In Memoriam – Dylan Willemsa

by delarue

Dylan Willemsa, who distinguished himself as one of New York’s most individualistic and virtuosic violists, died last week in San Francisco. He’d moved there shortly after the group in which he arguably did his most memorable work, Dimestore Dance Band – guitarist Jack Martin’s brilliantly eclectic jazz/ragtime/latin noir instrumental ensemble – went on hiatus. According to police reports, the cause of death was suicide.

A native of Pennsylvania, Willemsa came to New York in the 90s and soon joined Nina Nastasia’s band. He played on several of her albums, including her iconic debut, Dogs, and her lush, sweeping post-9/11 release, The Blackened Air. He also played and recorded with numerous other artists, from art-rockers Firewater to clarinetist Patrick Holmes. In the mid-zeros, Willemsa was a familiar and comforting presence for months on end, busking at night on the Brooklyn-bound platform at the First Avenue L train station. His signature style – a whirling, pyrotechnic blend of Balkan, jazz and classical music – won him many admirers among his fellow musicians in the Lower East Side underground scene and made him constantly in demand.

A gentle, fragile soul, Willemsa sometimes struggled outside of music. A broken engagement and then a fractured marriage no doubt factored in a downward spiral that saw him give up playing music entirely. With Martin recently regrouping the Dimestore project, one can only imagine how much fun it could have been if Willemsa, always the band’s not-so-secret weapon, had returned. Deepest condolences to his family, friends and many bandmates.