April Fools 2014 – Goodbye Al Nathan, Hello Giovanni Esford
Although it's over now, we spent two straight months honoring local musicians and while we did, we found ourselves honoring two of them posthumously and now in as many months, we've lost a third musician. Almost a whole week since his passing, we are still grieving the loss of Al Nathan, and not just his family or the local live music scene either, but the Utica school system has lost a long-time teacher who inspired so many with the language without words that we all call music.
Musicians by themselves are a unique class from most, affecting scores of people with their musical prowess and unabashed emotion, but it takes a special soul who has the ability to reseed that class with new faces whether they end up taking a stage professionally, playing privately in their home after a long day at work, or like him even teaching the art (as if being a musician playing music wasn't cool enough already.) I've taught long enough myself to've seen students whose feet couldn't touch the floor from the piano bench the day that I met them to now being deep in their respective careers (some of which to my delight went into music themselves), or married with kids of their own who are fast approaching the age their parents were when they first took lessons. I've always said I'd quit teaching the day I one of my former student's kids came through my door, a day that Al saw many times over but he kept plugging on all the way up until last week. Here's a taste of Al that has unfortunately outlived him.
Al was teaching and playing long before I was even born so I'm sure the bizarre feeling of watching kids grow into adults was experienced tenfold for the Blues keys master. In the 63 years that he was alive, jazz and blues was the popular music on the radio. The year Al was born, a gallon of gas cost 19 cents, he saw the birth of Rock n Roll, the British Invasion, the invention of the family television, the first manned spaceflight, saw 12 US Presidents come and go and lived in a world where women's rights and that of our Afro-American brethren were largely non-existent. Although Al's eyes are now closed forever, someone else's are newly opened...
As a joker himself, I had truly hoped that Facebook blowing up with news of Al's passing was just an ill-conceived April Fools' joke, but something told me in my gut before I got confirmation that it was indeed true. But if it's any consolation, that very same day a baby was born to another joker friend of mine and the little Esford was so excited to come into this world that he couldn't wait for mom and dad to even get the couple of miles down the road to the hospital. The Facebook status rolled in that Giovanni was born in the family driveway and nobody believed that at first either, but later none of us could argue with photographic proof of that deed as well. It's a forgotten fact that the road-side baby's parents met at one of my shows so I love that this family is still just burgeoning with life for the third time over!
So there we have it, the full cycle of life in a single day in our small community. Both events are still very new in our minds with vastly differing emotions. A new life doesn't necessarily take the edge off of the one that has passed, but the long and productive life that Al led along with the hope and promise of a full life like that ahead of Givoanni, may it be a small reminder to us all that while we are all just a drop in the bucket of this thing we call humanity, the reason we are here is to impact others and be impacted by them too with the days that our eyes still open in the morning. May you find peace as you read this and look forward to what's ahead because that's what Al would want and what Giovanni inspires.