Boyd Lee Dunlop is a great story. As told by Dan Barry in the New York Times back in 2011 on the occasion of a Buffalo, New York concert to mark the release of his debut album Boyd’s Blues at age 85, the pianist was accidently discovered in the Delaware Nursing and Rehabilitation Nursing Center playing on a donated upright piano with broken keys by freelance photographer Brendan Bannon, who had come to the nursing home to discuss a project with the administration. Dunlop, in the habit of greeting new faces like many stuck in nursing homes, greeted Bannon, they formed a bond, and Dunlop offered to play for him.
Now while Dunlop had spent this life working in the steel mills and railroad yards, at the same time he had been playing at clubs around Buffalo and had even played on a rhythm and blues session with Big Jay McNeely. He wasn’t exactly a novice. He, it seemed, knew what he was doing. Impressed by what he heard, Bannon contacted a friend in New York, music producer Allen Farmelo, and Boyd’s Blues was the result. The octogenarian, joined by Sabu Adeyola on bass and Virgil Day on drums, came up with an album that Farmelo describes as “a conversation among musicians playing pretty squarely in the jazz genre.”
Turns out that not long after that first album Dunlop suffered a coronary arrest—his heart stopped for almost six minutes. But even at 85, you can’t keep a good man down, and he was able to recover.
Healthy once more, he decided it was time for another album. As Farmelo tells it in the booklet that accompanies that new album The Lake Reflections, which was released in December, it is a solo album that goes “beyond the conventions of any single genre to say something no style or convention can contain.” Using evocative Bannon photographs of Lake Erie as inspiration, Dunlop offers eight improvisations with elements that range from blues and jazz to classical. Bannon’s impressive photographs are reproduced in the 16 page booklet that comes with the CD.
Dunlop riffs on some well-known melodies and develops new ideas of his own. Take a piece like “Scattered Showers” which plays with “Stardust” before morphing into a little Chopin at the end. In “The Lake,” you can hear bits of “Danny Boy” and “America the Peaceful” is an homage to “America the Beautiful.” “Kick the Critic Out” is soulful blues, and “Sunset Turmoil” has elements that sound like something that could have been written by Erik Satie. Whatever the genre, Dunlop plays with consummate creative sensitivity and a grace and inventiveness that would be remarkable even in a man half his age.
Like Boyd’s Blues, The Lake Reflections is a clear indication that it’s never too late, and there is no such thing as too old.