Sunday, March 20, 2016

Honoring the Jazz Daddy

On Monday, March 14, 2016, I spoke at Mark Murphy's memorial, which took place at St. Peter's Church in New York City.  It was a very emotional event, which packed the venue with friends, including those who were themselves jazz artists.  In attendance were also many fans, who did not know him personally but had been moved by the legendary vocalist's music.  

As a slide show of pictures was projected on the back wall, other singers and musicians performed songs which were closely associated with Mark.  The performances were bridged with narration (thanks to writer James Gavin, who stepped in at the last minute).  These were supplemented by longer recollections from colleagues and family members, about Mark's life and career.  I've included, below, the program, which lists the songs, as well as the names of everybody who participated.

Here is my own brief contribution, about my dear, life-changing friend.  It was difficult to put my feelings into words.  I hope I have succeeded.

"I am not used to speaking before so many people, but I’ll do my best!  I am neither a performer nor a published writer on jazz, so my experience with Mark Murphy is somewhat different from most of those you will have heard today.

When I entered the Iridium in June 2004, I never dreamed it would lead to a friendship that grew ever deeper with the passing years.  Mark was just one of many singers whom I enjoyed hearing, though I had never been to one of his gigs.  To say that this experience was life-altering, is an understatement.

The Mark Murphy I came to know had many traits which might be unexpected, by those who only related to him as a singer.  He was the man who hipped me to the History Channel show, “American Pickers,” because he was into antiques.  He was obsessed with watching movies, especially classics starring Hedy Lamarr, Joan Crawford and Eleanor Powell.  Mark did not read novels only by Jack Kerouac, but also loved to dig into mysteries.  (When I gave him a copy of a jazz mystery set in Vegas, he said that Bill Moody’s description of the music scene reminded him of his gig at the Four Queens.)   He was fascinated with extraterrestrials and folks who had served in WWII.  Plus, he never ceased to love nature, in particular, flowers, trees and bodies of water.

The thing I’ll always remember most about Mark, however, was that the music was constantly inside him, as regular as breathing.  I was told he once sang to an eagle flying over his log cabin.  (Yes, folks, he lived in a log cabin.)  I personally witnessed him scatting to a tiny frog.  Mark would make up songs while crossing the street or waiting for a bus.  On one occasion, in 2013, he sat at his regular table in the dining room of the Actors Home and sang to me the entire first verse of “You Are My Sunshine,” perfectly. 

Even, when illness began to overtake him, Mark never lost his feeling for the music.  I would play him CDs and DVDs of singers and instrumentalists, ranging from Miles Davis and Maria Callas to performers new to him.  He would react in one of two ways:  either smiling broadly with his eyes open and dancing with delight, or else he would close them, as he seemed to drink in what he was hearing.  If the tracks were from his own albums, Mark would move his hands, as though he was performing on the stage.  He would sometimes move his lips, singing silently to himself. 

On the Saturday before he passed away.  I asked him what he wanted to hear and he responded, “You know what I like.”  So I put on “Maiden Voyage” by Herbie Hancock, then “Speak No Evil’ by Wayne Shorter.  As Mark listened, I looked into his soulful eyes and saw his inner beauty come out.

Mark Murphy was a great man yet so down to earth, a man and a boy simultaneously.  Yet, in spite of all he went through, he never lost his dignity.  It was like being in the presence of a great guru, one who exuded music until he took his last breath."

1 comment:

  1. This memorial was beautifully prepared and paced. I learned so much that I hadn't known about Mark Murphy. But you captured him perfectly in your final paragraph. Mark Murphy was a great man yet so down to earth, a man and a boy simultaneously. Yet, in spite of all he went through, he never lost his dignity. It was like being in the presence of a great guru, one who exuded music until he took his last breath."