Monday, November 29, 2010

The Doug of Edwards: Standards

Jazz supporter, DJ, and activist Doug Edwards from
Here's the poem I wrote on request and read at the memorial for Doug Edwards at Kimball's Carnival, Oakland, California, November 21, 2010.

The Doug of Edwards: Standards

© 2010 Lisa Bernstein (Lisa B)

He had found a cadence,
a voice to call listeners to the music
and I like others was invited
to step along with him, to enter the tide
of air across the airwaves, the phone line,
the moment of his onstage introduction
and then listen and sing and play
as the music we made floated out
to the world buoyed
by Doug’s support. He was ready to serve
in the army of The Music,
to push off the boat from the shore, sound a 21-gun salute
and then stand there laughing as we sped out.
And he always made the phone call to welcome us home,
to find out more about the trip of the
tones, the jones to scat the next passage, the new poem.

Doug’s was the stubbornness
of a gentleman. He would do you the kindness
of stating when standards were not met, gently if he cared about you,
forcefully if he simply knew you,
but always with courtesy. Standards mattered,
whether expectations for the show, the sound level,
the songbook, the degree of literacy, the way to act.
Doug loved to stress in his introductions whether one was an educator
and he never stopped educating
us – players, listeners, as an elder in a community
that he helped call into being by being here with us.

He died with his usual good timing.
No surgery, no lengthy stay in the hospitals he hated.
In his vet-hospital bed, what he wanted to talk about
was my new job, my parents’ health, and the next gig.
As he’d said two weeks before on the phone,
“I’m just trying to stay relevant.”
In that long telephone catch-up I’d told him about my despair –
what did it all matter
given the state of the music world and what I did?
“If you’re throwing all that around,” he said,
“I’d like to be part of the conversation.” And listed to me passionately
some of what of value I was. I was just one of those
privileged enough to have him defend me
to myself.

Doug hasn’t yet left us all the way. I can feel him watchful, grinning,
shaking his head at the way he would have done this
just a bit differently, but grateful for and graceful with the show.
It’s we the living who suffer
without his real live voice,
not him who chafes now against his ever-darkening sight,
against the difficulty in near-blindness
of getting to the station or the show,
against not having witty company enough hours of the day.
In death now he is not alone,
he sees and walks even with no dog or human arm to link his through,
he has been awarded all the medals of honor,
he has made peace with the wrong-headed and the rude, hearing only
the strong and mournful trumpet, the exactly swinging brush
on the snare, communing with Shirley Horn and Milt Jackson,
and the first blues singers, and still shaking his head
with a proud and easy smile about what we creators do,
just right enough to keep the human project going.

How often do you know that someone gets you?
Doug’s comprehension of my art was like walking into
an airy lavender building
full of gardenias, where the walls would give
space to work, where the floors became a stage for his audience.
How often does someone know where your art fits into history?
He laughed when I complained of not getting the attention
of this or that singer or songwriter.
“How can you even compare yourself?” he laughed,
his warm voice like velvet scattered with the scratch of emeralds.
“You’re in a whole different category.”
It took being that himself to know.

Doug, it’s me who is bereft beyond consoling now.
I wish I could still walk with you
into the control room and read a PSA for you,
hand you a bio downloaded in 14-point bold,
hear you announce Ear Thyme, Jazz Passages, BAJABA,
the Audible Art Gallery, And that’s the way it jolly well goes,
and the latest plans for an award from the Order of the Flask,
amble into Anna’s or Yoshi’s or the billiards place
where Kimball’s used to be for a taste of cognac and fish & chips,
hear your rare, wistful need and relief
when you told a story about Cindy your partner,
dish the latest about Dee-Dee or Dianne, laugh
at the latest foolishness, shake our heads –
and forgive it, setting the world right
with the articulation of standards.
And then get up and walk again, deliberately,
with you The Doug of Edwards, holding your warm, your cool,
your kind, your certain hand.

If you were here now, I know just what you’d say.
“Let’s not talk about me,” you’d say. “Tell me about you.”




  1. Beautifully spoken tribute to the wonderful Mr. Edwards.

    (Person from a rued aspect of your past)

  2. Thanks to you. Write me at, if you'd like.

  3. I still miss Doug and feel him around. My heart hurts as I look at this photo. What a prince.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I sent this poem out in a newsletter not long after first posting this and received hundreds of responses about this poem and Doug. He made a big mark, and I was honored to capture at least some of it.


Thanks for adding your voice!