SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Musician Ben Tucker performed with stars from Quincy Jones to Peggy Lee before he settled in the 1970s in Savannah, where the jazz bassist became one of the city's best-known working musicians.
He was killed in a car crash Tuesday at age 82.
Tucker was driving a golf cart across a road on Hutchinson Island when a car slammed into him at high speed, said Savannah-Chatham County police spokesman Julian Miller. Tucker was pronounced dead at a local hospital. The driver of the car that struck him was charged with vehicular homicide and other criminal counts.
The news stunned musicians and jazz enthusiasts in Savannah, where Tucker had been a musical fixture for roughly four decades. Tucker made his living playing upright bass — an instrument he'd named Bertha and claimed was 240 years old — in all sorts of settings from jazz festivals to wedding receptions, from nightclub gigs to bar mitzvahs. Tucker played so often, it seemed that everybody in Savannah knew him.
"One of the most interesting things about playing with Ben was he was so beloved by so many people in Savannah who had met him at his club or whose weddings he had played," said Howard Paul, a jazz guitarist who played and recorded with Tucker for more than 20 years. "You could count on being interrupted at least three times in a song because Savannahians would walk up and shake his hand while we were playing."
Before he moved to the Georgia coast, Tucker had some success as a songwriter — perhaps most notably with "Comin Home Baby," a song co-written with Robert Dorough, which was recorded by Mel Torme and Herbie Mann. By the end of the 1960s, he had toured with Peggy Lee and performed and recorded with jazz greats such as Dexter Gordon, Buddy Rich and Quincy Jones.
Paul was a young Army lieutenant scheduled to deploy to Operation Desert Storm when he arrived in Savannah 22 years ago. A friend sent him to a nightclub Tucker operated at the time, and the bassist invited on stage to play that night and all week.
"He was on the music scene for so many years and performed with many of the greatest names in jazz, yet he spent so much time with local musicians and children as well," Paul said. "I think he grew up in an era of jazz musicians where they felt obligated to give back."
The Savannah Morning News reported Tucker was also a former owner of WSOK-AM and WLVH-FM.
Police said the crash that killed Tucker, who was also an avid golfer, remained under investigation. The driver of the car that hit Tucker's golf cart, identified as 52-year-old Robert William Martin of Spicewood, Texas, was charged with vehicular homicide, racing and reckless driving. It was not immediately known Tuesday if Martin had an attorney.
Julius "Boo" Hornstein, a Savannah psychotherapist and jazz writer, befriended Tucker and worked with him for years in the Coastal Jazz Associated, which organizes the Savannah Jazz Festival.
Hornstein said Tucker was a "fine-tuned human being" who took excellent care of himself for a man in his 80s, making his death all the more stunning. He kept a steady gig playing Sunday brunch at a Savannah hotel and had been scheduled to perform in town the night of his death.
"He was a working musician right to the end," Hornstein said. "He was so instrumental in the music life of Savannah."