Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

In Memoriam: John Scott

John Scott, one of this era’s most extraordinary and beloved talents in both classical and sacred music, died suddenly on August 12 in Manhattan after suffering a heart attack. He was 59. The iconic organist and choirmaster had just completed a six-week concert tour of Europe and Scandinavia. He leaves behind his wife Lily and her unborn child, as well as two children from a previous marriage.

Scott was the rare artist whose virtuosity was matched by an intuitive, almost supernatural ability to channel a piece of music’s emotional content. If you want to understand Mendelssohn’s relentless drive, Messiaen’s awestruck mysticism or Bach’s neuron-expanding wit, listen to a recording by John Scott. It’s impossible to imagine a better or more emotionally attuned interpretation of Mendelssohn’s organ sonatas than Scott’s 1992 double-cd collection.

A humble, soft-spoken man with a very subtle, distinctly British sense of humor, Scott was happiest when he could share his erudition and insight into the many centuries’ worth of music that he had immersed himself in since childhood. He worked tirelessly and vigorously despite what was often a herculean workload, first at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and from 2004 until his death at St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan where he was organist, music director and led the world-famous choir of men and boys.

Scott’s legacy as a recording artist is vast: he both played and recorded most of the standard repertoire for organ including the major symphonic works of Vierne, Messiaen, Widor and Durufle. He toured and performed tirelessly: his Buxtehude and Messiaen concert cycles are legendary. While gifted with dazzling technique, Scott was not a flamboyant player per se: though he could fire off torrential cascades and volleys of thunderous pedal notes as nimbly as anyone alive, he made those pyrotechnics all the more effective through his meticulous attention to dynamics, and, especially when playing Bach, his imaginative and thoughtful registrations. And every now and then, he’d throw caution to the wind, drop his guard and play entertainer: one of his final recitals at St. Thomas featured a droll Jean Guillou arrangement of the march from Prokofiev’s Love For the Three Oranges (better known to a generation of Americans as the FBI Theme).

Scott’s knowledge of and passion for choral music matched his skill as an organist, beginning in his childhood years as a chorister in Yorkshire. A noted scholar and arranger of plainchant, he served as mentor and inspiration for literally hundreds of singers who passed through St. Thomas’ choir.

A memorial service will be held at 11 AM on September 12, 2015 at St. Thomas Church at Fifth Avenue and 53rd St. A memorial service in the UK will follow.

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August 21, 2015 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, obituary | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Memoriam – Dave Brubeck

Dave Brubeck, the iconic pianist who transformed jazz with his unpredictable rhythms, rich melodic sensibility and paradigm-shifting vision, died today in a hospital in Norwalk, Connecticut, a day before what would have been hs 92nd birthday. Brubeck wrote party music, dance music, makeout music and profoundly intense, stormy themes that resonate as powerfully and magically now as ever.

One of the greatest composers of the last century, Brubeck drew as deeply on classical music as jazz. A student of Darius Milhaud, he wrote orchestral and choral works as memorable as any of his jazz compositions: his longer pieces often served as vehicles for his more serious, dramatic themes. More than any other composer, Brubeck was responsible for popularizing the use of tempos other than a steady 4/4 across all styles of jazz. He was also arguably the most effective proponent of third-stream music, incorporating classical themes, arrangements and architecture in a swinging, improvisational milieu.

Although he was a gifted pianist and a captivating improviser, a fluent player of blues, gospel and classical music in addition to jazz, Brubeck was not an ostentatious musician: he played purposefully, often creating a narrative or driving a theme to which his his bandmates were encouraged to add their distinctive personalities. His skills remained practically undiminished through a performing career that spanned from the 1930s into this year.

Brubeck recorded the best-selling jazz song of all time, Take Five, the title track to the 1959 album written by his Dave Brubeck Quartet bandmate, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond. Over a recording career that spanned parts of seven decades, he sold millions of albums, not counting millions of downloads, a rarity in jazz. One reason for his popularity is his knack for a catchy tune: few composers in any style of music have written such memorable songs as Three to Get Ready, It’s a Raggy Waltz, Unsquare Dance or Blue Rondo a la Turk, to name a few. Another signature trait that won him millions of followers was his sense of humor; his songs are imbued with as much lively, playful fun as classical rigor. His body of work, both live and in the studio, ranks with those of Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and any of the classical composers. Considering how vital he was until the very end, one could always hope for another tour and another chance to see this legend in concert: he is greatly and deeply missed. Our thoughts are with all the musicians and individuals lucky enough to know him.

December 5, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, obituary | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Memoriam – Gil Scott-Heron

Songwriter, poet and novelist Gil Scott-Heron, one of the greatest musical artists of the past half-century, died yesterday at St. Luke’s Hospital in New York after returning from Europe, where he had fallen ill. He was 62. Scott-Heron’s signature style combined jazz, soul and funk with wryly literate, often savagely critical, socially conscious lyrics. Tall and charismatic, with a machete wit, he was a consummate live performer who used catchy, anthemic songs to deliver a potent message. Enormously influential on several generations of hip-hop artists, Scott-Heron was considered one of the pioneers of rap. While his relationship with the genre was ambivalent at best, his 1969 debut album, Small Talk at 125th and Lenox is often credited with being one of the earliest hip-hop albums since it features spoken-word pieces (including the iconic The Revolution Will Not Be Televised) set to simple percussion.

Scott-Heron’s biggest hit, The Bottle, chronicled the toll that alcoholism takes on inner city life, though told with characteristic humor from a drunk’s point of view. His most enduring song, We Almost Lost Detroit hauntingly recalls a narrowly averted nuclear disaster caused by a near-meltdown at a Michigan nuclear power plant. Scott-Heron was also one of the first major American artists to address the horrors of apartheid, with the scathing Johannesburg. Throughout his career, he championed progressive causes and lampooned the right wing (most memorably with the scorchingly hilarious 1981 anti-Reagan broadside B Movie). As a recording artist, his peak period was from the mid-70s to the early 80s, notably his collaborations with pianist Brian Jackson and their group the Midnight Band. Many of those albums, including From South Africa to South Carolina as well as the 1988 Live Somewhere in Europe are bonafide classics.

Scott-Heron was also a legendary bon vivant who took that lifestyle to extremes. A heavy cocaine user in the 80s, by the following decade he’d developed a serious crack habit. Throughout that time, he remained an intense, charismatic performer, but he recorded sporadically and erratically, and as his crack use escalated, his performances and career suffered. Persecuted and jailed for cocaine possession multiple times during the zeros, he had recently been on the comeback trail, releasing a new album last year titled I’m New Here, which sets poetry to samples much in the same vein as his earliest work. His recent live shows had been remarkably strong as well, all the more impressive considering that he’d once again become a regular crack user (we reviewed his surprisingly high-spirited, energetic concert at Marcus Garvey Park on August 5 of last year). Our deepest condolences to his wife and daughter. Funeral arrangements are pending.

May 28, 2011 Posted by | funk music, jazz, Music, music, concert, obituary, soul music | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Memoriam: Jay Bennett

Jay Bennett, the brilliant multi-instrumentalist who joined Wilco on tour in 1995, played on their 1996 Being There album and remained with the band through Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in 2002, died at his home in Urbana, Illinois the night of May 24. An autopsy is pending. Bennett had been troubled by recurring hip pain stemming from a stage dive some ten years previously; he’d been recently scheduled for surgery. He was 45.

In many respects, Jay Bennett was Wilco, his inspired, tumbling piano, swirling organ and searing, incisive lead guitar giving the band’s songs an edge that vanished after he left. After departing Wilco, Bennett released four solo albums, the most recent, Whatever Happened, I Apologize released by pioneering Chicago label Rock Proper a few months ago (and very favorably reviewed here).  He also served as producer for several acts ranging from Blues Traveler to Leslie Nuss. An intense yet warm and engaging personality who seemed to take his virtuosity for granted, Bennett suffered for being a brilliant musician in a merely good band. A strong, passionate singer and a terse, sharply literate lyricist, his struggles within Wilco were painfully portrayed in the documentary film I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. Earlier this year he filed suit against his former bandmate Jeff Tweedy for breach of contract and unpaid royalties. Bennett leaves behind an unfinished album, Kicking at the Perfumed Air, its title quoting the Boomtown Rats’ sardonic 1980 new wave suicide song Diamond Smiles.

May 30, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, obituary | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

In Memoriam – Stefan Lutak, 1920-2009

Stefan Lutak, the indomitable and ageless proprietor of the legendary New York East Village dive bar the Holiday Lounge passed away last week after a brief illness. He was 89. Born in the Ukraine in 1920, Lutak fought for the Russians against the Nazis in World War II and came to the US four years after the war ended. He and his wife took over the Holiday in 1965. Originally a neighborhood workingman’s bar, it had its share of celebrity regulars, W.H. Auden and Shelley Winters among them. With its minimal, no-nonsense decor, dim lighting, and the laconic Lutak (later joined by his sons) serving up cheap, strong drinks, it was only a matter of time before it became a popular punk rock hangout.

 

According to Lutak, the space was originally a beauty parlor, converted to a bar in 1936. Throughout the years, the bar has barely changed, prices included. One not-so-secret habit shared by many New York musicians (and non-musicians) was to order a Bacardi 151 and coke, which Lutak served at the same price as a regular Bacardi and coke and which would get you drunk twice as fast. During slow periods, it often seemed that Lutak was keeping the bar open simply to keep himself in alcohol: the man had an ironclad constitution, operating with seemingly undiminished capacity from early afternoon til closing time despite being visibly under the influence.

 

In a very encouraging and unexpected turn of events, Lutak’s sons (who also own the building) are keeping the iconic East Village spot open, at least for the present time. If there ever was a time to patronize this place, now is that time.

 

“Over the years we have become close to the regulars and losing one is like losing an old friend,” Lutak is quoted in Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York. Stefan Lutak, wherever you are, thank you for your hospitality, your willingness to turn a blind eye to innumerable indiscretions and for being a crucial part of countless delirious evenings forever lost to memory. You were more of a friend than you’ll ever know. Our sincere condolences to the Lutak family.

February 9, 2009 Posted by | Culture, New York City, obituary | , , , | Leave a comment

Lux Interior – An Appreciation

As pretty much everybody knows by now, Erick Lee Purkhiser AKA Lux Interior, lead singer of the Cramps died this past Wednesday of a heart attack. He was 62.

 

The Cramps made their mark in the punk scene in the late 70s, which was their moment. Backed by his wife-to-be Poison Ivy’s percussive, clanging, macabre retro guitar, Lux Interior’s mad Elvis persona was completely in touch with the original menace of 50s music, taking it completely over the top. Thousands of punkabilly and ghoulabilly bands followed in their wake; none could ever match the Cramps in intensity or flat-out imagination. Lux Interior was fearless, funny and a consummate showman, a wild live performer who would vault amplifiers, stick the microphone in his mouth, assail the audience or simply stumble around in what appeared to be a drug-induced stupor but which was more likely than not a carefully contrived part of the act. He took an iconic American persona, twisted it inside out and made it forever his own. There may have been a lot of kitsch associated with him but he was anything but a kitschy performer. There will never be another like him.

February 7, 2009 Posted by | Culture, Music, music, concert, obituary | , , , | Leave a comment