The title of my upcoming memoir cites in its title the three guideposts of my life: Friendship, Inquisitiveness and Maturation. This podcast centers on friendship, and the other two facets are naturally involved in talking about friendship. You will hear about three remarkable and talented musicians, although each is different than the others. Each of them are now joined to me in a friendship that in an earlier stage of my life could not have been imagined. The three men are jazz pianist, composer, and educator, Ran Blake, conductor, educator, and organizer, Benjamin Zander, and longtime Boston Pops conductor, and Boston Symphony violinist, the late Harry Ellis Dickson. Let’s take Ran first.
I met Ran almost twenty years ago in my early years as a writer when I was assigned by Oral History of American Music (OHAM) at Yale University to record a conversation with him about his life. I did that in a way natural to me by approaching Ran as a person rather than a celebrity, and asking him somewhat prying questions another might not, as well as offering my own views as we went along. Ran made no objection, and we conversed easily as two friends might. Our conversation, and another in later years assembling my current book, “Intimate Conversations: Face to Face With Matchless Musicians,” revealed the manifold talents and personal characteristics that make this modest polymath a cultural resource and a warm and generous friend to many. From the start we did become good friends. Through him I entered into a social circle of musicians at the New England Connservatory of Music, including such notables as Eden MacAdam-Somer (who is a chapter in “Intimate conversations”), and Hankus Netsky, co-chairs succeeding Ran at the head of the Improv Department at NEC, Eden’s husband, trombonist, Aaron Hartley, and others. Along the way, Ran and my wife, Lois, became fast friends.
Ben Zander is the opposte of Ran in many ways. While one would never describe Ben as modest, one would have no hesitancy in describing him as a great man. A case in point is his feat of organizing and conducting the now renowned Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. That celebrated assemblage demonstrates Ben’s lifelong commitment to the development of young people as musicians, and as people invested in improving the world around them. Under the same roof is the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, where talented adult musicians find a home. Both orchestras are rated worldwide as excellent. Each has a big following. Combine that with Ben’s many years as a now retired professor at the Conservatory, a best selling author of the book, “The Art of Possibility,” with his former wife Rosamund Zander, and his many contributions to the Boston community, with his incredible youth, and you have a true life story stronger than fiction. Consider that Ben emerged from an amazingly accomplished family, lived in his boyhood years with renowned musicians Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears, and Imogen Holst, and traveled around Europe with world class cellist, Gaspar Cassado! After a slow start, a close friendship sprung up between Ben and me too, as has happened with many of the musicians included in “Intimate Conversations,” all following my approach to them as people, not as icons.
I deem each of them smarter than me, but who among us does not want the hand of friendship held out to them. That can happen on short notice as well, as when I met the elegant and multi-talented, Harry Ellis Dickson, for many years both the Associate Conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra, and for forty-nine years a violinist in the Boston Symphony Orchestra, following his early stay in Germany, honing his craft and witnessing the rise of Naziism! Harry is the father of Kitty Dukakis, loyal wife of old friend, Michael Dukakis. Harry and I shared some personal words at his bedside minutes after I interviewed him for my TV show, words engendered by how warmly we connected on that show.
Friendship is really the subject of this podcast. It is the idea that approaching anybody in friendship whether he or she is rich, poor, educated or not, black, white or in-between, famous or a genius, or just plain folks, is likely to get a warm reception, and more than likely way more than that.
Listen to this podcast to learn a lot more about these three gentlemen, and the idea of friendship.
People, Always People!