Tag Archives: Joan Baez

Jeff Scher’s Amazing, Graceful Video

In 2015, a man killed 9 men and women at a Charleston church.

In the midst of his powerful eulogy, President Obama sang “Amazing Grace.” Zoe Mulford wrote a song about that moment. Joan Baez recorded it.

Now Jeff Scher has brought that inspiring song about death and hope to life.

The 1972 Staples High School graduate is a filmmaker and animator. He’s now back in Westport, working in a Cross Highway studio a few steps from his house.

Scher has carved out a compelling niche. His hundreds of drawings in “The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm” helped earn the HBO documentary about a Holocaust survivor a place in the permanent display of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York.

Jeff Scher

He created the official video for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Teach Your Children.” Bob Dylan and Paul Simon hired him to make holiday videos. A short film about summer and water — “L’eau Life” — features many Westport scenes.

But right now, his Obama/Baez is creating the biggest buzz.

Scher’s hundreds of hand-drawn watercolor and pastel images draw viewers in to a story they already know.

The challenge, the artist says, was to convey the intense emotion of the president’s eulogy — but in the end, Baez’s song was about someone else singing a different song. It’s also about murder.

Fortunately, Scher says, the tune is “beautifully written, with a clear narrative. It opens slowly, pulls you in, and has an incredible emotional arc.”

And, he notes, “Somehow Obama, with his humble singing voice, turned grief into grace. With humility, compassion, and a 200-year-old hymn, he made us feel that the evil deeds of a sick individual could not shake the bonds of our common humanity.”

He saw his job as “framing” Mulford’s song, rather than “illustrating” it. “I did not want to get in the way of the lyrics,” he explains.

He told the Atlantic, which premiered the video: “I wanted the scenes to feel like they were blooming from the white of the paper, like a photograph in a developer or a memory emerging from a cloud.”

The song and video are called “The President Sang Amazing Grace.”

Thanks to Zoe Mulford, Joan Baez — and Jeff Scher — the result is both amazing and graceful.

The Record Hunter

If you grew up in the 1960s, the soundtrack of your life was vinyl. 

And if you grew up in Westport in the 1960s, chances are you heard that soundtrack at the Record Hunter.

The Record Hunter held 2 distinctions that are rare these days:  It was a record store, and it was a small, independently owned business on Main Street. 

What remains today is the left section of Talbots.  The right side was the Remarkable Book Shop — a perfect complement to the Record Hunter.  Both were cozy, warm places where the product was less important than the customer.  Both were run by people who loved what they did, and did what they loved.

The Record Hunter was Jay Flaxman’s baby.  He didn’t just sell albums and 45s.  He sold you on the music, and the musicians. 

Jay was the man who introduced me to Richie Havens, Phil Ochs and Joan Baez.  He was the man who let my friends and me hang out for hours on Saturday mornings, listening to music he thought — no, he knew — we’d like. 

Jay was the man.

Jay Flaxman died Monday.  He was 80 years old.

The Record Hunter comprised only part of his life.  Even in a hip town like Westport, it was hard to make a living selling folk and classical music.  After it closed, he went to work for the Westport Transit District.  I was in college then — no Minnybuses for me — but I heard that in his new job, helping youngsters navigate the streets of Westport, he had as great an influence as he had on me and my musical tastes.

Vinyl is gone.  So is the Record Hunter, and now Jay Flaxman.  But Richie Havens, Phil Ochs and Joan Baez are on my iPod.  I can’t imagine a life without them.

Thanks, Jay, for those formative Saturday mornings so long ago — and for your long-enduring gift of music to me.