Music and Dance – tribute to Evan on his 60th
I don’t remember the first time I met Evan, but I do remember the conversation with Hankus Netsky when he told me about a student of his at the Conservatory – the wonderful musician/composer he recommended I work with. Evan and I worked together in the dance studio and with my company Zellsworth Dancers, for the years those two entities existed – until 1984. I always thought of Evan as a partner in my work – both as an accompanist and as a composer. And the fact that he married one of the beloved dancers in the company – Renee Caso – was icing on the cake.
Of particular note in our professional life was what Evan contributed to the last piece of choreography I created for the company in 1983 – Weave of Women. It was after my daughter Alison was born, and I knew that I didn’t have the attention span or the time to work in my accustomed process. I decided that the longest strand of work I might be able to sustain was about 2½ minutes. I asked Evan to compose sections of that duration, and we talked at length about texture, rhythm, intent and what my process was likely to be working with the dancers. As he brought the sections to me – some after the choreography had been established, some that inspired the dance – it was clear to me that he had found the core of what I was trying to express. Weave of Women remains one of the pieces I hold most fondly in my heart. It exemplified the process I most enjoyed in working with Evan; it was a tribute to the dancers; and it was my farewell gift to the dancers in the company. And Evan’s music is what helped tie it all together and to make it a very special creation.
One of my favorite memories of Evan was when he was recuperating from his stroke in the rehab facility. You brought him his accordion which Evan hadn't played in while. Evan wasn't sure if the stroke might have taken his nimble fingers away. So with some trepidation, we 4 went down to an open room off the lobby. Evan did a few scales and then launched into "Lady of Spain" or some such accordion classic. We all breathed a sigh of relief and Evan proceded to give us a private concert filled glorious music. I had to walk away at one point because I started to tear up from happiness!
For me, music is one of life’s true elixirs. There are occasions I encounter, every once in a great while, when music takes me to heights that almost nothing else can. It’s usually live music that does this, and it’s difficult to explain. It almost feels as though something chemically occurs in my body and I experience a sensation of intense happiness, excitement and contentment all at once. It’s a fine place to be.
It’s been more than a treat to listen to Evan play in his various ensembles over the years (even if it did often involve an accordion). Whether he is playing his own compositions or in somebody else’s ensemble, you can always count on an evening of high quality music and entertainment.
There was one night in particular I want to recall here. It was a few years ago, I believe (of course, I could be off by a few years) and Evan was playing in Framingham at Amazing Things with a group called Alma. The band was sensational, top notch musicians at the top of their game prodded on by a kick-butt percussionist. You could sense how much the musicians were reveling in the experience.
During one of Evan’s solos that night, he got going in a way I hadn’t seen before. I think the intensity of the evening had manifested itself in his fingers at that moment. What he did was amazing and I found myself transported to that state of being I tried to describe above. I was blown away. The whole evening was sensational, but those few moments stick in my memory. I remember talking to Evan afterward and you could see that he, too, had felt it was a special night. I tried to tell him what he had done to me in that solo, taking me to that rare music-listening pinnacle, but I’m not sure I did it justice. So I thought that on the esteemed occasion of his 60th birthday, I would tell him again!
Well, there were a million Wednesday evenings late-ish after yoga when I would come home with Renee to your cheery self and the smell of pesto and salad or some exotic experiment you were doing out of Crank’s Fast Food timed to be done just after we arrived. But not before getting to play with cavorting cats and one time one untempered young Turk hurling himself through the air to land with a pincer grip on your back. Oh, and bread and infused oil and just the right amount of wine in hand-blown glasses and usually divvied portions of chocolate so we all tasted everything. So scrumptious, so civilized, so European, so much better than the pot of rice I probably would have made for myself at home. It was almost as good as the spirited conversations we embarked on over the food – which I consider instances of your signature energy and enthusiasms. So worth the heavy price of having to do dishes after 9:00pm!
Way back when, you had a long beard. I remember watching you in a concert and wondering how that worked with an accordion. And you said it did get caught and it hurt!
You know I have nudie pictures of you and Renee skinny-dipping!!
Chairs, chairs, chairs and more chairs, 44 or so! Schlepping up and down and my worry wart, fuss-budget tendencies getting the upper hand – was the food right, was there enough wine, was so and so going to show? And then finally when you guys took the stage and you could joke and everything was right and all that disappeared and there was only the moment to moment infinite transcendence of your music. Coco Eyes, Coach, Norwegian Slip….the interlacing lines with Ima’s violin, Adam, Andy. Those arresting moments when time stops and that’s all there is. OK, earlier with Claudio, at your neighbors around the corner, at Johnnie D’s, in JP, lying on massive piles of rugs in Newton Lower Falls!, in the South End with Fernando, more recently at Ryles with that hot guitar player.
Happy 60th Evan! You remain in my mind a fabulous adversary - Iowa? (my home state) or California (your home state) ? Where would you rather be??? I always stood up for Iowa in our many arguments. And of course now that years have passed, I am now an Iowan living in California (in fact, in exactly the town in Southern California you thought I might end up in) In fact, the town you showed me on a map 20 years ago at the end of a high desert chaparral canyon in Orange County.
I will also say that you graciously called me about 10 years ago to tell me that you were on tour in a wonderful place, called Iowa City, with the Von Trapp family, staying in a great b and b on the Iowa River where you could ride bikes up the riverside. And therefore, you could now appreciate that there were some real merits to Iowa.
So Evan, you have some qualities that I deeply appreciate- and no matter how frustrated I was at your inability to appreciate the Midwest, you also have wisdom that I must acknowledge. It is nice to have a lemon tree in my backyard. And a pacific ocean nearby- You were right.
When I think about our long -standing friendship, (35 years??) I also have to think about the fact that you guys have been pillars of consistency and stability and love - the friends I could travel to see 3000 miles away, sobbing at the dissolution of my marriage; and the friends I spent vacation time with in rain (yes, there were puzzles in Maine ) and in sunshine here in California. This counts for allot in the world.
So happy birthday Evan- you are a gem of a guy. And I count you as one of my true friends.
I first became aware of Evan Harlan when I received a wedding invitation from my dear friend Renee. She was going to marry this guy named Evan. The invitation graphic included a photo of Renee and Evan sitting at their kitchen table (or at least that's what it looked like.) And from the angle of the photograph Evan appeared to be a little wimpy guy. "Hmmm… a keyboard player", I thought to myself.
With Renee and Evan living in Boston and I living in New York as I did (and do) …and Renee and I not having fully re-established our friendship post-high school...it turned out to be a number of years before I actually met Evan.
Imagine my surprise to discover that he was in no way a little wimpy guy…but a tall and confident presence... who, it was immediately clear to me, made my dear friend Renee very, very happy.
The truth is I was intimidated by Evan for a long time. Not because of his personality or demeanor. He couldn't have been more accessible or welcoming. But I'm an amateur bassoon player and Evan is PRO!!! And a gentlemen. I have strong memories of his patience and indulgence whenever I attempted to talk music with him (particularly because I know almost nothing about the genres in which Evan was so expert.) And I remember one particular act of generosity when, while he and Renee were visiting me in NY, he graciously agreed to read through the Mozart Bassoon Concerto with me. It was clearly not a peak musical experience for Evan but it was a thrill for me. And I'll never forget it.
Happy birthday Evan. You duh man!
Evan - we have known you for many years, but this was the first image that popped into my mind.
We are at the a play in Cambridge in a small venue. You are the music guy and one of your responsibilities is to play a toy piano. In my memory I see the white toy piano up in the window on the right with a shadowy Evan behind it. It makes me smile because I loved the play, the acting was superb and Steve and I got to hang out and eat something yummy with Evan and Renee afterwards.
It was a splendid night.
Thinking about Turkey Day, way back when, it might have been Christmas. But whatever celebration, we were enjoying Renée’s delicious gloggia. Several glasses later… we needed a refill and Evan volunteered. The next batch didn’t taste quite the same… somehow some turkey fat found its way into our glasses. We had a good laugh.
Candice and David’s wedding was a picture perfect day and a fabulous celebration of two love birds. Much the same as Evan & Renée. Just look at those photos! Hiking with our good friend and bud, Jeff, drinking champagne and off to dance the night away. Not photographed, but supremely enjoyed was Evan’s accordion playing the night before.
Evan eyeing the hand-turned legs for the pantry project. Oh the fun that we had on home projects!
For 60 years you have been celebrating your birthday and we have too, just not every one. To the many sixty celebrations and the seventy thereafter. You are so loved!
Evan is such a fine and versatile musician. We spent many years together in the Klezmer Conservatory Band where he could anchor the rhythm section or step out front and knock out audiences with his accordion skills. When I was working on albums with folksinger Mary McCaslin and storyteller Sharon Kennedy, Evan came to the studio and added exactly the right parts - to a traditional Celtic tune or a moody original song. And then there was the time he gave me a private concert of one of Chopin's Ballades on the grand piano in his living room. Eclecticism, skill, musicianship, emotion - he has it all.
Anyway, there we were in the green room at the Berklee Performance Center a few years ago, waiting to take the stage for a KCB reunion concert, and I, having developed a strange interest in nice suits, thought I was speaking with just the right person. After all, Evan plays gig after gig, which gives him the opportunity to exhibit a nice variety of sartorial splendor....
"Where do you buy your suits?" I asked him.
Evan shocked me by saying that he only had one, the one he was wearing - a modest black suit.
"OK, then, where do you buy your suit?" I said.
We both laughed and he explained that he'd gotten it many years ago at Keezers, the place where local musicians buy inexpensive black suits.
I think there's something to be learned here, but I haven't learned it. I want to buy a new suit, and I already have a few. But Evan, a life-long, well-known, in-demand, extraordinary musician only has one. Just one suit - to wear in Melbourne, to wear in Cracow, to wear in the function hall at Temple Beth El, to wear at Ryles. One suit that's heard a dazzling variety of music, and seen a thousand places. One suit!
As you celebrate your 60th birthday, I feel it necessary to remind you of some of the past endeavors we had together.
The Boat Cover:
After my surgery in 2001, I downsized to a 17 ft. boat. Having had a cover for a 23 foot boat, you and I, during Thanksgiving, 2002, proceeded to construct a framework that would support that enormous cover and also be storageable in the off season. We had a ball, freezing fingers, drilling, sawing, screwing (not in that sense, sorry!!!) and finishing a structure that lasted many years, as well as enjoying a great Thanksgiving Day celebration!
The Shelf Supports:
So, Barbara and I are at your house and you remark that you would like to get some spindles for a pair of shelves you would like to build in the pantry. As a matter of fact, you asked if I had a lathe. Other than, perhaps being able to spell lathe, you had little idea about what would be involved in making spindles. Well, I did make them and presented them to you that Christmas and you not only loved them, we constructed the shelves, painted them and installed them, and to this day they remain a reminder of our fun building stuff together!
The Side View Mirror:
I forget exactly when, but you needed to replace the side view mirror on your car. Barbara and I were at your house and you asked me to assist you in this endeavor. Since you were the technician, and I was simply the assistant, I remember your policy with repairing things seemed to be “if it doesn’t fit, get a bigger hammer!” With the fury of a mountain lion, and the strength of a body builder, you proceeded to rip off the old mirror, slam in the new one, and force seemingly unprepared screws into sheet metal so fast that I had to ask, “Do you do everything at 90 mph?!!” To which you laughingly responded, YES!
With some trepidation, I agreed to go canoeing with you and Renee. I have forgotten the time and place of departure, but you, Renee, Barbara and I began our journey nicely. Unfortunately, while you and Renee plied the waters as efficiently as our ancestors’ navigated streams and lakes, Barbara and I circled incessantly, barely traveling a few hundred yards per hour. Thankfully, nary a word was ever spoken about how pathetic we were.
Evan, your workshop is similar to most husbands. Need a wrench??? It’s here, somewhere. Have a drill??? Oh yeah, here it is, but the battery is dead. We need to recharge it. Do you have some 2 inch screws? Yeah, they’re here somewhere, or maybe they’re upstairs on the porch. Well, ‘whatever’, (to be explained in more detail below) we have to do, let’s do it. (at 90 mph I must remind you all!!!)
This was an adventure, similar to you guys moving upstairs. Barbara, me, Lefty Laura and Don all pitched in to reconstruct the ailing carport on the side of the house. Your phrase, Evan, “whatever!”, was premier in our minds as we cut wood (whatever), used the same configuration (whatever), made the same rectangles (whatever) resulted in a similar, sturdy carport that all of us, including the vines, were proud of!
Evan, as you leave the “F” years and enter the “S” years, continue your yearning for love, happiness, family and friendships as you have done so brilliantly in the past. May you celebrate this birthday, and many more ahead, knowing how much you are loved.