Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Samuel Gesser 1930-2008

I was deeply saddened to learn this morning of the death of Montreal impresario, writer, cultural-treasure Sam Gesser. That's Sam on the left recently receiving an award at the Canadian Folk Music Awards. In the last decade of his life Sam received a pile of awards for his life's achievements from the Order of Canada to recognition from the Smithsonian Institute in Washignton. The Gazette's Bill Brownstein has penned a fitting tribute to Sam which appears today on page 3 with wonderful archival pics of Sam with Nat King Cole, Nana Mouskouri and others he worked with professionally over the years like Harry Belafonte and Pete Seeger.
His cultural and artistic accomplishments were many, but I'll remember Sam most as my cousin. My dad's first cousin actually, his mother Ida and my grandmother were sisters. I got to know Sam well only about ten years ago. He was a lovely, soft-spoken and generous man who took an active interest in my writing when I wasn't writing much, and would call me up every so often to encourage me, and to see how I was doing and how things were in 'the other part of town' (it was a far way from his Place des Arts office downtown to Chabanel but he made the trip for lunch more than once.) Among the many recordings Sam did for Folkways was the classic Six Montreal Poets which included Louis Dudek, FR Scott, Irving Layton, AJM Smith, a rare reading by AM Klein at McGill, and a very young and nasally Leonard Cohen in the 1950s. My favourite story about Sam was when Cohen came to see him with some of his songs (Suzanne among them.) Sam was already making a name for himself producing concerts and making records. Sam told Leonard not to quit his day job - his music would never sell, the lyrics were too complex and confusing, and besides he couldn't sing for beans. In a culturally rich life, Sam got it right most of the time. I'll miss him.

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