Dear members of the Berklee community,
It is with deep sadness that I write to tell you that Victor Bailey, associate professor in the Bass Department, passed away on Friday, November 11. He was 56, and had long battled with a neurodegenerative disease.
Victor was born into a musical family in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, area. His father, Morris Bailey Jr., was a master composer, arranger, producer, saxophonist, artist, and teacher. Victor’s uncle, Donald Bailey, is a legendary jazz drummer, probably best known as the drummer in the trio of groundbreaking jazz organist Jimmy Smith. Victor’s sister, Brenda Williamson, sang with the hit-making disco-era group Creme D’Cocoa. Victor’s brother, Morris III (“Doc”), could play many instruments and their mother, Vera, had a wonderful singing voice, although she never pursued music as a career.
As a child, Victor played the drums but ultimately switched to bass guitar after the bassist in his neighborhood band walked out of a band practice. Taking an immediate liking to the instrument, he was encouraged by his father to become a bass player. In 1978, Victor began his studies at the age of 18. He cited his time at Berklee as one of his greatest periods of growth, getting to play with then-Berklee students including Donald Harrison, Terri Lyne Carrington, Branford Marsalis, Steve Vai, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Cindy Blackman, Kevin Eubanks, Greg Osby, Wallace Roney, and Rachelle Ferrell.
While best known as Weather Report’s final bassist (following Jaco Pastorius), Victor played on more than 1,000 recordings with a vast array of stylistically diverse artists, including Sonny Rollins, LL Cool J, Mary J. Blige, Lady Gaga, Sting, Patrice Rushen, Miriam Makeba, Roy Haynes, Joe Zawinul, and Poogie Bell, among many others. Throughout the mid-1990s, he toured with pop superstar Madonna, which he described as one of the greatest experiences of his life.
Victor also produced music and wrote songs that were recorded by incomparable artists such as Nina Simone and Patti LaBelle, as well as groups such as the Stylistics, Blue Magic, the Spinners, and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, he took the jazz fusion supergroup Steps Ahead—then featuring Mike Mainieri, Michael Brecker, Peter Erskine, and Chuck Loeb—in an exciting new electric funk/groove direction.
In 1999, Victor signed a recording contract with ESC Records. His first ESC release, Low Blow, was a tremendous success, and not long after its release, he left Joe Zawinul’s Zawinul Syndicate to concentrate on his solo career. He released his next album, That’s Right, two years later, and also released two albums with the band CBW, which he formed with Larry Coryell and Lenny White.
Victor and his groups demonstrated the importance he placed on musicality, for which he communicated an engaging mastery. His signature scat-bass solos delighted audiences, as did his extremely expressive style. In terms of technique, he could slap and pop expertly or dazzle audiences with his two-handed tapping, all while bringing fresh melodic and harmonic contours to the forefront in his music.
In addition to being a multitalented musician, Victor was a skilled painter whose work was displayed in galleries and on the cover of Charles Fambrough’s album, Upright Citizen.
Victor battled his condition, which eventually confined him to a wheelchair, for more than two decades, but last year, that battle grew much tougher. He spent his final days with his sister, Brenda, who cared for him in her Fredericksburg, Virginia home.
At Berklee, Victor taught private bass instruction and recital preparation courses for several years. One of his final Facebook posts reads, “In the past days I heard from Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, Ralphe Armstrong, Darryl Jones, Randy Jackson, Hadrien Feraud, and Chulo Gatewood. I am pinching myself to be sure this is only bass player heaven . . . LOL.”
View photos of Victor Bailey from the Berklee Archives.
I invite you to share your stories and memories of Victor Bailey in the comments below.
Vice President for Academic Affairs/Vice Provost