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The Sound of Wood

The Sound of Wood

Recently I read a fascinating article about a marimba that had been stashed away for years in LA’s Guatemalan Consulate and about the man repairing it—who, because of Covid, was one of the few surviving Guatemalan marimba restorers in LA. Why Guatemalan? Because the marimba is that country’s national instrument.

The marimba, you may know, is similar to a xylophone, but its keyboard is made of wood.

Reading the article, I was transported back to early-1970s LA and a concert by the Roger Kellaway Cello Quartet. Kellaway had just released the first of two albums by that group, and I was one of a lucky handful of people who ever heard them live.

Kellaway, known as the writer of the “All in the Family” theme song, is a brilliant composer, arranger, and jazz pianist, whose playing is, to me, reminiscent of the great Bill Evans. Somewhere along the line, perhaps sitting at his piano, Kellaway pondered the sound of wood—round, mellow, earthy.

His piano had it. The string bass had it. Kellaway began to envision a group featuring that sound. It must have a cello. And percussion—not drums, but a mallet instrument that could carry the melody.

The marimba.

Kellaway composed a few pieces, then called together friends from the LA music studios: bassist Chuck Domanico, cellist Edgar Lustgarten, and mallet specialist Emil Richards on the marimba. I imagine them playing, listening, sinking deep into the sound.

Kellaway wrote more pieces for the group, and they recorded an album—"The Roger Kellaway Cello Quartet”—that remains one of my favorites to this day, along with its sequel, “Come to the Meadow.” To me, the music exists in a luminous space exactly halfway between jazz and chamber music.

Here’s a link to one of the group’s best efforts, “Morning Song,” from the first album. Listen, and soak in the sound of wood.

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