Birthday notes for Clifford Murphy

Area musicians to help ring in bassist's 81st bash


Clifford Murphy will turn 81 by making music at an open-to-the-public party downtown Wednesday.

He'll be joined by several fine musicians from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Aqua Lounge of the Grand Plaza Hotel, including drummer Scott Kretzer, pianist Josh Silver, and vocalist Glenda Biddlestone.

"I feel great," said the perennially upbeat Murphy on Tuesday.

He's looking forward to plucking his century-old stand-up bass with the Aqua Lounge's house band and others he's played with over the decades, musicians he hopes will show up with their instruments. He expects family members -- many of whom are musicians themselves -- to come out, and hopes to see vocalist Jon Hendricks as well.

How is it, in one's eighth decade, negotiating the bass, a cumbersome creature more than six-feet-tall?

"It's getting harder and harder," he said. "I wish I'd listened to my father and mother. They wanted me to play the flute but I had to be a smarty."

A mighty smart bassist he is, and an appreciative one, accepting offers from friends to help pack up and carry the instrument for him.

Murphy's birthday celebration is part of the early-evening Jazz on the Maumee series organized by the Art Tatum Jazz Society, that draws all-ages crowds of 30 to 150 for music and a grazing buffet every Wednesday, said Kay Elliott, the society's executive director.

On a bittersweet note, it will be just two days after the memorial for his friend and collaborator, pianist Claude Black, said songstress Glenda Biddlestone. "It's a hard transition. Or it could be a happy one; as Clifford says, 'Claude is in paradise,' " she said.

Biddlestone met both men in 1981 when they were playing in Little Rock, Ark. After her gig, she went to an after-hours place where musicians jammed. They'd just finished an early gig. "I saw Clifford playing and I thought, 'Well he's sure not from around here.' "

The next day, they approached her, explaining that they'd just lost their singer and asking her to join them on the road.

"I was 23. I said, 'Oh, yes!' "

The late Joan Russell, Murphy's significant other, baked a blackberry cobbler and brought it to her father.

"When my parents met them, they loved them."

What's it like making music with Murphy?

"I listen to Clifford more than the piano or any other instrument," said Biddlestone, a mezzo soprano who came to Toledo with the musicians in the mid-1980s when they decided to settle down. To support herself and her children following her divorce, she earned undergraduate and graduate degrees, and teaches music at Oakdale Elementary School in East Toledo. "Clifford has perfect timing. And I listen for the chords he plays. He's very patient and he's got such a great sense of humor."

Simply put, Murphy is fun to make music with, said Josh Silver, 21, who studies piano at Bowling Green State University and will play the 88s Wednesday.

"He's pretty whimsical. On a lot of tunes, when it ends he'll hold a long note or throw a silly line in trying to have the last word. So now it's a challenge to see who can have the last word, or we'll play the same thing at the same time."

Clifford Murphy's birthday party, part of the Jazz on the Maumee series, will be 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Aqua Lounge of the Grand Plaza Hotel, 44 N. Summit St. Admission is $15 ($5 for students, $10 for members of the Art Tatum Jazz Society) and includes valet parking (pull in to the hotel's entrance on Summit Street), and a grazing buffet. For information and weekly updates of programs:

Contact Tahree Lane at or 419-724-6075.