A little tribute to a lovely man, who I hope is still with us and going strong. Anyway tributes are no bloody use to you when you’re dead, are they?
You pick up all kinds of influences and inspirations as you go through life, and on the flip-side you never know how a casual meeting might wind up influencing others.
Bill Dunham is the pianist and bandleader of The Grove Street Stompers and has run a weekly residency at Arthur’s Tavern in Greenwich Village fearsomely uninterrupted for more than 50 years. I think they had to cancel for Kennedy’s funeral and a few sundry emergencies, but otherwise… the band played on. Every Monday, come rain or come shine. That’s some residency.
I met him once as a really young kid, when my family did a fly-drive to the States – he was a friend of my father’s. I was too young to go to the gig, but the talk did turn to music, since I was starting out at the time. I felt a click with him.
He had a leather briefcase embossed with the initials WBD. Also recall that he (or maybe his daughter Amy, whose taste for fried Brie didn’t quite agree with me) mentioned some particular interest in someone called Wild Bill Davison. So I applied a child’s skewed thinking to the briefcase thing and I’ve idly thought of him as Wild Bill Dunham ever since.
Never did learn what the B was short for. Tuning note for a five-string banjo perhaps…
Bill also took the time to take us to a trusted music shop uptown and pick out a clarinet for me. Haven’t kept it up, but the early exposure has proven invaluable in later years for understanding the orchestral character of woodwind.
The reason I’ve trotted down memory lane is the way I tend to answer the occasional question about why I don’t gig more. I reply that I have a day gig, which keeps me sane and solvent. I leave the crime fighting til night. And the two lives complement each other very nicely, I feel.
I recently looked Bill up, and was tickled to see that he has often used not only the same response, but pretty much exactly the same words when asked about his Stomping Mondays. The thing is that he used to be big on Wall Street (way back in the days when that didn’t make him Public Enemy #1).
He’s very self-deprecating, regarding himself as the sole remaining amateur in the band. Well, in the sense that he doesn’t bleed music out of his pores for a living I suppose he might be an amateur. But I’ve heard pros that aren’t as good as he is.
I’ve always felt that you don’t have to sacrifice your life on the altar of jazz to be able to play. And perhaps even play very well indeed.
Anyway, Bill’s thing is mostly Dixieland, and I’ll confess that mine’s a different bag. Although his Stompers versions of Royal Garden Blues and the like did rewire my young cortex somewhat.
But I find it interesting that some 40 years on, without any conscious choice, I find myself with a day gig and a Monday night jazz residency at a real “joint” in a bohemian part of town. Isn’t it strange the way life works out?
Of course, we’ll have to go some to equal his record at Arthur’s. He has a 47-year head start…
There’s a nice interview with Bill here. (But their picture editor needs a boot up the backside…)