Main

Links

BYU Radio

The Power of Art in Performance

by Sam Payne, host of "The Apple Seed" on BYU Radio


Way back in my early, early days of being a band leader, I had a jazz quintet that got a gig at the beautiful OC Tanner Amphitheater, at the mouth of Zion National Park. It’s a lovely, lovely space with high cliffs all around. On a starry night, with the moon above those cliffs – I’m tellin’ ya. There’s nothing like it. My saxophone player in those days was a terrific guy named Denis Zwang. Denis was tall and thin and laid back, with glasses and a big moustache. And he was a heckuva sax player. 

The gig was on Friday, and I called him on Wednesday to make sure everything was squared away. His voice, always gentle and soft, was even more subdued than usual. His dear old father had passed away, just that morning. The funeral was to be on Friday. “Oh, gosh, Denis,” I said. “Don’t worry about the gig. We’ll get by. You be with your family.” Denis stopped me. “I appreciate your care for me, Sam” he said, “But I think I’d actually rather come and play.” Denis’ father, as it turns out, had been a musician. And, as it turns out, Denis wanted to honor his father by playing music with his friends.

Denis showed up for the gig in the dark suit he’d worn to the funeral, and kept to himself as we set up and sound-checked. But when the concert began, he was right with us, blowing his fat, mean horn on jazz standards like “It Don’t Mean a Thing” and “All Blues.” It was a great night.

Denis danced around and grinned, deep in the groove; once, he played two saxophones at a time. The audience loved it. Denis’ dad would have loved it.

Somewhere in the second act, we played the terrific George Gershwin tune, “Our Love is Here to Stay.” It’s a really, really beautiful song—the last one Gershwin wrote. In fact, it was only half-finished when Gershwin died. It didn’t have lyrics. George’s brother and long-time collaborator, Ira, wrote the lyrics after George had passed on in 1937:


It’s very clear, our love is here to stay

Not for a year, but ever and a day

The radio and the telephone, and the movies that we know

May just be passing fancies, and in time may go

But oh, my dear, our love is here to stay


That night, in the middle of our performance of that song, Denis took a sax solo. He played that beautiful, mournful horn up and up through the canyons that surrounded us. And then, when his solo would normally have been over, he kept playing. The band fell back and let him go. On and on he played. His eyes were closed, and as we watched, big tears rolled down his cheeks. Chorus after chorus he played. And in his solo, we heard all the grief and love and honor and faith of a guy whose beloved father had just passed away.


But oh, my dear, our love is here to stay

Together we’re going a long, long way

In time the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble

They’re only made of clay

But our love is here to stay. 


The solo faded, and the song ended. Denis, the band, and the audience all sat in silence for a while. Then, the concert went on.  And the next day, by himself, Denis loaded his father’s casket into his old minivan, and drove it, by himself, four hours north to Salt Lake City for a quiet burial.

I’ll always remember Denis’ sax solo at the OC Tanner. I think about it often. And I share it with you because I want to tell you something I believe. Art crafted for performance on stage has real, heartbreaking power to comfort, instruct, gladden, and sustain human beings like almost nothing else can. I hope that makes you feel…well…reverent.

That’s how it makes me feel.

Comments are closed

© 2019 BYU Broadcasting. All Rights Reserved. A Service of Brigham Young University.