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A Jazz Pianist Gets His Big Break — At Age 85

Boyd Lee Dunlop was discovered in a Buffalo nursing home, wrestling music from a dilapidated piano. His debut album is called <em>Boyd's Blues</em>.
Boyd Lee Dunlop was discovered in a Buffalo nursing home, wrestling music from a dilapidated piano. His debut album is called <em>Boyd's Blues</em>.

Back in the 1930s, Boyd Lee Dunlop taught himself to play music on a broken piano left out on the streets of Buffalo, N.Y. Only half the keys worked.

He also taught his little brother Frank to play the drums while they were growing up. Frankie Dunlop went on to record with Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus, among other jazz greats. Boyd Lee Dunlop went to work in the steel mills and rail yards of Buffalo, occasionally playing piano at local clubs.

Another chance encounter with a busted piano has now led Boyd Lee Dunlop to record and release his first album, at the age of 85. Brendon Bannon, a documentary photographer by trade, is the album's producer.

"We met when I went into the nursing home where Boyd's living, in Buffalo, to talk to the doctors there about doing a photo project. Boyd was sitting down in the waiting area also, and we struck up a conversation really quickly," Bannon says. "He told me about his piano playing and invited me down to the cafeteria to listen to him play. I looked at the piano, and there were keys broken off of it ... It didn't look well. But Boyd was wrestling some beautiful sounds out of it."

Here, Weekend Edition Saturdayhost Scott Simon speaks with Bannon and Dunlop about Dunlop's debut album, Boyd's Blues.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.