jazz experts. The magazine Metronome named him clarinet player of the year twice but I only ever heard him play saxophone. He played at our building's pool sometimes, including once when my son Nick, a budding trumpet player, was allowed to join.
Sometimes I'd run into Aaron on his way to a gig, resplendent in his suit and shades, brandishing his instrument in its case with such grim determination that another of our neighbors called him "the hitman."
The thing that set Aaron Sachs apart from the rest of us was not his talent (prodigious as it was). It was his humility, his warmth and his decency.
Each speaker at his funeral, after dispensing with the requisite acknowledgment of his artistry, came to the heart of the matter: Aaron was that most exotic of our species, a good man. Or, as one of his fellow jazzmen so eloquently put it, a sweet cat.
I'll let Aaron have the last word. Here's one of his original compositions.