RIP: Paul Pines, 1941-2018
Story and photograph by J Hunter
John Lennon had it right: Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. Nearly 35 years ago, Brooklyn-born writer Paul Pines moved up to Greater Nippertown as part of an arts fellowship. He was only supposed to stay for a year. But in that year he met Carol, the woman who would become his wife; they would eventually have a daughter, Charlotte, who is an artist in her own right. If you want a series of good laughs, go find her web series Cat Planet.
Somebody else Pines met in that time was John Strong, head of the Lake George Arts Project. Strong had this wild idea that the peaceful setting of Lake George would make a fine place for a jazz festival. John didn’t know much about jazz, but Paul certainly did: His 1983 novel “Tin Angel” was based on his time in the ‘70s running an NYC jazz club called the Tin Palace, which was located on Bowery and 2nd in an area that bore no resemblance to the gentrified-to-a-fare-thee-well place it is now.
35 years later, that little one-day fest they started in Shepard Park is now Jazz At The Lake, one of the greatest small jazz festivals in the country. In the 13 years I’ve been attending the now-two-day event, Paul booked world-class acts like Gary Burton, Dave Liebman, Sheila Jordan, Charenee Wade, Julian Lage, the Cookers, Either/Orchestra, Christian Scott, Donald Harrison, Don Byron, Dave Valentin, and a raft of other killers that could make up a column all their own.
This year’s JATL – coming up in mid-September – is no less groundbreaking, with hard-charging artists like Sharel Cassity and Elektra, Jason Miles’ celebration of Weather Report, Paul McCandless’ Charged Particles, Ryan Keberle & Catharsis, and other groups that hew to Pines’ booking policy of no-filler, all-thriller music. Unfortunately, Pines won’t be able to see the fruits of his latest labor, because cancer took him away from us late last week.
I met Paul in 2005, when I was covering the Sunday JATL show for albanyjazz.com. My main interest was the headliner Greg Osby, one of the most titanic alto players on the menu at the time. Little problem, though: Osby never showed up. At most festivals I’d attended up to that point, such news would have caused walkouts at best, rioting at worst. Instead, the crowd hung in and got hot extended sets by vocalist Giacomo Gates and trombonist Chris Washburne & SYOTOS.
And all that was good. But my new interest was the guy doing the announcing: A short dude with a ponytail in a black t-shirt and a hunting vest, who was waxing poetic about the late vocalist Eddie Jefferson, and how Gates was carrying on that tradition. “Who is this guy?” I wondered repeatedly, not being used to any emcee doing extensive jazz education in between sets. The thing is, though, that ongoing education helped develop one of the smartest crowds I’ve ever seen at any festival I’ve attended. They keep coming back every year, in many cases with their children or grandchildren, and they listen – something else I wasn’t used to at other festivals. The artists notice this, too, and they love Lake George for it.
That was my introduction to Pines, who I would come to know as a friend and a colleague, as well as a true Renaissance man: Poet, author, educator, Jungian psychotherapist, loving husband & father, and one of the smartest people I’ve ever come across. We dovetailed on a lot of subjects, inside and outside of jazz, and any time I was able to spend with him was always a joy. The idea that I won’t have any more of those times, and that Jazz At The Lake won’t be shaped by his personal creative touch any more, is a bitter trash can lid to swallow. I miss him already, and I always will.
Rise well, Paul Pines. Drive home safely, and thanks for a great ride.