The last time I went to Dan Lilley’s house was for a recording session with my group, Cyanotype. It was a bright Saturday afternoon in November. I was greeted by a pair of barking schnauzers.
“It’s OK,” Dan assured me. “They’ll quiet down once you start playing.” He hadn’t had the dogs before, so I was a little skeptical. But they got used to me and quickly quieted down. This process repeated as each of the other group members arrived.
“They seem to love music and often accompany me when I’m listening, regardless of how loud it is,” Dan explained.
We moved around some furniture, set up the creepy binaural mannequin that Dan was so proud of, and got ready to start recording. It all felt very natural, very easy.
I met Dan through my friend and musical co-conspirator David Menestres, of Polyorchard. David lived two houses down from Dan and, in the summer of 2014, convinced him to start hosting the occasional house concert. Dan’s living room was perfect for music. Its open floor plan meant that even the softest sound carried. It was warm and inviting. The music was always out there—free jazz, free improv, ultra-minimal classical music—but Dan was always the most enthusiastic member of the audience, breathing in every bit of musical noise that came his way. He would always be the first to start clapping, the first to cheer, the first to show his appreciation for whatever he had just heard.
After the music had ended, he would invite up anyone who wanted to come to his listening room, which he dubbed the “Transporter Room.” It looks like those old Maxell ads with a guy in a deep armchair getting blown away by a sound system. Dan had the two largest speakers I have ever seen, with an intricate subwoofer setup of his own invention. (He had finally received a patent on it around the time of the recording session last November). When you sat in that chair, it didn’t matter what was on or how loud it was; the sound was clean and pure, with no distortion. I think he was playing Buddy Guy the day I listened. I had to get pulled out of the chair to give someone else a turn. Dan would eagerly talk your head off about the rig or the many adventures he had with that binaural recording system (which always wore a Taint Radio t-shirt, and often had on a bike helmet or baseball cap) or most anything else.
Daniel Taylor Lilley Jr., died suddenly this past Wednesday, a week after an accident at his home. He was 63.
I can’t say that I knew Dan well. I went to his house maybe a dozen times as a performer or audience member. I had maybe that many conversations with him. But that was enough to know that he appreciated music like few people I have ever encountered. His ears were broad, deep, understanding. He would tease out obscure references in the most abstract of improvisations, and they were always pretty spot on. He was incredibly kind and generous, inviting us into his house to play and engineering our recordings without asking for anything in return. He seemed giddy to be able to share with anyone who wanted to go along for the ride.
I can’t speak to any other part of his life, but I feel privileged for the small part I did get to know. The Triangle is a little bit quieter today than it was earlier this week. To paraphrase Dan’s husband, the best tribute to him is to “put on your favorite album and play it so LOUD that your neighbors complain.”
During that recording session last November, the schnauzers didn’t make a peep, regardless of how far out we got. They seem transfixed by the sound. Near the end of the session, one of them plopped down in front of saxophonist Laurent Estoppey, perfectly contented. Clearly, Dan had taught them well.
Meanwhile, with his super high-end earbuds, he sat nearby, blissfully absorbing it all.