“Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself. Don't play what's there, play what's not there. For me, music and life are all about style. Don't fear mistakes: there are none. Without music, life would be a mistake.” - Miles Davis
Each of these statements by Jazz great Miles Davis strike distinct notes within me as I think about the recent passing of my friend Ron Lopez - truly a distinct jazz legend in his own right, who sadly passed away from us all too soon at the age of 57 on November 14th.
Ron's lifeblood was jazz guitar and he spent an entire life dedicated to the riches that music can offer. And he developed a style - both technical and personal - like no other contemporary guitarist traveling the musical circuit.
Ron was born in 1954 here in Saginaw and was employed by the Saginaw Public Schools as a music and art teacher, retiring in 2008 after 30 years. He cut his teeth with the SVSU Jazz Band under the direction of the late Dr.
Charles Brown and was a pivotal guitarist with the Brush Lopez Band for 25 years. He played at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, performed with many regional jazz greats, and also established the Ron Lopez School of Guitar.
Apart from a naturally inquisitive and engaging nature (every time I ran into Ron he was like the man with a million questions) he possessed a special talent for stitching magical tapestries of notes into the otherwise open and empty air.
He owned a style of guitar playing that was inimitable, yet paid humble respect to prior jazz pioneers such as Django Reinhardt, whom he was greatly influenced by.
At his best, Ron was a class act and an unforgettable musician. No matter where the gig, he was always dressed in a suit and tie - undoubtedly, the best-dressed guitarist to ever grace a stage. It was important for Ron to make a good and strong impression and he would practice and play incessantly to keep his skills at the top of his game.
Unfortunately, Ron became plagued with a debilitating form of arthritis that caused him great pain & frustration, but never negated his desire to move forward with both music and life.
I remember asking Ron once how his condition affected his guitar playing and how he was dealing with it and he looked at me, smiled, and said, “It don't matter what note you hit because every guitar player is going to hit a wrong note sooner or later. But when you hit that wrong note, just make sure you make that wrong note sound good!”
According to his good friend Dr. Jack Nash, towards the end Ronnie would say to him, “You only live once, and when you're dead, you're done. So let the good times roll.”
Ron Lopez had the gift of making and constructing a style of music that was all his own and created a litany of many 'good times' for all those who loved or listened to him.
And I'm sure that right now he is up there in heaven with other musical colleagues and pioneers that preceded him, working on new languages of expression that we can only imagine in our dreams.
Rest in Peace my friend.