The passing of Don Gardner earlier this week has his legions of loved ones and friends bewildered, because his death was both surprising and sudden.
There may have been two Don Gardeners...depending on the age of Don's admirers: the younger corps perhaps knowing him only as the Executive Director of the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts. The club, positioned along Philadelphia's Avenue of the Arts, plays host to jazz concerts, serves as a school for budding jazz artists, and as a meeting house for a number of community-minded conferences, and cultural and social activities.
Don's senior friends and associates may remember him more as a bandleader, instrumentalist and singer, who, in his hey-day as leader of the combo known as the Sonotones, had a number of hit recordings on the market. This group may also recall Don playing a major role in jazz organ pioneer Jimmy Snith's career, by hiring him as an unknown. When Smith left Gardener for greener pastures, Don hired another organ great in Richard "Groove" Holmes, who used to garner much attention by hauling his behemoth B-3 organ from gig-to-gig in a hearse.
Don later teamed with singer/keyboardist Dee Dee Ford, and the duo traveled and performed domestically and abroad for some years, while placing several of their recordings high on the R&B chart, and number twenty on the pop chart.
When the Garnder-Ford relationship ended, Don teamed with entertainer Jeanette "Baby" Washington to rack up at least a dozen more R&B hits.
When the Gardner-Washington partnership came to a close, Don continued to permorm as a single, until becoming part of the Clef Club management in 1985.
Don Gardener was born and raised in Philadelphia, and because of his longevity on the local scene; his range as a musician, Clef Club official; always dapper in appearance with a courtly manner, he leaves both younger and senior fans and admirers with a broad and distinguished legacy to ponder.