Don Gillespie R.I.P. (1936-2019) ~ I’m very saddened to learn of the passing of new music champion Don Gillespie. He was a friend. Don was Vice President of C.F. Peters music publishers when a very young me got a job there in the late 80s. He taught me so much about music, especially John Cage, Lou Harrison (he was good friends of both and introduced me to them), an expert on Delius, and my gateway to lesser known (to me at the time) composers like Nancarrow, John J. Becker, and Ruth Crawford Seeger.
I remember drunken music nights at his apartment where we’d have Busoni sight-reading contests (The Piano Concerto), debate the non-narrative structure of Robert Ashley‘s “Now Eleanor’s Idea“, and then he’d turn around and make us listen to a 1920s recording by The Skillet Lickers. The week that Lou Reed’s “New York” album came out, we listened to it at his place while eating the freshly smoked mozzarella he’d pick up for us from Joe’s Dairy on Sullivan Street. Let’s not even get started on his fascination with Sorabji!
Don and C.F. Peters’ Evelyn Hinrichsen were amongst the first supporters of my Silent Treatment concert series, my first productions, in the East Village back in 1989-90. He supported all kinds of new music up-and-comers, he connected many of us, young and old, near and far.
I would continue to see Don over the years either at concerts or get togethers at Margaret Leng Tan‘s house in Brooklyn for a performance of Lucier‘s Strawberry Fields Forever-inspired “Nothing is Real.” I remember Don and his then wife Sabine coming over to gorge ourselves on caviar that I had just smuggled back from Russia and playing “Cage’s “Ophelia (1946)” on the piano for him on the 41st floor looking out over Central Park.
Don got really mad at me one time when, on the newly invented internet, I spoke for him (incorrectly) in an argument with Howard Stokar. He had every right to be really mad because I did something dumb. Something good came out of it. When asking him for forgiveness I was able to tell him how much he meant to me and everything I learned from him. We got back on track, but I wish I could tell him all over again.
The last time I saw Don I was playing a piece of music of mine on Cornelia Street in an ensemble that was celebrating Terry Riley’s “In C”‘s 50th anniversary. I saw him in the audience, he lived around the corner, and we just smiled. I haven’t seen him since, though I thought of him often. It was fitting.
When I think of all the hell he caught at C.F. Peters (it was an ugly scene back then for non-serialists; Don called it Fort Dodecaphonic) for supporting tonal, rhythmically innovative, non-European-inspired forms of new music, I’m glad he held his ground, and even put his job on the line a few times (truth), for the music he believed in.
So, seeing him there that sunny afternoon, with new compositions playing in the air inspired by “In C” to a diverse and interested crowd of New Yorkers, it felt like a victory for all of us who followed the musical pathways he showed to so many of us.
That fight’s over.
You won, Don.
Rest in Peace.
“John Cage at 100” by Don Gillespie
“Don Gillespie New Music Box Profile”
Don’s middle name was Chance