John Stefulj, R.I.P.

John Stefulj, a superb musician, and my friend, passed away. The jazz community remembered and celebrated him at the Brisbane Jazz Club on May 2.

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I met John in DM Restaurant on Stanley Street Plaza, about five years ago. He was playing with Jaider de Oliveira. They sat on a little platform, with an array of instruments and percussion lined up, and literally played one song for about 45 minutes, casually switching what they blew or hit or strummed, without missing a beat. Friends rocked up, sat around and joined in with cowbells and shakers and the like. It was an amazing display of skill.

We talked in the break. John had this way of being very funny and totally deadpan. It was a bit unnerving. He asked me if I played “that thing”, which was my melodica, and charitably invited me to jam over Manha De Carnaval in the second set.

Over the next few years I went to see John play, mostly at the Brisbane Jazz Club. I loved listening to him, especially in the metal jazz band Valtozash. The last time I saw him play was with Valtozash at Crowbar, in December.

John bought a double bass and was crazy about it.

John Stefulj and double bass

“Look at all that lovely wood,” he would say as we looked at this massive thing propped up in the corner of my living room, in the days when I lived near the city.

John was a kind, generous and patient teacher. As long as you were genuine about wanting to learn, he would always make time for you.

He showed me the app iReal Pro and wanted me to use it to practise with the bass accompaniment.

“You have to stop playing the root notes so much with your left hand, it’s causing me problems having to avoid you,” John said, when we started playing together. I hadn’t played with a double bass player before, and he told me to invert my chords and avoid the root, to give him more space. I’ll always think of him when I do that, now.

John Stefulj and me1

John Stefulj and me2

John talked endlessly about how he enjoyed teaching his students, especially the young ones. I imagine he was very animated, gentle and funny with them, and they would have loved him.

In a hard world, Music was the space where John found all the beautiful things.

At the memorial, his student from the Con, who is a professional musician, spoke fiercely about his mentor’s insistence on Honesty: Honesty in music, Honesty in everything, as the basis from which to go forward.

I have often described John’s playing in terms of his technical skill, but a simple melody says it all.

Honesty and kindness are fine virtues to be remembered for. Rest in peace, my friend.

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