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Mendocino County Today: Thursday, March 29, 2018

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Coroner's Investigation, Search and Rescue Effort

Location: California State Highway 1 at Mendocino County Road 430, Westport CA 95448

Date of Incident: 03/26/2018

Time: 3:38 PM


Confirmed Deceased:

  • Jennifer Jean Hart, 38 years of age, Woodland, Washington
  • Sarah Margaret Hart, 38 years of age, Woodland Washington
  • Markis Hart, 19 years of age, Woodland Washington
  • Jeremiah Hart, 14 years of age, Woodland Washington
  • Abigail Hart, 14 years of age, Woodland Washington

Missing Persons:

  • Devonte Hart, 15 years of age, Woodland Washington
  • Hannah Hart, 16 years of age, Woodland Washington
  • Sierra Hart, 12 years of age, Woodland Washington
(Click to enlarge)

On 3/26/2018 around 4:16 PM the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office was dispatched the area of Highway 1 at County Road 430, also called Juan Creek, in Westport regarding a traffic accident involving multiple fatalities.  The incident had been reported to fire officials and the California Highway Patrol around 3:38 PM, after a passerby used a pullout along the road and observed the vehicle off the embankment, upside down on the rocky shoreline.

While the Sheriff's Office was enroute to the call it was learned there were possibly two adult females, two juvenile males, and one juvenile female deceased at the scene. The Sheriff's Office initiated a Coroner's Investigation.  First responders continued recovery efforts until well after midnight.  On 3/27/2018 around 0800 hours the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office confirmed the identity of the two adult females as Jennifer and Sarah Hart, a married couple who had previously resided in West Linn Oregon.  It was later learned the decedent's had 6 adopted children.

After learning of three additional children who were unaccounted for, the Sheriff's Office, the California Highway Patrol, and the United States Coast Guard out of Fort Bragg CA immediately initiated a second search and rescue effort in the Ocean waters where the accident occurred.  The California Highway patrol launched a fixed wing airplane and a helicopter, the Coast Guard launched a rescue boat in the area, while the Mendocino County Sheriff's Search and Rescue responded to search the beach areas along the Highway.

One of the unaccounted for children was Devonte Hart, who drew wide media attention in 2014, after having been photographed hugging a Portland Oregon Police Sergeant during a demonstration related to the events related to the unrest in Ferguson Missouri.  The Sheriff's Office reached out to the Portland Oregon Police Department and learned the family, due to intense media coverage, may have moved from Oregon.  The family was tracked to a Woodland Washington address where, with assistance from the Clark County Washington Sheriff's Office, the family home was checked and the three outstanding children were not located.  The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office was advised by the Clark County Sheriff's Office it appeared the family may have left for a temporary trip as there were many family belongings still in the home as well as a pet and some chickens.

On 3/28/2018 the three younger decedent's have been positively identified with the help of family members.  They are Markis Hart 19 years of age, Jeremiah Hart 14 years of age, and Abigail Hart 14 years of age.  The three children who are still missing are Devonte Hart 15 years of age, Hannah Hart 16 years of age, and Sierra Hart 12 years of age.  At this time it is unknown if the missing children accompanied their parents on the trip to Mendocino County or if they might be staying with friends.

On 3/28/2018 the Alameda County Sheriff's Office responded to assist the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office by sending 6 Deputies trained in the operation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), used for search and rescue incidents, to assist with combing the coastline in an effort to locate the three missing children.  So far the ocean conditions have not allowed the use of rescue/recovery divers in the search efforts.  The Mendocino County Sheriff's Search and Rescue Team has diver's on standby if the ocean conditions improve.

The cause of this accident is being investigated by the California Highway Patrol (CHP) Ukiah Office.  All media inquiries related to the accident are being directed to the CHP at 707-467-4420.  The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office is conducting the Coroner's Investigation, on going search and rescue operations, and the investigation related to the three children who are unaccounted for.  Questions related to this can be directed to the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office at 707-463-4086.

The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office would like to thank the California Highway Patrol, the Portland Oregon Police Department, the Clark County Washington Sheriff's Office, the Grant County South Dakota Sheriff's Office, the Huron City South Dakota Police Department, the Cowlitz County Department of Social Services, and the Alameda County California Sheriff's Office for their assistance in this case.


This is an update to the incident of the five fatalities in the remote section of northern Mendocino County on State Route 1 just south of Juan Creek.

At this time, we have identified the two adults in the collision:

Jennifer Jean Hart, age 39, of West Linn, Oregon

Sarah Margaret Hart, age 39, of Alexandria, Minnesota

We are still in the process of confirming the identity of all the juveniles. Once this is accomplished, we will release further information regarding this incident.

The cause of this collision is still under investigation. The California Highway Patrol MAIT team has been assigned to investigate the incident.

The objective of the MAIT Program is to provide the CHP with the means to conduct in-depth investigations and analyses of major traffic collisions throughout the state. Investigations include the reconstruction of an incident and a study of the factors that may have contributed to the incident. The factors include environmental, human and mechanical and are associated with the three phases of a collision which are: pre-collision, at-collision, and post-collision.

The MAIT Team is composed of one CHP Sergeant (team leader), two or more CH officers, one Motor Carrier Specialist 1 and one Senior Transportation Engineer from CalTrans."

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THE JUAN CREEK stretch of Highway One between Westport and Rockport is a uniquely desolate, treeless several miles of the famously scenic roadway only twenty miles north of Fort Bragg. In the 1980s, four murders were associated with the Juan Creek area, three of them drug related, one of them not.

THE MURDER that was not drug related was that of Harlan Tod Sutherland, 24, of Berkeley, a graduate student in geology at U.C. Berkeley. It took four years, but the dogged police work by the Sheriff's Department was finally able to identify a career criminal, Robert Sutton, as Sutherland's killer.

SUTTON was just out of prison and homeless, roaming the coastal stretch north of Fort Bragg while sustaining himself by breaking into cars of tourists and campers. He fatally encountered Sutherland, 24, on the sliver of beach near the site of this week's deaths of two women and three of their adopted children, with three more adopted youngsters still missing.

SUTHERLAND, the aspiring geologist, had been studying the cliff faces at Juan Creek when Sutton shot him and took his watch and cameras. There were no witnesses to the crime, and police had no suspects until jail house informants identified Sutton, who died in prison of AIDS.

THE LATEST TRAGEDY at Juan Creek has become an international story. The Daily Mail, late Wednesday afternoon, led off with this lurid headline: "Lesbian couple who died along with three of their children when their car plunged off Pacific Coast Highway cliff had just been visited by social services and their other three kids are missing."

MUCH of the latest media coverage doesn't put it so starkly, but does imply that the deaths were not accidental, suggesting that the police record of one of the women for domestic violence and the recent visit to the couple's Woodland, Washington home by social services apparently prompting them to flee… Well, these preliminary findings aren't encouraging. Factor in that the two moms were white, the children black...

(Sarah Hart also had a 2011 conviction for misdemeanor domestic violence involving one of her daughters in Alexandria, Minnesota, where she and her wife spent many years and adopted their children. A police report described a spanking delivered while the child was bent over the edge of a bathtub.)


ON FRIDAY, neighbors called CPS in Washington about Jennifer and Sarah Hart. They said the couple's teenage son Devonte had been begging them for food. He asked them to leave a box out for him and his siblings and that his mothers were 'punishing' him by starving him. A CPS worker arrived but the two women never answered the door, neighbors say. Instead, they packed up their car in a 'hurry' with all six of their kids inside.

ON MONDAY, their bodies were found in the water after plunging over a cliff more than 500 miles away in coastal California. The cliff edge is not on the road and they would have had to have turned off the Pacific Highway to reach it. There were no skid or brake marks at the scene but police will not say it was a suicide mission.

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CALLING IT “ABSOLUTELY UNSUSTAINABLE,” County CEO Carmel Angelo told the Supervisors Tuesday that Mendocino’s Juvenile Hall was way too expensive and way over budget and was being allocated only a fraction of this year’s budget next year. Referring to an unpublished letter attached to her CEO Report for March 28, 2018, Angelo noted that the Juvenile Justice Commission had recently announced that they wanted to be informed of any discussions or comments about Juvenile Hall in the future, asking to be involved in any proposed changes.

MENDO budgeted $2.3 million for Juvenile Hall for FY 2017-18. Plus there’s an unexplained “overage” of over $400k, for a total of $2.7 million to operate “the Hall.” Angelo noted that “the Hall” is averaging about 14 “youth” per day, which means that Mendo is paying over $500 per day per juvenile. Obviously way too much.

CEO ANGELO then noted that Lake County, which had been paying $150 a day for their juveniles in Mendo’s juvenile hall, recently informed the County that they had found another County which charges only $90 a day and were canceling their Mendo contract.

SO IT SEEMS that Lake County’s withdrawal was the precipitating event which caused CEO Angelo to bring it up.

BUT, why did it take so long? At the 2017-18 budget review last June when Ukiah psychiatrist Kevin Kelly was the acting Chief Probation Officer, the CEO and the Board routinely rubberstamped the $2.3 million Juvenile Hall budget, even though it would have been just as easy to divide $2.3 million by 14 times 365 and get $450 per day back then as it was last Tuesday when it came out to over $500 per day. And how did The Hall over-run by another $400k without anyone noticing?

THIS “SHOCK” IS YET ANOTHER GLARING EXAMPLE of what happens when you don’t get monthly budget and staff reports from each department which CEO Angelo and her board seem either incapable of or allergic to, despite all their recent talk about Leadership Teams, and metrics, and so forth.

YET HERE’S the Juvenile Justice Commission acting as if they knew there’s a big problem that something needed to be done about, but don’t want anything done about it without speaking to them first!

IF LAKE COUNTY hadn’t pulled out, it probably would never have even come up.

REMEMBER that Juvenile Hall is part of the Probation Department which has undergone major management turmoil in the last year or two stemming from former Chief Probation Officer Pamela Markham’s apparent boffing sessions in the office with her immediate subordinate which was ignored for months while the she was on paid administrative leave and several hundred thousand dollars were wasted on outside lawyers “investigating,” while an acting CPO tried to run the department, followed by overpaid interims and temporarys and actings who presumably were also unaware of the huge cost and overruns in Juvenile Hall. (We note that the outside investigation/lawyers were not charged to the Probation Department’s budget either.)

ON TUESDAY, CEO Angelo told the Supes that in response to the “absolutely unsustainable” situation, she had allocated only $150 per “juvenile” to the Probation Department — or about $770k for next year compared to the $2.7 million this year, just over a quarter of their prior year budget.

NOT ONE $84,000 PER YEAR SUPERVISOR asked how this could happen. Not one $84,000 per year supervisor asked how The Hall was going to cut back to almost 25% of their prior year’s budget. Nor one $84,000 a year supervisor asked to have the new Chief Probation Officer appear in front of the Board to explain the situation. Not one $84,000 a year supervisor asked for options like folding The Hall into the jail or part of the new jail expansion since “the youth” who make it into Juvenile Hall are mostly just a few months younger than some of the kids in the jail now.

INSTEAD, the Board seemed satisfied with CEO Angelo’s comment at the end of the item: “As we look at our costs going forward I think we’re really going to have to watch what we’re doing.”


(Mark Scaramella)

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Hello, I am looking for a room rental or cottage rental for 2 nights - May 18 and 19, I want to be within a reasonable distance to 128. This is for one quiet, responsible person. Please email:

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(Click to enlarge)

(Photo by Judy Valadao)

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SOCO HAVING SECOND THOUGHTS about being featured on “COPS.”

As the Cops film crews roll with deputies from the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office (SCSO), there is growing pushback against the controversial reality TV show's sudden arrival in the county last week—and questions about whether the Santa Rosa Police Department will ride along with the plan.

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LITTLE DOG SAYS, “I always know when these people are watching Crime Watch Daily. They start yelling, "Get 'em, Elizabeth!" and "You're running away from me now?" Meanwhile, I'm keeping an eye out for the real crooks, and believe me Boonville has a few!”

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THE INTERNET has so vastly increased the potency of urban legends, so quickened the circulation of rumors, that we may soon be the most deluded generation ever born. The internet is the great source of light and of darkness; it trashes the status of knowledge, undermines its ownership, and scants the principle of editing and review.

— Hilary Mantel

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On Tuesday, March 27, at about 5:50 am, the Willits Police Department responded to a report of two subjects fighting in the middle of the street near South Main Street & East Valley Street.

Officers arrived on the scene and detained a male subject identified as Brian Anderson, age 39, of Willits.


During the investigation, WPD officers learned the suspect attempted to buy items from the Village Market. When Anderson did not have money to pay, he took the items and left the store.

When Anderson was confronted by a store employee, Anderson threatened the employee and then attacked him. As the employee attempted to call 911, Anderson took his cell phone and smashed it on the ground.

Anderson was arrested for robbery, criminal threats, vandalism and the destruction of a wireless telephone and booked into the county jail. Bail was set at $75,000

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CATCH OF THE DAY, March 28, 2018

Anderson, Cedillo, Ceja-Lopez

BRIAN ANDERSON, Willits. Second degree robbery, communications device damage, criminal threats.

JOSEPH CEDILLO, Ukiah. Felony-conspiracy

JOSE CEJA-LOPEZ, Ukiah. DUI, domesic abuse, suspended license, failure to appear.

Culver, Daburlos, Hensley

AMANDA CULVER, Rio Dell/Laytonville. Domestic battery.

KHRISTOPHER DABURLOS, Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol.

CHARLES HENSLEY, Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol, failure to appear, probation revocation. (Frequent flyer.)

Hurtado, Johnson, Molina-Perez

ANDREW HURTADO, Fort Bragg. Disorderly conduct-alcohol, felony-conspiracy, probation revocation.

RICHARD JOHNSON, Ukiah. Probation revocation.

MIGUEL MOLINA-PEREZ, Ukiah. Battery, probation revocation.

Monahan, Mosby, Neese

MICHAEL MONAHAN JR., Covelo. Controlled substance, probation revocation.



Rodriguez, Vasquez, Willis

MANUEL RODRIGUEZ, Mexico/Ukiah. Murder, probation revocation. (Repost from yesterday with updated booking photo)

MARCOS VASQUEZ, Ukiah. Vandalism, felony-conspiracy.

SCOTTY WILLIS, Ukiah. Unspecified offense. (Frequent flyer.)

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So now we have the American Deep State trying to nullify the results of the last presidential election. Impossible you say? It isn’t. But how are they doing it? Is it by trickery and deceit or by dint of brilliant and subtle scheming and conspiring? No, it’s by making up the most laughable accusations that have got zero chance of standing up to even the most cursory scrutiny.

But it gets much worse. The accusers themselves happen to be guilty of what they’re accusing Trump of doing. Impossible?

Why would it be impossible? The Democrats nominated a candidate as bad as that of the Republicans. That in itself should have been impossible but the Democrats managed it. And then they topped even that. Given the preposterous incompetence of the Republicans in running a campaign and a convention, in even managing to plagiarise one of Madame Obama’s speeches, the Democrats were even more preposterous in running theirs, for example, in neglecting to campaign in key states. The Clintons, in short, lost an unloseable election. This thing shouldn’t even have been close. It should’ve been US history’s biggest landslide.

There’s a lot that should have been impossible that actually wasn’t. Nobody at the apex of American society should be so imbecilic as to trust Russians with helping win a presidential election especially by means of subterfuge. Except apparently the Clinton campaign. Nobody in the Deep State should have been so idiotic as to put Clinton in the clear over her howling negligence while she was Secretary of State. Yet that happened too. No criminal intent they said, except that to the eyes of even a simple mule-skinner, this stunk like hell of a cover-up.

Defenses of Trump appear to me not so much as defenses of Trump but rather as condemnations and ridicule of those clowns and morons that are trying to get rid of him, that somehow found themselves behind the curtain pulling the levers. Can you imagine these people actually running the Imperial United States of America? Impossible, you’d think. Except it isn’t.

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HE CLOSED HIS EYES and saw the yellow company houses stretched endlessly through Scottsville. In the rear of the houses he saw the tight-lipped women sitting at kitchen windows with their backs to the cold cook stoves. In the streets in front of the houses he saw the bloody-lipped men spitting their lungs into the yellow dust. As far as he could see, there were rows of ivy-walled mills beside broad, cool Horse Creek, and in them the girls sang, drowning out the sound of moving machinery. The spinning mills and the fabric mills and the bleacheries were endless, and the eager girls with erect breasts and eyes like morning glories ran in and out endlessly.

— Erskine Caldwell, God's Little Acre

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Sunday, April 15 at 3 pm in Preston Hall, Mendocino.  The program includes Beethoven's String Op. 18, No. 1; Shostakovich's: String Quartet No. 13 and Schumann's: String Quartet , Op. 41, No. 3.  For more information, call 937-1018

Advance tickets are at Harvest, Fort Bragg and Out of this World, Mendocino ($22). They are also available at the door for $25.

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WILLOWS, Calif. - Personal use firewood permits will be available for purchase from the Mendocino National Forest beginning Monday, April 2. Permits are $5 per cord of wood, with a minimum purchase of four cords for $20. Personal use firewood cutting permits are valid from the date issued until December 31.    All firewood removed must be dead and down. The maximum length for a piece of firewood that can be removed is six feet. A cord of wood is a well stacked pile, 4 by 4 by 8 feet. It is illegal to remove firewood from the national forest without a valid permit.    Permits are available in person or by mail from one of the offices listed below. A third party authorization form to allow another person to cut wood for the permit holder is available for individuals unable to cut the wood themselves. The form needs to be requested at the time of purchase. All firewood permit sales are final, with no refunds. Permittees will receive tags and a map of the forest. The mail request form is posted here:    Permit holders should be aware that federal and state quarantines to prevent the spread of sudden oak death (SOD) are in effect for Lake and Mendocino Counties. Any firewood cut in these counties can only be transported into other SOD quarantine counties, including Alameda, Contra Costa, Humboldt, Marin, San Francisco, Monterey, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano and Sonoma.    Firewood permits may be obtained from the following offices:

Forest Supervisor's Office/Grindstone Ranger District Office; 825 N. Humboldt Ave., Willows, CA 95988; 530-934-3316; Hours: Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Stonyford Work Center; 5171 Stonyford-Elk Creek Road, Stonyford, CA, 95979; 530-963-3128; Hours: Tuesday through Saturday 8 a.m. to noon, 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Upper Lake Ranger Station; 10025 Elk Mountain Road, Upper Lake, CA 95485; 707-275-2361; Hours: Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to noon, 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Gathering firewood can be fun and economical. It is an important activity to many individuals and families surrounding the Mendocino National Forest. The following are some tips to remember:

Plan your trip - check the weather, bring water, emergency food, and the appropriate gear for the season. Make sure you have a full tank of gas when you leave. Also, let someone know where you are going and when you plan to be back.

Keep vehicles on designated roads and be aware of unexpected weather that may change conditions quickly. Wet dirt roads can turn to mud, making it possible to get stuck and cause damage to road, soil and water resources.

As fire season approaches, be aware of fire restrictions or forest orders that may be in effect.

An approved spark arrestor is required on chainsaws and an approved fire extinguisher or shovel is required to be within 25 feet of the point of saw operation.

Ensure you are cutting firewood on the Mendocino National Forest and not from other federal, state or private lands.

Cell phones are unreliable in many parts of the forest.

Validation tags must accompany each load being transported.

Check with local offices for current information before traveling to the forest.

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ALL WARS are conducted in a savage muddle, and civil wars more than others. Perhaps it was because this came as a surprise to them that so many of the British and American intelligentsia declared themselves "disillusioned" by the course and outcome of the war in Spain. It was a blow, they averred, to their faith in whatever it was they had faith in. The side of the angels should have conducted itself more nicely. A "reappraisal of fundamental values" had become necessary. And, indeed, defeat is a jolting experience. It is interesting to consider what a big "reappraisal" there would have been in some quarters if the South had happened to win the American Civil War.

— Claud Cockburn

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“Whosoever pulleth this N.R.A. money from Marco Rubio’s pocket can be king.”

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“Rehearsal and Performance” is a workshop for actors of all skill levels taught by actor, director, and acting coach Ricci Dedola. A nine-week intensive, the workshop will be held every Saturday from 10am to 2pm, March 31st thru May 26th. Participants will have eight weeks of rehearsal & skill building; the final Saturday will be a performance for friends and family. Each week will focus on one aspect of the rehearsal process (e.g. auditioning, casting, blocking, tech, running scenes, etc.) with lots of coaching and play time.  Cost is $120 for the nine-week session.  Middle school and high school students are encouraged to attend!

To register, please call our box office, 707-937-4477 or sign up online at

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“Are there any non-citizen immigrants here? The President may need a new wife.”

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by Don Asher

Come this November, he’ll have been gone 72 years, and no one’s ever got within shouting distance.

When I was 15 I dreamt one night that I was much older, playing the piano in a trio in a roadside outside Worcester, Massachusetts, one of those gutbucket saloons strung along the Worcester-Boston turnpike like dingy boxcars on a coal-littered siding. My daydream was to become a premier jazz pianist; I was eight months away from my first professional gig.

The tune I was playing in this dream, with bass and drum accompaniment, was Yesterdays—not the tepid Beatles Yesterday; it hadn’t been written yet—Jerome Kern’s Yesterdays, sweet sequestered days. As I ended on a tremolo D-minor chord I sensed looming behind me…a shadowy presence that made my skin creep, though I did not feel physically threatened. The sparse applause died. I turned and saw him emerge from the gloomy recesses of the bar, bloated, ponderous, walking with his hands slightly in front of him, sight only in a quarter of one eye, gleaming black face held at a rigid angle, single eye straining for light. Then he was saying in a deep gruff voice as he bent over me, hands spanning my shoulders, the beer-swollen paunch pressing gently into my back—a pudgy man’s inadvertent caress—“That was pretty, son, but try this chord in the second bar.”

The incredible flat spatulate fingers spread on the ivory, a Debussy-based chord resounding as if from a submerged cathedral (and ringing in my mind the next day). But the intervals were too irregular, beyond my harmonic ken. I couldn’t fix the configuration in my mind.

“Do that once more,” I said in my dream, but he was already off to the next bar and as I slipped out from under his arms he lowered his squat portly bulk onto the stool. The room grew very quiet, only the musicians knew who he was, but everyone seemed alert to an extraordinary transition, skinny journeyman white pianist giving way to the burly black man, face raised awkwardly to the light, the thrilling plangent godlike sound swelling to every corner, drums and bass awed, wisely laying out; no one plays with the High Commissioner.

At the time I was studying with Worcester’s foremost classical piano teacher, Martha Cantor. My Bach inventions and Chopin etudes were competent and respectful, but the music that was luring me sprang from contemporary revolutionary keyboards: Earl Hines, Fats Waller, Nat Cole, and most spectacularly, the blind virtuoso who had invaded my dream, Mr. Art Tatum from Toledo, Ohio.

“It’s cartwheels and magic,” and older pianist said, lending me a couple of Tatum’s records. “He puts us all in the deep shade.”

Soon after, Miss Cantor detected something course and alien infiltrating the texture of my playing. “Your legato lines are losing definition and clarity, Donald, and I can’t seem to put my finger on the difficulty.”

He was booked solo into Boston’s Hi Hat club. A half dozen fledgling musicians piled into my older brother’s jalopy and drove down the pike. The anticipation level was as high as if a carload of teenage baseball freaks were making their initial excursion to Fenway park in the days when Ted Williams ruled the pasture.

Tatum at the Concert Grand

Our first sight of him was in the bar a floor below the main room. I recognized him from photos, which had been accurately reflected in my dream. I was surprised he was so short—five foot six or seven, gauging by my own comparable height; but broad, a dense low-gravity weight to him. The bartender was pouring bottles of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer into a glass pitcher. When it was nearly brimful he handed it to Mr. Tatum. The pianist raised the pitcher to his mouth; he tilted his head, opened his gullet. Down the hatch in three or four stupendous swallows. Several of us were just starting to drink—glasses of beer and ale, swigs of Four Roses in back of the garage. But this was man’s work. What I had heard was true: he drank like he played, lustily, prodigiously. It was an auspicious introduction.

We followed him upstairs to a semi-dark two-thirds-filled room. He eased onto the bench, arms loose at his sides, head cocked as if sniffing something in the air. Only when the rustle and conversational hum subsided did he lift his hands. It was not a leisurely entry, no ruminative chording or testing-the-water arpeggio work. The hands plunged. And the music shouted and poured, wide as a river.

I can only convey image-flashes of that evening, a night landscape revealed in flares of bolt lightning.

Passages of whomping way-back whorehouse stride merged into jaunty lambent measures: a well-bred slightly sassy girl promenading in a new satin dress…a locomotive giving way to a unicycle. The sly passage work and raffish embroidery suggested Debussy playing barrelhouse. It was a matter of how receptive a state you were in, how loose a rein you allowed your imagination.

Some pianists’ hands caress the keyboard, others prance, skip, sculpt, browbeat, or bluster. Tatum’s alternately tap danced and marched; the dance puckish, airy, fantastic, the march that of an assured boulevardier. The latter bravura mode conveyed a spectacular parade, a panorama of the music’s early history from the raunch and swagger of new Orleans levee and bagnio parlor, upriver by paddle wheel (deckside brass bands outfitted in spanking regalia) to Kansas City and Chicago, where gangster-run honky-tonks, purveying hot music, bootleg gin, and whores in silk dresses, jumped into the sunrise. Mundane pop songs were cloaked in symphonic array and dazzling filigree. Playful interpolations—Stars And Stripes Forever, Short’nin’ Bread—studded serious compositions.

He played Massenet’s Elegie, played it straight, shimmeringly, then turned on the engines, transforming it to a blazing, rag-inflected juggernaut of sound. A classmate beside me whispered, “Now I understand The Charge of the Light Brigade.

He seemed to be connected to a volcanic fount of energy and invention from which he painted endlessly vivid canvases, the hands chasing each other on breakneck up-hill down-dale runs. If you closed your eyes it sounded like two highly gifted players, four hands, nimbly frolicking on the same keyboard, having a hell of a time for themselves. (Look closely at a jazz musician’s face when he is soloing and is pleased by his inventions, and you’ll often spy behind the concentration and intensity an expression of pure child: that carefree abandoned look you see on the faces of kids racing across a field or climbing playground bars. A neural affinity links kids having fun and grown-ups making music: block out everything extraneous and jump for joy.)

Get Happy he played at an impossible rocketing tempo. Around the round the room mouths fell open. “My god, his hands are a blur,” a woman said behind me. But the music wasn’t. The driving left hand and breakaway arpeggios conjured a train walloping across prairie tracks, hellbent, lickety-split. My bug-eyed classmate was trying to beat his thumb in sync with the tempo; it was like trying to match a hummingbirds wings. On the edge of my chair, tense with the rollicking charge, I found myself gradually relaxing, slipping into reverie—I had boarded the train at the last station and was giddily swaying now with its careening motion, watching power poles, occasional barns, and grazing animals flash by, able to appreciate the landscape because of my instinctive trust of the engineer. He might have been a wild man, half-crazed or stoned or just naturally exuberant, but trust him I did on this highballing trip. Besides, what choice did I have but to gut it out, ride the express down to the end of the line?

Two courses into Fine and Dandy, some boisterous partyers settled at a table near the piano. Tatum instantly dropped his hands to his sides, patiently waiting until the interlopers were glared into silence. Then he was off again, this antic engineer, throttle out, a mother superior on wheels, booting it home, running with the wind.

We were subdued driving back, our exhilaration tempered by incredulity and, ultimately, depression, the pianists in the crowd contemplating a goal that could never be reached, knowing that much of what we had heard could not be done. We were young, nowhere near the limits of our powers, but we suspected—taking a squint down the long road— that the best we’d manage would be to hold our hands at forbidding distance to his bright flame and to try to warm ourselves.

Before the year was out I was working my first jobs in the southside Worcester dives and turnpike road houses. I fessed up to Ms. Cantor—the indelibly fixed notes of long-dead composers, glorious though they were, no longer did it for me—and terminated my lessons. She was devastated. One of her prize pupils jumping ship at such a tender age to vanish, perhaps forever, beneath the waves of vulgarity.

We tried like mad to mimic him and fell back gasping. The notes could be superficially duplicated, lifted with enormous difficulty from records and read off transcriptions, but the velocity and verve and soul were missing—that bedrock groove running down the center of his style big enough for an elk to swing in.

I asked a respected classical pianist-composer and critic for one of the Boston papers if he had listened to Tatum, and if he had an opinion.

“There’s a demonic, almost diabolical quality to his playing,” he said. “The Furies must have gathered around his crib at birth, something infernal slipped into his mother’s milk.”

The overwrought references bewildered me. Why the sinister overtone? Can’t a comparable fervor and brilliance evolve from godliness? Wasn’t the talent divine?

Tales arrived from New York that George Gershwin had brought luminaries from the classical world to his Seventy-second Street apartment and steered them to midtown clubs to hear the blind wizard. Horowitz, Godowski, Rachmaninoff, Gieseking, and Paderewski—a select fan club indeed—listened and were wowed. Horowitz particularly enjoyed the interpolations and endless variations on Gershwin’s songs. Rachmaninoff is said to have remarked to his colleagues, “ If this man ever decides to play serious music we’re all in trouble.”

(Whatever Tatum’s inclinations, the path to “serious” music would have been a hard one for a black man in America in the 1930s and ‘40s.)

After Gershwin’s death the nightclub pilgrimages from the decorous world continued. Nightly the titan wrapped everything he played in the richest of harmonic and rhythmic raiment, displayed with a precision attack and ravishing tone. A story made the rounds a music scholar recognized Artur Rubenstein in the murky recesses of the Onyx Club. The scholar approached. “Maestro,” he said, “this is not your usual habitat.”

Rubinstein reportedly placed a finger to his lips. “Shhh, I am listening to the world’s greatest piano player.”

These surpassing musicians would not have been intimidated by the blazing technique and velocity; they too could fly. It must have been the audacious ex tempore improvisations forged at galloping tempos that floored them. Tatum would have been able to play—as can many jazz piano masters today—a very creditable Mozart sonata or Scriabin prelude. The classical recitalists, with very few exceptions (Andre Previn comes to mind), cannot begin to do what Tatum did. It’s mostly a one-way barrier between the two arenas.

I have heard distinguished classical pianists play flurries of wrong notes on pieces which the program informs us they have performed dozens of times. Jazz musicians are often bemused by this. We wonder how the superb artists, who have taken long months, a year, to master a piece, have turned it inside out and tucked it securely their back pockets, can still flub during a performance. Spontaneity must be the key. They have time to get nervous. They think, uh-oh, here it comes, the string of sixty-fourth notes or the left-hand four-bar trill—maybe they had a late-afternoon snack that didn’t quite sit right, the stock market took a dive, the wife left a message just prior to the performance that Archie, the beloved Airedale, was taken to the vet—their concentration waivers for a split second, they blow it and there’s no recovering.

When jazz players solo, we’re inventing the notes at virtually the same time that we play them, so we don’t have time to get nervous. Even when we’re feeling frisky, forgoing familiar patterns and taking chances maybe we ought not to be taking—moving out to the edge and over, as we say—we can spot a potential fluff coming down the road and throw a hand up, so to speak, deflect it or pick it off in mid-air; then, in the same maneuver, keeping our wits about us, change course and shoot off in another direction, turning emergency to advantage like an adroit broken-field runner. The spontaneity and flexibility are all. We are not bound by the steel bars of written notes and have numerous escape routes. You’ll rarely hear—or at least be able to identify—a flawed passage from a first-rate jazz piano soloist; dull possibly, uninspired, but not defective.

There are few clues to Tatum’s wellspring. He was born in Toledo October 13, 1910, and soon afterward contracted diphtheria, which damaged his eyes. Repeated surgery over the years restored much of his site, but a brutal mugging in his early teens left him permanently blind in the left eye and with a shadow of sight in the right.

His parents were amateur musicians. Early on he could play anything he heard on the radio or on piano rolls, but we’ve been told that about many a child prodigy. He mastered Braille music-reading at schools for the blind in Toledo and Columbus. At sixteen he played his first professional job with a local dance band, but soon veered from the combo direction taken by most pianists. He was hearing orchestral sounds in his head that paradoxically would be impeded by supporting instruments, and some of the kids coming up with him were scornful of his meager left hand; he vowed to show them. The solo format satisfied both urges.

Tatum’s artistic lineage can be broadly traced. He listened to Bach and Chopin and Scriabin. The James P. Johnson piano rolls intrigued him. He loved Fats Waller and was informed by the piston-drive of Fats’ left hand and the arrhythmic breaks and jubilant horn-like excursions of Earl Hines’ innovative right. At some point the heroic scope of the talent catapulted him into another realm.

He also admired and listened carefully to Lee Sims. As a teenager I had been spellbound by late-night fifteen-minute radio shots of Lee Sims’ solo work. He had Tatum’s facility for making an undistinguished pop ballad sound like a Chopin nocturne, transforming the material with bewitching harmonies and a satiny touch.

Hardly anyone remembers Sims today. I was startled recently by a spry woman in her seventies who approached me at the Cafe Majestic in San Francisco, where I play piano music nightly. She said, “You played that ballad in a way that reminds me of someone. Does the name Lee Sims mean anything to you?”

I stared. “He meant the world to me at fifteen. I would have given anything to play like that. Where did you hear him?”

“I not only heard him, I knew him, shall we say, intimately,” she answered with a coy smile.” That sweet man was one fine roll in the hay.”

I took a moment to digest this stunning, gratuitous intelligence.

In the late ‘40s I was leading a quintet on the fraternity house-party circuit at Cornell in upstate New York. During Christmas and Easter breaks, if I knew Tatum was working on Fifty-second Street, I hopped the Lackawanna Railway into Manhattan, holed up in a fleabag hotel for one or two dollars a night, and camped out on the street of dreams. By now the bebop revolution was in full throttle; it did not interest or deter Tatum. His renown was international and his artistry had reached supernal heights. He performed heart-stopping high-wire acts nightly, climbed Mount Olympus, erected glistening Taj Mahals of sound. I thought of a placard on the wall of the McGraw Tower Library on campus: Architecture Is Frozen Music—Goethe.

Cavalier critics launched flea-bite attacks on the fortress of his style: the music could not breathe, he inundated the keyboard with florid geysers of notes. Never! Not for my money! I was thirst-crazed, insatiable. You play what you hear, and he heard more than any of us, a universe of sound, purls and shouts. The last time I ever heard him live—he would be leaving New York for an extended stay on the west coast—I wanted terribly to speak to him, to tell him, without fawning, that he had filled my life to brimming with his magic; hear his voice (the other voice, suspecting it would be as earthbound as the music was ethereal); to look at the hands close-up (I had heard he sensitized his fingers by constantly working through them a particular-sized filbert). I could not capture the nerve.

How do you approach a deity? It was two in the morning, the final set just finished. As I was agonizing, he rose wearily from the bench and turned toward the back room. The girl at the table behind me was suddenly galvanized. She was about my age, nineteen, curls under a beret, her face flushed with the joy of what she’d heard. She was pushing toward the bandstand against the flow of departing customers.

“Mr. Art…Mr. Tatum,” she called, her eyes pinwheeling with excitement. I imagined her an aspiring concert pianist, studying at Juilliard, making her pilgrimage from that other world. He turned the slowly, gazing around, the heavy face gleaming with sweat. The girl stopped a few feet from him. She caught the her breath. She said, “I want you to know…You do it better than anyone does it!”

Yes, that was what I had wanted to say.

I never made it to the benches of the premier jazz clubs. But in my travels I linked up with a Tatum disciple, the pianist Hampton Hawes, one of the keepers of the flame. I would later help him write his autobiography.

He told me of an incident that took place a few months before Tatum’s sudden death from uremia in 1956.

“I was working with Stan Getz at the Tiffany club in L.A.,” he said, “when Art Tatum showed up at the bar. Didn’t even know he was in the club till he came lumbering out of the shadows, head turned to the side and up—like Bela Lugosi coming at you, scare you if you didn’t know who it was. Moved right up to me and said, ‘Son, you hot. I came down to hear you.’

(This set my scalp tingling. Son, as he had addressed me in my dream decades earlier.”)

“Well, I knew I was playing good, getting there, but in the overall rundown of players I considered myself comparatively lukewarm at the time. And here’s Art Tatum looking weird at me out of the corner of one eye, saying, ‘Son, you hot.’

“I said, ‘I’m glad you came in and I wish you’d show me some of that stuff you do with your left hand.’

“He said, ‘I will if you’ll show be some of your right-hand stuff. Why don’t you come by my house?’ Gave me the address and we shook hands on it. I kept thinking, Son, you hot. From Tatum—that’s like the king telling you you’re one of the most loyal and courageous subjects of the land. Man came down to hear me play, shook my hand, said I was hot. It messed up my mind…

“I kept meaning to go by his house, but by the time I got my head together and said, Tomorrow I’ll go by Art Tatum’s house, I heard on the car radio he was dead. Forty-six years old. On November 5, 1956. There should be a federal proclamation of that day, like Labor Day, ‘cause he sure must have worked his ass to the bone to play the way he did.”

In the spring of 1977, not long after Hawes had told me that story, I was a pall bearer at his funeral in Los Angeles. He was forty-eight; he had lived two years longer than Tatum, both of them barely into the summertime of their lives.

What is there about the music that strikes so early and exacts such a terrible toll? Our brothers on the other side, the Horowitzes, Heifetzes, and Rubinsteins, seem to endure into their ninth and tenth decades. Is it the tensions implicit in the more spontaneous, “less serious” craft—those perilous swings out to the edge— that dictate a baleful lifestyle? Something pernicious slipped into our mother’s milk? Or simply the saloon’s stamping grounds offering temptations not afforded by the concert hall?

On a beautiful May morning I gazed down at Hampton Hawes in his coffin, the hands still as stone by his sides, the fire cold. The hands that used leap and crackle like high-tension wires. I remembered asking him one afternoon—we were taking turns at the piano—why his version of the same up-tempo tune, using nearly identical chord changes, jumped and burned while mine simply lay there, correct but quiet. His humorous righteous answer contained, I’m convinced, a core of truth:

“When you went to church or temple as a kid you probably sang stuff like Rock of Ages and God Bless America. When I attended my daddy’s church—he was a faith-dealing Presbyterian minister—I was picking up on “You got shoes, I got shoes, all God’s children got shoes.”

My thoughts swung to Tatum, how he could drop his hands loosely to his sides, waiting for the silence so he could continue to dance. Now, for both of them, the silence was forever.

And you know you would give the keys to the kingdom to have them back and play it just one more time.

In 1982 I met Earl Fatha Hines, the daddy of us all. He was then in his 77th year—a biblical span for a jazz musician—working the Miyako Hotel in San Francisco, having outlived many of his children. I asked him about his star progeny.

He said, “to hear Art at his peak you had to be present at the after-hours sessions and house parties when he’d roll right through till nine, ten in the morning. That’s when he really turned it on.”

“You mean better than the records, the club performances? How could that be?”

“Ten times better, ten times! Hines slapped his thigh. “He did things that were not possible on the piano. You had to be there.”

This from the undisputed patriarch of jazz piano recounted with boyish glee, a high remembering shine in the eyes.

Tatum’s sister Arline Taylor, informed critic-historian Whitney Balliett that moments before she received the phone call that told her her brother had just died in Los Angeles, she heard the screen door of her house in Milwaukee open and close. She asked her husband if he’d heard it. “He said yes and went to the door, which was latched, as always.”

Why should I doubt Arline Taylor’s word when the reverberations from her brother’s hands and heart, first heard a half century ago, still sing in my mind like a carillon?

I was in Boston the night the news broke. Knots of musicians gathered outside the clubs and cafes with soft downcast looks, rueful shakes of the head, exhalations of breath—the futile gestures of an inexpressible regard. Remembrances of recorded gems were exchanged: the uncanny interior voices on The Way You Look Tonight (which sounded, a guitarist said, “like it was recorded in 2029 by some harmonic genius we haven’t heard from yet”), the high-stepping stride and get-out-of-my-way runs on Cherokee.

We keep trying to capture the elusive pulse, simulate the daring trapeze work, tune into the grave. We weep at his early departure and are joyous he came our way. He led us a very chase, this lion-heart roaring down the Route 66 of American classical music (luring us onto strange byways, uncharted back roads), and has now put permanent distance between us.

But there are rare moments during the rendering of compositions associated with him—Yesterdays, Sweet Lorraine—when a curious vibrancy charges us, and for a half chorus or so we take wing, soaring above our landbound selves. A new dimension, an altered emotional and rhythmic edge enter our playing. We interpret pieces in a way and with a spirit we never have before. We can’t explain it, even to ourselves. It’s as if there is the breath of someone else in us.

That was pretty, son, I keep remembering from my dream. How would I not?

An unsolicited accolade from Mr. Tatum of Toledo.

In memoriam, 



  1. MarshallNewman March 29, 2018

    I never had the pleasure of seeing Art Tatum play (he passed when I was seven). I have listened to a multitude of his recordings. Like all true creative forces, he never played a tune the same way twice. Two additional brief Tatum stories. The first time a teenage Oscar Peterson – who became a great pianist in his own right – heard Tatum play, he was so intimidated and disillusioned he refused to play for several weeks. Les Paul, whose first intended to become a pianist, actually DID quit piano and took up guitar after hearing Tatum. Interested folk should do an internet search for Mark Scaramella’s article on Tatum from 2011.

  2. james marmon March 29, 2018


    First of all, I was not pleased to see local cult leader Sheriff Tom Allman’s mug on “Fox and Friends” first thing this morning. His performances should be reserved for Fake News outlets only.

    Secondly, it appears that the Hart’s may have been on the run from from CPS for child abuse, the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services confirmed Child Protective Services had an open investigation case filed against a 38-year-old Jennifer Hart. As a former CPS investigator, I suspect fowl play, murder/suicide.

    And thirdly, red flags should have gone up alerting authorities that the children were in extreme danger of physical and/or psychological abuse when the family of 9 was photographed at a Bernie Sander’s rally 2 years ago wearing those ridiculous blue tee shirts.

    James Marmon MSW
    Former Social Worker V
    Mendocino County Family and Children’s Services.

    • james marmon March 29, 2018

      More news about the lesbian fost/adopt parents who murdered their 6 children (CNN)

      “Child Protective Services had tried to visit the family on Friday, then tried twice more on Monday and Tuesday, to no avail, according to the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. The agency was trying to get in touch after the “now deceased children were identified as potential victims of alleged abuse or neglect,” according to a statement from the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services.

      Sarah Hart had pleaded guilty to domestic assault, a misdemeanor, involving one of the children in a 2010 incident, in Douglas County, Minnesota, according to court records.

      The child had told an elementary school teacher of pain on her back and stomach, which was discovered to be bruises. Hart told police that she had spanked the child over behavioral issues. She was sentenced to community service and one year of probation.

      One of the family’s neighbors in Washington, Bill Groener, described the children as “wonderful” and said they were home-schooled and kept in the house most of the time.”

      “I thought it was strange that I didn’t see the kids a lot,” he told CNN. “The weird thing was that the kids kind of seemed repressed and not communicative.”

      “We have no evidence and no reason to believe this was an intentional act,” Allman said of the wreck. “If this was an intentional act, I truly believe that both between the highway patrol and the sheriff’s office, we are going to come to that conclusion. And if we come to that conclusion, you can be assured that that information will be released to the public.”

      James Marmon MSW
      Former Child Welfare Investigator
      Del Norte and Mendocino Counties.

    • Lazarus March 29, 2018

      I’m wondering what happened to the missing ones…very weird story.
      CBS ran it on their network “CBS This Morning” program. The Sheriff had a less then 5 second spot.
      As always,

      • Lazarus March 29, 2018

        And what of Charles, Charles Hensley…
        As always,

  3. chuck dunbar March 29, 2018

    Don Asher’s, “Keys to the Kingdom.” What a beautiful
    piece of writing about such wonderful piano music. Thanks much, AVA, for giving us this read today.

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