Doug Diamond was my teacher. But not in the way we generally perceive of the profession.
In my high school years, I used to attend the Dorian Summer Music Camps at Luther College. During those camps/concerts, I was always bemused by the behavior of the orchestra director. He would awkwardly, yet confidently, deliver the strangest banter from the stage. Sometimes, if the microphone was too low, he'd hunch over in an unbelievably clumsy way rather than simply raise the mike (and you wonder where my stage presence comes from?). The students would howl with laughter as he deadpanned, and they obviously adored him, as the hung on his every word.
When I arrived at Luther as a freshman, I was assigned to his 8am music theory class. He used to come in every day with a beer mug full of pale tea, that looked *exactly* like beer. One day, I just up and asked him, "are you drinking beer at 8am on a Monday?" which generated a donkey-style guffaw from him so jarring that it completely threw me off, then said, "Don't I wish", completely deadpan. Another time, I responded with some smart-ass reply to a question he posed, at which time he turned around, bent over, and pointed at his ass, saying, "Here it is, Eby. Kiss it!"
8am theory, indeed.
Yet Doug, along with another Luther professor named James Griesheimer, made me love classical music. It's impossible to overstate what a remarkable transformation that was. I was stubborn about music (this is where you say "was?"). The only music for me was jazz. Classical music was predictable. Boring. Uptight. And the producers of the music exhibited all of those qualities, too. Doug changed that wrong-headed perception, but only a fraction of that was in the classroom.
Once I had moved on from his class, I would pass him occasionally in the hall, but he would always be walking somewhere with his "intently walking so as to not have to take notice of you" walk. At the point where Carmen and I started dating, she had been playing principal clarinet in his orchestra for a couple of years. He was her first real champion. (Man, did he love her sound. There are tears in my eyes for her right now, because I know how much that support meant to her.) Anyway, she started bringing me to his office to hang out. In those visits, he'd talk music, and phrasing, and composing, and history, and musicians, even campy novelty music...all of it through a cigarette-smoke filled haze (I never did like that...), and frequently with that donkey-laugh I mentioned. Then, Carmen would get out her clarinet, so they could work on the phrasing of something they were doing in orchestra, Doug at the piano, sometimes leading, sometimes following Carmen. It was always so simple, yet so deeply musical. His door was always open...I learned that entirely from him.
Over the years after we, and then he, left Luther, we stayed in touch, and kept up on each other's doings. We last saw him when Spenser was very small, so nearly 14 years ago. Phone and email correspondences grew more spotty as the years went by, but that was actually part of the charm. There were lots of promises of calls...
Here is my last e-mail chain with him. It's not redacted in any way...this was the full content of the messages:
Chad (4/26/14) - Hello
Doug (4/26/14) - Hello back
Doug (4/26/14) - Long time, no talkee. Are we well?
Chad (4/26/14) - Call this number and find out (Carmen's #)
Doug (4/26/14) - I can do that. But not tonight. When tomorrow evening works?
Chad (4/26/14) - After 5.
REALLY PREGNANT PAUSE...NO CALL
Chad (7/24/15) - After 5...years?
Doug (8/31/15) - Give or take. Who's counting?
Chad (9/1/15) - We are
Chad (9/1/15) - I'm not sure how many you have left.
Doug (9/1/15) - And you get that from my hair or my teeth?
Man, he was dry and funny. There was no call.
When you begin teaching, you never know how much you can affect someone's life, or who those people might be. Or at least, I didn't. It could be anyone.
Doug: Carmen and I are going to miss you, and we love you. I bet that sentiment makes you want to throw up, but it's true. Thank you for everything you gave us, out of nothing more than the goodness of your heart, and your desire to share what music meant to you with others.
While riding my bike the other day, I was thinking about the passing of the great Joe Temperley, which drew my thoughts to the following:
There have been many instances where “being there” has changed my whole perspective on music: musical moments so memorable that I can’t imagine ever forgetting them.
Obviously, jazz exists on a nearly unattainably high plain on the thousands of recordings we revere. And we should revere them, as those are the mighty shoulders we stand on. We obviously can’t go hear Louis Armstrong anymore. But we can’t lose the value of now. And not just the music of the folks at the top of the notoriety pile - the 1%, if you will. I still remember with great clarity the night I watched my friend, colleague, and drummer Daniel Faust become the real deal, seemingly before my very eyes (ears?) in a collegiate big band performance several years back. My dear friend Doug Wamble singing his William Faulkner suite. My partner-in-crime Brandon Lee absolutely stupefying the rest of the Piedmont Triad Jazz Orchestra and our audience with a solo of such beauty and clarity on “Dolphin Dance” that it still brings tears to my eyes and mind to think of it over a year later. Those moments stick with me, and they aren’t attached to a famous last name (yet). Those moments are only with me because I was there.
And speaking of Joe Temperley and “being there”…
A few years back, I was in London as part of an educational group during Jazz at Lincoln Center’s annual residency at the Barbican Centre. It was a surreal experience for me, for although my relationship with Wynton went back several years, I was now a (small) part of “the team”. I hold the members of that musical organization in incredibly high esteem, and to be working alongside them, even in an educational capacity…needless to say, I felt very out of place. I came down for breakfast one morning, and found my colleague Seton Hawkins seated having breakfast with Mr. Temperley, who I had met in passing several years earlier, but who had no reason to remember the encounter (and didn’t J). I joined them. Mr. Temperley, by this point an octogenarian who had played with everyone and seen and done everything, welcomed me into their conversation. He was reveling Seton (and now me) with stories of how he met Charlie Parker, and working with Duke Ellington. Imagine that…straight out of a history book. I made it a point each day after that to set my alarm, so I could “be there” for breakfast, should Mr. Temperley be there.
In honesty, I don’t remember much of the content of those stories, because I was so dumbstruck by the cast of characters. But I do remember this – Mr. Temperley treated me, a stranger for all practical purposes, with a kindness and patience that I will never forget. I’m sure it was fun to talk about Bird and Duke (and God knows who all else), but when you’re 82 years old and first thing in the morning, and trying to enjoy your breakfast? Grace.
And it was all because I made a point of being there.