David Via: Memorial

How will David Via be remembered?

As a superb drummer, whose sensitive touch and sheer musicality elevated the playing of everyone with whom he played, yes.

But also … Dave will be remembered for his passion for playing, listening to and studying jazz, his generosity in sharing his musical knowledge with everyone he knew, his sly sense of humor, his fanatical dedication to the New York Yankees, his kindness, his decency, his ability to tell some great stories.

Those were some of the themes that emerged this afternoon during  a memorial to David Via held at the Players School of Music in Clearwater, where Dave taught for about 10 years beginning in the late ’90s. He also taught at Musicology in Clearwater, and previously held an adjunct jazz faculty position at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Jeff Berlin, the acclaimed bassist and Players School director, shared fond memories about working and playing with Dave, as did Jack Wilkins, saxophonist and USF jazz studies director, whose friendship with Dave extended back to their early days in North Carolina; Matt Bokulic, pianist and Players School teacher; Vicky Berlin, of the Players School; and one of Dave’s cousins.

Berlin and Bokulic turned in a reverential reading of “Blue in Green,” by Miles Davis, one of Dave’s heroes (he also frequently sang the praises of Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Paul Motian and Adam Nussbaum, among others). Dave’s drum kit was set up nearby.

One story recounted during the memorial: Someone once asked Dave how it was possible that such a great drummer could come from small-town Mayodan, N.C. Dave’s (joking) response: “Between slopping the pigs, we listened to a lot of Charlie Parker records.”

Wilkins recalled Dave’s stories about a State Department-sponsored trip to Yemen. (And I paraphrase): The musicians barely escaped with their lives when war broke out, and Dave joked that he wanted to keep watching news coverage of the conflict to see if his abandoned drum kit wound up in the hands of the Yemen Revolutionary Marching Band.

Many of those who had played with Dave and/or taught alongside him attended the memorial, as did many of his students. Dave touched many lives with his gifts as musician, and his friendship, as was evident by the turnout – thanks to the Players for organizing the very moving ceremony.

I’m sorry that I won’t again get the chance to play with Dave, or to joke around with him, and I regret that I didn’t ever quite let him know how much he taught me about musical communication and jazz rhythm, without uttering a single word.

Note from guitarist Chuck Hill: “Ira Sullivan, at his concert this afternoon at HCC, also paid tribute to David, dedicating ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ in his memory.”

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