When Spring arrives, most people feel awake, alive, excited. For me it comes with a twinge of melancholy. Right now we’re in the flannel-to-flowers transition in Northern California which puts me in mind of a song, one that haunts me at unexpected times through the year, but always at the start of Spring. And always this song brings to mind a dear friend who shared my love for this ballad. Yes, I’ve written about him before, and may again. That’s what happens when you’re unforgettable.
Ed Wetteland was a keyboard genius in a giant body. He played most of his life in the Bay Area, in clubs and concerts, putting on the tux for big band gigs, working with just about everybody in music who came through The City. When he wasn’t working, he wandered, with some of us in tow, into clubs down hidden alleyways in The City, sliding onto the piano bench, playing a little, slipping back out and on to another club. Everyone made way. Everyone knew Ed. Mercurial. Tender. Then mercurial again.
Home was his country acre in Sonoma County where the other part of his life was spent coaching singers in his studio and holding forth on the deck outside his house in Sebastopol, indulging in very good wine provided by his Bohemian Club buddies, telling stories, stopping to name the notes played by the wind chimes and whistling back at birds.
We were friends from the first hello. We had our little traditions. Wherever he played, when I came in, he’d weave away from the song he was performing and slide into the bridge of one of my favorite songs, It Might As Well Be Spring. This bridge slays me. Melancholy. Plaintive.
I keep wishing I were somewhere else
Walking down a strange new street
Hearing words that I have never heard
From a man I’ve yet to meet
– Rodgers & Hammerstein
One Sunday Ed promised friends he’d play at their church in Santa Rosa. He was distinctly un-churchy. He insisted I come and he’d buy brunch afterward. I arrived a bit late. Ed was playing a hymn. I wish I could remember which one. I didn’t think he’d seen me slip into a pew in the back, but obviously he did because he created a seamless segue from the hymn into the bridge above, and right back into the hymn.
He never recorded It Might As Well Be Spring, but here’s another favorite he played often. Sophisticated Lady comes from a recording session in the home of a friend. A few of us gathered in a wine country estate to hear Ed record some of his favorite songs at a spectacular Boesendorfer grand piano.
About this time of year, just before the official start of Spring, Ed would be on his deck, holding forth at length about flora and fauna and especially about California’s native plants.
**Wildflower posters are available from California Native Plant Society