The Musicians Legacy & Legends Project.
That’s the name a handful of local musicians put on a simple idea that is also noble and long overdue.
Their mission is to “preserve and bring the musical contributions of great and potentially forgotten musicians from the Spokane/Coeur d’Alene region into a new light.”
You can find that statement on the home page of the MLLP’s fledgling website (search the name at the top to find it). The site will eventually contain biographical information and actual recordings of scores of artists who deserve to be remembered.
Coeur d’Alene’s Pearl Harwood, for example.
A gifted jazz pianist, Harwood started performing in public as a 10-year-old prodigy.
That was a while ago. Harwood turns 93 in November, yet is still wowing audiences with her talent.
This is such a great idea.
I’ve spent much of my life either playing with or jawing with musicians. Too often the subject of some late-great or long-gone player will come up. Maybe ol’ whatshisname will ring a bell.
Or maybe not.
But how cool would it be to be able to open a website and actually hear a performance from the artist?
On Friday morning, some MLLP founders invited me to coffee to tell me about what they were doing.
They were: Gerald Thomas, a sax and clarinet player; percussionist Tom Schager; and Bruce Pennell, a bassist.
Getting the word out, they hope, will attract some much-needed volunteers. (Anyone who is interested in taking part should call Thomas at 509-481-1753.)
I didn’t need a whole lot of convincing.
From the interviews to the editing, doing justice to each musician is painstaking, time-gobbling work.
But the group has already made some positive headway. Volunteers from Gonzaga Law School helped with the MLLP bylaws and the legalities to make it a genuine nonprofit enterprise.
Even more important, the group has partnered with the Coeur d’Alene Public Library Foundation, which has coincidentally embarked on collecting oral histories from area residents.
The “StoryCatcher Project,” it’s called.
“It’s silly not to partner,” said Ruth Pratt, who not only represents the foundation but is a longtime vocalist with area swing and jazz bands.
Speaking of which, if the MLLP seems a bit narrowly focused on jazz, it won’t be that way forever, Schager said.
The idea is to start with cabaret musicians who have been in the area at least 40 years. Once the jazzers are covered, the project will move on to genres like rock, blues and country.
I hope this takes off. So many wonderful players have already faded from the public’s memory.
Consider the Musicians Legacy & Legends Project as a way to keep the art alive.
COLUMN UPDATE: Stringed instruments from Dutch’s will be headed soon to Paraguay thanks to a benevolent gesture from another iconic Spokane business: Huppin’s TV, Audio, Cameras and More.
On Thursday, I told you how Dutch’s owner, the late Gary Singer, planned to send his stockpile of 100 used and broken violins, violas and cellos to the famed Landfill Harmonic orchestra of Cateura, Paraguay.
The ensemble is known for getting street kids away from drugs, crime and prostitution and into playing classical music with instruments created from oil cans, soda bottles and other items they glean from dumps. Check them out on YouTube and I guarantee you’ll be blown away.
Singer died unexpectedly in February. His gift to Paraguay, however, has been kept alive by his family and by luthier Rick Rubin, who has been managing the downtown pawnshop and music store until its planned closure at the end of October.
There was only one hitch.
Rubin put the call out for boxes and packing materials to make the shipment possible. Some 60 good-hearted readers responded with various offers.
But it was Huppin’s, I’m told, that offered to pick up and pack the instruments.
Bottom line: The “Recycled Orchestra,” as the group is also called, will get this stash of real violins, etc., to fix up and play.
“I’m just very grateful for all the calls that came in,” Rubin said. “A bunch of people wanted to give donations, and I told them to go online and give the money to the orchestra.
“I can’t watch that video without getting choked up. Music is one of those things that crosses every boundary.”