Legendary jazz bassist Butch Warren, once the house player for Blue Note Records and member of Thelonious Monk’s band, and one of the most respected living bassists, has for nearly four years been the featured attraction on Wednesday and Saturday nights at Columbia Station in Adams Morgan. But Peter Edelman, pianist and de facto leader of the Butch Warren Experience, confirms this morning that the club has fired Warren.
“It’s one of those unfortunate parts of the business that sometimes clubs make changes,” Edelman says. “I think there may also have been some issues with the band, or with members of the band.”
Columbia Station’s staff could not be reached for comment. However, a source familiar with goings-on at the club says the 71-year-old bassist’s unreliability and unpredictable behavior—-which are as legendary as his talent—-had become too much to handle. D.C. native Warren has long suffered from psychological trauma, his career interrupted by homelessness and extended stays in St. Elizabeth’s and Springfield Hospital Center to be treated for drug addiction, alcoholism, and schizophrenia. His 2007 hiring at Columbia Station was feted by the Post‘s Marc Fisher, among others, as a hero’s homecoming.
Notoriously, the caliber of Warren’s performances at Columbia Station varied wildly; on some nights, his playing far dwarfed that of his band, while on others he seemed lost and no match for the other musicians. The source points out that some nights Warren did not show up at all, and that when he did he would often play only a few songs and leave the bass in the hands of a protege, while he hung back drinking his trademark half-and-half. City Paper‘s Jule Banville reported seeing him in Dupont Circle a couple years back, handing out flyers for his Columbia Station gig. “He was wearing a bike helmet, although he was not on a bike,” Banville said. “He looked a touch touched.”
Nonetheless, it bears mentioning that the jazz world regarded Warren as something close to royalty. At the Kennedy Center finale of last year’s Thelonious Monk Competition (at which bass was the featured instrument), he was in attendance and was lauded from the stage by Christian McBride, who exhorted Warren to stand and take bows to a house ovation.
Warren’s lost his most frequent and high-profile gig, but he’s by no means gone from the scene. The Experience still has a standing Tuesday night gig at Tryst, just up 18th Street from Columbia Station. And, says Edelman: “We’re actively hunting for jobs right now.”