Newport Jazz and two sons on their jungle gym

Here is a story from the CLHP archives about the power of community to inspire great art:

David Wasser with Joe Alper Photograph - Photo by JArem 2011

In the spring of 1960 just before the opening of Caffè Lena, David Wasser was introduced to Bill & Lena Spencer. A local Saratogian with a deep love for folk music, he soon became a weekend regular and gave the couple a 10 watt amplifier to use for their sound system along with their first mic stand and what he describes as “a cheap Shure mic.” When Happy Traum’s wife proved allergic to Lena’s cat Pasha, David’s house became a guest house for performers including Happy, Dave Van Ronk, Hedy West, Barry Kornfeld, Jean Redpath, Molly Scott, Ralph Rinzler and many others featured in early photographs by Joe Alper, who himself housed performers like Bob Dylan during their stays in Saratoga Springs. David remembers Dylan’s gig in 1961:

“My favorite memory is that of Bob Dylan’s first night there. He was the first (and best) of the composer-performer genre and the audience was more restless than polite (we were always polite.) Bill Spencer took the stage and chided the crowd on their unsophistication and began to “explain” Dylan to us. Dylan came on and announced that he was going to sing “He Was a Friend of Mine.” He said, ‘This is about a guy who worked in a carnival. A carnival is a traveling troupe who run shows and rides and games’ at which point we all laughed and applauded and relaxed.”

David’s daughter Rachel worked as a Caffè waitress in her teens and acted in the cast of “The Corn is Green” alongside Spalding Gray. David stayed involved with Lena’s through the 1990s, serving as an original Caffè Lena Inc. Board member following Lena’s death in 1989.

A few months ago, David wrote an email to the CLHP:

“In return for $15 dollars I gave him so he could buy 35mm film for a photo-shoot at the Newport Jazz Festival, Joe Alper took a picture of my two sons on their jungle gym in our backyard. It’s somewhere in my house. Those two little boys are now 54 & 52!”

David surfaced the photo (above), which bears a striking resemblance in tone and quality to the images Joe Alper made at Caffè Lena during this same time. Connected through the Caffè, David and Joe aided Lena on her quest to support American folk music, and in the process enabled documentation of those folk artists to take place. This photograph is a testament to the power of those connections, with Lena the common thread.

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