David Griggs-Janower was a true maestro
How sad to hear that David Griggs-Janower has died.
David was one of the most complete musicians I’ve ever known, a unique talent and a remarkable human being, a maestro for real. He built and played his own instrument, Albany Pro Musica, assembled of singers and powered by his passion for blended voices.
This was serious work, but the first time I saw him play Albany Pro Musica was also pretty silly. Albany Pro Musica sang behind Judy Collins at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall years ago, first opening the show then accompanying her. David played it straight at the start: some carols and hymns.
Then something strange happened: The singers, dressed impeccably and singing perfectly, suddenly got lost in “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Its familiar verses came up out of order in the sheet music they frantically ruffled in growing panic. There was confusion, consternation, a conflagration of laughs.
Being seriously funny while making serious music is a very rare thing. These were seriously good singers executing to perfection a classy slapstick joke. And nobody enjoyed this perfectly simulated faux train wreck more than David. He was a complete musician because he played his instrument for both profound and profoundly humorous effect. He painted with the whole human palette of artistic expression, making him one of our greatest hometown giants.
David’s family will greet friends and loved ones today from 4 to 7 p.m. at the First Reformed Church (8 N. Church St., Schenectady), and a memorial celebration will follow on Friday at 11 a.m. at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall (30 Second St., Troy).
The Monday Gazette announcing David’s death also cited the Farmer’s Almanac to predict a cold winter, suggesting that storms might mess with the Super Bowl in the Meadowlands in February. It made me think about the effect of weather on music.
Bad weather understandably discourages people from going out to shows, and I’ve bailed on a few. But going through with it often proves well worth the risk. Going to see Richard Thompson for the first time meant risking icy roads from here to the Iron Horse and back. But it was worth it just to hear “Ghosts in the Wind.” (When I requested in an interview that he sing it at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, he demanded I wear a clown suit, stand and shout it out. I didn’t, yet he sang it anyway — but I digress.)
Weaving uphill through steep, snowy streets to see Emerson, Lake and Palmer at RPI, we could feel my friend Don’s Pontiac lose traction and thought we’d be stuck there, immobile, waiting to be hit from behind. But we made it and saw a good one.
Rain keeps fans away, too. Bad mistake. Tote rain gear, and get ready for a good one.
When Maura O’Connell played a free Music Haven show years ago in soft rain, I shared my umbrella with one old friend and two new ones, all happy to hear her in the wet. The late, great Peter Allen played a Saratoga Performing Arts Center show on a night so stormy that, seated dead center, I got wet from both sides at once. He gave us old-school song and dance mastery, spiked with irony and angst.
After sending in my review for the next day’s Gazette, I drifted onto the stage and met him in jeans, T-shirt and sweatband, supervising load-out. I told him how impressed I was with the unique pizzazz of his show and he said, “Nobody else wants the job!” Also at SPAC, thunder and lightning kept some fans away, but Carlos Santana and his band played a stunning set anyway.
Then there’s heat. When the AC failed at the old Bogie’s (when Howard Glassman ran the place) during an NRBQ show, then-’Q soundman and now occasional saxophonist Klem Klimek took off his T-shirt at the sound board and literally wrung it out. When he tried to put it back on at the end of the night, it had shrunk so he couldn’t wrestle back into it. ’Q fans still talk about the heat that night, but they really talk about that show.
Why? What makes musicians perform better in bad weather? It’s pretty consistent: bad weather, good show. Extra-sensitive beings, musicians respond to risk, adversity and electricity in the air by playing better. They reward fans who brave the elements to come see them in bad weather. They rise to the occasion.
There’s also a more practical factor here. I noticed during a rainy-night show that the music sounded unusually clear and strong. Afterwards, I asked the soundman why that was so.
He pointed to the speakers and said, “It’s all paper.” He said that high humidity — and the humidity couldn’t have been higher that night — makes paper speaker cones denser so they project sound better.
Not to worry
So, don’t worry if it rains on you at John Mayer on Friday at SPAC, or if it rains on Saturday, when Zac Brown plays SPAC, the Felice Brothers and others play Opus 40 and Harry Connick Jr. visits Tanglewood. Or even on Sunday, when Joe Nichols plays at the Columbia County Fair, or on Wednesday when Kid Rock, ZZ Top and Uncle Kracker hit SPAC.
Make sure you get to Kid Rock on time to see his openers, and dig this Kid Rock story I wished I’d remembered to tell David Griggs-Janower. I can see him laughing over his Guinness now.
Big Al Anderson (who survived that super-hot Bogie’s NRBQ show) and my brother Jim Hoke wrote a song called “I Got Everything” that Al pitched to the late and very great George Jones. Jones liked it, and planned to record it as a duet with Kid Rock. Jones recorded his vocal, but Kid Rock never showed up: Kid Rock no-showed George “No Show” Jones, notorious for missing shows!
Uncle Kracker, ZZ Top and Kid Rock play in that order, starting at 6:45 p.m. on Wednesday at SPAC. Lawn seats remain, at $24. Phone 800-745-3000 or visit www.livenation.com/venues/14310/saratoga-performing-arts-center.
Reach Gazette columnist Michael Hochanadel at email@example.com.