John Guernsey

John Austin Guernsey was born into a musical family. His father, George, had an enormous jazz record collection, and it was a rare night that nothing was on the phonograph. George would take John, Tom and me to the Showboat Lounge to hear and meet such friends as Teddy Wilson and Charlie Byrd.

There was a piano in the Guernsey living room, and John took to it at a young age, while his brother Tom gravitated to guitar. It wasn’t long before they were making music together. John was unusually single minded when it came to mastering his instrument, spending hour after hour practicing. He mastered the difficult idiom of stride piano at an early age.

John also wrote beautiful songs with haunting lyrics. In the late 60s, a band called Claude Jones was among the first to play clubs with a repertoire heavy on original material, and John was a natural fit. Eventually John joined the band as a performer as well as a writer, and subsequently the band recorded several of John’s songs. Later, The Mystery Band recorded “Twelve Songs By John Guernsey.”

John’s legacy extends far beyond his musical contributions. He was a highly respected artist, wrote a novel, wrote and produced a musical, and performed nightly at the New Deal Cafe in Greenbelt for many years. He was a sought after piano teacher, and many of his former students remained dedicated friends throughout his life.

John Guernsey died on April 22 after a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease.

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