In Memory of Benjamin Lindgren Jr. 21 February 1947 – 29 Mars 2002
Double Bassist Ben Lindgren began his career in the late 1960s in a blues band, then in 1972 he began studies with renowned jazz bassist and composer Gary Peacock.
He played in jazz ensembles which featured both scored and improvised music, and he believed in developing new musical forms which push the boundaries of self-expression.
He performed and made two European tours with the Glenn Spearman Double Trio, a group he co-founded, and with whom he recorded two CDs for the prestigious Black Saint label.. He played with innovative saxophonist Charles Gayle and toured with saxophonist John Tchicai in a trio which included drummer/percussionist Spirit. He played with Prince Lasha and Eddie Gale.
His performances included concerts at the Victoriaville Festival Musique, the du Maurier International Jazz Festival in Vancouver B.C., Yoshi’s Jazz House, the Great American Music Hall, Slim’s, the Monterey Jazz Festival, Mills College, the Nickelsdorrf Austria Jazz Festival, and European tours in Zurich, Basel, Cologne, and Munich.
With OPEYE, with whom he played and recorded beginning in 1995, he included piano and National steel guitar in his repertoire in addition to doublebass.
For three years (1987-90), Lindgren was Assistant Music Director at Pacifica radio station KPFA-FM in Berkeley, working with Director and composer Charles Amirkhanian on musical projects that included such distinguished artists as John Cage, Phillip Glass, Laurie Anderson, Brian Eno, and Conlan Nancarrow.
From 1989-95, he produced Mob Ecstasy, a live music program on KPFA which featured studio performances by such players as Anthony Braxton, John Tchicai, Raphe Malik, Peter Apfelbaum, Karma Moffett, India Cooke, Beth Custer, Chris Brown, Bob Ostertag, J.A. Deane, and many more.
Ben Lindgren was a painter of note whose large oil canvases have appeared in galleries around the San Francisco Bay Area, including a one-man show in North Beach that was hailed by Beat Poet Gregory Corso. His work, which combines his “love of nature with the freedom of abstract expression”, has also been featured on the covers of several compact discs and regularly helped set the stage for OPEYE performances. His clients included friend and renowned bassist Charlie Haden.
TUESDAY by Jack Foley, April 2, 2002
I had fasted from 8 p.m. last night for a blood test this morning. First I went to Copy Central in Berkeley to pick up copies of Mary-Marcia Casoly’s book, Run to Tenderness, but they had messed something up, so I’ll have to go again tomorrow morning. Copy Central opens at 7:30 a.m., and the advantage of going very early in the morning is that you can easily get parking spaces and don’t have to feed the meters, which begin at 9.Then, from downtown Berkeley, to Oakland—Kaiser hospital on MacArthur—for the blood test. I was taken in almost immediately. Unfortunately, the first—stab— failed to draw much blood, so it had to be done again on my other arm. Happily, the other arm was a fountain. I went around for most of the rest of the day with a piece of cotton and a bandage on both arms. After the blood test it was about 9 a.m. I needed a new screen for my electric razor. The shaver shop was on the way to the Russian Orthodox Church where Ben’s funeral was to take place. The visitation—viewing the dead person—began at 9:30. I took a chance that the shaver shop was open—and it was. I got into the car to go to the church, but felt a little hungry. Had no idea when I’d get some food. There was a café next door to the shaver shop. I ordered scrambled eggs and a bagel and some delicious iced tea. Satisfied, I went to the church (near Shattuck and Ashby).
Visitation was still going on. I went over and looked at Ben. I knew many of the people there—many of them prominent Bay Area musicians. It was nice to see them. It was nice to see Ben, too—though I had seen him the night before. He was decked out in a black leather jacket and wore his wedding ring. There was a little drawer that was open above him in the coffin. It had a harmonica in it. Ben’s wife Ella told me that he had wooed her by playing the harmonica and telling stories. I had never heard him play harmonica but was sure it would hold him in good stead in the afterworld. Ella said the bass was too big and she wouldn’t let him have the guitar. Then came the service, which was nice, tasteful, but a little long. Ella told me that one of the priests had been born on the same day as Ben. The officiating priest, who seemed intelligent and scholarly, talked about the problems of language—English vs. Russian—and the various traditions that went into the service. There were Pagan elements, he said, and Jewish elements. Thinking, I’m sure, of the Neoplatonists, he mentioned that the Pagans thought of the body as a prison, and that the Jews thought of the body as corrupt. He felt that where his faith parted company with both the Pagans and the Jews was in the belief in the resurrected body. As Jesus had been resurrected in His body, so too would the dead be.
The priest insisted that though he “didn’t know how,” we would “see Benjamin again.” Clearly a sensitive man, the priest struck me as someone who might well have gone into the church because of its emphasis on culture and art. The problem for me is that an immense amount of baggage goes along with that culture and art—and not least is the belief in the immense wonderfulness of God and the immense awfulness of man. Statements such as he made on that subject must surely have been made by the Catholic Church during its services. As a child, I simply took them in. Now, however, I feel much more inclined to argue. The art and culture are the sugar coating on the pill of a belief which is deeply, fundamentally repellant. And this, I’m sure, was a Berkeley lite version of Russian Orthodoxy! It’s important to assert the limitations of the ego sense—something Ben was aware of in his work—but self abasement? original sin? (The latter doctrine a clear misreading of the first book of Genesis. I thought of the English writer Philip Pullman, who was right to focus on original sin in his Dark Materials trilogy.) One of Glenn and Shantee Spearman’s daughters stood in front of me during the service, in which we all held lit candles. The little girl is, I don’t know, nine years old and has enormous energy, which will one day be a marvelous thing. At the moment, however, she is rather a caution. Eventually, the lit candle, which she was waving about a little, was confiscated from her and she was led into the room next door, where there were some other children.
She was wearing a beautiful, rather Chinese-looking dress—probably of her mother’s choice—and she looked just wonderful. She has the kind of intensity Glenn had, and she is quite beautiful even now. Oh, when she grows up! At the end of the service, everyone gives the dead person a goodbye kiss. Ben was wearing a headband made of paper, with some religious designs on it; that’s what you kiss. I also touched his hand, which of course was cold. Then we drove to the Chapel of the Chimes on Piedmont in Oakland for the “entombment.” There was a “funeral procession” which I decided not to be part of, so I went on ahead by myself. The Chapel of the Chimes is a beautiful place, and Ben had chosen exactly where he would be interred—not too far from John Lee Hooker! More incense, a few more words, and the coffin was put in a big drawer in a wall. Then downstairs for food—a really excellent spread, delicious. I had two genuine chocolate chip cookies. I generally avoid the sugar-added, but this was special. For Ben. I chatted a bit with Charles Amirkhanian, a wonderful man—a composer—who coordinated music programming for many years at KPFA. He is currently running the Other Minds Festival in San Francisco. I knew many people in the room, so there was no problem finding people to talk to. Lyn Hejinian, whose husband Larry Ochs is a well-known local musician, was there. Next, everyone went into the next room.
Ella welcomed everyone and thanked them from a podium with a microphone. Then people who wished to say something about Ben came up to the podium. Ben had worked for Charles Amirkhanian at KPFA, so Charles talked about that. I talked a little about the “Mob Ecstasy” program Ben and I had done with Glenn Spearman (I’m the only one of that trio left!) and then read the poem I wrote recently—the one which transforms itself once the news of Ben’s death (at 55!) reaches me. It’s a little as if the poem knew of Ben’s death even if I didn’t—or as if Ben were sending me a message through my words even as he lay dying: “and then / in the morning / out on the water / again.” Later, several people told me how much they enjoyed the poem. I’ve been complaining recently how hard it is, after a certain point, not to write elegies: so many of your friends die. How is it possible to register the impact of a person’s death without writing an elegy? I think my little poem is a partial answer to that question. After the testimonies, there was a concert—and what a concert it was! Something like seventeen of the most prominent free jazz players in the Bay Area came together for this: the piece, “For Ben,” was directed by Eddie Gale. Everyone improvised, but there was a structure within which everything happened, and Gale indicated who should play next. Solo upon solo, always interesting, each quite different from the other. (One Irish guy, Jim Ryan, played a chorus of “Danny Boy”!) Finally everyone stood up and played together.
There was a huge blast of sound in which you felt that Ben’s spirit was being sent off into the universe. It was really wonderful. The only negative thing about it for me was that Ben’s son Esten (who is 27 or 28) didn’t play in the group. Esten’s playing is probably still not the equal of the musicians in the group, some of whom are masters, but he would have done well enough, and it would have been a powerful emotional moment for everyone. I wondered whether Esten had been asked but declined, but, no, he told me he hadn’t been asked. Later, I told him that I wished he’d played. He nodded and said, “Look, this isn’t over.” I said, “No, it isn’t,” and hugged him. There was much hugging and few tears—not because Ben’s loss wasn’t a real one but because (despite the terrible, terrible suffering of his last days) tears was not what his life was about. “Life’s sweet, man,” he said to me in our last conversation, “it’s sweet.”
March 29, 2002 – by Jack Foley
[My friend Mary Marcia Casoly is off on a kayaking trip. I wrote this poem to her—and then the phone rang and the poem took on another meaning.]
thinking of you in the wilderness “roughing it”
in this troubled city
straining to meet
one obligation after another
thinking of you sleeping
under the stars
or waking on the water in no danger
as if you were walking in a bad neighborhood
making your way
from one place
from one heart
to another among others
talking telling stories
playing word games
the poet among
which they would not have chosen showing them
they had not known—
in the morning
out on the water
The moment I finished writing this, the phone rang and I learned that my friend Ben Lindgren had died during the afternoon. I suddenly realized that the words I had just written might have a very different meaning:
which they would not have chosen showing them
they had not known—
in the morning
out on the water
Ben Lindgren Lake Tanwax WA | 1975
THE MUSIC LOVER by Kit Robinson
He has fallen asleep and is sleeping
earlier I thought I
heard him saying something
But this was not the case
he had fallen asleep
and was sleeping
Later I could have sworn
I saw him
moving surely across a room
Perhaps I was mistaken
since he was already asleep
and had been sleeping
For some time
his presence continued to make
itself known to me
Even though he was asleep
and sleeping peacefully
on another level
It got to where
I could ask him questions
about his perspective on life
And he would seem to answer me
despite the fact
of his having fallen
Asleep, of his
continuous and effortless sleeping