Monday, March 24, 2008

Go West ( and a bit North... where the hell are we?)

I mentioned in an earlier post that my brother is now safe at home after a very extended deployment overseas (not in a good place).  A couple of weeks ago we got to spend some great time together as a family issue came up in the City with Big Shoulders that we both had to attend to.  He lives in Fayetteville NC and I in Virginia Beach so we met in Emporia and made the drive together.  There is no better way to connect or reconnect with someone than to get in a car together for 2o hours.  In short we had a blast.  We talked about everything.  The war, politics, the elections, his girls, my son, Buddhism, bicycling, baseball, running, not running, Elvin Jones's time feel, How our relationship with music differs and is similar...that just about got us to Richmond.   :)

The circumstances under which we made the drive were not the best but it was a gift to be able to spend so much time with him.

I hadn't realized just how much I missed him.  My family is very quiet.  We don't call each other on Sunday afternoons and an email every month is really a lot of talking.  It may be months between conversations, but they always pick up in the same spot they left off.  As we drove and talked, I thought that most families probably have their own dialect.  A version of English that anyone could hear and understand, but not get the subtext of.  Ours revolves around movies.  For example, I was driving and looking at his GPS.  He saw me and just muttered one word..."lost".  I was worthless with laughter for several minutes because I knew he was quoting a scene form the old John Landis film "1941".  There are probably only three people in the world who could witness that exchange and understand the meaning.  

Here is a list of some of the things that our discussions made me remember:

I love to be outside.  
I miss camping.
Will can always win. 
It is possible to be objective and admit what I do well.
Family is paramount.
There are never enough books.
It is possible to disagree pleasantly.
Ars Longa.
Education is not something that a school gives you.
Focus on what you can do for change and do it, regardless of the seeming futility.
Tony Williams really was THAT BAD!
The difference between job, career, and vocation.
Speak your truth, even if amounts to casting pearls before swine.
ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS have a camera.

It was a really nice drive.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Man With The Time

By now, most will know that Denis Irwin left town on March 10th.  Read here and here for some wonderful remembrances.  I was deeply ensconced with some familial issues during that time frame so I heard the news late and am just now adding my thoughts.

I remember in 1992/93 a friend of mine busting into my room at NIU with the new Scofield Quartet CD "What We Do".  I had been following Sco's group out of my love for all things Lovano and was itching to hear the new side.  By the time we got to track 8 (Why Nogales) I was hooked on this record.  "Why Nogales" features some incredible bass work by Dennis that made me an Irwin fan from then on.  As with most things, after I became aware of Dennis, he started popping up on records (or, more to the point, I began noticing him on records) all over the place.  

His issues of late have been well documented.  I came across this wonderful video tribute that Bret Primack put together before Dennis passed.  Anyone who knows that much Lord Buckley deserves a special place in history!

It goes without saying that he'll be missed.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Rob Wilkerson and Sage Advice

Rob gave a very nice clinic where I teach today.

I have heard his name around for the past year or so but I had never heard him play, other than on MySpace.  Happy to say I was not disappointed; great sound, deep harmonic sense and a time feel to die for.  He gave our students a great class and when he fielded questions, I got some insight into one of my own weaknesses.  I asked him if he could share any strategies for becoming fluid in odd meters.  This is something I really have a problem with and I know with the circles he runs in he has had some experience with this.  His explanation hit home with me.  He said basically he had a breakthrough in his comfort level with odd meters when he got his playing in three together.  My jaw dropped a bit because upon reflection, my three is not together.  Whenever I do a tune in three my playing feels very stilted and tight.  I really should focus on three and see if it helps me deal with meters.  I have to say that I am encouraged that he could isolate something as "simple" as "get your three together" and that it resonated so deeply with me.

There is never a "magic key".

I just finished writing a waltz to use as a tool to work on this...

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Next Level

When I attended Lieb's masterclass several years ago transcription was a big topic.  It has come to be a huge part of both my own study and my teaching.  Lieb has several tapes of cats playing transcriptions along with the original recording where the transcriber is dead on with the tape.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008


I don't know if it is because of my liberal leanings or my upbringing, but I am afflicted with a chronic case of volunteerism.  I often end up taking on things that I, upon reflection, wish I hadn't.

This is not the case today.

On Sunday I worked the overnight shift at a homeless shelter sponsored by the church that my family and I go to.  We had 38 guests and while there were a few folks that fit the stereotype of "homeless person", I was humbled to be reminded of how many of these folks are just like all of us but for having a spot of bad luck that spiraled out of control.  I was certainly very thankful that I could help these folks out with a place to sleep and a meal, but it got me thinking about how close any of us are to this situation.  I know that all it would take for me is a couple of missed paychecks before I would have to make some SERIOUS choices about what I could do without.  As some of the current news in the jazz world reminds us, artists are generally not looked at as a necessity and the economic reality is that many who slave over craft and make huge art live hand to mouth.  I am lucky and thankful everyday to have a day job that both takes care of me and my family very well and is often very personally and professionally satisfying.  I will admit to having taken that for granted as I look around my living room and see the very high stacks of books, records, and CDs that we have amassed.  

Working the shelter was a wonderful, humbling experience that has made me more mindful of both how incredibly lucky I am and how things are so impermanent. 

This is one of my favorite Buddhist passages:

Just like a dream experience,
Whatever things I enjoy
Will become a memory.
Whatever has passed will not be seen again.

I didn't sleep much Sunday night, not because of the work or the discomfort of being away from my own bed, but because I sat in awe of how much courage, compassion, warmth, and love I felt at this shelter from both the volunteers and the guests.