‘Papa’ Emile Latimer, mentor to area musicians, dies at age 79 - The Buffalo News
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‘Papa’ Emile Latimer, mentor to area musicians, dies at age 79

One Tuesday night in the mid-to-late 1990s, musician Eric Crittenden walked into Nietzsche’s and saw Emile Latimer playing with his band, Abundance. Crittenden asked the man everyone called “Papa,” who had performed alongside such stars as Richie Havens and Nina Simone, if he could sit in.

“And of course, he was totally welcoming and open, as he was with every musician he met,” Crittenden recalled. “And you know how it was after that, man – wherever Papa was playing when we weren’t busy playing ourselves, that’s where we’d be, every one of us on the music scene.”

Stories like that one were themselves in abundance Thursday as friends and fans alike remembered and mourned Latimer, who died Wednesday of complications following a stroke at the age of 79.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete. But a jam session celebrating Latimer’s life is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. Sunday in the Historic Colored Musicians Club, 145 Broadway. The event is free and open to the public. A memorial service is scheduled for Nov. 2, but the time and place have not yet been determined.

A revered musician and member of the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame, Latimer specialized in African hand drumming. He was a mainstay of the Buffalo music scene for decades, but he was equally known for mentoring countless other musicians in the area.

Musicians who knew Latimer tended to view their time with him as a rite of passage. Through open mic sessions, group jams and drum circles, Latimer acted as a mentor to musicians of various ages, ethnicities, backgrounds, cultures and musical styles. That is why to friends, family and musicians who felt inspired by him, Latimer was known simply as “Papa.”

“He was Buffalo’s muse, there is no doubt about it,” said Crittenden, who plays saxophone. “More than a drummer, more than a musician, more than a father, he was a spiritual practitioner who used music as a breeding ground for the creation of positive vibes.”

On Latimer’s Facebook page, the people who knew him offered their musically themed condolences and memories.

“The world has lost an amazing soul and heaven has gained a drummer whose beat will move the angels to dance,” wrote Annamary Holmes.

“When I lived above Nietzsche’s, Emile guaranteed me he would ‘keep my bed rockin’ with his playing in the bar,” wrote Ellen Nowell. “That he did … he will be missed.”

Filmmaker Jeff Lieberman met Latimer for the first time in June. As writer and producer of a documentary on the life of Simone, Lieberman was interested in interviewing Latimer.

“I learned of Emile from a video I discovered, of him singing in concert with Nina,” said Lieberman, speaking to The News by phone from Europe, where he is doing a final round of interviews for the as-yet-untitled documentary.

“I was intrigued, because as far as I’ve been able to tell, Emile was the only person Nina ever allowed to sing on stage with her during her ’60s heyday. So that told me something about him.

“Then I met him, and I understood. He was immediately so open, so giving, such a sweet and gentle soul. He had an incredible charisma, a zest for life. He was unguarded and loving toward me from the first moment I met him.”

Many area musicians first encountered Latimer at Nietzsche’s, Allentown music mainstay. He would regularly preside over jam sessions, or simply arrive with his djembe – an African hand drum – and sit in with whoever happened to be playing.

“There’s something here that can’t be replaced,” Crittenden said. “He’s going to be missed. Buffalo has a hole in its soul now.”

email: jmiers@buffnews.com

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