Here, for sure, is one of the great Buffalo stories. Let's call it the Buffalo Jazz Story of 2011, in fact.
And it all comes to fruition at 8 p.m. Saturday in Hallwalls (341 Delaware Ave.).
That's when Boyd Lee Dunlop, a genuine underground jazz legend in Buffalo, takes the stage to play with bassist Sabu Adeyola and drummer Virgil Day to celebrate, at long last, Dunlop's first piano trio disc "Boyd's Blues."
Dunlop is 85 years old and lives in the Delaware Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. It was at least 40 years ago that a dedicated Buffalo jazz listener and historian told me that in his estimable opinion the greatest jazz musician ever to stay in Buffalo rather than make a big national name for himself was pianist and organist Dunlop.
Dunlop is from a great Buffalo musical family. Dunlop taught his younger brother Frankie how to play the drums. In his career, Frankie Dunlop played with most of the major jazz musicians of his time, distinguishing himself, especially, as the greatest touring drummer Thelonious Monk ever had.
At the nursing home, Boyd Lee Dunlop had an encounter with photographer Brendan Bannon, who tells the story in the notes to "Boyd's Blues":
"I went to the Delaware Nursing Home to speak to a doctor about a photography project. In the chair next to me, just back from a walk, sat Boyd Lee. 'You here to see someone?' he asked. 'I think I'm here to see everyone.' 'You a doctor?' 'Photographer.' 'Yeah, I'm a musician.' "
Bannon started recording Dunlop on what Hank Cherry's notes describe as the "broken-down, out-of-tune piano in the nursing home. Hearing himself play, Dunlop told Bannon he'd like to make a record. After hearing some of these first recordings, producer Allen Farmelo flew into town and the record was made in one long-day session on a snowy winter day."
Farmelo, a New York record producer educated in Buffalo at Nichols School, takes up the story from there:
Bannon sent Farmelo MP3s of Dunlop on his cellphone asking "if he was as good as he thought he was. The answer was 'Yes he is' and then we put together the Frankie Dunlop connection and I pushed Brendan to do a professional recording.
"We recorded at Soundscape on the West Side, the only place in Buffalo I could find with a Steinway and the vintage mics and gear needed to capture the music with the characteristic sound I envisioned (think Atlantic Studios 1959-'64ish). I mixed here in NYC at my studio, the Farm, onto a vintage analog tape machine, and mastering was done by Jessica Thompson, who has just spent nearly a year restoring and remastering vast stretches of the Newport Jazz Festival catalog."
Dunlop had previously appeared before on only one record -- as a sideman for Big Jay McNeeley in the late-1950s. His working life in Buffalo was spent in steelyards and railroad yards, according to the disc, but his underground reputation around Buffalo jazz was always high from whatever club appearances he made.
The result now, more than a half-century later, is a mostly free-form blues disc with first-rate rhythmic support from Virgil Day and an unusually well-recorded Sabu Adeyola. It's just Dunlop playing the blues and, on occasion, playing free-form fantasias on recognizable jazz classic harmonic changes ("Boyd's Solo Flight" sounds as if Monk's "Round Midnight" were somewhere embedded in its DNA) but it's the marvelous fruition, at long last, of a life spent around music in Buffalo but not wholly in it, where his longtime devotees have always said it should have been.
And, from two Buffalo-bred traveling figures in their early 40s, Boyd Lee Dunlop -- the Buffalo Institution That Should Have Been -- gets to make the splash he should have made decades ago.
A great Buffalo music event, to be sure. And a great Buffalo human event, along with it.
Boyd Lee Dunlop Trio
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Hallwalls, 341 Delaware Ave.
TICKETS: $10 general, $5 members, students and seniors
INFO: 854-1694, www.hallwalls.org