| IN MEMORIAM
By Claudia Meléndez Salinas
Monterey Bay — California, really — lost a giant last week. Musician, inventor and clean energy innovator Bob Danziger, a long-time resident of Carmel and the world’s greatest Brandenburgs fan, died Nov. 2 after a period of failing health.
His passing is a great loss to those who knew his generous spirit, boundless curiosity and the energy he poured into every project he touched. Whether it was re-creating the Brandenburg Concertos so he could play them by himself, digitizing all the programs of the Monterey Jazz Festival, making films or curating exhibits, Bob threw his heart and soul into every project he launched. As an advisor to Voices of Monterey Bay he will be greatly missed. As a personal friend, I’ll grieve his death for years to come.
Bob Danziger grew up in Los Angeles, and when he was 18, fresh out of high school, he fell off a ladder at a work site and broke his back. He spent the ensuing 10 months recovering, passing the time by playing a bass guitar. He became so good at it that celebrated pianist Cecil Taylor gave him a job.
After becoming a lawyer, he joined the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena in 1979, where he witnessed an event that would reinforce his passion for Bach and his concertos.
It was nearly two years after the Voyager spacecraft had been launched. Danziger was on hand when the probe began transmitting photos of Jupiter back to the lab’s headquarters in Pasadena from more than 365 million miles away. “There were these televisions all over the lab — everybody saw them at the same time, we were all together in this process,” Danziger told me in 2013. “I’m like the most junior guy at the lab. It was just fantastic. Finding myself in that kind of situation was amazing.”
Inside the Voyager was a Golden Record that included a Brandenburg Concerto as an example of human creativity. The thought of a Martian learning about the human species through Bach’s masterpiece made him giddy.
Danziger had fallen in love with the concertos a few years earlier. While practicing tai chi at a French Polynesian dock, he overheard music that riveted him, and he just had to find out what it was. So he jumped in the water and swam to the boat that was playing it, and learned it was the second Brandenburg Concerto.
Bob and I crossed paths during a reception of the Panetta Institute, the kind where working-class journalists have a chance to break bread with the moneyed class of Monterey County. We hit it off, spent the entire evening yakking, and by the end of the meal I’d decided I would have to write about this fascinating individual. It would take me months to put his story together — so much information, so much depth and breadth to Mr. Danziger, it was hard to weave it all together. The 2,000-word piece I ended up with barely begins to do him justice, but he liked it so much that he attached it to his CSU Monterey Bay page, the one that describes all of his accomplishments and is included as background to his RND Amphitheater.
Music was big in his life, but so was clean energy. While still at the Lab, he launched Sunlaw, an alternative energy company that would go on to build two power plants with emissions so low they practically cleaned the air instead of polluting it. He sold the company in 2000 and he and his wife, art historian Martha Drexler Lynn moved to Carmel.
In Monterey County, Bob committed himself to art. He made music and produced videos for the Monterey Museum of Art, the National Steinbeck Center, CSUMB and the Monterey Jazz Festival. He wrote a book, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Energy Independence,” a humor-laden memoir with insights into the energy industry. He re-wrote the Brandenburg Concerto so he could recreate it in the EWI — electric wind instrument.
Over breakfast or lunch we would talk about history, the environment, local politics, art, music, or simply about our families. In any topic we discussed, his enthusiasm for big ideas was always palpable. Bob was physically a big man, but his heart and his mind were much, much bigger than his body. He loved silly jokes and belly laughs.
“Bob Danziger was an extraordinary human being — one of the most exceptional, original, inclusive I have ever known — but he was also one of the kindest, most compassionate, and engaging,” jazz writer and musician William Minor wrote on his Facebook page. Bob “loved to tell jokes and was grand company over coffee on Tuesday mornings at Juice & Java; the sort of person who can, never, truly ‘pass away,’ for he has left an indelible mark on universal consciousness. He possessed what the poet Emily Dickinson called ‘solitary prowess’ — and truly lived that most ‘difficult ideal’: a life so rich with individual fulfillment its existence will endure and prevail somewhere, somehow, forever.”
David Gordon, a tenor and Bach historian, collaborated with Bob on several projects, including some that involved the Brandenburg Concertos.
“His enthusiasm for that music was infectious and he did some very creative things with it,” he wrote in an email.
Gordon also helped Bob get his hands on 84 years of Carmel Bach Festival programs to have them digitized. During these last few months, Danziger also digitized all the concert programs of the Monterey Symphony, the Monterey Jazz Festival and the California Rodeo.
“As a historian, I was moved by his sponsorship and hands-on management of the scanning and digitization of all the concert programs,“ Gordon said. “All that scanned material will now be available to researchers around the world through the Monterey Peninsula libraries and CSUMB, and it’s a spectacular living monument to Bob.”
After a $4 million endowment, CSUMB named the RND Amphitheater after Bob — Robert Nathan Danziger. Bob was beaming during the dedication in August 2019.
Bob named his interpretation of the concertos Brandenburg300 to commemorate an important anniversary soon approaching. On March 24, 1721, Johann Sebastian Bach presented his six concertos to Christina Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg.
With the 300th anniversary of the Brandenburg Concertos coming, Bob planned a celebration that would uplift the music he so loved. He coordinated the production of a live-streaming tribute to the Brandenburgs that was broadcast all over the world. The leading Bach archive in Europe took notice, another notch in Bob’s belt.
His commitment to inclusivity was evident in the livestream. Danziger reached out to organizations big and small to make sure he had as wide a representation of the peoples of the Monterey Peninsula as possible.
“He knew he had power, and he used it for good causes,” said Juan Sánchez, executive director of Palenke Arts, also included in the video. “He believed in our vision and saw it can be a platform that could elevate very disparate people, and he was willing to use that power to uplift them. He always repeated that we were doing the kind of work that needed to be supported at a higher level. He was a great supporter.”
Bob’s legacy will live in the music he recorded, his inventions, and in the RND Amphitheater at CSUMB, a gift to the students and the community. And in the hearts and minds of those who had the good fortune of sharing conchas and laughs with him.
While I sorely miss my friend, imagining him traveling through space to catch the Voyager and listening to Bach’s concertos along with Martians makes me smile. He’ll surely tell them one of his favorite jokes.
“I bought some shoes from a drug dealer. I don’t know what he laced them with, but I’ve been tripping all day.”
Bob Danziger’s archives at CSUMB can be found here.
Correction: An earlier version incorrectly identified Cecil Taylor.
FEATURED IMAGE: Bob Danziger and his wife Martha Drexler Lynn during a concert of the Latin Jazz Collective with John Nava at Coffee Bank in Carmel on August 14, 2021 | Photo by James C. Chang
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