I received some devastating news yesterday evening: Paul Bendzsa, mentor and friend, was in palliative care and taken off life support. A young, exuberant 76-year-old, who belied his age by decades, and whom I figured would live to be 100+, now only has hours left.
While on some “objective” level it might be exaggerating to say, I believe the path to the individual I’ve ultimately become began the day I stepped into Paul’s office at the MUN School of Music for my first saxophone lesson with him. People for whom the label “Musician” refers to their core identity, will know what I mean. I didn’t start to become a Musician until I began working with Paul and I wouldn’t be the musician I am – especially one for whom improvisation plays a central role – without Paul Bendzsa. It was January 1993 and I wasn’t yet 20 years old – and still a business major, for crying out loud! – and all that mattered before that day would matter less and less as Paul coached me over the next several years into the creative spirit that I am today.
I think we worked on an Arthur Frackenpohl piece called “Air for Alto” on that first day. I remember him devising a 5- or 6- note phrase, although I don’t remember the exact words, that would help me relate to how to play the opening sequence. And although it would be a struggle for months, he got me out of the bad playing (tone production) habits I’d developed up to that point. Over the years, people have complimented me on my saxophone tone and Bendsza deserves at least half the credit.
He subsequently mentored me through solo recitals, chamber music and jazz band concerts. We had an extra-curricular improvisation group “Shades of Orange” in my graduating year. On top of all that were the laughs and the hugs.
Not enough will ever be said about this man and his impact on the music community of St. John’s, NL. I know my friends (and fellow players) like Greg Bruce, Susan Evoy and Chris Harnett all feel the same way.
Where would we be without Paul Bendzsa?
We all loved him like family. And it’s impossible to put into words how much we appreciated him and how much we will miss him.
Paul’s 2018 Sound Symposium bio
Paul’s profile at the Canadian Music Centre