Re: Dave Samuels
today I am finally posting something I meant to post for some time. I was and am a bit hesitant as it is private and emotional in some ways. But then again it may interest anyone who has come across David Samuels the vibraphonist, be it in real life, via audio or video. David died on April 22/’19. I attended his memorial and I also spoke. It was a nice event with a number of videos showing Dave playing, which again made clear just what an u n b e l i e v a b l e player he was! In spite of the sad circumstances I went home inspired - probably the most beautiful legacy a musician could leave! A lot of musicians were in attendance and some of his band mates from ‘Spyro Gyra’ and the ‘Caribbean Jazz Project’ played. No one played vibes, presumably in order to make this loss tangible. A lot of stories were told . . . among other that Dave as a 9-year-old boy sat in with the Ellington band playing drums and – according to one of Dave’s brothers who told the story – had the room on its chairs! I learned something about Dave Samuels the human being that day, and more about the musician; it was a beautiful memorial in many ways . . . except for the fact that his long-time and perhaps most important collaborator and friend was hardly mentioned: David Friedman. As someone who had met both these musicians very early in their co-operation I feel entitled to say: if a hundred years from now any music of significance from our era has survived the recordings of “Double Image” will in my opinion be among it, without doubt some of the best representation of music played on vibraphone and marimba (aside from just being wonderful music). From that perspective the omission of David Friedman’s name (for the most part) was painfully felt by many that day.
Shortly after I heard about Dave’s passing and when I was asked to speak I spent some time listening to music and meditating on the effect this musician has had on my life. I wrote down some of it – read on if it interests you. I also recorded Dave’s composition “Skylight” with the very mallets I mention further down in my text:
Though our encounters over the decades were friendly and we had an easy rapport – definitely helped by his humor – I’m not meaning to pretend I am a close friend of Dave Samuels’. But I am able to tell you a bit about his impact as a musician, and his legacy far beyond just North America.
I got to see the two Daves, David Friedman and Dave Samuels early in their cooperation in 1977, and I followed it to its end.
For me – and I suspect, a great many others – the two Daves and their marimba-vibes duo ‘Double Image’ will probably be seen as their most influential and lasting musical legacy, in spite of its relative lack of ‘commercial success’ (think van Gogh). It broke totally new ground for these instruments. But this unusual pairing of unusual instruments probably camouflaged the absolutely unique pairing of two individual masters who became almost one in creating music together. Though it is sometimes even now difficult to keep the two apart when listening to their music that connection probably brought out some of the best musical qualities in each of them. They were able to transform these hunks of wood and metal into instruments of pure beauty and emotion. A rare achievement, especially with these instruments - which gave generations of players something to aspire to. I am one of them, and – in spite of having developed my own style over time (I hope) - I consider myself a representative of Dave Samuels’ (and David Friedman’s, to be sure) European legacy! When I saw Dave Samuels on different occasions – a workshop in Holland maybe 40 yrs ago, at a performance of ‘Double Image’ at ‘Sweet Basil’s’ by the end of the 70ties, during concerts with ‘Gallery’, for a demonstration of the Mallet Kat in Paris more than 30 yrs ago, a number of concerts here and there, and finally a few lessons at his family’s house in CT, we always had conversations, sometimes short, always interesting, humorous, respectful, and profound, yet light. He stopped charging me for lessons after a couple of times! In the late 80ties I sent him an adventurous LP I was part of. He sent back to my house in Germany a neat package with a long row of stamps on with and HIS newest LP in it, together with a very enthusiastic review of our LP ‘Villa Rhododendron’ (he called it an “instant classic” or so). I was perplexed that a musician of his stature would honor me with such gestures of generosity!
Profound, yet light is also how I would characterize in short both, Dave’s playing and his writing of music! And by light I don't mean superficial, rather than effortless, and accessible. Blessed with an incredible sense of time and rhythm and using a percussive approach he actually aspired to play lyrical, he once told me (“What do you practice” I once asked, he said: ”Playing out of time.”). To my ears he developed a style from these seemingly opposite parameters. And his sound was and is unique, fresh and timeless. Aside from a folder with copies of handwritten tunes of his I found a set of Dave Samuels mallets I had bought some 35 years ago – at an incredible conversion rate, the equivalent of around 500-600 Dollars in today’s value. I just had to have a slice of Dave Samuels, at almost any cost (though these mallets arrived with warped shafts, a bitter disappointment – but the sound . . . ). For the past three days I’ve been playing his beautiful composition “Skylight” with these mallets – realizing in hindsight, how much of my harmonic sensibilities was first (co-)initiated and later confirmed by his style.
Interestingly the most direct contact on a really human level we probably had during a few recent visits when Dave already had disappeared deep into his illness. I particularly enjoyed a visit at a hospital and spending a couple hours there listening to music and having conversations with David (now very limited), his friends Peter and Bob, and especially Janet, who had managed to retain a level of communication with him that quite obviously comforted him to his last moments. The choice of friends who kept up their appearances even when communication was reduced to the absolute minimum deeply touched me. And it said something about David Samuels the person beyond his public and musical persona, which was easy to like and adore!
I am referring to Dave mostly in the present form, because – though his physical manifestation may have left - his music and through it his spirit is going to stay with me and with us, no doubt! Thanks for the music, Dave.