A Farewell to Monnette Sudler

A Tribute by Fellow Jazz Artist and Friend

The last time I played with my friend Monnette Sudler was earlier this year in a concert with Bobby Zankel’s group at a concert series in West Philadelphia produced by longtime Philadelphia producer and friend, Leo Gadson. Although Monnette’s health was fragile then, one would not know by listening to her. In fact she had brought a new guitar pedal she was experimenting with to the gig. She was coming up with some amazing sounds and effects and really going for something. You could feel her searching: It was original, fresh, powerful, and exciting. Of course, Bobby Zankel’s music allows for her to do this, but it was truly remarkable. 

Monnette’s music has many influences and she can play it all, including blues, folk, and rock music. But no matter what she was playing, underneath it all was a tremendous musical voice and ground, soulful, warm, swinging, funky, free, experimental, fearless, and open. And she really loved the guitar—you can feel this love when she plays.

My friendship with Monnette goes back to the late 70’s, when we played together in a band called the Renaissance Project. We were among few women bandleaders in Philadelphia at that time, close to the same age and it was special that we were also friends and got to play together quite a bit during that time. I am so grateful for having been able to reconnect with her both musically and personally when I moved back six years ago to my hometown of Philadelphia after not living here for over forty years. And that I had the opportunity to tell her how much she meant to me and to thank her for her music and friendship.

Monnette had a quiet strength, she was a listener, intensely private. When she spoke you listened, and she had a great sense of humor, a quiet grace, and tremendous inner strength. And just like in her music, she was honest and authentic—there were no wasted words. And although it hurts to lose her, I am happy that her life has been fulfilled by living on her own terms as an artist, and producing a personal and important body of work that will live on. 

If you do not know her music, do yourself a favor and get to know her work. She is not only a Philadelphia treasure, known locally as well as internationally, but a major contributor in the pantheon of jazz, a real hometown hero who will be greatly missed.

– Sumi Tonooka