Jules Eskin, Long-time Cellist for Boston Symphony

Dvorak Cello Concerto with Boston Civic Symphony–Watch on YouTube

Jules Eskin was given his first cello at age 7 by his father, a Russian immigrant and tailor who himself had fallen in love with the instrument at a young age. Eskin’s father auditioned but was never chosen to play for an orchestra, but did play professionally at movie houses.

Eskin (October, 1931-November 15, 2016) got his first contract, on the other hand, at age 16, when he was asked to join the Dallas Symphony. After a year there, he came back to his hometown to study at the Philadelphia Music Academy, where he was kicked out for auditioning, without permission, at the rival Curtis School of Music.

After his education and military service with the Army Band, Eskin played for the New York Opera, Cleveland Orchestra (George Szell conducting) and Boston Symphony, beginning as principal cellist in 1964. He also performed on recordings with Leopold Stowkowski, Sir Thomas Beecham and other leading conductors of the day and was part of the first productions of Bernstein’s Candide and Meredith Wilson’s The Unsinkable Molly Brown. 

Eskin insisted that tone was everything to a cellist. In an interview with opuscello.com, he said “If you have tone, you can do anything. Without tone, you do nothing!”

Fauré: “Après un Rêve op. 7, no 1” on Spotify

Holly Dunn, Country Singer of “Daddy’s Hands”

“You Really Had Me Going” Official Video–Watch on YouTube

Holly Dunn’s wrote her biggest hit, “Daddy’s Hands,” on her way to work one morning. She made a tape of it and slipped into a Father’s Day card to her dad. The song only made it to #7 on the Country Charts in 1986 (the year it was released), but it earned her nominations for two Grammys – Best Country Song and Best Country Vocal Performance, Female.

In a post on niume, Texas music exec A. Michael Uhlmann relates a conversation with Dunn, in which she recalls that when she was growing up, her San Antonio home was open to many musicians, including Sonny James, Roy Orbison and Porter Waggoner. But, according to Uhlmann, Dunn was also influenced by singers closer to her generation – James Taylor, Carole King and The Beatles.

She often collaborated with her brother Chris Waters, and the duo penned a number of her hits, including “Playing for Keeps,” “Strangers Again” and “(It’s Always Gonna Be) Someday.”

Dunn was named “Top New Female Vocalist” in 1986, won the CMA Horizon Award in the same year and joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1989.

“Daddy’s Hands” on Spotify

Tomislav Neralic, Croatian Bass-Baritone Opera Singer

Dafne, Dubrovnik, 1972 (Neralic makes entrance at 1:02:10 as Jupiter)–Watch on YouTube

Tomislav Neralic began what would be a 60-year career at age 18, when he appeared at age of 18 in a Zagreb production of Verdi’s Don Carlos. In the 1940s he was with the Vienna Opera and joined the Berlin Opera in 1955 where he remained for 40 years.

He sang his  famous role as Wotan from the Ring cycle in three languages: Croatian in Zagreb, Italian in Milan and German in Berlin.

Neralic performed nearly 150 opera roles during his career. He was considered one of the greatest Wagnerian singers of his time and received many awards, including the Croatian Porin award for lifetime achievement.

“Arija iz oratorija ‘Mesija,’ Doch der wir werd ertragen” on Spotify

Fran Pérez “Narf,” Galician Guitarist, Composer and Vocalist

“A Flor de Pel”–Watch on YouTube

Fran Pérez, who performed as Narf, was a guitarist from Galicia, the autonomous region of Spain. He composed over 30 soundtracks for theater productions in Galicia and Portugal, as well as for the animated children’s film, The Labyrinth of Dreams.

He performed with both electric and acoustic guitars at festivals around the world. In the past year, he toured in the U.S., performing with the Galician singer Uxía at venues such as the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago and the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe. The duo paid tribute to their roots by performing Galician classics and adaptations of “alalás,” the oldest know form of Galician music.

Pérez (1968-November 15, 2016) was a musician of the world, incorporating styles he picked up from performing with artists from Angola, Mozambique, Portugal, Brazil, Argentina and Guinea-Bissau.

“Sempre En Galiza/Galician Lullaby” on Spotify

Mose Allison, Jazz and Blues Piano Player with a Rock Fan Club

“I Don’t Worry About a Thing” on Soundstage–Watch on YouTube

According to Richard Skelly in the All Music Guide to Jazz, Mose Allison “suffered from a ‘categorization problem'”–a boogie-woogie, beboppin’  jazz and bluesman who was also a great songwriter. His admirers include John Mayall, Pete Townshend, Tom Waits, the Rolling Stones, Diana Krall, Van Morrison, The Clash and another excellent pianist/songwriter, the late Leon Russell.

Born in Tippo, Mississippi, Allison (November 11, 1927-November 15, 2016) picked up piano in the first grade. He moved to New York in 1956 and released his debut album Back Country Suite the next year. He recorded and performed until his retirement in 2012 and became an NEA Jazz Master in 2013.

Despite his rock cred and blues leanings, Allison considered himself a jazzman. “My definition of jazz is music that’s felt, thought and performed simultaneously, ” he said in a 2006 BBC documentary. “And that’s what I’m looking for every night.”

“Parchman Farm” on Spotify

Jean-Jacques Perrey, Popularizer of Electronic Music

Jean-Jacques Perrey on I’ve Got A Secret–Watch on YouTube

Jean-Jacques Perrey (January 20, 1929-November 4, 2016) was a music prodigy whose fascination with science fiction and new technology led him to electronic music in some of its most nascent forms.

When he met Georges Jenny, the inventor of the Ondioline, a kind of proto-synthesizer, he quit medical school and became a sales representative for the instrument. Using vacuum tube circuitry, the Ondioline had slider switches, which, when positioned in different configurations, could mimic the tone of almost any instrument. Its keyboard was suspended on springs, so that it could achieve a natural vibrato, as one hears on a violin.

Perrey made his way to the U.S. in the 1960s and contributed sounds to the commercial and entertainment industries. (As a sign of his mainstream acceptance, his music has been used in Disneyland and on “The Simpsons.”) As electronics became more sophisticated, Perrey moved from the Ondioline to the Moog. He often teamed up with American composer Gershon Kingsley, and the duo’s albums have provided inspiration to  groups such as Stereolab, the Beastie Boys and hip-hop producer Timbaland.

“E.V.A.” from Moog Indigo on Spotify

Leonard Cohen, “Master of Erotic Despair”

“Suzanne” Live–Watch on YouTube

I have to admit I was never a big fan of Leonard Cohen’s. I found him to be a tad morose, and I (at least at the time) was more drawn to driving, uptempo beats. But I tolerated him to get close to a girl I had a crush on and who would subject me to side after side of Cohen.

I did like “Bird on a Wire,” a song my rock hero Joe Cocker recorded beautifully in spite of his croaky voice. And, of course, Judy Collins had turned the world on to Cohen by recording her own version of “Suzanne.

Over the years, I have warmed to Cohen. One of the most moving performances I’ve ever heard was k.d. lang’s rendition of “Hallelujah,” which she sang at, of all places, the Target National Sales Meeting. At 10 in the morning, in front of thousands of rowdy store managers and caffeinated executives, lang walked out in bare feet and began to softly sing to the accompaniment of a piano. The audience was more accustomed to cheerleader acts like Black Eyed Peas at their annual shindig, and I thought, “Oh God, this is going to bomb.”

But lang, lifted by Cohen’s amazing lyrics, completely captured the crowd. As her voice crescendoed through the verses, the basketball arena where we had gathered grew silent in awe. I could feel the hair on my arm stand on end, and as I looked around me, I sensed others felt the same way.

“Hallelujah” Live Verson by k.d. lang on Spotify

My Memories of Leon Russell in 11 Songs

 

I first discover Leon in the record bin of Boury’s Appliance Store in Wheeling, WV. I’ve never heard of him before, but I’m struck by the man looking back at me on the album cover. When I put needle to vinyl, I’m as captivated by his music as I am by him.

My friend Eddie and I chance upon Mad Dogs & Englishmen, the documentary about Joe Cocker’s world tour, at the Victoria Theater in Wheeling. In his stovepipe hat, Holy Trinity basketball jersey, Les Paul Gibson, and  his “hippy commune” of musicians and singers, he represents the type of free-spirited life I aspire to.

B.B. King is my other teenage musical idol, and I’m thrilled to see Leon playing piano for him as King performs a Russell song, “Hummingbird,” on The Mike Douglas Show. 

Here’s Leon’s original version.

During my freshman year at West Virginia University, a friend and I spend the better part of the year listening to Leon Live while drinking daiquiris and learning the Swahili chorus of “Out in the Woods.”

I see Leon for the first of five times at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. He and his carnival of a band open for Three Dog Night, which seemed a reversal of the natural order. One of the things that appeal to me about Leon is how he blends and celebrates country, rock, blues, classical, jazz and gospel, as he does when he gives the stage here to the Rev. Patrick Henderson.

Leon goes on tour to promote The Wedding Album, an record he produced with his then-wife Mary McCreary. I see them at Northrup Auditorium at the University of Minnesota with my then-wife. They would also perform the song on one of the earliest episodes of Saturday Night Live.

In the early aughts, I catch Leon at the Fine Line Music Cafe in Minneapolis. He has aged considerably, is drawing a much smaller crowd and rushes through his setlist on an electric piano. A highlight for the audience (and I’m sure him) is one of his daughters, who supplies backup vocals and a few solos. After playing sold-out stadiums and mingling with musicians from George Harrison to Eric Clapton, he must have felt like he was in a strange land indeed.

A Netflix documentary, The Wrecking Crew, celebrates a largely unknown group of LA studio musicians who backed and provided the sound to many of our favorite songs. Turns out, Leon was one of them, recording on tracks for The Byrds, The Beach Boys, The Monkees–even Sinatra and The Rolling Stones.

At the Trylon Microcinema, I see A Poem is a Naked Person, the surrealistic rock documentary by Les Blank. Produced by Russell and Denny Cordell, Leon kept it from release for 40 years. While the film  was ostensibly about Leon, he’s rarely in it. With his subject on a worldwide tour, Blank didn’t have the budget to travel along–most of the footage focuses on Russell’s home base and studio in Tulsa.

Leon has a late-life revival, when Elton John repays the kindness Leon had showed him as a young artist. Their joint album, recorded as Russell recovered from brain surgery, is highly acclaimed and puts Leon back in the spotlight. John makes sure Leon can afford to tour in a respectable bus with a real grand piano. Leon is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (introduced by Sir Elton) and Songwriters Hall of Fame.

I see Leon for a few last times, at the Dakota and Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis. He seems happy to be on stage with an adoring audience before him. RIP, Leon, I will miss you, but your music will always live on for me.

W.D. Amaradeva, The Maestro of Sri Lankan Music

“Sannaliyane”–Watch on YouTube

Deshamanya Wannakuwatta Waduge Don Albert Perera, more commonly known as Amaradeva, was a Sri Lankan musician, singer and composer. Through experimentation with traditional forms of music, he helped develop the sarala gee genre, a modern blend of North Indian ragas and Sinhala folk music.

As a child, Amaradeva was trained on the violin, but as he studied traditional forms, he incorporated sitars, tablas and other indigenous instruments into his music. He even invented an instrument, the mando-harp, which he often played in performances.

Amaradeva (December 5, 1927-November 3, 2016) composed music for ballets, films, theater, radio and television and toured worldwide. He was a revered national figure (a week of national mourning was declared at his passing), and many international awards, titles and honorary degrees were bestowed upon him.

“Aradana” on Spotify

Kay Starr, Pop Singer Who Mixed Jazz, Country and Blues

On The Colgate Comedy Hour (1952)–Watch on YouTube

For decades Kay Starr was a jukebox favorite, racking up millions of record sales. When RCA-Victor lured her away from Capitol in 1955, they guaranteed her $250,000 a year, a stunning sum at the time. Her popularity was based on her ability to ebb and flow with musical tastes and trends, from swing to country to blues and even to the edge of rock and roll.

She started with big bands, making her first recording while a teenager with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. She replaced Lena Horne in Charlie Barnet’s swing orchestra and played with the Capitol International Jazzmen (including Coleman Hawkins and Nat King Cole). In the late 1940s, she went and scored big hits with songs like “Bonaparte’s Retreat” and “Wheel of Fortune.”

Starr (July 21, 1922-November 3, 2016) was a favorite of Patsy Cline and Elvis Presley, according to her obituary in The Washington Post. She performed at the inauguration of Harry Tuman.

 

“Wheel of Fortune” on Spotify