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Farewell to Boyd Lee Dunlop

Boyd

By Mary Kunz Goldman

It is a sad day today in Buffalo because of the passing of Boyd Lee Dunlop. Dunlop, who reportedly died last night, was a great jazz pianist and even greater spirit.

Dunlop's hit CD "Boyd's Blues" captured worldwide attention in 2012 when it shot to No. 5 on the jazz charts. The world was enchanted not only by the fragile, soulful music but also by the surreal circumstances surrounding the recording. Dunlop was in his 80s, living in a nursing home. He had already cheated death several times.

I got to meet him in January, when he was coming out with his new CD, "The Lake Reflections." We met in the Delaware Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, where he lived. I was introduced to him by Brendan Bannon, the extraordinary friend Dunlop made late in life. Bannon was instrumental in bringing about Dunlop's CD. He spent countless hours and days with Dunlop in the nursing home, including in the pianist's last hours. Dunlop used to tell him, "You gave me back myself."

Meeting Dunlop was a wonderful experience. People used to tell him, "Boyd, you light up the room," and that day in January, I saw it was true. There was nothing like the sight of Boyd Lee Dunlop, tall and lean, swaggering into a room -- and even at 86, he did swagger -- wearing a cowboy hat and a bright mischievous smile.

That he died at Christmastime could be called appropriate. Boyd loved God. Brendan Bannon, who was with us that January day in the nursing home, said as much. 

"You talk about God a lot, man, don't you?" Brendan said to him.

"I do," Dunlop said. When you complimented him on his playing, he used to point heavenward and say, "It comes from God." There were other memorable musicians in history -- Franz Josef Haydn was one -- who used to do and say that same thing.

Dunlop also took a delight in life. I remember that Brendan good-naturedly baited him: "Now you're walking on the graves of people who said you couldn't do it, aren't you, Boyd?"

And Boyd said, "That's right. I feel good!"

He sat down at the nursing home spinet that day and played for anyone and no one. When he took a break, it was great fun to hear him talk about piano and pianists.

"Earl Hines was old-fashioned even when I was a kid," he laughed. And: "Rachmaninoff was really beautiful. Thick hands, but agile." And: "Art Tatum didn't drink whiskey, only beer."

He is survived by his brother, the drummer Frankie Dunlop, who was famous for performing with Thelonious Monk. It is poignant now to think that Boyd Lee Dunlop has gone to join other jazz greats who have left us. He will be remembered -- as a warm spirit, a bright presence, an inspiration to us all.

"I reached up to the sky and brought the house down," he laughed back in January. 

"God gave me the talent."

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