R.I.P. singer James Van Buren

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Local jazz and blues vocalist James Van Buren passed away yesterday from cancer. He was 77. Mark Diamond, Paul Romaine, Doug Roche, Mark Klagstad -- who all played with Van Buren -- and Freddy Rodriguez Sr. and others were scheduled to perform tonight at a benefit show tonight at Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom for Van Buren's day-to-day living and medical expenses, but "things changed quickly, and our gathering June 5 at Cervantes' will now be a celebration of his life," Diamond wrote on Facebook. "Let's honor him for his contribution to music and his love and support of community." The show starts tonight at 7: 30 p.m.; tickets are $10.

Since forming the Blues Kings in Kansas City in 1956, Van Buren went on to release several albums, including We Will Be Together Again, which made NPR's Top 20 list, It's All Over, I Ain't Doin' Too Bad and 2004's Live at the Kasbah, which featured saxophonist Richie Cole. Since 1996, the Colorado Rockies have used Van Buren's "James' Baseball Song" as the team's anthem. Van Buren also performed with legends like T. Bone Walker, Big Joe Turner and Lou Rawls.

"James is as original in his song as Joe Williams or Billie Holiday," famed jazz guitarist Phil Upchurch once said. "The other thing I like about his style is that you can hear him smiling."

Diamond says Van Buren was a classy guy and a passionate guy who cared about the music and cared about the people. "He always wanted to be great for everybody and do a great job and do a great performance," Diamond adds. "He was a one-of-a-kind guy. Between doing his jazz and his blues, he was always an advocate for people's causes."

When audiences were a little less than responsive, Diamond recalls, Van Buren would say, "Applause to a musician is like food to a starving man, so don't starve us to death."

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