Oksenhorn’s legacy lives on a year later
The Aspen Times
Stewart Oksenhorn and I were often the first people in The Aspen Times building — and there was always music playing. I think of it as a gift from Stewy; those songs play over and over in my mind, keeping his memory alive.
Of course, anyone who knew Oksenhorn, who died one year ago today at age 50, knew that his passion for music was as deep as his knowledge of the subject.
If you look back on the dozens of stories, letters to the editor, tributes, speeches and more in Oksenhorn’s honor, nearly every one mentions his love of music. As The Aspen Times’ arts and entertainment editor for more than 20 years, Oksenhorn covered the local music scene with more intention — in words and pictures — than any other local scribe; his annual Stewy Awards and his “Year in Music” reviews were keepsake pieces of journalism. And Stewart walked the talk by playing guitar, singing (loudly) and jamming whenever he could.
It’s no surprise, then, that Oksenhorn’s legacy includes the gift of music — specifically, a new instrument for a Glenwood Springs High School music student made possible by the sale of a portion of Oksenhorn’s vast CD collection, which numbered around 7,500.
“If anyone has ever watched my daughter play jazz on her trombone, they know that the notes take her over,” said Lea Damm, whose daughter Hunter was presented with a new trombone Jan. 25 (see Letters to the Editor, page A11).
The purchase of the trombone came together after Oksenhorn’s longtime friend Alan Richman — a fellow music lover who was bequeathed the CD collection — decided to make an emotional statement with the music his dear friend left behind.
“I wanted to share the music, not keep it stored in boxes,” Richman said. “I decided to sell some via Amazon/eBay because I could see that they had value — and I knew I could do something positive with the proceeds.”
With the help of a handful of Oksenhorn’s closest friends — Michael Miracle, Neil Karbank and Josh Behrman — Richman decided to make two smaller donations: “One to Aspen TREE, which Stewart loved, and one to Aspen Chabad, which I love (and the Oksenhorns are the rabbi’s next-door neighbor).
“For the major donation, we wanted to do something that would have a lasting impact — not just a donation to a beloved institution but something material.”
So last month, Richman wrote a check to Jazz Aspen Snowmass, which used the donation to purchase a trombone for Hunter Damm (Damm, who took up band in fifth grade, has been part of Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ camps and honor bands).
In addition, collections of Oksenhorn’s CDs have been donated to libraries across the state. According to Richman, Pitkin County has 600 total, including the best jazz and blues CDs in the collection. Telluride, “where Stewart loved to go for music,” got a box of reggae and world music. Basalt has a selection of country/folk/American. The next box, Richman said, will go to Carbondale.
The music trail is just one of many ways the Roaring Fork Valley community has honored Oksenhorn over the past year. From a tribute section in the Times to countless letters to the editor, Oksenhorn was remembered as intelligent, prolific, witty and wise. He left behind his wife and a daughter, Olivia, now a sophomore at Aspen High School, whom he cherished more than anything else.
I remember Stewy as a true friend, brilliant journalist and genuine man.
But words are not enough to honor a man who covered without fail Aspen’s arts scene — impacting every person he met along the way. This is a fact the Aspen community has embraced with numerous events in Oksenhorn’s honor, from a standing-room-only memorial at the Wheeler Opera House to the dedication of Aspen Shortsfest and from Stewy’s Jams tribute at PAC3 to an exhibit of his photography as the inaugural show at the Wyly Annex.
And tonight, on the anniversary of his death, the Wheeler and Aspen Film are presenting “The Other One” in Oksenhorn’s memory. The movie is an appropriate choice, as Stewy was a Deadhead above all else in many ways.
“Guided by bandmates, contemporaries, followers, family, and, of course, (Bob) Weir himself, ‘The Other One’ is an ambitious look at the counterculture and music scenes that defined The Dead,” according to the Wheeler Opera House.
Then, on April 2, the Red Brick Center for the Arts will honor Oksenhorn in its 2015 Artist Tribute and Benefit event.
“Each year, the Red Brick hosts a benefit for the organization where we choose to give tribute and honor an artist or person who has impacted the arts in Aspen. Stewart was a champion of the arts and nonprofits in Aspen. As the longtime arts and entertainment guru with The Aspen Times, Stewart covered the local arts and culture scene in a way that often seemed superhuman,” the event website says.
And while none of these remarkable remembrances, gifts and tributes will bring Oksenhorn back, they pay homage to Stewy’s legacy. And this brings comfort to those he left behind — even those he never even met, like the Damms.
“(Hunter’s) emotion poured into the notes as she bonded with her new instrument,” Lea Damm said. “As a mother, I can only compare watching this to watching your child get a new car for their sweet 16 or watching them walk down the aisle. This was one of those moments that you know your child will hold on to forever.”
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