One of the things I love about the blogosphere is the chance encounter with old friends; it’s like strolling to the store for a quart of soy milk and bumping into someone you haven’t seen in ages. Of course, out here in Altadena, we don’t stroll to the store, but you get the idea. Anyway, this morning I was delighted to run into Alec Wilder, courtesy of Terry Teachout and The Washington Post .
I used to go night after night to hear Marian McPartland play at The Cookery, and in later years at Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel. She and Alec were close friends and he was in attendance more often than not. Alec was usually alone, and after Marian introduced us, and he was satisfied that I was really there to listen and appreciate the music, he would invite me to sit with him.
He had a gruff exterior that completely evaporated when he smiled. I thought him to be rather professorial, with his tweed jacket and pipe, always a book or two on hand, and forever scribbling notes to himself. Back then, my knowledge of Alec’s musical work was limited to familiarity with a handful of songs that he wrote and which Marian often played — I’ll Be Around, While We’re Young and It’s So Peaceful in the Country being a few of the most well-known.
I wish I could have known him better, and longer. Thinking about those times led me to my bookshelf for a visit with Marian via All In Good Time her book of autobiographical essays about some of the people she’s known — Alec Wilder: The Complete Composer is the title of the last chapter. Marian describes the first song that Alec wrote for her:
He airily tossed me a sheet of music, on which was written, “Jazz Waltz for a Friend — a small present from Alec Wilder.”
I was delighted, and I couldn’t wait to play the piece. It had a haunting melody, which had a way of turning back on itself that I found fascinating. It was deceptively simple to play, yet hard to memorize and improvise on. Many of Alec’s pieces are that way, but they are rewarding, for as you delve into them and explore their intricacies, you find fresh ways to go. Jazz Waltz for a Friend became a part of our trio repertoire, just as Alec became part of my audience from them and on.
One of my favorite CDs by Marian is her solo concert Live at Maybeck Recital Hall, and the last track is, you guessed it, Alec Wilder’s I’ll Be Around.