Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Remembering Elliot Fine (1925-2012)

By David Stanoch

Husband, father, brother, mentor, teacher, author, and drummer Elliot Fine died on May 4, 2012, at the age of 86. From the obituary written by his musician son Milo Fine: “Elliot started playing drums at age 11, and his career ran the gamut from drum corps, burlesque, Dixieland, show band, big band, small group jazz, and pop, to 41 years with the Minnesota Orchestra and even occasional forays into free improvisation … Elliot Fine was a drummer’s drummer.” Fine requested no services, but on Sunday, July 15, friends, relatives, former students, and colleagues will gather at the Artists’ Quarter in St. Paul for an evening of music and memories. Drummer, author, and McNally Smith faculty member David Stanoch is coordinating the event, and these are his words about his former teacher and great friend. bb

Elliot Fine in California, 2011
Photo by Mark Powers
In his passing, more folks now know about the colorful professional history of Elliot Fine than they did during his 86 trips around the sun. This is a testament to his modesty. He grew up playing jazz, backed some of the idioms greats – most notably at the storied Flame Room in the 1950s – and also began subbing in the Minnesota Orchestra around that time, which evolved into a full-time position for over 40 years. He was an inspiring educator and prolific author in the art of drumming. In 1963, he teamed with his orchestra section mate Marvin Dahlgren to produce a groundbreaking drumset method book, 4-Way Coordination, which will forever influence drummers worldwide through its concept of developing equal independence between all four limbs. In jazz drumming speak, it was a book inspired in part by Elvin Jones that also influenced Tony Williams – and this was all firsthand through those drummers’ relationships and encounters with Marv and Elliot.

More personally, Elliot was not simply my teacher from ages 10 to 18. He was my lifelong friend and a great supporter and confidante who opened many doors for me in the direction of further study, professional gigs, and educating others in percussion through both teaching and writing. He had great experience in all of the areas and a rare insight into human nature and character that influenced me and helped me. I was honored when he asked if he could write the forward to a method book for drumset I wrote called Mastering the Tables of Time. It was only right to agree, since he’d really kicked my butt to get the book done over the ten years I spent writing it. He believed in me. The mind-blowing thing for me was the book received the type of acceptance and welcome in the industry that you’d dream about. But he predicted it. In detail. You can’t put a price on that kind of motivation. I was very fortunate.

My parents, Elliot, and his brother Leo all went to North High School in Minneapolis at the same time. Though not close back then, my father, Bruno, and Elliot knew each other. I loved that connection and it really hit home when, after all the years my folks took me to the symphony to see Elliot when I was studying with him, they all came together to see me play drumset with the Minnesota Orchestra soon after Elliot had retired. That was a special night for me, indeed.

In later years, especially after his dear wife, Agnes, passed in 2010, I made an effort to pay back both Elliot and Marvin Dahlgren – who has also been a stalwart friend and mentor to me since my childhood, and whom I’ve had the pleasure of teaching alongside on the faculty of McNally Smith College of Music for over twenty years now – for the encouragement and support they’ve shown me for so many years. I’ve long felt they deserved more personal recognition for their deeply influential educational work and that their story had not been told.

I succeed in having an article published in Modern Drummer magazine, the leading publication in its trade, about the innovative impact of their method book, 4-Way Coordination, and the mindset of the men who wrote it, which generated a lot of positive feedback. I also managed, with Elliot’s noted son Milo’s encouragement, to convince Elliot to attend the Percussive Arts Society’s 2010 international convention, a yearly confluence of percussion performers and educators from every musical direction imaginable. Elliot, who was a member of the PAS since its inception in 1961, the year I was born, had never attended a convention before because, like Marv, he was always busy working with the Orchestra and teaching. I was a featured clinician that year and I was mighty proud to have Elliot in the front row of my session. He was treated like a revered king at the convention, which he both downplayed at every turn and thoroughly enjoyed. With his famous sense of humor, he was the life of the party, and it was tremendous to see him recognized for his work by famous drummers, industry pioneers, and students alike. I was deeply moved when, upon returning to MSP and waiting for baggage, he broke down in tears, telling me, “It’s not right Marv should’ve been with us, too!”

At the time of his passing, I was working with Elliot and Cuban drumming legend Walfredo Reyes, Sr. on an educational book/DVD collaboration these two friends had been discussing for years. I’m proud I helped them get it to the finish line but sad that Elliot did not survive to see its release, which is planned for late 2012/early 2013 from Alfred Music Publishing.

It is impossible to express in words what Elliot Fine taught me about life as well as music and how much I loved him, but his legacy will live on through the countless number of drummers worldwide he influenced through his life’s work. It is a group that includes masters of the art from right here in our own Twin Cities and worldwide as well. Those of us fortunate to have shared in his many gifts personally are all better for it. He was one of a kind.

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