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.”

Remembering David Via, Jazz Drummer

One way of thinking about this: The famous jazzers are a dime a dozen. You know their names. I know their names. Everyone knows their names.

Then there are the guys like David Via, the great Tampa Bay area drummer and drum teacher who passed away Monday after a long illness.

Dave, who loved Tony Williams and Elvin Jones almost as much as he loved the New York Yankees, committed heart and soul to the music, fully lived in the music on stage, and shared his love for the music with everyone he met. He never sought fame, and never got it, really.

But he gained a reputation as a musician’s musician, a guy whose touch was so sure, whose feel for the drums was so sensitive, that few who played with him, or came under his tutelage, or merely heard him play, will ever forget it.

That, at least, is how I remember Dave, with whom I played dozens of trio shows over several years beginning in the mid-’90s, with LaRue Nickelson on guitar, under the name Greenwich Blue. We gigged everywhere from the old Dish restaurant in Ybor City to Borders Books & Music on Dale Mabry in Tampa to a couple of places in St. Petersburg. Dave and I and vibraphonist Sam Koppelman played a private party for the Indianapolis Colts, the third time the Superbowl came to Tampa, in 2001. We “opened” for Jay Leno, the evening’s headlining act, and I recall that big-time rock drummer Kenny Aronoff (John Mellencamp) was in the crowd. When we played, Aronoff kept his eyes on Dave.

Dave’s playing, on uptempo swing tunes, bossa novas, ballads, and practically everything else, was always supportive, creative, and highly interactive. And his brushes playing was a work of art — crisp, clean, artful, precise, and sometimes cooking so intensely yet so quietly that my rock-damaged ears had a hard time hearing all the intricacies he routinely and with no fanfare unfurled.

Now, for the facts. Dave had just turned 59 when he died, reportedly following a major heart attack. He had been out of commission for several months, following an earlier heart attack in August.

Dave most recently taught drums at Jeff Berlin‘s Players School of Music, and Musicology, in Clearwater, and prior to that he taught at the University of South Florida in Tampa for eight years.

A native of Mayodan, N.C., with the twang in his voice to prove it, Dave studied  with , and Lynn Glassock. “Many many thanks to Otis Brown for selling me my first set of Gretsch drums,” he wrote on his MySpace page.

Dave performed with a long list of name artists, including Mose Allison, Barney Kessel, Charlie Byrd, Dizzy Gillespie (right), Pat LaBarbera, Slide Hampton, Carol Sloane, David Baker, Al Grey, Buddy Tate, Nick Brignola, Jimmy Heath, Claudio Roditi, David Murray, Joe Lovano, Billy Taylor, Kenny Werner, Ira Sullivan, John Abercrombie, Jeff Berlin, Rufus Reid, Sheila Jordan, Ted Rosenthal, Larry Coryell, Frank Kimbrough and Conrad Herwig.

His discography includes saxophonist (and USF jazz studies head) Jack WilkinsArtwork (Koch, 1995); pianist Paul Tardif’s Points of Departure (Koch, 1995);  pianist Ed Paolantonio‘s Dedications; and Minas, Blue Azul (1999)

More info from Dave’s MySpace page: “David has toured extensively with Jon Metzger as part of the USIA Arts America Program in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and Europe. These tours involved a rigorous performing schedule as well as teaching numerous clinics. In the States, David has performed in numerous Jazz festivals in Washington DC, Spoleto in Charleston, S.C., Indiana, Kentucky and Clearwater. He also performs with the Billy Siegenfield Jump Rhythm Jazz Project of New York City.”

Dave, we’ll miss you, your spirit, your humor, and your great playing.