The Well-Tempered Ear

Here is a collaborative obituary for music critic, radio host, performer and gay pioneer Jess Anderson, who died in January at 85 | March 7, 2021

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By Jacob Stockinger

In late January of this year, Jess Anderson (below) — a longtime friend, devoted musician and respected music critic – died at 85.

The Ear promised then that when more was known or written, it would be posted on this blog.

That time has come.

Jess was a polymath, a Renaissance Man, as the comments below attest to time and again.

For the past several years, he suffered from advancing dementia and moved from his home of 56 years to an assisted living facility. He had contracted COVID-19, but died from a severe fall from which he never regained consciousness.

Jess did not write his own obituary and he had no family member to do it. So a close friend – Ed Wegert (below) – invited several of the people who knew Jess and worked with him, to co-author a collaborative obituary. We are all grateful to Ed for the effort the obituary took and for his caring for Jess in his final years.

In addition, the obituary has some wonderful, not-to-be-overlooked photos of Jess young and old, at home, with friends, sitting at the piano and at his custom-built harpsichord.

It appears in the March issue of Our Lives, a free statewide LGBTQ magazine that is distributed through grocery stores and other retail outlets as well as free subscriptions. Here is a link to the magazine’s home webpage for details about it: https://ourliveswisconsin.com.

That Jess was an exceptional and multi-talented person is obvious even from the distinguished names of the accomplished people who contributed to the obituary:

They include:

Chester Biscardi (below), who is an acclaimed prize-winning composer, UW-Madison graduate, composer and teacher of composition at Sarah Lawrence College.

John Harbison (below), the MacArthur “genius grant” recipient and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer who teaches at MIT and co-directs the nearby Token Creek Chamber Music Festival in the summer.

Rose Mary Harbison (below), who attended the UW-Madison with Jess and became a professional performing and teaching violinist who co-directs the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival.

Steve Miller (below), a close friend who became a bookmaker and is now a professor at the University of Alabama.

The Ear, who knew Jess over many decades, was also invited to contribute.

Here is a link to the joint obituary in Our Lives magazine, a free LGBTQ periodical that you can find in local grocery store and other retail outlets: https://ourliveswisconsin.com/article/remembering-jess-anderson/?fbclid=IwAR027dzv2YqRUNlYF1cF6JyXnEcQxAwcprPYbtBQCs3rYt0Nu847W_xbjpk

Feel free to leave your own thoughts about and memories of Jess in the comment section.

It also seems a fitting tribute to play the final chorus from The St. John Passion of Johann Sebastian Bach. You can hear it in the YouTube video below. It is, if memory serves me well, the same piece of sublime music that Jess played when he signed off from hosting his Sunday morning early music show for many years on WORT-FM 89.9.

 


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3 Comments »

  1. 17 May 2021: Remembering with gratitude and affection the birth anniversary of Jess Anderson – along with his birthday buddies, Zinka and Birgit!

    Comment by Allan Deptula — May 17, 2021 @ 9:43 am

  2. What an informative, humorous, and above all – loving tribute to Jess. As performer with UW Opera in the 90s and aughts, I was terrified of him; though I never was the recipient of a cutting review, his reputation preceded him! I got to know him in his last 15 years and happily had the chance to see and hear him play that magnificent harpsichord. Bach, I think it was. He was clearly in heaven as he played and I listened in hushed concentration. Magical. Rest in peace, Jess. What a live you’ve lived!

    Comment by Kathleen H Otterson — March 7, 2021 @ 9:23 am

  3. I knew Jess as a brilliant, funny, erudite music reviewer. I had no idea that he knew Rosemary Harbison in the 1950’s or any of the other amazing things that I just read about in the joint obituary. Thank you so much for directing us to that obit. Jeffrey Sykes (pianist) and I were terribly sad when he stopped writing music reviews for the Isthmus – we felt that his educated opinions were the most untarnished, unbiased, and fairest opinions possible. Our fledgling music festival was greatly aided by his enthusiasm for the kind of musical events we were beginning to create in Madison. He came to many, many of our concerts after he stopped his active music critic activities, and I was always grateful and happy to see him in the audience. He will be deeply missed!

    Comment by Stephanie Jutt — March 7, 2021 @ 7:59 am


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