It’s the Jazz and Blues Festival on Johnson’s Beach in Guerneville this weekend, so it’s fitting to feature one of the greats who played there over the years. Many in these parts remember Eddie Duran as a premier jazz guitarist in San Francisco from the 1950s on. His birthday is September 6; he just turned 92.
He’s played all the important venues in the Bay Area and toured with Benny Goodman from 1976 to 1981. This included what was called an “acclaimed performance” with the Goodman octet at Carnegie Hall.
A lot of it got started in 1954 when pianist Vince Guaraldi formed a trio with Eddie and bassist Dean Riley. In 1958, the group, along with Cal Tjader on vibraphone and Stan Getz on tenor sax, played a notable concert at the Marines Memorial Auditorium in San Francisco. This was six years before Getz became well known. Eddie was heard to say that they played everything without rehearsal that night, but it all fell into place. “The feeling was happy and relaxed,” Eddie said.
That’s the Eddie Duran I know — happy, relaxed and full of goodwill toward all. This, even though early on, while he was playing with Goodman, his mother, his wife and his childhood friend Vince Guaraldi died within a year or two of each other.
I got to know Eddie through his trio that included Dean Riley and my drummer friend Benny Barth, who, sad to say, left this world in January. For several years during San Francisco’s jazz heyday, they were the house band at Bruno Banducci’s hungry i, playing behind the likes of Mort Sahl, Dick Gregory, Barbara Streisand and Professor Irwin Corey, no less.
That trio made great albums on the Concord Jazz label, including one called “Ginza” that features Eddie’s tune “Contigo,” which is Spanish for “with you.” It sounds a lot like Eddie, happy and relaxed. These three also played the Russian River Jazz Festival, as did all the musicians mentioned here (except Benny Goodman).
In 1983, I had the privilege of officiating at Eddie’s marriage to Madeline Askew, a classically trained flutist and jazz saxophone player. They gig together now. The last time I heard them was in Hotel Healdsburg where they did an evening of Stan Getz tunes with much serenity and good feeling. If you want a pleasant evening, look on the internet for their next engagement.
Eddie’s wife “Mad,” as she is known, is also a fantastic cook. I was favored with her culinary artistry at dinner last week when she and Eddie visited Diane Barth at Benny’s old Studio B in Northwood. Eddie is a great cook too, but he’s even a better eater. In fact, Eddie Duran, who is maybe five feet three and weighs perhaps a 110 pounds, can eat as much as anyone I’ve known except for Dr. Charlie Schaap, late of Monte Rio, and it would take three Eddies to make one Dr. Schaap.
What’s important as anything about Eddie is his sweet, sweet soul. He follows his mother’s early advice to “keep the faith,” he says, which for Eddie is simply to love everybody and everything with a warm and open heart.
“Ah, life,” he said the other night as dinner was ending, “I enjoy it all. That’s what we are here for, to enjoy life and be grateful. I go to sleep every night thinking about a tune and all those I played it with, and I wake up every morning happy and relaxed.”
“Mad” watches over Eddie with ongoing care. “You don’t drink enough water, Eddie,” she said to him as the table was being cleared. “Here, have some water.”
To which Eddie replied, “I never drink water so long as there is wine.” Smiling his fetching smile, he raised his glass and took another sip of petite sirah.
Bob Jones is the former minister of the Guerneville and Monte Rio Community Church.