A crossbreed with calico and Japanese bobtail traits, Sylvester lived to the ripe old age of 112 (in cat years) before succumbing to prostate cancer on Sept. 9 in Bellingham, Wash.
Sylvester was a homeless orphan, 7 years of age, when he wandered onto the front porch of 'Ma Hazel Converse in Charleston, S.C., in 1901. At the time, 'Ma Converse was one of Charleston's leading civil rights activists, a woman far ahead of her time. That she willingly took in a black cat during such a charged era caused her to eventually fall out of favor with township officials. She was strongly urged to ship her cat to relatives in Louisiana, and so off went Sylvester, a metal locket bearing the Converse family crest hanging from his makeshift collar.
The move would prove to be a blessing in disguise for Sylvester, then 13. The wiry young cat took up with a fast and talented crowd that was obsessed with absinthe and jazz. Sylvester took a shine to the bugle, and would often play a back alley New Orleans speakeasy called the Cat's Meow, where he would popularize a style called "Bitch's Brew"—believed to be the inspiration for Miles Davis' album of the same name.
In the mid-'70s, Sylvester was sent a cassette from an up-and-coming Seattle saxophonist by the name of Kenny Gorelick, who would come to be known simply as Kenny G. Sensing a shot at stardom, Sylvester hitched a ride to Seattle with a long-haul trucker named Manny St. Croix. Once there, Sylvester arranged to meet Gorelick at a 24-hour diner on East Marginal Way. After splitting a plate of blueberry pancakes, the pair jammed all night at Gorelick's studio apartment in Georgetown (which the musician would unsuccessfully attempt to have renamed "G-Town," in his own honor).
That was the first and last time Sylvester ever heard from Gorelick, whom the cat would later accuse of stealing copyrighted licks. Destitute, Sylvester drifted northward to Bellingham, where he sought refuge with relatives of old 'Ma Converse. He is survived by his younger brother, Baskets, and feline jazz prodigies the world wide.
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