Jeff Spevak, Writer

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What I said

VickiKristinaBarcelona at the jazz fest.

The Rochester International Jazz Fest is over. I return to my regularly scheduled life.

Except for one last detail. While wandering the streets, I had a few people ask me about one of my morning appearances on “Open Tunings,” Scott Regan’s show on WRUR-FM (88.5), to discuss the festival. What were the comments I had made opening Wednesday morning’s show?

It was nothing extraordinary. It is what should be obvious. A reminder, for those of us with a public platform, or if we’re just chatting with friends, of the importance of the words we choose.

So here it is:

No one said anything to me yesterday about this. I received no emails or tweets or Facebook posts about this. But I said something yesterday that I regret. I joked about stalking one of the all-female bands that I’ve admired at the festival.

Stalking is a part of our society’s culture of sexual harassment. Unfortunately, it’s nothing new. But in the last two years we’ve see the Me Too movement bring more attention to the issue. I’ve been shocked by some of the stories shared by my women friends.

We have a president in the White House – our house – who faces serious allegations of sexual harassment and assault. A new accusation came up last week. The president’s response? “She’s not my type.”

She’s not my type. That’s an astounding level of entitlement.

Women musicians deserve to be appreciated for their music. If dressing in a charming or sexy way is a part of that performance, fine. But I’m not allowed to take it to the next level.

So I apologize to VickiKristinaBarcelona. And I apologize to your listeners.

And with that, Scott played VickiKristinaBarcelona’s version of Tom Waits’ “Hold on.”

Walkin’ with Leon Redbone

Leon Redbone.

Leon Redbone died on Thursday. His management said he was 127 years old at his passing, which seems likely, considering the style of ’20 jazz that he favored. But more-reliable sources place his age at 69.

Redbone got as far as a guy who played ukulele, wore a Panama hat and sang through his nose could get, I guess. His career took off in the mid-1970s, after he caught the eye of Bob Dylan, followed by an appearance on “Saturday Night Live.” From there, Redbone never strayed from his collection of vaudeville, ragtime and Tin-Pan Alley songs. He kept the details of his life deliberately murky. It appears he was born in Cyprus, and moved to Canada early in his life. Then I think he might have been living in Pennsylvania, because that’s where he was when I called him a few times over the years.

A note on Redbone’s web site announcing his death speculated on a few post-life activities for the crooner: “An eternity of pouring through texts in the Library of Ashurbanipal will be a welcome repose, perhaps followed by a shot or two of whiskey with Lee Morse.”

Lee Morse.

The kingdom of an ancient Assyrian is beyond my travel budget. But Morse is not. Redbone and I spent a winter afternoon together, walking through Riverside Cemetery in search of the grave of Morse, a female jazz singer of the 1920s and ’30s and a favorite of Redbone. I wasn’t sure how to take this rolling anachronism of a man. He dressed and talked like someone from the past who had stepped through a portal and found himself in a future that he wasn’t quite interested in being a part of. He was wary of these times, he said. No good would come of the technologies that were obscuring our humanity. In simpler times, at least we could see the dangers that confronted us: We were doomed to be slaughtered by some genetically inferior hordes riding out of the hills.

Quirky. Kinda funny. Was he simply staying in character for my benefit? Or was he always like this?

Morse was a perfect Holy Grail of jazz for Redbone. Born in rural Oregon, she began recording jazz in 1924. She had a few hits, although a hit was defined a little differently in her day than it is now. “I’ve Got Five Dollars,” that was one. “If You Want the Rainbow,” that was another; it showed up in an episode of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.” Sometimes she yodeled in the midst of the song. She was in a few short films as well.

She was quirky. Kinda funny.

But her career dried up, and heavy drinking seemed to play a role in it. A few comeback attempts failed. She married a man from Rochester in 1946, and launched yet another comeback attempt. She sang here in clubs and appeared on the radio. But again, the comeback failed, and she died here in 1954, at age 57.

While Redbone and I were walking through the cemetery, he told me he was thinking about recording an album of Morse’s songs. I believe he was already doing “Ukulele Lady” in some of his shows. “Tain’t No Sin (To Dance Around in Your Bones),” that’s another Morse song I can hear Redbone playing.

But while a Morse song, “Just You and I,” does lead off his final album, 2014’s “Flying By,” he never got around to releasing an entire album of her songs. And we never found Morse’s headstone that afternoon. Instead, we went back to his hotel, sat in the bar and drank a couple of whiskies.

I returned to Riverside Cemetery later that spring, and did find where Morse is buried. She’s beneath one of those flat grave markers, we hadn’t seen it beneath the snow.

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On Joe Dady, and mortality

Joe Dady. Photo by Carla R. Coots

I wrote this piece for the wxxi.org web site earlier this week. I’m re-posting it here so maybe a few more people will read about this remarkable guy, Joe Dady.

Social media offered hopeful hints about Joe Dady’s condition over the last few days. Well-meaning friends, reporting that stem-cell donations from Joe’s brother John might be holding off the rare form of leukemia Joe had been diagnosed with in October.

Perhaps we all just wanted to believe it was so.

Joe Dady’s death on Saturday arrived as a shockwave to the Rochester music community. Disbelief. On social media, there is no gently breaking such news. It hits like someone throwing open a door, shouting into the room, then moving on to the next room. It is a vulgar way to discover you have lost a friend. But that is how it is done now.

Dady’s death is devastating to his family. And it has left this city reeling as well. The likeable fiddler was one half of what has been a music institution here for decades, The Dady Brothers. Rochester natives who estimated they had played 7,000 shows over some 45 years.

Few of us do mortality well. In the last six months, I’ve had more than a half-dozen friends and acquaintances face serious health issues. Some have fought for their lives, and won. Some have lost the battle. Some – the Rochester music icon Bat McGrath – have accepted the inevitable.

Dady was 61 years old. As am I. It cannot help but make you think.

Dady’s friends filled social media with beautiful words and photographs all through the day Sunday. I had to stop looking at Facebook. It was too painful. Perhaps I will try again in a few days.

He was married for a short while, had no children, had beaten a few demons, and danced around a life-threatening burst aorta in 2005. Music was the consistency. Dady’s song “My Conesus Cabin Home” was inspired by his log house on Conesus Lake, where many local musician made pilgrimages in the hope of unlocking the muse.

While I did not know him well, I liked him, and I hoped he liked me.

Actually, Dady seemed to like everyone. He was a good soul. Most people who knew Joe Dady have stories. Facebook was exploding with them on Sunday. Here’s mine. It was eight or 10 years ago at the annual Bob Dylan Birthday Party. I was caterwauling my way through “Masters of War” when I heard the crowd roar. Damn, I thought, this is going over pretty well. I glanced behind me at the band. Joe had jumped onstage with his fiddle and was playing along.

So yes, he played fiddle. And guitar, banjo, tin whistle, harmonica and uilleann pipes. He sang as well. The music was sometimes Irish, but more so folk. The Dadys released 11 albums, and appeared on many recordings by local musicians, as well as a compilation album of musicians collaborating with Pete Seeger.

Like Seeger, Joe Dady was a man of peace, justice and occasional bouts of social activism. As the 2016 presidential election neared, The Dadys joined forces with a former Democrat and Chronicle reporter, and now a folk singer himself, Jack Jones, to write a satirical political song based on Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Their piece used actual sexist, racist and xenophobic words of then-Republican nominee for president Donald Trump, and was turned into a video by the studio of Rochester animator Fred Armstrong. While I did write a story about “Mr. Tangerine Man,” the Democrat and Chronicle declined to run it, out of fear it would upset Trump supporters.

But that was simply a moment in their long careers. The Dadys ran open-mic nights in Rochester for years. The hope here is that, when he is ready, John Dady continues to play. Because that is what Dadys do.

It now seems appropriate that The Dadys take their place in the Rochester Music Hall of Fame next year. If so, that will likely be the emotional core of the event, and perhaps the moment when this celebration of our music scene turns less on musicians who were simply born here, and more toward the bands and musicians we see year in and year out.

This is pointing no finger at the Rochester Hall, because none of us sees the future. But it is a reminder for all of us, as we watch as one year slides by and then next is upon us, that such a well-deserved honor will be one year too late for Joe Dady.

BE THE FIRST in your neighborhood to know when a new Critical Mass has been turned loose. Go to the “Subscribe” button on the web site jeffspevak.com for an email alert. You can contact me at jeffspevakwriter@gmail.com.

 

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