When Trey Anastasio mentioned that Ernie Stires passed away during his speech at the Jammys, you could sense the pain and loss in the Phish guitarist’s voice. Stires taught Trey things about composition and improvisation that became vital to what set Phish apart from the pack over the course of their career.
Back in 2001, I had the pleasure of speaking with Stires before Trey premiered Ernie’s Chat Rooms at the Vermont Youth Orchestra concert in Troy. He told me that he knew Anastasio was a special talent from the moment he met him, and felt honored that Trey was playing his concerto. Stires also got a big kick out of meeting and interacting with Trey’s fans. He appreciated his special bond with the guitarist, and the feeling was mutual:
“Ernie Stires was my mentor, my hero and my friend. I met him when I was 18 and looking for a composition teacher but he quickly became like a second father to me. I remember with great joy our long days in his living room, drinking cup after cup of black coffee, and listening to scratchy old Samuel Barber or Benny Goodman records. He would jump around the room like a little kid, so excited. I cherish those memories.
“Mostly we would talk about life, though — children, being on the road, marriage, friendship. I always looked forward to his letters. They were funny, deep and full of love. Sadly, I was replying to his last letter when I had learned that he had passed away. Ernie’s music was just like him: inventive, challenging, romantic and elegant. He had such a beautiful, beautiful soul. My heart is broken today and my prayers are with his wife, Judy, whom Ernie loved more than words can express.” – Trey Anastasio