Friday, March 2, 2012

Eulogy for My Dearest Friend

Mike Melvoin Memorial Service Friday, March 2 2012
Los Angeles, CA

Eulogy by Gunther Weil

I’m sad that I’m unable to be with all of you today in person, but I hope these words in honor of my dearest friend will help to convey both my spirit and support for this community as we make friends with our grief and simultaneously celebrate the life of our beloved Mike.

Mike and I were friends for almost 70 years. I was 7 years old when we first met. He was like a brother to me-the brother I never had.

We met my first day of school in Milwaukee. I arrived a few days after school began in the fall of 1944 and was brought to the 2nd grade classroom at the Milwaukee State Teachers College by my father who was a psychology professor at the school. I remember hesitating at the door to the classroom, feeling both shy and a bit anxious. Dad gently pushed me through the door and I was warmly greeted by the teacher and introduced to the class. All the kids, about 12 or so were siting cross- legged on the floor and I remember a small sea of faces looking at me with curiosity or indifference. But then I saw two of the kids sitting next to each other who were looking at me in a way that I had no words for at that age but would describe today as open-hearted. They suddenly parted, and one of them signaled with a big smile, and “come over here wave” of his hand, pointing to the space between them. I did as beckoned. That kid was Mike and the other kid was Ben Zitron. The three of have been the closest of friends since that day.

As youngsters and later as teenagers Mike and I deeply shared a love of music, Bebop-in particular. We found in Bebop a marriage of heart and intellect that was incredibly seductive. We relished listening to the early music of Bird. Dizzy, Miles, Sonny, Lenny Tristano, and the other jazz pioneers of that era. We also spent numerous evenings together at the very few jazz clubs in Milwaukee. Can you visualize a couple of 14-15 year old finger snapping- head nodding wanna-be arch cool hipster white boys hanging out with the wise but bemused and gentle Afro American jazz musicians who welcomed us into their lairs? I guess you could say we were a bit ahead of our time. Our bible was Norman Mailer’s essay: "The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster" which we read and re-read avidly and were fond of rebelliously quoting to excess much to the chagrin of our Jewish parents.

In those days Mike would occasionally be invited to sit in with the legendary Bunky Green quartet. Bunky is one of the great Bebop alto horn players of that era who presciently saw Mike’s talent and potential and was tremendously encouraging.

Over the years, in addition to frequent long phone calls and much later, emails animatedly discussing politics trading the latest gags, and stories of our exploits, I would meet Mike when I came to LA and was able to see him in the recording studio working with his peers both as pianist and arranger. On those occasions I was consistently struck by his natural sense of leadership, usually expressed through his humor. He one-liners would crack up the band and they would, in turn play their asses off, sometimes parodying the charts when the gig was bubblegum music and the microphones/tape deck were off and sometimes when they weren’t. Mike was a beloved mentor to many of those musicians and to many other people as well who were touched by his warmth and decency as much as by his talent.

I remember him calling me when he was elected as the first working musician head of NARAS. He was so excited about the gig and the potential to really educate people about the depth and breadth of the American Song Book and the staying power of real music. Again, Head and Heart combined in Mike so wonderfully as an educator.

I’ve got so many Mike stories to tell and perhaps there will be another occasion to share them. But for now I’ll let it be and simply say that I love you Mike and I’ll miss you terribly. You will remain in my heart as long as I am vertical and maybe beyond.


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