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8203: Slavin: Honoring David X. Young (fwd)
I don't think anyone has posted Dave's obituary from Sunday's Times -- it
follows. I don't know why it does not include a single reference to Haiti -- if
the reporter didn't have the space or if his daughter wanted to concentrate on
the "market-ability" of Dave's sudden legacy as a jazzman painter, or what.
I've been touched by the postings from Fritz, Cherie, and Tequila, among
others, and especially you Bob -- as David kept me posted on his rather fiery
feuds with you. The things we don't know about the politics of running this
I met David in 1989 and he was extremely helpful in getting me ready for my
move to Haiti. He remained a wise and loyal friend. Of all the doors he helped
open, two are appropriate for this message: it's because of David that I've
read the novels of Philippe Thoby-Marcelin and Pierre Marcelin (aka the
Marcelin brothers) and Alejo Carpentier's, "The Kingdom of this World." I can't
think of a better Haiti reading list.
I hope, in particular, that his work of Haiti photographs will survive and be
properly cared for. David once complemented photographer Alex Webb by saying
that "he shoots like a painter." The same applies to David's work. And people
on the list should also know that David wrote a comprehensive screenplay on US
Marine Sgt. Faustin Wirkus and his extraordinary time on La Gonave during the
US Marine occupation.
On one of his first trips back to Port-au-Prince after his Fulbright year in
Haiti in 1955, David invited his pal Zoot Sims (a regular at his jazz loft) to
come with him. Staying at the late Georgette Jean-Charles's famous bordello in
Thor, the Flamingo, Zoot took his sax to some of the Vodou ceremonies they
attended in Carrefour. That must have been something. After that trip, Zoot
turned to David and said, "If I had as much money as Frank Sinatra, I'd buy
Haiti -- and keep it exactly the way it is."
June 3, 2001
David Young Dies at 71; Painter and Friend to Jazz Artists
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
David X. Young, a painter whose rodent-infested, illegally rented loft
became a citadel of jazz improvisation and experimentation in the 1950's
and 60's, died on May 22 in Manhattan. He was 71.
The cause was a heart attack, said his daughter, Eliza Alys Young.
The loft, in an industrial building at 821 Avenue of the Americas, near
28th Street, became a gathering place for the greats of jazz, including
Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie, as
well as for utter unknowns who simply yearned to play.
Known simply as "the Sixth Avenue loft," it was one of maybe a half-
dozen places where musicians gathered at a time when various strains of
jazz — mainstream, bebop and cool, among others * were percolating.
Situated in the heart of the flower district, it was the epicenter of
what became known as loft jazz.
"By most accounts, it drew the biggest names, showcased the latest
talent and lasted the longest," said an article in the fall 1999 issue
of Double Take magazine.
"Guys played with people they'd never seen before," Bob Brookmeyer, a
trombone player, said in the article. "Whites, blacks, old guys, young
guys. Nobody cared about that stuff. We were all outlaws. Our profession
wasn't considered respectable. There was a sense we were all in it
There was no lock on the loft's front door, and it was considered bad
form to arrive before 11 p.m. There always seemed to be many pretty
young women present, and ample bourbon and marijuana. It was a spot
where Salvador Dali, Norman Mailer or Willem de Kooning might show up,
entourage in tow. "The locus of mad freedoms," Mr. Young once called the
scene that his rent bargain made possible.
"It was my great pride and privilege to have initiated and hosted the
spirit of that loft, to have lived within its joyous dark atmosphere and
shared the antic energies of my very talented friends for more than a
decade," he wrote.
Mr. Young made his remark in a book of essays accompanying two CD's
released last year by the Sunshine Group and Jazz Magnet Records. The
CD's consisted of hundreds of hours of impromptu sessions that he had
recorded at the loft.
Ms. Young, of Jacksonville, Fla., who is his only survivor, said that
the release of the CD's and the book, which included Mr. Young's
Abstract Expressionist paintings inspired by the jazz scene, had revived
his interest in art and life. National television featured reports on
his loft, as did scores of newspapers.
As a result, after many years of painting in solitude and ignoring
commercial matters, he began putting images of his paintings on the
Internet, most with $7,500 price tags. He sold them on his Web site,
He had always felt unappreciated, Ms. Young said, and was quick to
express his resentment about it.
"He saw himself as Picasso and expected everybody else to see that," she
said. "If they didn't, he didn't want anything to do with them."
David Benton Young was born in Boston on Feb. 15, 1930. Ms. Young said
he began using the middle initial X to give himself a sense of mystery.
His father, Nelson, was a trumpet player who occasionally played with
the jazz great Bix Beiderbecke. The elder Mr. Young suffered from
depression, and committed suicide days after his son was born, Ms. Young
Mr. Young was reared on Cape Cod by his grandparents, who he thought
were his parents. He believed that his free-spirited mother, Kate
Merrick, who wrote pulp novels, was his older sister. His ambition was
to play jazz, but his grandparents, thinking of his father, forbade it.
He attended the Massachusetts School of Art in Boston. In 1951, when he
was a sophomore, he exhibited his works at the Mortimer Levitt Gallery
in Manhattan. After graduating a year later, he threw his diploma in the
Charles River and headed for New York, where he became friends with
Franz Kline and de Kooning and other Abstract Expressionists who
congregated at the Cedar Bar in Greenwich Village. He needed a place to
live that would give him enough space to paint the giant canvases others
in the so-called New York School were doing.
While he was looking for a single- floor studio, the landlord at 821
Avenue of the Americas offered him the third, fourth and fifth floors
for a total of $120 a month.
"The place was desolate, really awful," he said in the article in Double
Take. "The buildings on both sides were vacant. There were mice, rats
and cockroaches all over. You had to keep cats around to fend them off.
Conditions were beyond miserable. No plumbing, no heat, no toilet, no
electricity, no nothing."
With $300 and some instruction from his grandfather, he made the place
livable. Because occupying an industrial building was illegal, he bribed
a building inspector with $75 each Christmas, he said, and kept big
plywood boxes over the beds to hide them.
He began making money by painting covers for jazz albums and also spent
more and more time in jazz clubs. "If he'd spent as much time with the
painters at the Cedar Bar as he did hanging around with us jazz guys, he
might have become recognized as one of the great painters," said Teddy
Charles, the vibraphonist.
Some of Mr. Young's friends were having trouble finding adequate
practice space, and he thought of his loft. "I checked around and found
a good piano for $50, delivered," he said. He had it hoisted up the
outside of the building, and was ready to go.
A couple of months later, the jazz composers Dick Cary and Hall Overton
each sublet a floor from Mr. Young. Mr. Cary took a grand piano to his
space, and Mr. Overton took two uprights. There were now four good
pianos in the building.
Mr. Overton and Mr. Monk, both chain smokers, met frequently in the loft
to prepare for elaborate concerts at Town Hall in 1959, Lincoln Center
in 1963 and Carnegie Hall in 1964. "They'd have the whole place filled
with smoke," Mr. Young said in Double Take. "They would sit at the two
pianos for hours, working on their charts, smoking the whole time."
Davis, Mingus and Mr. Charles used the loft to hone the sound heard on
the record "Blue Moods." Regular jam sessions were on Monday nights.
Mingus was in the loft on the night in 1955 when the Baroness Pannonica
de Koenigswarter called to tell him that Charlie Parker had just died in
her living room.
In 1957 Mr. Overton rented some of his space to the photographer W.
Eugene Smith, who shot 20,000 pictures of the sessions there. He and Mr.
Young had planned to write a book on the loft scene, but Smith died in
Mr. Young, who also made several documentaries and a science-fiction
film, was finally evicted from his illegal space in 1964. He moved to a
loft on Canal Street, where he survived by painting watercolors and
occasional album covers.
He had been thinking recently about moving to Europe. "He got what he
needed from New York," Ms. Young said.
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company