A Quartet of Memories
René was well into his 80s when he received a phone call from an old friend in the States. Say, did you they were using your Delta Rhythm Boys recordings of ‘Dry Bones’ on the sounds track of ‘Rain Man’?’
‘Yup! You better give them a call. Ask them about royalties.’
René did and received the following response.
‘Gee! We thought all you guys are dead!’
René was far from dead. An amazing man from an amazing family: his brother’s paintings hung in New York’s Metropolitan Museum; His sister was head of one of the US’s most prestigious libraries. René himself was a jazz pianist, composer -and inventor. He and his wife Marie moved here, to Andorra, after reading an American Article on Andorra’s ‘life forces’.
I first met René when, soon after his inception, he valiantly took the choir in hand. It was René who christened us ‘TheInternational Singers’ for, back then, he had great touring ambitious for us. Poor René, we proved a serious disappointment to him. Nonetheless, for over two years he wrote music for us, inspired us with great loyalty and patiently directed us from the piano. Trouble was, being a free-spirit jazz musician, he seldom played the same intro twice!
When he arrived in Andorra, René still had many projects on his agenda. Foremost was his Swing True Golf improvement system which not only included a special practice mat but attempted to address the psychology behind the swing process. As far as I know he successfully patented it. He has also written a musical, Lady sweets. Not entirely happy with the demonstration tape’s opening song, he had Wendy Holmes and myself record a new version which I edited onto the existing tape. I also helped him in other recording projects: a soundtrack for a promotional video for SwingTrue, jazz trio versions of some of his compositions (he provided the piano and bass parts, I some understated percussion), backing tapes for International Club events, and a realised CD of religious music, Dear Soul by Renu (Ramala Records RMR CD 909), recorded in Andorra. Whilst René’s musical and people skills were unquestioned, when he was faced with something outside his competencies (such as silicon chips) he would always seek assistance and learn from it with grace and enthusiasm.
René moved back to California to be with his wife, Marie, who was suffering a health relapse whilst visiting family there. The last thing he asked me to do before he died was to send him a recording of his Horizons so he could play it to someone in the music biz. It was probably his last composition. He was 91.
When I think of René the word ‘ageless’ comes to mind; he seemed able to fit in with any age group due to his deep link with his spirit, helped at times by a spiritual teacher – of which he had several!
René looked at life as a school in which one learns one’s lessons, and then returns home for the holidays. And to him, one lifetime was not long enough to absorb all the things there are to know and understand. This I feel enabled him to look at people with compassion; he knew that everyone is passing along the same road, and at times, we all need a helping hand. His way of looking at life must have contributed to his amazing vitality – he certainly lived in a very colourful present tense! And I also glad that for a little while I was included in that reality. Wherever René is now, I have no doubt he is making the most of it!
I had been a little bit in love with René since the day I met him.
I first worked with him when he was Musical Director of the International Club’s ‘Old Time Music Hall’, As someone without a musical bone in her body I fully expected to be relegated to top tea maker. Ron Richards had other ideas and produced a ‘song’ for me that had a chorus which was to be sung, deliberately, completely out of tune. So far, so ingenious.
The challenge for René was to get me through the verse to the point in the chorus where I could give free range to the dramatic cacophony. Standing in the sitting room at the side of his baby grand he lead me gently through the technique of ‘speaking’ a song, never once losing his patience or sense of humour. He neither patronised nor demanded, he only made me believe that I could succeed.
At the dress rehearsal some children from the Meritxell Special School had been invited in. As I flung myself into the chorus with all the dramatic power of a wannabe opera singer I caught René’s eye. Neither of us had quite appreciated that these delightful kids suffered no inhibitions, so when they began to rock back and forth groaning, shouting and holding their hands over their ears to protect them from the mad woman, warbling so out of tune, we were taken by surprise. René professional that he was, simply carried on as though we were receiving the warmest reception in the musical world.
Curtain down and I rushed across to René. He was sitting on the piano stool rocking with laughter; no bruised ego, no temperamental tantrum, just pure joy in the situation. As Kipling wrote, and I am sure I misquote, ‘If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same, then you will be a man my son’.
What a man.
Born 5 December 1913, Manhattan, New York
Died 29th January 2004, Single Springs, California