I recall writing this review, which predates this blog by just over two years, but I don't remember for what outlet I wrote it. I located it today on a whim – after posting the image you see above on Twitter – on Acoustic Levitation, an online journal edited and published by Steve Koenig, a poet, teacher, and activist based in Brooklyn. A bit of introductory text on that site states "we are transplanting this from our former website," but I don't know what that other website was. I do recall distinctly that this review caused some passing friction between myself and one of the artists cited herein, until I'd clarified what I'd meant by a certain comparison—and that what I'd intended was the absolute highest of praise.
It's difficult for me to read this now, given its endless, seemingly unedited gush. But I'm always glad to find and preserve bits of my past, and the account absolutely does bring back some very, very good memories. I'll always be grateful to Stone… and to Stephanie Stone, his wife, who passed away in 2014, and Steve Dalachinsky, so present herein, who we lost in 2019.
Irving Stone Memorial Concert
Saturday, July 5, 2003
Tonic, New York City
What are the odds that a little old man with a big heart, a sharp tongue and a taste for wild music and sweet herb could unite an all-star array of New York avant-jazzers and free improvisers and inspire them to perform all day long on a sweltering Saturday afternoon in July? Irving Stone probably could have given you an exact answer. After all, he'd spent decades employed as a statistician for the New York City Housing Authority. Stone, as he was universally known, was a fixture at pretty much every concert of exploratory jazz and downtown experimentation since Coltrane was blowing the roof off the Vanguard. (I used to use "Ayler" in that sentence, until his wife Stephanie once corrected me: She and Stone never saw Ayler at the Vanguard, though they saw him plenty of other places.)
As has been noted in countless other places, the Stones were treated like royalty among the circles in which they traveled. Yet conversely, they were – and Stephanie remains – among the most generous and welcoming of all souls on that scene. Again, as more than one observer has mentioned, when you saw them at a gig you were attending, you felt like you were visiting family. For at least one generation of downtown musicians, and likely more, the mere presence of the Stones at a gig felt like artistic validation.
All of those points, and many more like them, were brought up during two hours of heartfelt reminiscences of Stone that preceded Saturday's memorial music marathon, which was organized by longtime Stone favorite John Zorn with help from numerous close friends, including poet Steve Dalachinsky, critic Kevin Whitehead and many others. Though we heard tales that we'd all heard before, or perhaps even witnessed firsthand, still, there was more revealed that gave us a better image of who Stone had been before he became the Stone we all knew. "Irving Stone taught Harry Partch how to balance a checkbook," said Mrs. Gosfield, an old family friend whose daughter Annie has become a significant downtown composer in the Zorn orbit. "Irving Stone could sing Gilbert and Sullivan operettas in the voice of Louis Armstrong."
And on it went, as local luminaries traded tales with longtime friends. Barely able to catch his breath in a headlong rush of emotion, step-grandson Jesse lamented that he wished he'd known his step-grandfather nearly as well as the sizeable audience assembled in the room. Steve Dalachinsky (who said he was unable to complete a serious poem about Stone because he knew the dedicatee would not approve) instead read a well-known poem by another late friend of his, Ted Joans, adapting certain phrases to better capture Stone's preferences.
Stephanie Stone, no doubt overwhelmed, addressed the audience from a seat in the front row. Normally a gregarious figure, she was clearly affected by the outpouring. The next, and last voice, belonged to Stone himself. No one in the room was spared a tear at the voice, nor a laugh as, in a pre-recorded interview, he recalled a conversation with Mark Feldman. The violinist had asked Stone if he'd noticed any difference in the way he sounded that evening, when he had used an expensive new bow for the first time. Stone politely replied that he hadn't.
"What? You mean you can't tell the difference between when I use a $2,000 bow and when I use a $500 bow?" Feldman had asked, incredulous.
"No, but I can tell the difference between when you're playing for real and when you're just fucking around," was the sincere reply. ("Fuck," we were told more than a few times, was a potent component in Stone's vocabulary.)
Further reminiscences detailed whimsical close encounters with Kenny Dorham, Salvador Dali and Charlie Chaplin—all of which served notice that Stone was a man who lived life to the fullest, and shared everything that he had. For the rest of the afternoon and well into the evening, many of the artists who Stone nurtured over the years came forward to pay tribute on behalf of everyone assembled, in the manner that Stone had loved best.