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Rick Mandyck: The Return From Now

Paul Rauch By

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It was a cold Tuesday evening the last week of December. 2016 was mercifully coming to a close, this evening, a final chorus of a long blues blown soulfully, and mournfully into the night. I sat at the bar at Seattle's storied jazz spot, Tula's, in eager anticipation of the evening's performance of a quartet led by veteran bassist, Paul Gabrielson. Gabrielson had gathered a quartet of top tier, Seattle based musicians that evening, featuring pianist Bill Anschell, and drummer John Bishop. At that moment, the fourth member of this much anticipated quartet, Rick Mandyck, approached me, a joyous smile on his face illuminating the dark confines of this historic venue. "This feels strange," he said, his eyes panning the stage. "I heard tale that you're playing saxophone tonight," I remarked, alluding to his years absent from the scene playing both alto and tenor saxophone. " First sax gig in fourteen years," Mandyck replied. I was feeling extremely fortunate to be there, I knew something special, something magical was about to take place.

Throughout the eighties and nineties, Rick Mandyck was the most complete, and progressive saxophonist in Seattle, and to those closely associated with jazz music in that period, a true innovator of the instrument on a national scale. After switching to playing primarily tenor in the nineties, the Emerald City was blessed by the presence of three historic artisans of the tenor—Mandyck, Hadley Caliman, and Don Lanphere. Among the three, Mandyck's lyrical approach stood out, his live appearances much anticipated at clubs like the New Orleans, Jazz Alley, the Pioneer Banque, and in the very room where we took musical refuge that evening, Tula's, in the Belltown neighborhood. A series of illnesses, and a very serious hernia injury made playing saxophone extremely painful, necessitating that he give up the instrument, to set aside that which had given him the contentment of expression, of his ability to author and share his musical and spiritual insights to those of us willing to listen. And listen, we did. "It was unfortunate in most ways, but I think in a lot of ways, with guitar and later piano I got to learn a lot more about music. There's just all these vistas, chords, wow, two notes at the same time! Certainly after you've done something for that long, and you take it away, there's an emptiness, a missing space, but I decided to try to fill it with something like piano, which is my current thing. Just it's unlimited harmonic possibilities."

And so Mandyck's musical legacy continued as a guitarist, still directing his creative genius into what was, in reality, the instrument he began his musical journey with as a youngster. "Guitar was my first instrument. My Italian grandfather, Nick Conti, was a musician, and was a very big musical influence on me. He got me interested in music. When I was about five, I was bugging everybody for a guitar, there was a Hawaiian guitar in the attic, with a wide neck. He put a different nut on it so the strings were a little bit easier, but it was an incredibly hard instrument to play. But I loved it. They tried to discourage me, but it didn't work," he states with a chuckle. As a guitarist, Mandyck was impactful, continuing his musical relationship with Greg Keplinger, Thomas Marriott and others. But even as much as he was appreciated and respected as a musician on any chosen instrument, his departure as a saxophonist was impactful as well. Perhaps his unique talent was even more appreciated during the past fourteen years, as his legend as a pure saxophonist grew not as some sort of jazz tall tale, but as a statement of fact, of witness by those, as myself, who were there in the eighties as he molded his identity as an alto player, and his change in the nineties, to the tenor.


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