Mar 10 2013
Stories like this next one serve as essential reminders of why we should never give up hope. It’s about pianist Boyd Lee Dunlop and his sophomore release The Lake Reflections.
Dreams and good fortune operate under their own capricious rules and, oftentimes, seem to run contradictory to what we each of us may view as pragmatism or common sense. Sometimes good things happen to us, seemingly, through no fault of our own, lacking any apparent causality, and yet confers the eminent vindication for refusing to quit.
Your album personnel: Boyd Lee Dunlop (piano).
Boyd Lee Dunlop, all of 85 years old, released his first album in 2011. Dunlop began playing piano at an early age. Living in a poor section of Buffalo, NY, he used a junked piano with missing keys that sat out in his family’s back yard. His brother, Frankie, played drums. Frankie Dunlop later went on to have a storied career as a musician, playing on classic jazz albums (and personal favorites) like Thelonious Monk’s Criss Cross and Monk’s Dream and Monk’s live Newport recording with Miles Davis, as well as on Charles Mingus’s Tijuana Moods and Sonny Rollins’ Alfie soundtrack. In the meantime, Boyd Lee stayed in Buffalo, playing the local circuit in between jobs at the steel mills. The brothers had divergent career arcs. Boyd’s path is not an uncommon one.
But then it does get a bit unusual. In his 80’s, Boyd was now living in a Buffalo nursing home and passing his time playing a junked piano with missing keys that sat in the cafeteria… a piano, ironically, that was not too far removed from the piano that he first drew notes from for the first time nearly 70 years earlier. Photographer Brendan Bannon visited the nursing home regarding an art project. However, after meeting Boyd and hearing him play, it wasn’t long before Bannon collaborated with others to get Boyd’s music back into the public sphere. The result was the 2011 release Boyd’s Blues.
With Buffalo musicians Sabu Adeyola on bass and Virgil Day on drums, the recording is a heartwarming set of straight-ahead classic jazz. Blues with soul, bop with heart, and music that could not be mistaken for anything but Jazz. The album, and Boyd’s story, got decent press, and was well received. Dan Barry wrote a nice article for the New York Times and NPR pubbed an article and on-air story on its Weekend Edition feature. Live performances were lined up. Everyone likes a story about a huge comeback, and this one was a classic.
Not long after, Boyd suffered a severe heart attack. And despite hovering close to death, Boyd has turned that setback into yet another chapter in his comeback story. After a recovery period, Boyd decided the time was ripe for his sophomore release.
A solo piano recording, the songs on The Lake Reflections are inspired by photographs Brendan Bannon took of Lake Erie. The music reflects the crisp serenity of the source material. There is a stark beauty to this music, a warm stateliness that possesses both elegance and a smile.
And where Boyd’s Blues moved at a brisk stroll, The Lake Reflections has the slow unhurried pace of a body of water on a lazy afternoon. Reminiscent of the music of fellow pianist Red Garland’s trio sessions, this is peaceful music that can fill a room with its sound, despite its unassuming, wisp-ish presence.
And it’s the music’s unhurried pace that is the album’s real charmer, in that it allows so much room for Dunlop to breathe. Moments of dramatic expressiveness are able to maintain their composure within the solo context, and changes in tempo or emotional transitions from warmth to iciness have sufficient time to develop within the expanse of time from first note to last.
And that the music moves at a casual pace, with everything that Dunlop has been through and the numerous times he justifiably may have feared that time was running thin, it supremely illustrates the plateau he’s achieved, that he can come out the other side and record an album of meditative reflection that shines so bright in its own time.
Lovely music and a great story behind it.
Self-Produced, and released on Dunlop’s and Bannon’s Mr. B Sharp Records label.
Jazz from the Buffalo, NY scene.
And here’s the link again to Dunlop’s artist site.
And here’s the link again to Bannon’s artist site.