Ruminations on the crazy people we are, by a retired teacher/musician. Can't get the "requests" out of my system after years of barroom/lounge/restaurant/party gigs mining 100 years worth of the musical mother-lode.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Someone is gone

occasional rumination # ?

It began with a casual scanning of the obits by my wife about a week ago. Kenny Davern had died at 71. That's too early for anyone, let alone a man with so much to contribute.

Kenny was a clarinetist in the traditional jazz style, and he was as good as they come. During the 1950's to the present, there was a cadre of musicians who held the fort for trad jazz, very strongly in the New Jersey area, including the Pianist Dick Wellstood, the best of his kind in his time. Dick also came to an early demise while on tour in the West. These guys were alive and well, and stomping with the best in Jazz history. They truly held the essence of traditional jazz together for all of us lucky enough to have attached to it.

My wife and I went to any place within reach to here Kenny play, and always came away uplifted. I hear a lot of music, and I believe that in his genre, Kenny had no equal in his era. Just wonderful; so good, you could take it for granted after a while.

That accounts for the obvious. Less obvious, I began to cry when I heard the news. Being approriately manly, I hid it from my wife. (I think.) .I was not a personal aquaintance of his, and though I had met him several times, (the trad jazz crowd in NJ tends to show up at all the same places,) my reaction was that of a person suffering personal loss.I began to wonder why, and the answer became clear. Though a teacher, my second job for decades was playing trad piano in restaurants, taverns, lounges, etc. On one occasion, Kenny was having dinner at a place I was playing at, and came up on his way out to offer a tip and a complement. He noted how I was playing "the good tunes." He did not mention how brilliant my playing was, and that was a kindness of one musician to another, though I could never have held a candle to his playing. He made a point of saying something complimentary, and that was great. Even including a one-time eccentric who tipped me $100, I held Kenny's tip as the most important I ever got.

Beyond that, I realized that Kenny's music, and that of his cohorts, had filled a major slot in my life. It provided tremendous enjoyment , plus a connection to the great music that was early jazz, the music of Armstrong, Teagarden, McPartland, Eddie Condon the host, raconteur, and occasional guitarist. As a kid, I had seen the best of them gathered at Carnegie Hall, and at Jimmy Ryan's and Eddied Condon's in Manhattan.Dick Wellstood, Kenny, and others kept that strain alive.

To me, Kenny was music, he was history, and he was the gracious musician who found something nice to say to a weekend musician.

No wonder I cried.

End of today's ruminations. Keep the faith, and fight the good fight.

Joe Grogan


At 6:06 PM, Blogger Larry Grogan said...

Glad to see the writers block is over, and sad to hear that Davern has passed.
You took me to see him both times with the Soprano Summit at the EasternBranch of the Monmouth County Library, some thirty odd years ago, and I remember both times quite well.
I have sometrad jazz stuff for you the next time you come up to visit.


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