In 1986, I was amazed by the brilliance of Stanley Jordan, a man who shattered the paradigms of guitar technique with his "tapping" method. I was equally appalled by the reaction of a couple of members of the audience to local Phil deGruy, the amazing opening act at Tipitina's in New Orleans on that night in October, 1986. As he played intricate tunes on his "Guitarp" (a guitar/harp hybrid of an instrument), sporadic shouts of "We want Stanley" could be heard in the audience near the end of his set. I knew Phil deserved better on this night, yet he was never flustered. He continued to display his unique talents, as he lost himself in his music, tuning out those few half-wits. He graciously smiled after each number, acknowledging the 99% of the audience that expressed their rousing appreciation of his mastery of the instrument.
Perhaps the display of dedication to musical integrity in the absence of commercial success is not more prevalent in any city than in my native New Orleans. An environment exists there that breeds musical brilliance in great numbers, and dooms these talents to oblivion, unless they take their performance elsewhere. Dozens have left because they failed to fill seedy night clubs for a two drink minimum, only to return with the "Crescent City's Own" label, as their newfound acclaim helps them fill auditoriums in the town that once doomed them to almost certain obscurity. Of course, many great musicians in New Orleans and elsewhere do not thrive on commercial success, content to wallow in relative obscurity. Still, they pour out their emotions in their music for anyone willing to listen, no matter the numbers.
They, like Joe, are my heroes as well. One common thread existstheir popularity (or lack thereof) hasn't defined their music. The effort to perfect their artistry is the engine that drives the train. They don't shun the spotlight, but they won't compromise their music to attain it. As pianist/songwriter Bob Dorough (Grammar Rock famed songwriter) once sang, "Their Boogie-Woogie can't grow stale, because it's never been for sale."
It's been 12 years since the death of Joe Pass. Every year when spring approaches, I am reminded of the anticipation of that encore performance of Joe Pass that never was, and the lack of notoriety of his subsequent passing. I believe that the best way to pay tribute to his memory is to always applaud the musician in the night club, on the street, or in the hotel bar. By dropping a dollar in the tip jar or telling the pianist his music made my evening more enjoyable, I can do more to further the interests of the music profession than I can by plunking down $20 on the latest Top 40 CD. And in post-Katrina New Orleans, support of the music community is more important than ever.
As a guitarist who occasionally sits in with various performers around the city, I have tried to remember the lessons I learned from Mr. Pass. I always try not to lose the melody in the performance, and I will always remember Joe. Photo Credit Jimmy Katz