by Jeff Waggoner
Oh, no, my wife said. One of your friends died.
It was Monday, April 6, and the obit said Jack Fragomeni , 57, had died that Saturday.
It was like being punched in the stomach. I cant imagine what it was like for many dozen, if not hundreds of others. I didnt know Jack nearly as well as a many people in the area: The multitude of jazz fans who had listened to him play his well worn Gibson archtop through the years at the Grog Shoppe, the Van Dyke, the Stockade Inn and other venues; his long-time students and colleagues at St. Rose or Schenectady County Community College; his band mates; the serious fly fishers he coached and, of course, his family and beloved wife, Rose.
Grief was palpable.
Waiting in the line at his wake, there were his Mont Pleasant High School classmates, former students, and a multitude of those who crossed paths with him. It was hard to meet Jack, even once, without taking away something. If not some bit of knowledge about two of his passions in life, fly fishing and jazz, you would hear a story or a joke.
Two years ago, I signed up to take applied guitar or private lessons -- at SCCC. I cast the dice and hit the jackpot when Jacks name came up as my teacher.
Play it musically, he would tell me when I would try to take my spastic fingers through the notes.
LEGATO, he would write out and underline it in my copy of the William Leavitt book, the one with the Big Green 1 on the front.
Thats a nice chord, he said, but it is the wrong one.
If there is a Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes among jazz guitar teachers, Jack gets my nomination.
Where in Arkansas are you from? Jack asked me after one lesson. I said Little Rock. He was in Arkansas once, Fayetteville, he said, on tour with Lee Konitz. He said it casually, as if he wouldnt expect anyone to know, or especially care, who Lee Konitz was. Jack was just a guy outside smoking a cigarette between lessons, who had a story about playing with one of the greatest jazz saxophonists who ever lived. He was just a guy who missed his Rose, who was out of town for the week.
Go to a concert of his, as I did at Justins a year or so ago, and he played to an audience of his friends. Many of them were, of course, they came out to see him at what was at the time a rare public appearance. If he wasnt sure who wrote a song he had played, he knew someone in the audience who would. At break, he worked the room like a politician, but not in a fake way. Jack was into giving, not taking away. If you werent his friend when you showed up, you were when you left.
He lived his life like he played his guitar, with fluidity and grace a graceful bear his thick fingers massaging the fret board, reaching up, up, up to that chord, always catching the right one. Reaching for things and living his life in a way that too many of us are too frightened to do. Doing what he loved, whether it was picking his archtop or picking off the burrs that stuck on his field jacket while hiking to a favored fishing spot. He did it -- in LEGATO -- and it was inspiring to witness.
For you, Jack, I promise to keep reaching.
Jeff Waggoner has written book, CD and concert reviews for publications such as Down Beat, Jazz Times, Blues Access and The New York Times.