Monday, November 23, 2009

Goodbye, gospel man

It is funny, the people who cross your path. During the months I was out in California with Leonard Pennario, we went to Steinway Day, a gathering of Steinway dealers and artists. We sat at this table that included another pianist. His name was Larry.

I could not remember Larry's last name and I had never heard of him. But everything turns out to be written down somewhere and just this morning I was working on this one chapter of my book that deals with this Steinway Day event, which was quite the experience. And I found an old account of it I had typed up when I was back in California. And there was Larry's last name, Dalton.

Hmmm, I thought. I should call him sometime. He was sitting next to me at that dinner and I remembered how nice he had been, also that he respected Pennario so much. And this was a memorable evening we had shared. It might be interesting to get in touch with him and see what he remembered of it, see what his impressions were of Pennario, this great pianist who was then in his last days.

So I got on the Internet and I looked up Larry Dalton.

And I find Larry Dalton is dead!

I could not believe it. He was not that old! The obituary gave his age as 63. I thought he was younger than that, even, but 63 is not old.

It happened earlier this year and I guess it was sudden. Someone wrote that he was in excellent shape and his death came with absolutely no notice.

Dalton lived in Tulsa, Okla. I remember that from the dinner. Larry and I did a lot of gabbing while Pennario sat there disapprovingly. Pennario wanted me to focus on him. Well, he knew I loved him.

At one point we had a situation because Dalton asked Pennario for an autograph and there was a mix-up. I got mixed up and told Pennario that Dalton's first name was Jerry. In any case the autograph was made out to Jerry and there was a Jerry across the table who pocketed it. And when I tried to get Pennario to write out another autograph to Larry, not Jerry, he got all snarky about it. Well, the story did end happily with Dalton getting an autograph. I wonder where it is now.

Googling Larry Dalton just now I still wrote "Jerry," not "Larry." I could not believe that. I will never learn!

Larry Dalton was a gospel pianist and he was renowned in his field. His Web site puts it that he is a pianist "whose roots go back to revival meetings in Big Stone Gap, Virginia." I have never heard of Big Stone Gap, Va., but if you are that kind of a pianist that sounds like a good place to be from, I will say that. By the way it is strange how people's Web sites go on forever. Larry Dalton was probably the only person who could get in to edit his Web site so he will live on there forever, always in the present tense.

There are all kinds of tributes, mostly on Christian music sites. Here is a memorial someone put up on YouTube to Larry Dalton. It is kind of touching. I am a trad Catholic and my personal tastes run more to Mozart and Gregorian Chant. But I respect our American gospel tradition. There is nothing else in the world like it.

Here is Dalton rocking out to "Summertime."

And there I was at Steinway Day, sitting between these two dead pianists.

Life is short, you know?

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