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“Sanford Fare Well” Honors Marathoner and Jazz Poet

Sanford Dorbin, who died May 27, 2014, will be honored in the jazz-poetry program “Sanford Fare Well” next Wednesday, May 27, 2015. It commemorates his life as Mendocino County resident, activist, long-distance runner, and especially as lifelong jazz poet and aficionado, ––as well as recalling a vanished era of Willits life.

“Sanford Fare Well” takes place Wednesday at 7 P.M., at The Muse, the colorful business complex East of the Chinese ribs house on Main St. in Willits. (30 E. San Francisco Ave.) Parking is limited by the hall but ample in the vicinity. The musical program lasts an hour and a half.

Noted musicians Jon Solow on piano and Les Tarr on bass will back WJ Ray reading to a set of eight jazz standards by Coltrane, Mingus, Jobim, Benny Golson, and Bill Evans. The music interplays with Dorbin’s jazz-influenced tropes, as well as with poems by Kenneth Patchen, Theodore Roethke, James Joyce, A.E. Housman, and Ray.

Producer and poet Ray said, "This performance does not so much commemorate the fact of a death as it affirms a noble life––and precious life itself. We celebrate in the language of two art-forms dear to Sanford: jazz and poetry. In addition to that, May is high Spring. We would love to send music and poetry drifting out the doors and down the streets of Willits. I am moved by the beauty of Jon’s and Les’s contemplative jazz."


While living out Sherwood in the “Back to the Land” era, Sanford Dorbin took active parts in building, cord-wood gathering, teaching, and the humanist counterculture that characterized local life in rural Northern California. He was a noted long-distance runner who ran 50 kilometers to celebrate his 50th birthday here, the equivalent of thirty miles. His route was from downtown Willits to Hearst and back. He finished numerous marathons and often won in the seniors age-group.

Originally a scholar, editor, and skilled librarian at UCLA and Santa Barbara, noted for his bibliography of Charles Bukowski’s literary works, he moved with his wife and young son Shelley to Willits in the early 1980’s. This was also the period of time during which a nuclear build-up threatened the entire basis of civilization in Europe and the U.S. He was twice arrested, at Diablo Canyon and Livermore.

Later history revealed that the populist uprising against a nuclear war footing was a significant factor in withdrawing the Cruise missiles and discouraging nuclear plants in the United States. On a per capita basis, Willits was the highest represented locale among the 1000+ arrests.

After moving to Vallejo in 1991 to take care of his wife’s mother, who died at 99, they moved again to Chico to be close to their children. There as here in Mendocino County he was prolific in poetry, road-running, and sharing his love for jazz. He was known for producing commercial level jazz tapes that were of such quality they might be suitable for a documentary archive. He gave them away.

His own poetry shows distinctive epigramic brilliance, much influenced by the brevity and surprise aspects of bebop jazz. It has jazz lilt and subtlety, with his own whimsical quality of cool bemused rhythmic quipping.

While in college in Southern California, Dorbin witnessed the flourishing of West Coast Jazz in dark L.A. nightclubs after driving cab until midnight. He knew all the players by name and work, and shared their underground sense, that Jazz as a subculture rejected the prejudice, inequity, and hypocrisy so imbued into ‘30’s-‘50’s American society. He found spiritual sustenance which he never abandoned, and he passed on to a younger generation its artistic and philosophical powers.

His last years were occupied with the younger generations and very late with editing his friend Barry Powell’s translations of The Iliad and The Odyssey. The books were published and dedicated to Sanford just before he died. To the end he was fearless, conscious, and witty. Ray’s last words to him were “We’re keeping an eye on you.” He came back with “Just one?”

Orphaned at five when his mother died of cancer in 1938, Sanford could seriously say in reply to a jest his wife made (“You’re on your own now!”): “I know, always have been.” He and his sister and brother were passed among relatives and boarding schools, and like many artists who have experienced inexplicable and unacceptable loss, Nature and all humanity became his abiding comforts. It can be said that he lived well and died well.

The performers in the “Sanford Fare Well” event are two professional musicians and a life-long poet. Pianist Jon Solow is a classical composer and an instrumentalist in several genres, best known for “Jazz From the Wharf” on KZYX-FM. Les Tarr on bass has played professionally for decades with a long jazz lineage and is also a radio deejay. Ray has produced or read in poetry readings here since 1985 with Miriam Patchen, Daniel Marlin, Linda Noel, Sharon Doubiago, Mary Norbert Korte, Jack Hirschman, Joanne Kyger, and Gary Snyder.

“Sanford Fare Well”, Wednesday, May 27, 2015, 7 P.M., The Muse, 30 E. San Francisco Ave., Willits. $5.


  1. Jerry Dorbin June 6, 2015

    My brother was always more supportive of my writing than I was of his. This event makes an occasion for me to thank his many California friends for their appreciation of him. – Jerry Dorbin

  2. William Ray June 6, 2015

    Thanks to the Anderson Valley Advertiser and to the attendees of the “Fare Well”, many from a distance.

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