Monday, January 07, 2019

Getting Back on Track/ Remembering Bart Wise/ Where Am I?

There should have been a 2018 wrap-up here, not to mention a few more album reviews and stories about shows. But...the holidays kept me busy. At the time, I thought they were driving me crazy, but they weren't. It was just business as usual in the retail world. Now that it's over, I'm in New York, getting ready for the Jazz Congress conference which starts in the morning. Winter Jazz Fest is already underway and there's stuff that I'm going to check out, beginning tomorrow night. This post is coming to you courtesy of my friend Sharon's apartment in Astoria. I rode up here on the Megabus this afternoon.

While I missed adding my two cents to JazzTimes' Albums of the Year list, I did get to sound off in the NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll, which was organized by the venerable Francis Davis. The results can be read here. 

But before I move forward with the events of this trip, I start with bad news. My former Bone of Contention bandmate Bart Wise passed away on December 30, after a battle with pancreatic cancer. I was lucky to see Bart back in 2016 when the Bone got back together to play at RePunk 3. It was a momentous occasion not only because I never thought it would happen, but also because both he and Sean Lally were playing in the band. That was the first and only time they were onstage together, Bart having joined the band after Sean left in 1990.

The Bone's first album, 48 Points of View (recorded when Sean was in the band), might still be the most magical one to me, since it fulfilled my lifelong dream of putting out an actual record. But the lineup with Bart (1990-1993) might have been a more creative, fertile period. It's hard to say definitively. We recorded both a single and a CD (Stay Calm), wrote a lot of songs (the ones I wrote were some of the ones for which I'm most proud) and we played the Knitting Factory, one of just a few out of town trips we made.

The thing to remember in all of this was the band was pretty egalitarian. There was no front person. We all wrote and sang. Well, Bart's token song contribution was an instrumental, and he only did a little back-up singing, but he definitely had a hand in the arrangements. But he brought energy and enthusiasm to the band. If Lila, Barb or I had the song ideas, Bart was the one to say, "Okay, let's do it." And that often meant he wanted to run through a song one more time at practice to make sure we were where we needed to be.

After a certain point, we were getting tired of "Barbie Likes to Die," a song from 48 POV that was the closest thing we had to a hit. By the time the record came out, we had been playing it for two years. But Bart had an idea. Rather than adding the occasional guitar skronk to the riff (like Sean had), Bart offered to get out his trumpet, something he knew how to play just enough to add some well-placed blats to the song. Perfect.

There comes a certain time in a band's life when they reach the limit of what they can accomplish without taking a huge leap of faith to take it to the next level. Some bands don't want to do that, preferring to quit while they're ahead or while it's still fun. Sometimes reality sets you straight about things like this. Bart left the Bone when his doctorate studies at CMU began to take up more time and the shows weren't quite as exciting as they once were. I, of course, felt like we needed to ramp things up if Stay Calm was going to go anywhere, but deep down I knew Bart was right. I couldn't fault him for throwing in the towel when you've got all that work coming up for you. Clearly he was on a track because he later did post-doc work and got courted to go for a law degree.

His wife Nancy went to high school with me and we were in marching band together. Funny thing is, she didn't meet Bart until they were out in San Francisco together. They have two kids, a son and daughter. Lila and Barb are probably going to the funeral this weekend. If I wasn't here I'd be there too. The guy were a mere 54 years old. I hope he's looking down at me and helping me follow the right path. Maybe he and Pop Shanley are hanging out. I can only hope. Even when you don't see someone very often, just knowing that they're walking the same earth as you can keep you on track. When they're gone, you can feel the loss.

1 comment:

David said...

Mike, my condolences.