After 20 Years: An Appreciation
Sometimes, when I look back, it feels most like a friendship. After all, it's been twenty years! I've seen and heard him in any number of settings: clubs, libraries, hospices, concert venues, festivals, amphitheaters, recording studios, vineyards, and conferences, to name but a few. He's been the performer; I've been the listener, the observer, the beneficiary of his incredible and eclectic musical contributions. I'm also happy to have had the pleasure of featuring him in a variety of Jazz in the Afternoon concerts when I was with Chemeketa Community College , and he's appeared as well in the Four Seasons Jazz Concerts I've produced and hosted in collaboration with Willamette Valley Vineyards.
Whatever the venue, and whatever the configuration he is featured in on any given occasion, he excels: inventing new sounds and expressions with his electronic ensemble, Go By Train, playing new songs and inventively re-working earlier standards with his long-standing trio, performing amazing straight ahead exchanges with Tony Pacini in Mel Brown's quartet, laying down funk with Mel's quintet, playing duet with Randy Porter in a humanities conference I managed, doing a whole night of ballads with Bill Beach at Remo's way back when, or playing Monday nights at Ugashi's with bassist, Jeff Leonard, just as long ago. The man is a consummate artist as well as a most approachable, warm, and self-effacing one. And by no means of least importance: a highly energetic worker, always ready to try new things with new people wherever and whenever possible.
And the hospice, the library? There he was with George Mitchell and Carlton Jackson, outdoors on a warm June night, playing a free concert for appreciative men and women living in the last stage of their lives, one of them having been rolled out, propped up in his bed, visibly smiling to the music. And when they opened the new Hillsdale library a few years back, someone had the good sense to look to Dan Balmer and Jeff Leonard to add some class to the occasion. Dan has another quality that's hard not to love: when he looks out into the audience and recognizes you, you know he appreciates your being there.
What he may not know, however, is just how much his special genius means to those of us for whom live-performed jazz in its many guises is such a joy!