I and his friends knew the day would come, but when it did, it was no less of a shock. Copper contributor, bassist extraordinaire and audiophile Dan Schwartz passed away on May 16, 2023 at age 66 after a long bout with cancer.
Dan had been a Copper contributor since the first issue, published on August 11, 2016. During that time, he wrote more than 70 articles for his “Music and Other Illnesses” column, offering up-close-and-personal insight into what it was like to be a professional musician, incisive observations on high-end and pro audio technology, and much more. Dan had played and worked with Sheryl Crow, Jon Hassell, Keith Levene (Public Image Ltd.), Rosanne Cash, Bill Bottrell, Eno and many others and was an absolutely superb player.
I first met Dan around the mid-1980s when I joined The Absolute Sound. Dan was a writer for the magazine, or signed on around that time, and I eventually became his editor. I don’t remember whether I first met him over the phone or at a CES (I really should have kept a diary). Somehow he, Michael Fremer and I quickly became a trio of kindred spirits when roaming the floor at CES, then the main show for high-end audio, and hanging out at after-hours events. Since the three of us were obsessed with audio, recording technology, and especially the most minute of minutiae about music and artists, I remember long and deep conversations about everything from how Jack Casady got his bass tone to why Dan liked equipment with lots of headroom, but was particular about the kinds of distortion you could get from the right bass and amplifier combination. Dan was a great admirer of the work of Tim de Paravicini.
Here's a well-known song with Dan on bass:
Dan was easygoing with me but strong in his opinions. I tend to be the same, so it was fun to sometimes agree and often disagree on what we thought of gear we’d heard at shows or used on gigs. Dan was pretty level-headed in the time I spent with him, not a wild-man partier.
And boy did he have stories, many of which have been published in Copper. Phil Lesh once gave Dan a bass designed by legendary luthier Rick Turner. Dan once did a session for Michael Jackson, and Jackson rejected Dan’s tracks because he thought they sounded “too human.” I saw Dan play once, at a gig in New York with Jon Hassell, with Eno mixing sound. I think most of the people in the audience didn’t know it was Eno. The music was a sort of combination of jazz, ambient, and exploratory improvisation and Dan was brilliant in literally keeping it all together with his assured playing and deep, rich tone that seemingly extended into the subterranean, yet retained clarity. A master.
Things could get crazy at The Absolute Sound in those days and Dan was a steady influence in giving me advice on how to deal with editor Harry Pearson, the writers, the manufacturers, the industry personalities and the divas. Being a professional musician, he had plenty of experience in such things. We’d have many conversations, simply sharing our enthusiasm about music and equipment. When you’re a gearhead, you know how that is.
When I left TAS, I lost touch with Dan (and a lot of other people) for something like…20 years. Then Facebook came along. I sent friend requests to everyone I could think of including Dan, and we began keeping in touch again, mostly from me seeing his posts and vice versa. Then Copper magazine came along. I was delighted to see that Dan was a contributor and read him from the beginning. I would have never thought that a couple of years later I’d be his editor again. It was like a flashback, as his articles would come in and with a smile on my face, I’d switch on Track Changes in Word and look through his copy, something I’d never imagined I’d be doing all those years later.
Naturally we communicated regularly – and I had known through friends that Dan had been battling cancer for a while, maybe more than a decade. He once got mad – the most irritated he ever got at me – when I called him and said something like, “you’ve been fighting cancer for a long time.” He replied to the effect of, “I wish people wouldn’t say I’m fighting cancer! It’s not a fight! I’m living with cancer.”
I last spoke to Dan a couple of months ago, about a routine matter involving Copper, though of course we quickly got off onto a musical tangent. His voice sounded noticeably more hoarse than usual, and he told me that he wasn’t able to go out much anymore. We joked and agreed, well, that’s what audio systems are for!
I don’t do Facebook as much as I used to but a couple of weeks ago was on it and saw a message from Dan saying that he’d spent the last few days in the hospital and was now in hospice. A chill went up my body, as we know what that usually means. I thought, the guy’s seriously ill and he’s taking the time to let everyone know that his time on the planet may be coming to a close. Sadness overtook me, but also happiness that Dan seemed to be facing it with grace and courage. Perhaps that might be the best way I can end my tribute to him – Dan, you always had grace and courage. Thanks for the friendship, the artistry, and the inspiration.