An indebted musician will continue to give thanks for his fortune at a Queen Village church.
When wielding his bass guitar, Alan Segal delights in holding up songs’ harmonic and rhythmic foundations. That he displays his dexterity after having had to relearn to elevate his own body has given the 71-year-old added appreciation for each chance to work his instrument’s four strings.
He will further his physical recovery and love affair with the public tonight at Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Church, 916 S. Swanson St., where his eponymous quartet will perform jazz classics.
“There’s a spark in everybody, and everyone has to find an outlet for whatever passion is present,” the gregarious gentleman said Friday at the 336-year-old worship site where he and Joy Segal, his wife of 31 years and Gloria Dei’s pastor, live. “For me, it is this music, and I have many people to thank for that and for my sanity, really.”
He and his peers will make their monthly appearance at his abode as representatives of the church-stationed Jazz Sanctuary, which he orchestrated last year to forge camaraderie with audiences and promote free music education and devised to rejuvenate what an ailment had all but deteriorated. For Segal, a certified public accountant by trade, nothing ever will prove as taxing as that which inspired his ingenuity.
“My musical background kicked off when I was 36 years old,” the West Philadelphia native and Temple University product said of heeding a friend’s suggestion to have his hands join his feet, which he had been gliding across floors as a dance student and an instructor, as competent limbs. “I can’t say, though, I was that into the bass for the longest time, as I played at it, not in it.”
Seeking an upgrade, he purchased a Kydd Bass in 2005, with its slender structure resulting in a relaxed playing style. Enamored with the guitar, he feared he would part with it, his spouse and friends the next year when he suffered a cerebral arteriovenous malformation, an abnormal connection between the arteries and veins in the brain, and learned he had a 40 percent chance of surviving.
“The diagnosis came in May, and I had surgery in December, making for a very pleasant waiting period,” Segal said, flashing a wry smile.
The already humble individual soon increased his docile demeanor, as his tribulation initially deprived him on his hand-eye coordination, fluency of speech and sense of balance, the final element proving the most disturbing because of his prior prowess as a dancer. He began his recovery with walks in his residence, and as his gait slowly returned, so did his ambition to tame the bass.
“It made me and coordination friends again,” Segal said of practicing for as many as eight hours a day. “I became a technician, which is easy to become. It’s morphing into a musician that required a bit more guidance.”
As his life came to combine personal conviction and interpersonal determination, he found playing jazz, with its fusion of solo opportunities and group dynamics, a perfect metaphor for his revitalization. Through pianist and friend George Sinkler, he recruited drummer Leon Jordan and saxophonist Eddie Etkins to further that fire. The Alan Segal Quartet debuted roughly one year after his ordeal and eventually gave its namesake enhanced maturation and inspiration.
“I started feeling even more alive and eager to explore my jazz identity,” Segal said. “I credit that to my band mates and to everyone who supported me. With the former, we developed such trust that I say we breathe together.”
For the latter and even for strangers, the grateful personality, whose musical career includes working with rock and country groups; forming the 12-piece Jack Alan Band, which offered country tunes through tours of the tri-state area in the 1980s; and producing for bands and vocalists, decided to form the Jazz Sanctuary, for which he serves as president, and last year created Jazz & Joe, a series of coffeehouse-style performances at houses of worship. Business friendships yielded sponsorships to cover 65 percent of the annual budget, with show donations joining with entities’ contributions to pay the sanctuary’s roster of vocalists and musicians, except for Segal.
“I don’t want money,” he said. “I want bonds with my peers and our patrons instead.”
His role with the organization, which visits 11 churches, jams at special events and hopes to situate its representatives in public institutions such as libraries and charitable associations, leaves him feeling “absolutely no pressure.” He gladly courts backers and loves prepping his bass for the concerts, which draw as many as 150 spectators, including a parish’s registrants and community members. With 180 songs in their repertoire, mostly time-tested creations from the ’30s and ’40s, they stage two-hour shows, though Segal would not mind if they were to last at least twice as long.
“With this bass, I feel no tension, as it allows me to play for hours,” the craftsman said.
As the tunes all rely on his thumping aid, Segal loves to be a showman without being a braggart.
“I’m to outline a song and hold on to the bottom of it while helping my friends to create intense audience receptivity,” he said. “We offer something far warmer and participatory and benefit from the generosity of the crowds, as they bring cheers and food to our little bashes.”
With at least 21 Jazz & Joe concerts slated for this year, Segal appreciates the response his brainchild has garnered and hopes to receive as much support for an additional aim.
“For those who cannot afford music education, I’m working to obtain a grant for them to get free instruction,” he said. “I cannot imagine a world without music, art and literature. What a tragedy it would be.”
As his cerebral drama nearly claimed his life twice, Segal has a great grasp on enjoying the finest elements of his journey and respecting character-building setbacks. Though he occasionally suffers from balance troubles, his strength and verbal voracity have mostly returned.
“I love to communicate,” he said. “Because of a mishap during my intubation, I’m a bit hoarse and have a voice perfect for the blues, not that I could carry a tune in a bucket. I’ll stick with the bass.”
For more information, visit thejazzsanctuary.com.
Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or ext. 124.
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