|Pianist Boyd Lee Dunlop Passes at 87Photo by Brendan Bannon
|Pianist Boyd Lee Dunlop died peacefully today just after midnight at Delaware Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Buffalo, New York.
A memorial service is planned for Dunlop at his church the Evangelistic Temple at
92 Hedley Place Buffalo, New York 14208 on January 18 at 11 am.
A musicians tribute and open jam session will be held at Buffalo’s Colored Musicians Club
on Sunday January 19th at 8pm.
Dunlop leaves his legacy to his children, grand children, great grandchildren and many fans.He is also survived by his brother the legendary jazz drummer Frankie Dunlop.
The Boyb Lee Dunlop Story
Residing in a Buffalo nursing home since 2007 he was ‘rediscovered’ by photographer Brendan Bannon who befriended the octogenarian musician and helped him record Boyd’s Blues in 2011.
With stories in the New York Times and NPR the word was out about this remarkable pianist, the brother of the legendary drummer Frankie Dunlop, recovering from a near-fatal heart attack and releasing his second recording The Lake Reflections.
Music runs deep in Boyd Lee Dunlop
‘s bloodline. Born in Winston Salem, NC in 1926, he came to Buffalo as a child, when his family followed his aunt – the first African American violinist with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. One day, young Dunlop found a broken down, discarded piano outside his house with only half the keys working. That didn’t stop him. As Dunlop remembers, “I asked my mother if I could bring it into the house. She refused, but arranged for a friend to build a shed for it outside. I thought it would be easy for me to play. If I could see the notes, I could play. What can I say? A year later we bought a piano, and here I am.”Musical talent in the Dunlop family didn’t stop with Dunlop. He gave his younger brother, Frankie, his first drum lesson. “We used the thin wood from the back of a chair as our sticks.” Frankie went on to find fame as a drummer, playing with such notables as Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus and other greats.Boyd Lee Dunlop
‘s trajectory followed a different course. For years, Dunlop toiled in Buffalo’s steel mills and rail yards, yet he always found his way back to music. When times were tough he took to the road, crisscrossing the states and playing in any juke joint, gin mill or dive that had a piano. He returned to the Queen City and performed at the storied Colored Musicians Club and other notable venues where the eighty-eight keys always waited for him. For nearly eighty years, Dunlop was a ‘live’ musician. Then, for the first time, at age eighty-five, he stepped into a recording studio in Buffalo, NY with renowned musicians Sabu Adeyola on bass and Virgil Day on drums and finally recorded an album of his own. Boyd’s Blues resulted from a chance encounter between Dunlop and photographer Brendan Bannon. As Bannon explains, “I went to Delaware Nursing Home to speak to a doctor about a photography project. In the chair next to me, just back from a walk, sat Boyd Lee. ‘You here to see someone?’ he asked. ‘I think I’m here to see everyone.’ ‘You a doctor?’ ‘Photographer.’ ‘Yeah? I’m a musician.'”Bannon started recording Dunlop on the broken-down, out-of-tune piano in the nursing home. Hearing his own music played back, Dunlop told Bannon that he’d like to make a record. After listening to some of these first recordings, producer Allen Farmelo flew into town and recorded the album in one long session on a snowy winter’s day.
After the session Dunlop said, “I waited my whole life for this day and I was gonna do it if it killed me.” On Christmas Day 2011, Dunlop suffered a heart attack and was in cardiac arrest for six minutes while hospital staff worked to revive him. Now, recovered, rested and ready, and with one celebrated album to his credit, he presents his newest, and most ambitious work, 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 andMonk’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.
Available at Amazon: CD | MP3
Boyd’s Blues, also available at Amazon: CD | MP3
And here’s the link again to Dunlop’s artist site.
And here’s the link again to Bannon’s artist site.
Boyd Lee Dunlop – “The Lake Reflections”
When virtuoso pianist Boyd Lee Dunlop, discovered in a Buffalo nursing home last year, released his first album at age 85, the world took notice. He made the front page of the New York Times and was featured on NPR. What the world didn’t know was that just weeks after the celebration Boyd suffered a major heart attack. He was literally dead for close to six minutes. Once revived, and his health restored, Dunlop boldly announced that he wanted to get out of the nursing home and record another album.
Titled The Lake Reflections, the eight original recordings, each inspired by photographer Brendan Bannon’s thoughtful images of Lake Erie, were the foundation of what can only be described as a visual score. Dunlop looked at the photos and played what they made him feel. The song titles (“Snow on the Water,” “Sunset Turmoil”) along with a 16-page CD booklet filled with Bannon’s photos, provides clues as to which images inspired which improvisations.
This is an album of improvised solo piano pieces that pull the listener into kaleidoscopically shifting collages of harmony and melody. Un-tethered from his rhythm section, he plays, freely and often completely outside genre; a man at the piano ready to explore what he calls his “harmonic vocation.” One wonders if his recent journey to the other side of life and back hasn’t emboldened him artistically.
Bound up in its own visual and musical logic, this daring album defies most genre-based conventions, and turns heads because of it. Producer Allen Farmelo writes, “With the first record we celebrated Boyd, and here I really want to see his music and musicianship celebrated. Boyd the musician. Boyd the composer. And what a rare and wonderful one he is.”
It’s an incredible accomplishment for a man to make his first record at age 85, but no one – not even Dunlop – could have expected him to return from a near death experience to record a such an audacious, unique and panoramic work.
|photo: Brendan Bannon