One of the best back-handed compliments I’ve ever heard, “Your solo sounds great on that tune,” came from one Rob Amster. As exemplified in that line, Rob could be very funny and sometimes harsh, but also insightful. When I left school in 2005, I would often cover the first set at Andy’s with Mike Smith’s band, while Jeremy Kahn wrapped up his theater hit. Rob Amster and Eric Montzka were in the band, and it was a perfect gig for a 20-year-old who needed constant reminders of how much more there was to learn. I would play the first set, then let Jeremy take over and listen for two more sets, and Amster would usually drive me home afterwards. We were never close about personal things, but we played a lot of music together over that year or so, and playing with Rob, Eric and Mike was as formative and educational an experience I’ve ever had as a jazz player. I invited myself over to Rob’s place once, and after reading through several of his tunes, we listened to the Keith Jarrett European Quartet, and I was struck, as I have been so many times before, by how powerful a recording can be when shared with a friend.
I was very sad to learn of Rob Amster’s passing earlier this week. I’d fallen out of touch with him, and I know he’s had some rough times in the years since I last saw him. I hope he is at peace now.