The Story Behind The Music
Jon Brody’s project is one that is very close to my heart. It is a story of an incredible life, an untimely death, and the making of an album which contains one of the most powerful collections of songs I’ve ever heard. The artist is a student of mine, a brilliant human being and songwriter – his name is Jon Brody. In the nearly 6 years we worked together (2016-2021) and right before my eyes, I witnessed a creative blossoming in Jon unlike anything I have ever seen before.
I met Jon Brody when he replied to my ad offering voice and songwriting lessons on Craigslist. A well respected structural engineer by trade, Jon Brody was a closet artist. Jon had never performed live outside his living room despite telling me music had been a central force in his life since he could remember. Jon radiated intelligence, and not just the sort you gain from higher education (though there was that), but it was clear from lesson one that Jon was in a class of his own. He possessed a rare, deep sense of worldly and spiritual understanding. Self effacing, impossibly charming, and firing a biting wit, it was not always easy to read his thoughts as he was mysterious and measured in his sharing. Though Jon originally came to me with the intention of developing his voice, it soon became apparent to me Jon was also an aspiring songwriter.
Like many of us, he had some invisible roadblocks standing in his way. He shared with me early on that his father was an accomplished jazz saxophonist and pianist back in the day who played with some of the top outfits. Jon expressed profound love, admiration and respect for his father but there were also undertones of inner conflict. On one hand, Jon had a decent knowledge of music theory, a pretty good ear, and was exposed to a fair amount of high quality improvisational music from the beginning; on the other hand, his father had very exacting standards and frowned upon “lesser forms of music” which left Jon with a more complicated relationship to making music than was necessary.
Music remained a great love for Jon – but one that was left mostly on the sidelines, confined to his living room. He preferred to not challenge or receive comparisons with his father, believing he could never really win that fight. Instead, Jon had decided to let his father take the reins and hold the glory as the musician of the family. But Jon’s father was gone now. Slowly but surely, Jon gained the strength to step out of his father’s shadow and find himself as an artist.
In an eerily familiar and tragic twist of fate, 18 months into taking voice and songwriting lessons with me, and just as Jon was beginning to find his voice and step into his confidence as a songwriter, Jon developed a mild but persistent cough. He went to the doctor, and at the far too young age of 55, Jon was diagnosed with stage 4, incurable lung cancer. He was told there was a 5% chance he would survive 5 years.
It was November 2017. Jon had never been a smoker and his sister also lost her life to the same cruel disease 7 years earlier. It remains an unsolved mystery as to the origin of Jon and his sister’s tragic illness. There are suspicions of exposure to something toxic during childhood. That, or genetics. Upon diagnosis, Jon paused our lessons for several months as he underwent surgery to remove the cancerous tumor from his lung, as well as chemotherapy.
When he emerged, in April 2018, I received a phone call. I could never have imagined a second project with such gravity and weight on the heels of just having produced an album of another terminally ill student of mine, Bernie Dalton. I didn’t know if my heart could hold it all. But here it was, life unfolding before my eyes. So, as I was deeply consumed with resuming focus on my own new album, I was once again called to facilitate and produce another record.
In the wake of Jon’s diagnosis, his life wish was to make an album.
In the face of such circumstances, ‘no’ was not an option.
I answered the call.
Jon resolutely insisted on absolute privacy. Jon was a deeply thoughtful person who very intentionally chose to not disclose his health condition to all but a very few close friends. You could count them on one hand. I was one of the few people he trusted with the news.
Being chosen with such care to hold this secret was both the highest compliment and heaviest burden on my heart. Jon didn’t want people to treat him differently because of his illness. He liked his life as it was. He didn’t want anything to change. Most importantly, Jon wanted to make music for the love of it. He was not seeking acclaim. He had no interest in being given special / preferential treatment because he was a ‘sick guy making a record.’ He wanted his music to stand on it’s own merit. He also wanted to protect his 96 year old mother and other close family members from grief and loss for as long as possible.
Under an oath of secrecy, and over the course of nearly 3 years, I helped Jon develop his voice and songs and co-produced this album with Danny Uzilevsky at Allegiant Records in San Anselmo. Amazing musicians contributed their hearts and talents. Rob Hooper on drums, Joe Kyle Jr. on bass, Jonathan Korty on harmonica, and Taylor Cutcomb on piano. Complete album credits to come soon. The album is called “Beckoning.” It is Jon’s life legacy. We sent the album to mastering on October 2, 2021. Jon died the next day.
But let’s back up a minute. Jon’s first year of lessons with me occurred in tandem with the making and release of another student of mine, the aformentioned Bernie Dalton. Jon heard the behind the scenes step by step stories of how the project was unfolding in real time.
Bernie Dalton had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease while taking voice lessons with me and was making an album as his end of life wish – despite losing his ability to speak or sing or use his hands to play guitar. Bernie had asked me to ‘be his voice’ and to put music to his words and produce the album. I assembled a group of outstanding musicians and together we collaborated and became “Bernie & The Believers.”
Jon Brody was fascinated and asked many questions with genuine interest as a supporter. He asked me to send him the newspaper articles and documentary films being made on the project. He donated money to Bernie’s Go Fund Me campaigns. All this happened before Jon learned of his own condition. And then, in the sudden wake of his own terminal diagnosis, when faced with the unthinkable question of how to spend his own remaining days, Jon’s life wish was to make his own record.
At the time he made that decision, Jon had only written two songs. It took stage 4 lung cancer to push music to the front burner. In hindsight, I wonder if Bernie’s courage and creativity, in the face of his unspeakable challenge, may have played a role in how Jon chose to spend his remaining time. I wonder if it inspired him and influenced him. I am quite certain there was a parallel drawn, and though the specifics differed, the outcome of turning their focus to creativity and self expression during their final days was the same.
Both Bernie and Jon claimed to have had the best time of their lives writing and recording the songs that comprised their first and only albums, after they were diagnosed with terminal illnesses. Both succeeded in creating brilliant musical legacies under the most unexpected and trying of circumstances.
After a brief hiatus when Jon had surgery to remove a tumor in his lung and chemotherapy, we resumed our lessons and went into the studio in December 2018. We worked in the same studio I have been recording my own new album in over the past 3+ years. The very same studio where we recorded and produced Bernie’s album “Connection.” One major difference between the Bernie and Jon project however was that Jon could still use his hands and he could still sing. Jon did not ask me to be his voice. Instead, he asked me to help him find HIS true voice.
He began writing a collection of the most raw, biting, searching, heart wrenching and soul baring songs that I have heard. All but 2 songs were written post diagnosis. Each studio session felt like the outside world stopped; a capsule in time. There was no discussion of the past or future, and we were fully present, completely captivated by the moment we were in. Engaged, expressive, growing, and alive. Tears streamed down my cheeks during many of the vocal takes. I documented the sessions by taking close to one thousand photos.
Jon never disclosed his health condition to Danny. The weight became too great to bear alone, and I broke down and told Danny. Jon likely suspected as much but there never was a word on the topic spoken. We remained stoic, as Jon wanted, and we approached the sessions as if there was no elephant in the room. Jon sat on the same sofa that Bernie sat on. In the same exact place. I could not help but wonder about the synchronicity of the events and my own part in being called to do this type of work. Work I never sought out. Work I could have never planned or imagined. Life defining work.
Out of respect for Jon’s family’s grief and privacy, as well as my own, I have waited until now to share. But Jon’s family has given me their blessing to share Jon’s music and story behind the music with the world. It is my greatest honor, and with the utmost respect and love that I present to you Jon Brody’s album “Beckoning.” The journey that Jon and I shared has been one of the most profound and meaningful experiences of my life. I am so very proud to share the recordings we created with you.
Jon wanted this music to be available for free to everyone who wants to hear it for no cost.
Over the course of the almost 6 years Jon and I worked together, he became my dear friend. But ultimately, through his grace, determination, and an unbreakable commitment to music during hardship, he ultimately became a life teacher to me.
My wish now is to shine a spotlight on Jon’s life, his record, and share the message that it is never too late to pursue your dream, develop your craft, tell your unique story, and leave a meaningful mark on the world. There is beauty in the living and beauty even in the dying. Jon made this album not seeking acclaim but for the love of making music. For the joy of immersing himself in the creative process. It freed his mind from dwelling on his physical condition and gave him a channel to express what was in his heart. Each song is a capsule of an important story. My hope is this album will serve as a legacy of the person Jon Brody was, and not only a reminder of his untimely departure. I hold him in my heart and I pray he feels our love wherever he is now. ❤️