Charles James Jaffe

charles Jaffe - Rochester Cremation

On February 20, 2023, Charles James Jaffe left Rochester, NY (and Earth) after a long, difficult struggle with Parkinson’s disease.

He is survived by his wife, Martha Heller; his sisters, Phyllis Spool, Judith Pearl, and Debi McCarthy; nieces and nephews; Martha’s children Susan Schepp and her husband, Christopher, Julia Payne-Lewis and her wife, Donna Payne, and Robert Heller; Martha’s grandchildren Celeste Wyman and her husband, Emmett, Skylar Lewis, and Gemma Deissler. He is predeceased by Martha’s son, David Heller, and way too many friends to list here.

Known to many simply as Jaffe, he moved to Rochester from Boston around 1990 to attend Chris and Sue’s wedding, and eventually live with his “Sweetie Pie,” Martha Heller, whom he had first met in 1969 at the commune, Bryn Athyn, in Vermont. After living together for decades, Martha and Jaffe were married in October, 2019, at the Little Theater Cafe.

Jaffe was born on June 26, 1947, in Dorchester, Massachusetts, the first child to Sylvia and Theodore Jaffe. His younger sisters fondly remember his athleticism as basketball team captain, his active teenage romantic life, and his regular participation in their local Jewish temple youth group.

He began playing piano as a child and continued into formal study in playing and tuning at Berklee School of Music and Harvard. He worked professionally tuning and refurbishing pianos in Boston and played both solo and with fine musical groups across the country before finding his home in Rochester.

Known for his unique style blending jazz, blues, and roots with an offbeat and eclectic charm, Jaffe quickly found his place in the Rochester music scene. His first public performance in Rochester was at the Miniature Infest in 1992 with his “possessed organ.” Not long after, he joined the beloved Colorblind James Experience (CBJE), with whom he performed and recorded on two albums over a period of 8 years. His keyboard solos would be called out to “Brother Jaffe!” in honor of his genuine reference to all of his friends as his brothers. The song “I’ll Fix You Up” was in tribute to Jaffe’s helpful and giving nature. He then performed with HUNU (with prior members of CBJE after Chuck Cuminale’s passing in 2001), followed by stints with the Maria Gillard Band, Buford’s Blues Band, the Lawn Mowers, and the Dady Brothers. He was a frequent guest on the keyboard with Watkins and the Rapiers, the Flipsiders, the Upstate Slumlords, and others. He was inspired by his love of Celtic and Bluegrass music to study fiddle and five string banjo. Besides being a brilliant improvisational musician, he also composed original scores and wrote songs that he performed live around town.

While running his own tuning and piano refurbishing businesses (Chester’s Music and Baby Your Grand) in Rochester, he started a new hobby to become a master in creating marquetry pieces depicting his friends (such as Celly “The Bell,” Chuck, Connie, Buzzo, Joey, John, and Dave H.), inspirational figures like Dylan and Monk, and his own wildly inspired art in wood. He was an avid urban gardener, growing a wild crop of tomatoes each summer by his home in the South Wedge. He enjoyed sugar, tobacco, palmistry, Cribbage, and an array of life’s other finer offerings.

Loved by all who knew him for his charisma, unusual honesty, creativity, sense of humor, and ability to see and champion the best in all of us, Jaffe will be sorely missed.

13 Condolences

  1. JoAnn Vaccaro on February 23, 2023 at 4:31 am

    Jaffe will be sorely missed! He was an amazing musician and all around awesome human being. I was blessed to be able to perform with him throughout the years at many venues and his marquetry beautifies the walls of my home and reminds me of many fun years of playing music with local players. I was lucky to have him play keyboard on a few of my original tunes as well. He added magic to everything he did. It makes me sad he is gone- he was a pillar of creativity in the local community. I’m sending My condolences to his family, his wife Martha, and the Rochester music scene- it will never be the same without him! He touched us all so sincerely. Rest in peace brother Jaffe.

    • Michael Belmont on February 24, 2023 at 7:37 am

      I have fond memories of playing with you and Jaffe at Murph’s. I can still hear Murph ask, “Mike, have you seen Jaff? Or “Don’t forget the big aaa drum.” Or Jaffe looking over at you with that big grin and saying “Yeah, right on, beautiful.” Hard to believe they’re both gone from the Earth. I know they’re forever in our hearts and I’d like to think we’ll see one another again someday. Trust you’re well.

  2. Melissa Marquez on February 23, 2023 at 8:21 am

    He loves us in a place where there’s no space and time, and for that I am eternally grateful. We will remember.

  3. Carla R Coots on February 23, 2023 at 8:47 am

    Charles was a force of Nature. I will miss him dearly and am blessed to have known him. Love and light to all who loved him.

  4. Bruce Diamond on February 23, 2023 at 10:23 am

    I don’t see any reference to Chucks years on Martha’s Vineyard but that’s where I first met him . We both worked and played music for Loretta Balla of the old Seaview hotel . She called him ‘ Chuckie and he was like a son to her in many ways . But he didn’t really blossom till he came to Rochester . The hundreds of beautifully worded tributes we have seen in social media are a testament to how big his heart was and to all the hearts he touched . I’ll miss my friend .

  5. Rick Simpson on February 23, 2023 at 11:12 am

    Jaffe was certainly one of a kind and will be sorely missed. He was always supportive of his favorite radio shows on WRUR and thanked DJs on Facebook. Was lucky to be around Rochester for the early days of CBJ and it was always a treat to see him play at the cafe regardless who he was playing with. I wail always treasure the marguetry piece depicting a clown which he gave me years ago.

  6. Gail Wilson on February 23, 2023 at 12:07 pm

    He leaves behind his pain and worries as well as the many people who loved him. Wishing you peace Martha ❣️

  7. Alan Whitney on February 23, 2023 at 1:27 pm

    Hey Jaff
    I’m glad you are free now. The last few years were hard on you. Thank you for all you shared with us – your knowledge, your music, your heart, your adventures, your friendship, your craft and especially your laugh. Love you, Buddy.

  8. Ken Frank on February 23, 2023 at 5:28 pm

    Empty-handed I entered the world,
    Barefoot, I leave it.
    My coming, my going –
    Two simple happenings
    That got entangled.

    – Kozan Ichikyo

    Jaffe was a true artist. He was always creating. His life itself was a work of art, a mixed media masterpiece. I was lucky to have known him, played with him, laughed with him, smoked with him.

    Lisa and I send our deepest condolences to Martha, Sue, Chris, and all of his family and friends.

  9. Brendan Dady on February 23, 2023 at 6:22 pm

    People refer to someone as one of a kind all the time but sorta seems silly in comparison to how truly one of a kid Jaffe was. What a talented, humble, generous and hilarious human being. Blessed to have know him.

  10. Philip Schepp on February 23, 2023 at 10:22 pm

    One of my peak musical experiences was being able to play “summertime” on my mandolin and have Jaffe accompany on Piano.
    Charles and Martha had two real pianos in their house!
    I remember sitting at the kitchen table visiting with Jaffe and Martha was playing the Upstairs Piano. I can imagine that they played upstairs downstairs piano duets!
    Too few know that Martha is quite accomplished a pianist.
    A term to describe their partnership would be “Simpatico”.
    Anyhow, we’ll miss him and remember him fondly. Love you all.

  11. Michael Belmont on February 24, 2023 at 7:43 am

    Jaffe was like a brother to me. He was one complex dude. And he told me that he couldn’t wait to have the demons that he felt were invading his veins to leave. Parkinson’s disease really sucks and I don’t know how long it’ll take to find a cure. But I wish Jaffe could’ve received one. Losing Jaffe is a huge loss to so many of us. Jaffe was one very unique individual. If you knew Jaffe, he knew he could be wildly gruff, harshly, honest, deeply empathic, amazingly creative, in your face. If you crossed him or someone he loved, and really very loving, sensitive and kind. Sometimes great. Creativity comes with great complexity. I love Jaffe is so many of you do too. And once again — The music stopped. And then it started again.

  12. Pat Mosher on February 27, 2023 at 8:53 pm

    Jaff you will be missed by many I’m so sorry you had to head to heaven hugs family

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