I am very rarely at a loss for words, but when I heard the news last week that we lost Cliff Alexis… I was simply stunned.
Cliff was a mentor, arranger, composer, teacher, tuner, pioneer, master (of many things) and legend… Most importantly to me – he was a friend, he was family.
I first met Cliff when I was 12 years old at an NIU Steelband concert at the Norris Center in St. Charles, Illinois. Only a couple years into my pan journey, I went to Cliff on stage after the show and said only that “the concert was amazing!” He shook my hand said “Taahnks” and walked back stage. At the time, I could never have comprehended the impact the he would have on me.
We all have many many Cliff stories, but one that I carry fondly is this: in the summer after my first year at NIU, during a period of doubting my own potential as a musician I get a phone call in the middle of a weekday. I walked away from a conversation saying “I’ll be right back, when Cliff calls, I have to answer”… When I picked up the phone I was immediately berated… For not calling enough, not checking in to see how Cliff was, not reporting how I was doing. We talked for another twenty minutes. I caught him up on the gigs I had booked for the summer and Cliff told me about the pans he was working on that week. It was a simple conversation like one I would have had with any member of my family.
Cliff had influence hundreds of musicians in his lifetime and I’m sure hundreds of others whose paths he may have crossed. He will be missed in a HUGE way. The communities of music, steelpan and NIU will never be the same without someone as truly unique and completely irreplaceable.
Cliff’s funeral and visitiation will be held this Tuesay in DeKalb. Funeral Details HERE.