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A Celebration of Frank London’s Music Will Be Missing One Thing: Him

A Celebration of Frank London’s Music Will Be Missing One Thing: Him

“And I don’t think much past that,” he said, “because I’m not going to waste a day where I feel good.”

Even so, a rash of recent activities conspicuously included reunions with formative associates. After the interview at his home, London raced to Park Slope to play with the improvising conductor Walter Thompson. The day before, he’d been in Houston, performing with Itzhak Perlman in a revival of the violinist’s celebrated Jewish-music odyssey, “In the Fiddler’s House.” That engagement reunited London not only with Perlman, but with the Klezmer Conservatory Band, whose founder, Hankus Netsky, had initiated him decades earlier into a then-unknown world of Jewish music.

In a video interview, Netsky — now the co-chair of New England Conservatory’s Contemporary Musical Arts Department — recalled the determined 12-year-old trumpeter from Long Island he’d met while working as a teenage counselor at Lighthouse Art and Music Camp in Pine Grove, Penn.

“I always tell my students that if you want to be a creative musician, you’ve got to have technique on your instrument, you’ve got to channel your life experience, whatever that is, you have to know a certain amount of repertoire, and you have to have creativity,” Netsky said. “He had all of them, obviously. But the creativity was off the charts.”

Raised in what he called a religious Reform Jewish household in Plainview, London gravitated toward rock music in high school. But at the school’s radio station, he discovered recordings on Strata-East, a Brooklyn label run by the jazz musicians Charles Tolliver and Stanley Cowell, and was taken with one of its more adventurous releases: “Sound Awareness,” a choir-enhanced, percussion-heavy forebear of what’s now called spiritual jazz, by an artist called Brother Ah.

Enrolling in Brown University, London discovered that Brother Ah, born Robert Northern, was teaching improvisation there. When he decided to pursue improvised music as a career, London left Brown and auditioned for the New England Conservatory, where Netsky was teaching. He failed the audition, but paid to take classes anyway, and played in a workshop band Netsky led with the pianist Jaki Byard.

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