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On and Off the Grid

Goodbye Borah

By Published: November 15, 2012
By the third month, we were starting to play more and talk less; I finally figured out how to play with him. At first, I wondered, since he is playing so fast, should I play slow long tones? That didn't work. Guitar is not a long tone instrument unless you're using some kind of fuzz box, which I don't do-and Borah would have kicked me out. I thought I would go for natural sound effects; that didn't work. Chords were impossible, too. I finally realized that I had to play at his level, meet him note-for-note and lightning fast, but when he was playing high, I had to be low. When he was low I had to be high and when he was both high and low, I would be in the middle. It took an immense amount of concentration. At times it sounded like there were three separate parts being played at the same time, and when I played double stops it was another thing all together. Going into the fourth month we were making the kind of music I always dreamed of.

After the first year, I was able to get us three weekends at the 5C, a small club in NYC. This would be the first time we would play together in public. To make sure everything went right, I picked Borah up and took him home. Up until the first note was played I was nervous that, for some unknown reason, he would back out. Why would I think that? During our many talks, Borah mentioned how he had backed out of some bookings by not showing up. It didn't matter to him what the financial or reputation cost would be. If he didn't want to do it, he didn't and to hell with everybody. After that story I knew he couldn't be trusted. He would cancel at a drop of a hat with some lame excuse. He needed to be gently coaxed and watched and I had to be prepared for anything. The performances went well, even though Borah constantly complained about the piano.

Borah and I were at our best when we disassembled a jazz standard. When I think back to those times I can't believe we actually played some great music together despite the difficulty. There were times he would taunt me with, "You know what they are saying about you?" Or, "You're not an avant-garde player, you're a more of a modern player," or "A lot of musicians don't like the way you play." He could go on and on, but I know that was nothing compared to what he would say to other musicians, like, "You stink" or "Go home and learn how to play." Borah had no patience for "almost." If you wanted to play with him, you better play and play at your best all the time. There was no such thing as warming up. You'd start at 150 miles an hour and go up from there. He was relentless. He could play a slow ballad with lots of feeling but, in the midst of the piece, he would come out with bursts of sixty-fourth notes and shatter the mood. Musically it's as if his mind was in a race going in all directions at the same time, and whatever musical idea got there first he played.

One time he was especially abusive about everything. He was angry and aimed his anger at anyone in his near vicinity. Unfortunately, that day it was me. After a few minutes of playing and his barking at me, I stopped. I looked at him and told him "Who do you think you're talking to? You know Borah, I've had enough. Go fuck yourself, I'm done. I don't care how great you are, this is not worth it." I packed up and left. In all the time we had played together I had never lost my temper with him, but this time he went too far. That night he called and spoke to my wife first and then me. He was very apologetic and seemed truly sorry. I forgave him and we went back to playing again, and he backed off a little.

There were times I was truly worried about him. Once I called the doorman in his building because he wasn't answering his phone all day. It turned out he was on some new drug that put him to sleep. He very rarely went out, so I felt he had to be looked after at times.

In 2006 I recorded The Vampire's Revenge (CDM). This was a double-disc recording with almost two hours of free and written music, with a conductor. It gave me a chance to expand my writing and use different groups of musicians in developing a story line that went with the title. "Blood Lust" was the longest piece on the record. It was over seventeen minutes long and was recorded at two different studios with three different groups. There were sections for a large group, duo and septet. The duo section featured Borah and myself playing free for about three-and-a-half minutes. I told Borah about the project months before and asked him if he would do it. He agreed. The day of the recording I picked him up and brought him to the studio. When I record, I prefer using headphones because I like to plug in directly into the board, but Borah wouldn't use headphones and he also told me which guitar he preferred me to use. The setup with the amp was a little uncomfortable for me, but it would be worth it to have this man on record.

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