By Jane Harrison
On August 3, I lost a friend. Guitar master and Hurleyville resident AL DEFINO passed on.
I met him for the first time when he started playing at the old NADIAS on Main Street in Hurleyville. His mastery of his instrument was undeniable. But beyond that, I met a very personable, charming, soft spoken man with a quick smile and thousands of wonderful stories of his life.
We spoke a great deal about his time in Belgium and, although it was not one of the European countries I had visited, the similarities to the countries I had, found us both wistfully reminiscing. Most particularly of the cafes and the bars with live music and the civility of the people “over there.” He spoke a few different languages and regularly Skyped with his friends abroad.
We spoke a great deal, too about his time spent, with his guitar, with The Rat Pack and the time he spent touring with SAMMY DAVIS JR. There was a sort of kinship developed there, founded on of all things, racism. He would never go into great detail; instead he would lower his eyes and shake his head saying how much he disliked playing the gigs with Sammy in this country because of the way Sammy was treated because of the color of his skin. About how they couldn’t all go out for breakfast after a sold out show at a major venue because he wouldn’t be allowed in the restaurant. Sometimes even if it was a restaurant in the casino or hotel where they had just performed. It made no sense to Al, then or now.
But then he would perk up and talk about touring with Sammy in Japan and elsewhere and how he was treated with the respect for his talent and treated as a human being. And that Al loved touring abroad with him. I always got the feeling that Al saw something of his own personal experiences, being Jewish, in all of this.
We spoke of his decades of teaching at the esteemed Berkley College of Music in Boston. We spoke of the pitfalls of love and marriage. We spoke of smoking cigarettes and the difficulty of quitting. We spoke of so very many things.
The one thing that surprised me about him is that he LOVED people to come to his home. I don’t think I have ever met anyone who was so overjoyed to invite someone in. He was still teaching anyone who wanted to learn. And though I couldn’t play a guitar if my life depended on it, I did help him solve some minor computer problems from time to time, and maybe it was his Italian heritage but he was always trying to feed me! He always made his own “sauce” every week, a fact that most people didn’t know. And it was quite good!
Al was not without his struggles, which is something most people DO know. It made him difficult to be around sometimes. In the last few years, though, it was a different kind of struggle for him. A battle with throat cancer. Then, with the CoVid pandemic, and what is still the enforced separation of people, this hit him harder than most.
I will miss Al. His passing has left a large hole in the musical community but also in the hearts of many, students, friends, family. We all take solace in the fact that he is now at peace; his struggles are over.
He would be pleased that the live music venues are continuing to offer music in outdoor venues. It’s difficult in these times to do anything indoors. I, for one, have only once been to anything indoors. Still, with the cooler weather coming on, these venues are reluctant to post schedules because everything is weather related. The three I have visited the most, because of their adherence to safety measures outdoors are CABERNET FRANK’S in Parksville (every night except Monday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 4.p.m.), RAFTERS TAVERN in Callicoon (on occasion Friday and Saturday nights with a stellar Open Mic Sundays at 3 p.m.), and THE DISTILLERY next to the DANCING CAT in Bethel (every Saturday at 4 p.m.).
For those in the Neversink area, although it does not offer live music, the BBQ shack at the NEVERSINK GENERAL STORE has added beer from the independent brewery UPWARD and a sparkling Portuge wine to their menu of outstanding food. So, if you’re just looking for a place to have a leisurely lunch, check it out.
Stay well, stay strong
Until next time…….