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The Passing of Jack Hardy (1947-2011)

The Passing of Jack Hardy 19472011

Jack Hardy, a consummate singer-songwriter who played a pivotal role in the New York folk/songwriting scene for several decades and influenced and inspired many other songwriters, died on March 11. His passing at age 63 sent shockwaves through the folk community, with many posting short remembrances and tributes on Facebook — the social networking platform.

An engaging performer and a gifted songwriter, whose literate style blended Celtic and American influences with his own poetic vision. Social commentary, either implicit or explicit, was a major element in his writing (most notably on his latest album, Rye Grass), Jack Hardy also was a teacher, a mentor, and a major influence in advancing the careers of numerous other artists. He co-founded the Musicians’ Cooperative and the Fast Folk Musical Magazine, which issued more than 100 compilation recordings of then largely unknown artists over its 15 years. When songwriter sessions that he was instrumental in setting up at the Cornelia Street Cafe were no longer viable, Hardy began hosting weekly gatherings for songwriters in his Greenwich Village apartment in the mid-1970s. These get-togethers were frequented by such artists as Suzanne Vega, Christine Lavin, John Gorka, Shawn Colvin, Lucy Kaplansky, Richard Shindell, David Massengill (with whom he performed in recent years as the Folk Brothers), Richard Julian and many others, who shared pasta, wine and songs.

Vega, who was involved in Fast Folk since its inception, once said “We had a tribe and Jack was the nucleus of it.” Gorka paid homage to Hardy and his weekly songwriter sessions in the title track of his second album, Jack’s Crows. Lavin, herself a big-time promoter of other artists over the years, once referred to Hardy as “a true descendant of the bards and storytellers of ancient Scotland and Ireland” and posted the following on his Facebook page after learning of his passing: “Your impact on music is deep and will continue for many, many years.”

The World Folk Music Association honored Hardy in 1997 with its Kate Wolf Memorial Award that is given to an artist who makes a difference through his music.

Jack Hardy helped many aspiring singer-songwriters gain footing in New York, at Folk City and later at SpeakEasy and at the Cornelia Street Café’s Songwriter’s Exchange, according to Josh Joffen, a Long Island-based singer-songwriter who was an often-recorded songwriter on Fast Folk. He recalls that Hardy was instrumental in turning SpeakEasy, a failed disco nightclub into a 7/52/365 operation that became one of the biggest folk venues in New York City.

Noting that Hardy toured in the U.S. and Europe often and “produced a body of work that will stand as long as songwriting that reflects his values is appreciated,” Joffen says “Jack’s songs are often multi-layered, with strong images and stories, set in classical folk musical forms. But as editor of the Fast Folk[Musical Magazine], as host of the Songwriter’s Exchange in later years, and as a writer and artist, he was open to and appreciated other writers and their individual styles – if the work was good, if the songs said something, showed the writer’s intent, used language well, if they were purposeful.” However, Hardy was not beyond saying “Shut up and sing the song!” when songwriters waxed on interminably in introducing their songs during the gatherings that he hosted at his Houston Street apartment for more than 30 years. Indeed, “he was quite fond of saying it — to the point where it became an affectionate catch-phrase,” says Joffen.

Hardy frequently hosted or joined in late-night song circles around campfires at folk festivals ranging from Falcon Ridge to Kerrville, where many will sorely miss his presence this summer. His music, however, lives on, as will the fond memories that many have of him. I’ll certainly not soon forget the wonderful concert that my father and I enjoyed at the Uptown Coffeehouse in the Bronx several years ago, or his duo performances with David Massengill as The Folk Brothers – including at late-night showcases and song swaps that I hosted at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival and the 2008 Northeast Regional Folk Alliance Conference.

article by Michael Kornfeld, courtesy of
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Jack Hardy joins (from left) David Massengill, Anthony da Costa and Steve Kirkman during an song swap in 2008 (Photo: Robert Berkowitz).

The Passing

by Jonathan Byrd, March 11, 2011

Jack Hardy was larger than a man. He put his shoulder against the world and pushed every day. He was a one-man army in a battle against mediocrity. He brought us all with him and shared his success, standing anonymously behind the curtain while everyone he inspired took the stage.

At the Falconridge and the Kerrville Folk Festivals, Jack hoisted an enormous pirate flag upon his arrival. He woke early in the morning, made coffee, and started playing songs. No one was allowed to talk for long when there was a guitar in the circle. Jack's legacy could be summed up in his own raspy voice: "Shut up and play the song."

In the afternoon, Hardy could be found in the camp, singing songs and still hosting the circle. At dinnertime, he might have made his famous pasta for everyone present. At midnight, chances are you'd find him under the pirate flag, still giving an ear to the most ham-fisted, amateur songwriters in the camp. Only Jack knew how great they would be in ten years. Sometimes, he would quietly corral someone as they were leaving and say, "Hey, I like that song. You know, it could be better..." Some people didn't take too kindly to that. But most would be in the circle the next day, with a brave new knowledge of their own potential.

I've heard people claim that Jack Hardy was arrogant. They never knew him. Jack never once mentioned Fast Folk to me, a magazine and record label that practically WAS the songwriter scene in New York City for fifteen years. From the Smithsonian website, "Fast Folk included established artists such as Van Ronk and launched the careers of musicians such as Shawn Colvin, Christine Lavin, Steve Forbert, and Suzanne Vega."

Jack held a song circle every Monday in his SoHo flat for close to thirty years. The only rule was that you had to bring a new song. I went once and ate pasta, made by one of the greatest songwriters who ever lived, who then sat and listened to every clumsy, half-baked idea at the table and gave us his own.

Jack promoted everyone around him and never himself. He wouldn't even call people for gigs. Since the day I met him, he personally mailed a copy of every new Jack Hardy CD to my house. He recorded one of my songs and he damn sure didn't need anyone else's songs. I loved him deeply. I've been crying all morning. I can't fathom how much he meant to everyone he knew.

Sorry, Jack. I've gone on too long. I'll shut up and sing the song.

The Passing - Jack Hardy

It was a bird, a petulant bird that pecked upon the window
First so slowly, slowly then with urgent crescendo
As if it could it finally could say what it had to say-o
Its cry so muffled by the glass the structure in the way-o

       Mo ghrá sa'n Bás is deacair a rá
       'S riamh an lá d'ag gabháil-o (siud sa chré-o)

She had lain for many days, no years of indecision
Drifting in and out of sleep, no words describe the prison
With passion all reduced to pain in swollen joints and vision
She once independent now dependent on good wishing

I walked so slow so not to scare this cold bird at the window
Trying the while to ascertain its variegated colors
As if the seasons there had left confusion in the willows
Of leaves and flowers blown apart and covered on the pillow

She had said o'er and o'er that they could take her home now
As if she was some other place with strangers all unknown-o
Was it home to Clay Street to her childhood she would go now
Closer than I would have come this bird had come much closer

This bird was finally dismayed to find its own reflection
Stood so starkly motionless then flew in all directions
By the lines of modern thought the ancient body was consigned-o
The ashes to be placed somewhere where stained glass cast its light-o

Was it there it finally flew, this bird that was at the window?
It looked so free in passing as if the passing opened in-o
'Twas days and days and days before I could finally hear the cry-o
As if this passing the only way that I could say goodbye-o

Jack's fan,


updated: 11 years ago