Even if many jazz fans don’t know his name, we’ve all seen the photographs of Duncan Schiedt, who began chronicling the music in 1939.
I’ve been encountering Duncan at the Athenaeum Hotel — for the annual September Jazz at Chautauqua (now the Allegheny Jazz Festival) — for the past nine years, and have always enjoyed his impromptu solo piano recitals in the parlor.
Undismayed by whatever might be going on around him — consider the wedding party trotting through the scene during YOUTH — Duncan moves easily from one song to another, keeping his left hand gently moving, modestly embellishing the melodies as he goes, making the piano sing in an understated way. I had my camera with me this last September, and at the Beloved’s urging, I recorded a few minutes of an informal Schiedt recital.
Piano aficionados will hear the kind of sweet melodic homages we associate with Jess Stacy and with the more obscure Chicagoan Jack Gardner (with touches of Bix and Joe Sullivan also!) — a style that is tenderly respectful yet always moving along. I like to imagine that Duncan, without camera or notebook, himself embodies a great tradition by playing piano the way it used to be played, the common language of song in motion.
AS LONG AS I LIVE / MEMORIES OF YOU:
BLAME IT ON MY YOUTH:
SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY:
Now, knowing that Duncan goes back to 1939 in his jazz photography, one might guess that he is an Elder of the Tribe, and we know him to be an honored one.
But I offer him as proof that music — making it or being absorbed in it wholly — is a sure way to stay young. The man at the piano was born in 1921, which would make him 92, more or less, at the time of these performances.
And whether subliminally or intentionally, his song choices come back to the verities of our and his existence: Life, Memories, Youth, and Happiness. Thank you, Duncan, for reminding us of the beauty that never grows old.
May your happiness increase!