More on Jonathan Bekoff
Having stumbled across a few old letters from old friend and amazing fiddler, Jonathan Bekoff (1959 – 2015), amusingly tucked away in old issues of the journal Early Music, I am prompted to add a few more reminiscences – and also make available more tracks from our tune session way back in 1983.
Although he was a bit on the shy side and typically quiet until you got him started, Jon possessed a rascally sense of humor at times, and we seemed to bring out that playful kid-like sensibility in one another. For instance, when I played a solo gig for the Corvallis Folklore Society’s “Best Cellar” coffeehouse: After a run through my repertory of esoteric songs and tunes on banjo and guitar, Jon joined me for a rousing rendition of “I’m S-A-V-E-D” from the Georgia Yellow Hammers, Jon fiddling and singing a falsetto harmony part à La Gid Tanner.
Then there was the time we played for the Corvallis Halloween dance/Talent show. We started off with a faithful facsimile of Hoyt Ming’s “Indian War Whoop” followed by the “Hawaiian War Chant” from Spike Jones, complete with spoken introduction, Spike’s unique glottal singing, and other miscellaneous pidgin-Hawaiian sounds. I can’t imagine anyone else having the essential sense of humor, the commitment and the necessary chops to pull off any of that music with a straight face, but we managed it.
In the small world of the west coast fiddle community, Jon met Meghan who joined him down the road in Eugene, Oregon, and they seemed to be haloed by cartoon hearts and chirupping lovebirds. But it was a sad occasion for me when they decided to move from Oregon to Vermont circa 1985. Even back in those days, I was aware that such a special musical connection was a rare blessing that is seldom found again, no matter how flexible and pragmatic one may be as a musician. We had one last music session before they left, madly ripping through his newly-discovered repertory of country ragtime tunes, which he knew I enjoyed tremendously.
Jon was a responsible correspondent and was very good at communicating via that now ancient mode of letter-writing. We kept in touch through letters and visiting occasionally over the next several years. I traveled to Vermont and Massachusetts for a few visits, one time meeting up at the Bread and Puppet Circus in Glover, Vermont. That particular trip, we spent an entire week catching up on tunes but, amusingly, I don’t think we ever got out of the key of A. On a visit to Greenfield after Jon bought his house there, we played tunes far too late into the night with Dedo Norris, who expertly managed to drop a flatpick mid-tune into the soundhole of her guitar three times in the span of a half-hour, causing minor stoppage while she fished out the offending plectrum. I guess some people tire of playing one chord for such a long span of time and will do anything to break the monotony.
On yet another visit to Greenfield, Jon was delighted to finally introduce me to Rose. The first order of business was a mad session of tunes and songs, Rose dutifully being the pro and stopping to take detailed notes and making a set list of all the tunes we played together just in case. After briefly discussing our various experiences in remodeling houses, Rose revealed an excellent Tom-Sawyer technique and put me to work repairing loose ceiling plaster, fitting sticky doors, installing a screw post in the basement, and helping her haul bricks from a nearby building demolition site to lay a new patio. I’ve since learned to not mention that I have those skills when in certain company.
But enough stories for now. We’ve added to our Eulalie site volume two of Tunes from the Heart of the Valley, an intentional recording of a tune session from way back in 1983. This set includes two fiddle solos by Jon and our unique made-up-on-the-spot medley of “Kitchen Boy” (a re-harmonized and re-imagined version of “Kitchen Girl”), with the finality of “Done Gone”.