Every blue moon, someone like Boyd Lee Dunlop comes along—someone who blows jazz fans' minds. In December 2011, Dunlop, a jazz pianist, was discovered in a Buffalo, N.Y. nursing home. He was profiled on NPR and in newspapers, including The New York Times (go here), and he recorded an album—Boyd's Blues.
Then everything came crashing down. The 85-year-old Boyd suffered a heart attack and was thought to be dead for about six minutes. Medics were able to get his heart beating again, and Boyd miraculously made a full recovery. So full, in fact, that he announced he wanted to leave the nursing home and record another album.
And so he did. The result is The Lake Reflections. It's one of the most penetrating solo piano albums I've heard in some time. Dunlop's sensitivity and warmth is otherworldly, and his ability to fill space with delicately ringing notes and chords will hit you squarely. [Photos above by Todd Heisler/The New York Times]
Boyd Lee Dunlop is famed drummer Frankie Dunlop's younger brother. According to Tom Lord's Jazz Discography, Boyd Dunlop appeared on just two recording sessions—one led by saxophonist Moe Koffman in 1948 and another led by Big Jay McNeely in 1953, which produced the single sides 3-D; Nervous, Man, Nervous; Rock Candy and Texas Turkey.
And that was it. Dunlop went to work at Buffalo steel mills and in the city's railyards, and he nearly ended his life in a bed. Until, that is, freelance photographer Brendan Bannon met him at the nursing home inadvertently. A connection grew and Mr. Bannon wound-up producing Dunlop's first album.
Now his second album is out and it's positively gorgeous. Dunlop carries with him a lifetime of experiences—elation, disappointment, pain, joy and patience. All are expressed here with primitive elegance. Like painter Grandma Moses, Boyd's expressions are folk-centered and wistfully improvisational.
What you learn from Dunlop's music is that the heart need not show-up dressed in tails. Sometimes you can deliver your soul in an unpolished way and still achieve the same results.
JazzWax tracks: You'll find Boyd Lee Dunlop's Lake Reflections (B Sharp) here.
JazzWax clip: Here's Boyd Lee Dunlop's From the Creekbed: