Rob Mallard, Gold Sparkle Band co-founder, 1967-2018

The sax player was an ambassador for Atlanta's creative music scene

Music Mallard2 1 13
Photo credit: Jon Waits
SAXOPHONE COLOSSUS: Rob Mallard 1967-2018.

When musicians die, their presence resonates louder than ever throughout the community they helped define. The scope and the reach of their music, personality, and influence cannot be fully realized until after they’re gone, and those lucky enough to have known them — some of whom may have checked out of the music scene years ago — gather to pay tribute. The universal truth revealed during these moments is that no matter how far apart people grow, the marks we leave on each other are permanent.

I first met Rob Mallard circa 1999, one humid night at Eyedrum Art and Music Gallery’s original 253 Trinity Avenue location. The almighty improv jazz ensemble Gold Sparkle Band was playing a reunion show after percussionist Andrew Barker and reeds player Charles Waters had moved to Brooklyn. Mallard was one of the band’s members who stayed behind. On stage, he was a titan with a saxophone, skronking and wailing with a razor-sharp prowess, possessed by a fiery and seemingly effortless talent. His alto sax rumbled quietly before tearing into a howling and cathartic celebration.

That dimly lit Eyedrum basement was an incubator for a rich, creative music scene, fostering threads of outsider jazz, noise, post-punk, folk, drone music, and indie rock. Chris Case of Little Tybee; Roger Ruzow of GSB and 4th Ward Afro-Klezmer Orchestra; Ben Davis of Purkinje Shift, Edgewood Sax Trio, and West End Motel; Kebbi Williams of the Tedeschi Trucks Band; and Randy Castello of Tight Bros. Network were all in the room that night, bringing together a confluence of musical and social influences. The energy the group channeled was primordial and powerful. Mallard was an ambassador to this gathering of haunted Southern musicians who were driven by a shared inner voice, screaming life into the collective sonic blast. This was the rhapsodic, Promethean South of William Faulkner's novels, boundless in its imagery and resonance.

Mallard was born on March 20, 1967, and graduated from Druid Hills High School in 1985. He earned a BA in English from Emory University in 1989, and was awarded a Bobby Jones Scholarship for postgraduate study at St. Andrews University in Edinburgh, Scotland. Throughout the ‘80s, ‘90s and into the aughts, Mallard performed alongside his sister Winn in the group Liplock Alarm Clock, with singer and guitarist Pam Howe in Cicada Sings, and with the late Smoke guitarist Coleman Lewis in Ed Splatt. He also played with groups such as William Carlos Williams, Cut & Paste, 60 Cycle Hum, and more. Mallard was also a formidable flute player, as showcased on Gold Sparkle Band’s “Trip Down South” cassette single (1995), and Cicada Sings’ Lousy Private Fuzz CD (1999).

It was with Gold Sparkle Band, however — a group Mallard is credited with naming after the finish on Barker’s 1965 Ludwig drum kit  — that he left the most enduring mark. Mallard took the stage with GSB one last time in February 2014, when the group played its 20th anniversary show at 529. In recent years, he had found work in the film industry, building and designing sets for movie and television productions.

Mallard ended his own life on July 3, 2018. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, July 28 at Glenn Memorial Church at 1660 N. Decatur Rd. A musical celebration of his life takes place at Railroad Earth (1467 Oxford Road N.E.) that evening, with an open mic for friends to share songs, poems, et al., in remembrance of Mallard. Tag Team, Emory Village People, W8ing4UFOS, and more also perform. Donations for the needs of his wife, Karen, and his children, Edison and Elena, can be made via GoFundMe.

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