A life of creative exploration, remembered

Dan Lucas lived a life driven by his ranging intellect during his seven years in Asheville. He played with a variety of local bands and had a particular love of jazz. He read insatiably. He traveled the world as a kayaker, running the Green River’s harrowing Narrows with regularity. And he dove into the study of chemistry, becoming a top student at UNCA, where he earned his bachelor’s degree.

I am a scientist: Pianist Vijay Iver is a national critics’ darling with an advanced degree in physics. Photo by Prashant Bhargava.

“He was definitely brilliant. He asked very inquisitive questions, and you could tell that he thought deeply about the material,” says Sally Wasileski, an assistant professor of chemistry at UNCA who was Lucas’ undergraduate research advisor.

Lucas moved on to the University of California at Berkeley to work on his doctorate in chemistry. Then, suddenly, Dan Lucas decided to stop living. He committed suicide in his Berkeley apartment last March.

His death devastated his family, who knew that he struggled at times with mental illness. There was grief and anger and finally, a grudging acceptance.

Most of all, there were loving memories.

“After he died, my parents and I decided to honor him in a way that would keep his spirit of doing alive,” says Dan’s brother, Greg Lucas. The family set up the Dan Lucas Memorial Fund through the Western North Carolina Community Foundation, which helps develop and distribute charitable funds across 18 Western North Carolina counties.

In that spirit, the memorial fund is bringing a world-class jazz pianist to UNCA to play a free concert. Vijay Iyer has been hailed by music critics as a virtuoso performer at the height of his creativity.

“What we hope to do with this concert is bring people together here in Asheville to remember Dan and enjoy really challenging music that is as much art and creative exploration as it is just entertainment,” says Greg Lucas, director of business development for Asheville’s Music Allies, which specializes in marketing music festivals and independent artists.

Dan Lucas, right, with brother Greg. “He was definitely brilliant,” says one of Dan’s former UNCA professors. Photo special to Xpress.

Lucas says the goal is to establish an annual concert in his brother’s memory that brings to Asheville “interesting musicians that have some affinity” with parts of Dan’s life. “Dan never met Vijay, but I always saw them as kindred spirits. Dan appreciated his music and was intrigued by how he could be a scientist and a musician—someone multitalented, like Dan.”

Indeed, Iyer’s music resume is matched only by his academic background in science. Iyer has been described in The Village Voice as “the most commanding pianist and composer to emerge in recent years.” In 2006 and 2007, he was voted the top rising star jazz artist and top rising star composer in Downbeat magazine polls.

He also holds a bachelor of science degree in mathematics and physics from Yale College, as well as a master’s degree in physics and an interdisciplinary doctorate in technology and the arts from UC-Berkeley.

Drummer Marcus Gillmore and bassist Stephen Crump will join Iyer in Asheville for the show. The Chicago Tribune has called the trio “one of the great rhythm units of the day.”

Lucas says he hopes the annual memorial concert will capture his brother’s spirit of inquiry and passion for learning, which have become guideposts for his own life. He says it was also important to the Lucas family that the concert be free.

“Art and culture can inspire people in a way that nothing else can,” Lucas says. “That was at the core of Dan’s being.”

what: Free concert from jazz pianist Vijay Iver
where: UNCA’s Lipinsky Auditorium
when: Saturday, April 4 (7 p.m. doors, 8 p.m. show)
why: In honor of Dan Lucas

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One thought on “A life of creative exploration, remembered

  1. b.c.w.

    Dan and I were in the music department together at UNCA at the same time and played together on many occasions. He was always searching, always digging into his music strongly… the rest of us could have learned a thing or two from his tenacity. A fellow classmate told me about Dan a week or two ago… it breaks my heart. My thoughts go out to Dan and his family.

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