By Stanley Wlodyka
Last month’s Westbeth Gallery show “A Diamond Jubilee” featured seven artists over 75 years of age who exhibited a wide variety of artwork: masks, puppets, paintings, photographs, and even politically charged embroidery. Judy Lawne, a photographer who came up with the idea for the show, wanted the opening to live up to the concept. So, she recruited a quintet of high school jazz musicians to highlight that; though this was a show about productivity at an advanced age, it was also a show about how the artist embarks on a lifelong journey.
It was the novelty of all novelties. Not only were these youngins doing something that didn’t require screens and did require more than the use of their thumbs, they were also playing jazz standards, some of which were published 65 years before they were born. That’s an entire retired person! If Max Dolgin is any indication, jazz classes should be mandatory for every boy and girl in America. The drummer of the quintet, Max, is a well-spoken and intelligent young man who is bursting with noble ambitions for a tomorrow that is brighter than all the yesterdays. It takes a village to raise a child, and even better if it’s the West Village.
Born and bred in an apartment on 14th Street, he started hitting the skins when he was just four years old. Asked whether he worries that drums are too loud of an instrument to be played in a NYC apartment, he jokes that he doesn’t worry about the neighbors because “I’ve been here longer than a lot of them; they can’t really say that much—I have seniority.”
The privilege of growing up in New York, a city that can boast of having the best of any and everything in terms of culture (museums, theater, concerts, fashion), is not lost on him. He revels in the excitement: “The possibility of one thing [just] appearing and really changing me is so likely.” One of those life changing happenstances came when, as a child, Max was taught at PS 41, the Greenwich Village School for five years by Westbeth’s resident jazz vocalist extraordinaire Eve Zanni.
From there on out, things took off, and as is typical of life, but especially of life in New York, one thing led to another; recently, jazz was Max’s ticket to a land that, for almost 60 years, scarce few Americans could claim to have walked upon: Cuba. Traveling with the Afro-Latin Jazz Alliance, Max and bandmates played in clubs and a school in Havana. Apparently, he was able to paradiddle into the hearts of the locals, recalling one man who raised a fist of solidarity when he found out that Max was an American. That may have been a one time deal, however, as the current administration in the White House has started to reverse the Obama era easing of travel restrictions to the Caribbean island.
Though he may not find himself in Cuba in the foreseeable future, Max is excited about the future he can envision. In particular, he is confident in the future of jazz amongst young audiences, pointing to the jazz influences on Grammy-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar’s critically acclaimed album To Pimp a Butterfly. Max is also doing his part to promote the genre; if anyone expresses a desire to see live jazz, he sends them straight to 55 Bar, at 55 Christopher Street in the West Village. “You can walk in there and, for $12, you can see someone who you’ve never heard of and he’s going to blow your mind away!”