Thursday, March 31, 2022

In Memoriam/Music Heals

Hey there – I’m Patrick Brown the owner of Twist & Shout (and it still feels weird for me to being saying that!). As you have probably read, I bought the store from Paul & Jill Epstein in early March. The day after I took over, we learned that local jazz legend Ron Miles – who has long been a friend of the store and one of the nicest guys I’ve had the pleasure of talking music with here – passed away at age 58. And then, in another sad turn of events, one of our beloved employees, manager Kevin McGrellis, suffered a seizure and heart failure that lead to his passing at age 31. Certainly this was not the happy beginning to my store that I’d envisioned.

Last week, I had the pleasure of once again attending the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee. Big Ears is a multi-genre festival that presents innovative music in all genres, and it just so happened that Ron had been scheduled to perform there this year as he had in the past. It’s also a festival that featured a number of musicians Kevin loved – or would have loved had he attended and gotten to see them. And shortly after settling in to the city I realized that there was yet another facet of the festival; this year there was a focus on New Orleans and Haitian/Caribbean musics, something that another recently departed friend of the store, Pete Fassoulis, lived and breathed.

With all this, I began the festival more than a little heavy of heart, starting things only minutes after arriving in the center of town by seeing Patti Smith, a musician who’s never shied away from dealing with death in her music and writing, and her words about her own departed friends and family resonated with me as I thought about my friend Kevin. And I couldn’t help but think about the fact that the festival would also bring me to see the quartet of Bill Frisell, Brian Blade, Thomas Morgan, and Jason Moran, who recorded with Ron on his terrific Rainbow Sign album and would be playing a set exclusively dedicated to his music, and Myra Melford, whose group Snowy Egret included Ron on trumpet (replaced at the festival by Cuong Vu) and who dedicated her set to him (the spirit of Ron hovered over the whole festival, really); additionally, I’d be hearing the New Orleans music Pete loved throughout the weekend nearly everywhere I walked during the days – pouring out of Boyd’s Jig & Reel in the Old City part of downtown, in parades, and on outdoor stages designed to get everyone partying.

But something switched the next morning when I went to check out 75 Dollar Bill, a band I’d read a decent amount about but had not heard. As I listened to this 9-piece “Little Big Band” perform their lengthy, groove-laden music - there were several percussionists and two bassists who played polyrhythms over which guitarist/founder Che Chen, two violinists, or multi-reed player Cheryl Kingan could solo in any direction - I locked into the grooves with the band, enjoying their interplay and musicianship into which they would periodically interject beautiful, melodic themes that rose up out of the ensemble, and a grin broke out on my face every time. I simply could not resist the pure joy and uplift of the music. It made me recognize that each of these people – Kevin, Ron, and Pete – had all derived such happiness from music that I couldn’t stay in the funk I had started things in, even if it meant laughing at something with tears in my eyes because it hit me so emotionally right.

And it’s that spirit that took me through the quartet tribute to Ron’s music, through Myra Melford’s group, through the Krewe du Kanaval dance party and hearing Preservation Hall Jazz Band outside the restaurant they were playing in, through Patti’s full band set the second night, through Annette Peacock’s harrowing set (Kevin woulda loved it, but you can bet that Pete wouldn’t!), and through to the John Zorn ensembles that closed out the festival for me. It was the spirit of the music, and the spirit of joy. The music was a healing balm for me in a sad time. It is what brought all of us together as people – brought me together with everyone else in these rooms digging on the same music I was enjoying, brought me together with the friends I used to see once a year who traveled to Knoxville for the first time since 2019 (and who I didn’t get enough time to hang with because there was always more music to go hear!), brings us all together here every day.

Music heals, friendship heals. Keep them both prominent in your life, always.

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