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“Body and Soul”: Music and Grieving


Alexander Flasterstein at the piano, entertaining the WW II troops

If you’ve been wondering where I’ve been for the last week, here’s the reason for my absence: My father, 96, died peacefully on Friday at the apartment he shared with my mother. I’m their only child. Until now, the only writing I’ve done since last Wednesday was his eulogy.

It was from Dad, a Harvard-trained lawyer, that I got my passion for language, music and legal complexities. It was from my mother, now 89, that I got my love of art.

Alexander Flasterstein was a virtuoso piano player of jazz standards into his 90s. Early last Sunday, as I prepared for his funeral, I tuned the radio to Newark-based jazz station WBGO and the first thing I heard was a langorous, dreamy arrangement of the 1930 classic, “Body and Soul”—uncannily apt not only because its title captured the essence of that mournful morning, but also because I used to sing along to my Dad’s more lively rendition of that tune.

You can hear a snippet, here, of that exquisite composition, excerpted from “Anat Cohen Clarinetwork: Live from the Village Vanguard”—the album containing the version that I heard on that elegaic morning. It was Benny Green‘s piano work that particularly moved me.

Tremendous support from friends and family, along with the ballast of music from my usual source of inspiration and solace, New York’s classical station WQXR, has also helped me get through this. The oscillation, on yesterday’s playlist, between the tragic and the lyrical in Schubert‘s “Unfinished Symphony” and the triumphant spirit of Mozart‘s “Jupiter” were particularly fortifying.

You can expect my writing to be sparse over the next couple of weeks, as I put my psyche back together and get my affairs in order.


My Dad, backed by his biggest fan

But wait a minute! I did see yesterday, nestled among the approximately
200 e-mails that flooded my inbox in the interim, one important
art museum development that broke during this slow-news week of late
August. I’ll to try to get back to you about that “in due course,” as my
father liked to say. Meanwhile, Ask a Curator is going on today, if that interests you. (Can you have a substantive interchange on Twitter? Maybe try a “live chat” next time.)

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