Monday, December 03, 2018

For a few years (a "season") in the early 1980's, I was the keyboard player in a contemporary pop band. I can't really call it a detour from the traditional jazz road I traveled. More of a concurrent journey. In fact, for a good while I split my gigging with Eastwind on the weekend (Friday/Saturday/Sunday) and a society/jazz band during the week (Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday). Monday night was only my night off. I didn't think twice (and certainly didn't mind) about being one of 8 or 9 people in the movie theater, or knowing I could walk into a restaurant and sit just about anywhere I wanted. When I finally had a Saturday night off and decided to go to the movies, I had a rude awakening, and remember asking myself "Why do people do this?" Similar to the feeling I would often have driving to gigs and watching the rush hour crawling along in the other direction, I've always appreciated my upside down life. It's the only one I know how to live. 
I've had reason, in recent weeks, to ponder on this season. This (quite large) painting arrived by UPS recently. There is a tragic story behind it. Eva, our vocalist's daughter, who was 16 or 17 at the time, painted this logo scene, which we would take to gigs and display on stage. Not long after she painted this, she passed away in her sleep, with no warning or suitable explanation. Mignon (Eva's mother) saved the painting, displaying it in her home. Mignon and I had lost touch some time ago, and I was saddened to be informed by her niece that she has passed away. Knowing my place in this history, she graciously offered to send me the painting. Both sad and happy memories. For everything there is a season.   


Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Wide angle lens. Awhile back I came to the place where I embraced the view. Or embraced that this may be the only (angle of) view that I have. I certainly can't say that I understand all (or most, or some, or perhaps hardly any) things intuitive. But I can at least begin to grasp that there is some connection between the wide angle lens and the ability to sense things that seem to originate not from my thought processes, but rather are introduced to my thoughts from some other place. The "heart space/head space" symbolism that I was brought to some years ago continues to be the means by which I can understand and express this, as I continue to grow into seeing more consistently thru the (wide angle) lens of my heart. Or, as I'm inclined to say these days, to see with my feelings. 
As we move along a path, we develop more of a frame of reference and an overall context. It was 12 years ago when I began to grasp enough to use the term "spiritual" to describe music making. This past decade has been a wonderful ride of discovery, and a most important lesson; to allow things to happen as they do naturally, or organically. And the macro and micro are connected here, essentially the same. Introducing thoughts and determinations serve to steer a process toward a desired end. But what if the desired end is left open to a trust in that which is outside of my thoughts and determinations, or my head? In terms of music making, this has become the whole deal, to "get out of the way" and allow the music to come through me, beyond my conscious (or known) thought processes, beyond my understanding. And I'm learning to feel where that switch is, and even, at times, be able to flip it (even as it is a more passive rather than an active engagement - sort of). 
I played a gig recently where one of the musicians became focused on some negativity. Observing this person as time went on, it was like I could see the thoughts in his head, as a weight, holding him down. I must be quick to acknowledge here that I could easily recognize this because I am well familiar with it, within myself. And learning to separate myself from this internally is like being released from a self imposed prison. But without a taste of freedom, one may not appreciate the limitations of self-imposed confinement. Or, one may not fully appreciate (or even see at all) what it directly in front of them without a lens adjustment.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Recently I performed in a really fun concert in Chestertown's premiere arts performance space. Underneath the radar of it all was the deliberation of something, to which my performance played a bit part. The time has come for this organization  to replace it's piano, which had been nursed along for as long as possible, and recently laid to rest. The fork in the road for the decision makers is whether to jump on the electronic music bandwagon and purchase a digital keyboard as opposed to a grand piano. What they are evaluating specifically is a state of the art "hybrid" piano, which provides the mechanical action to create the experience of playing an acoustic piano, while using digital technology to create the sound. There are practical reasons, reasonable considerations, on their own, to make a move to the digital hybrid, along with valid, if not necessary reasons (depending on how the organization views itself) for a performance venue such as this to have an acoustic piano.
This concert was the trial run for the hybrid piano, so the organization rented one for the show, and I was, in effect, the musician providing the demo for others to evaluate. A funny position for me to be in. I am quite open in not enjoying electronic keyboards, even as I (am compelled to) play them often. They serve a necessary purpose, but from the position of a pianist, they lack one feature that is necessary for me (to most authentically commune with the music): acoustic vibration. When the felt hammer hits the string on the piano, the string responds by vibrating, in a complex arrangement that contains and creates the sounds and combinations of sounds which we process as (acoustic) musical pitches.

The science of acoustics is not my field. But acoustic vibration, which can be felt and heard as sound, is the pallet from which I paint. My process of music making is like an interactive response with my environment, even as I am creating it. When I play an electronic keyboard, I'll respond to it (the sounds created) differently than an acoustic piano. Without going into too much theoretical detail, an electronically generated sound throws me into a more polyphonic approach, where acoustic vibration often sends me into more harmonic density. And this isn't just me, it appears. Whenever I discuss this issue with another (experienced professional) musician and make the assertion that Bill Evans (meaning his impressionistic harmonic approach) would not have happened if he only ever played a Fender Rhodes (the only electronic keyboard available for much of his career), it always finds agreement. In a very real way, the substance of the acoustic sounds themselves are altered when electronically replicated. And as you can imagine, when you alter a cause, you can redirect an effect. Years ago, when I began playing with a regional jazz group, the first few jobs required me to bring a keyboard. The first time we had a gig with an acoustic piano (and a mediocre one at that), after a few tunes, the bass player (a very accomplished and knowledgeable musician) asked me if I had worked out new (chord) voicings. I responded, "No, this is the was I really play". He understood.    

The larger issue of replacing a connection to the physical world with an electronically based replication has me concerned for what the long term implications may be. And it isn't limited to music, though music remains my focus in this piece. In a digital world, music has become more of a sharing of information and less a communion with natural vibrations (at least in some areas).  It can still access our emotions and make us feel things, but in the end remains a simulation; a virtual reality walk in the woods, complete with artificial breezes and heat lamps and recorded nature sounds. There is a reason that we are drawn to walk on the beach, or in the mountains, or commune with nature in general. My experience with the piano each morning as I sit down to practice (commune) is much the same as that, in a very real way. For a time, I was forced to practice on an electronic keyboard at home. I survived it, even grew musically, and if that's all I would ever experience, I wouldn't know any better. But I would be on an altered path, one that I'm not sure wouldn't point away from an ultimate source (or at least obscure it) rather than point toward it. After all, isn't everything in nature/creation vibratory, ultimately (according to science)? I can't say that I have answers at this point. But I do have lingering questions. 

Thursday, September 06, 2018

The Chestertown Jazz Festival is now underway. In recent years, it has grown from the original one day presentation to a now nearly week long collection of shows, events and venues. The main event remains the Saturday lineup in Wilmer Park in Chestertown, with a full afternoon of concerts, beginning at noon and ending with the headliner show starting at 4:30. This year Mainstay Monday becomes the closing concert for the festival. Looking forward to this unique opportunity with Tom Baldwin on bass and Aggie Brown III on drums. I'll also be playing for Karen Somerville now the 12 noon gospel set (It's a short one, so don't be late) on Saturday. Click on the poster to view the schedule and take in a show. Or several.      

Monday, August 20, 2018

Music makes connections, in so many ways. I remember the day, 25 or so years ago, when it  became crystal clear, in an epiphany moment, that there was, indeed, a reason I was to make music. Up until that point, it was because I enjoyed it. And I could. And (for some strange reason) it seemed a reasonable way. or at least the most realistic one for me, to make a living. And then, in an instant, looking out into a crowd as I was playing, I saw a gentleman (whom I didn't know) and understood why I was there. It was for him. But in him I also saw everyone, outside of myself, beyond the motivation that I enjoy playing piano, or that it provides some benefit to me. Outside of myself. It truly turned my world, or at least my internal landscape, upside down. To realize that I am playing piano not for me, but for the man/woman in the audience. For the connection that is made. For the benefit that is provided. The years that followed brought the gradual unfolding of what this means, and how it happens. And now, every time I play, I have the task, the opportunity, the joy, of connecting with someone. Or many people in a room, or concert venue, that can become as one. It's the same connection I make with the music every morning when I begin my practice routine. I've learned that the connection itself is outside of me, even as it is within me. And it is a place, or space to be shared. 
Yesterday I had the joy of performing in a small, invitation only house concert, and made a new friend, whom I invited to sit at the piano/keyboard with me to improvise together. Sophia experienced the shared space. I trust that this will inspire her as she continues on. 

Friday, August 10, 2018

Yesterday, I attempted another recording session toward my solo project that I intend to release later this year. Listening today, am warming up to parts of it. Yesterday, little, if any of it was working for me. Throughout the session, I had trouble settling into the space. And just that circumstance can pretty much insure that you won't find it. It's easy to self diagnose, looking back, and realize that I didn't really approach stillness. In the quiet anxiety of bypassing stillness, the path can be hard to find. Because it involves stillness. But the other thing I've come to learn is that an agenda driven circumstance can tend to bypass the moment that may present itself. As much as it is practical (and likely beyond that as well) I purpose to align myself with the moment I find. But going where it takes me might land me far afield from the outcome I sought. So then my task becomes to seek the outcome that presents itself. And when I fail, I can say thank you, and carry on.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Oops! I wrote this post 2 weeks ago and forgot to hit the publish button:
What a fun and productive weekend! On Friday, I had a duo concert with Danny Tobias at the 1867 Sanctuary, in Ewing NJ - the first of an ongoing series (once e/o month for now) where I perform with artists who have been Mainstay Monday guests (essentially exporting a bit of Mainstay Monday to another venue). On Saturday, I paid a visit to Chris Biondo's recording studio in Kensington, MD to work on two projects; Beth McDonald's original Christian Contemporary/Gospel release, and my new solo album. On Sunday, a duo concert with Chuck Redd at 49 West in Annapolis, MD (another venue where I'm in the rotation) inspired the artist's rendering above. And Monday night brought A listers Max Murray and Frank Russo to the Mainstay, to create a killer rhythm section. It's about staying on the path, and staying out of the way. I'm looking forward to what's to come.  

Friday, June 15, 2018

Funny how things change over time. Or (better, I'm sure), evolve. When I lived about a mile from the Chester River Bridge, I'd find myself walking into town most every day, crossing the bridge over and back, sometimes more than once. It was my happy, open, connection space. My friends (particularly on Facebook) were aware of it because I took lots of pictures. Everyone who drove the bridge was aware of it because there is nowhere to hide or fade into the scenery while walking the bridge. That last part didn't bother me at the time, though I've come to understand that it does now. I no longer live walking distance from town, though do have occasion to drive in frequently. And if opportunity permits, I'll walk. And almost always toward the water. But lately, when I've reached the bridge, I don't progress much further before turning around. The force field of solitude that used to surround me, even as cars would drive by - some silently, some honking, some waving, a few being rude - seems to have vanished. It's funny when change happens. The old habits and patterns can lose their motivation, even become empty. And we adjust. In this case, I think I'm responding to (or have been spoiled by) the blessing of solitude, as soon as I walk out out my front door. No cars, no people, and no sense of being watched or on display. Grateful for that, and will enjoy it as long as I am given that blessing.   

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

I saw a video posted on the Oscar Peterson Facebook page the other day with Oscar and Basie together in 1974, with Skeets Marsh listed as the drummer. My heart leapt. Disappointingly, the camera angle only showed Skeets and Freddie Green (seated directly in front of him) from the back. Skeets Marsh was a mentor and encourager to many a young musician, myself included. It was only a few years later when, as a teenager, I found myself on gigs with Skeets in the traditional jazz circuit in the Philadelphia area. Skeets was a storyteller, and young musicians like myself would gather around and listen. Decades later, I was struck with the importance of this, as the musicians of my generation became the storytellers, and encouragers to the young players. I remember one occasion as I felt the baton being passed from one generation to another, and immediately thought of Skeets. During one storytelling session (which may have been the one about his only gig with Art Tatum, which didn't turn out so well) he turned his head, pointed his drumstick at me and said "See him? He's serious. His middle name is serious.", then continued his story. I didn't say much around Skeets, but I did listen. His business card read "formerly with Count Basie and Duke Ellington", but we never heard those stories. My friends and I wondered what that meant, assuming it was true. One gig with each? We didn't know. It appears now that I may know more, discovering another video from the same year that suggests that Skeets did a single tour with the Basie band in 1974, possibly under the stage name Skip Martin. Probably the Oscar appearance was part of that tour, with the rhythm section being a meld of Basie's and Oscar's (Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen on bass). In this wonderful documentation of a 1974 Basie concert, the drummer gets lots of camera time. 99% sure it's Skeets. It warms my heart to watch this. Skeets will always be an inspiration to me; to live the life, to encourage, and to tell the stories.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Kent County Maryland, where I live, is the least inhabited county in the state. The center of gravity (and county seat) is Chestertown, with a population of just over 5,000. Leave town and you travel through miles of farmland. Enter town and you almost enter another world, where an entire downtown is designated as a Maryland State Arts and entertainment District, and artists of all stripes have a home, and a community. Perhaps the single event that most drives this home is the annual Women Helping Women fundraising concert. Originally established to support the work of Dr. Maria Boria to provide medical services to area migrant workers, the charitable outreach has expanded to included support services for the local opioid addiction epidemic, among others. Now in it's 13th year, this event has become a showcase for locally based performing artists, and seems to find a way to raise the bar every year. I'm privileged to serve as musical director each year, and accompany nearly every wonderful performer. This show is worth the trip to Chestertown and an overnight stay to see. Do it next year.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Welcome to Mainstay Monday!

Thanks for clicking on the link to visit Mainstay Monday artist websites. This list will be periodically updated.
Mainstay Monday is a unique weekly performance collaboration between myself and a guest artist. Learn more about Mainstay Monday performers (note - performers without a website will have a link to a video, relevant article or bio, if available):   

My website
Guest artist websites/links:

Dec. 3      - Washington College Jazz Combo
Dec. 10    - Brad Chaires
Dec. 17    - Jeff Davis and Ray Anthony
Jan. 7      - John Thomas
Jan. 14    - Shannon Whitaker
Jan. 21    - Sylvia Frazier
Jan. 28    - The High and Wides

Find complete show information here.

Thanks for visiting. See you at the show!

Friday, February 23, 2018

I'll often say that those of us with an artistic bent, and especially those of us who "live the life" are born with rose colored glasses permanently affixed to our heads. I'll also say that the artistic temperament, depending on one's view of things, is either a calling or a disease. In other words, we don't choose (or accept) this path because it makes sense. So I suppose that means those of us who do this are attempting to take something that doesn't make sense and make it work (or try to make sense of it). And perhaps, in attempting to do so, we miss the mark, or the point. Not that we don't want it to work, but rather that we wrap ourselves around what working, in this context, means. 
It's the tension that every artist faces, especially the independent artist. Either one's livelihood gets in the way, and pushes the artistic pursuits away from the center of our everyday, or the struggle to make a livelihood from our art does much the same thing. But the rose colored glasses remain. I've worn them all my life. And they've kept me on the path, running the race, even if I may have tried, at times, to see around them.
Is it rose colored glasses that led me to work as a salesman (in music, of course) in my 20's, in order to learn sales techniques? make piano lesson barter arrangements with a business consulting firm and a sales manager, to receive sales coaching? .. to develop a billable hour sales strategy, to spend time selling and strategizing (at the expense of practicing), and consistently pulling off 400+ gigs a year (at the expense of practicing)? At the time, I would have said yes. I was doing what I had to do. I was believing in myself, even as I was working overtime to prove it was permissible to believe in myself. And I'll still say I was doing what I had to do, the best way I knew how at the time. For everything, there is a season. But as seasons pass, the rose colored glasses may fog up and run us off the road, or we may begin to see through a wider angle lens, seeing that believing in yourself (or anything) doesn't require you to prove it - rather, believing leads one to live it. So, some years ago, I threw out my business plan - the one that calculated how many hours, and at what rate, I needed to bill, and what steps I needed to take to get there. In it's place, I simply embraced the view. The view that says "Yes, I am this. Yes, Be this. Yes, trust what you know. Yes." 
So now the business plan is reduced to a rather simple formula, or better, statement: Show up at every performance with the space opened up, prepared to play. Devote the day leading up to the gig (and really, all of my time) to practicing, contemplative listening (prayer) and living in the moment (which, the deeper I get into this, the more all of these become the same thing, or at least occupy the same space). I could lament that I've found, later in life, the practice discipline that would have made all the difference (or at least a big one) in my earlier years. But it's more than just discipline. A better word would be maturity. And each of us find our own path toward that, throughout our lives, as we progress through it's seasons. 
Yes, I see through rose colored glasses, and the future looks bright.    

Friday, December 29, 2017

This is that time when I am working on tying up the loose ends to renew my Music Therapy certification (MT-BC) for another cycle, and not a day too soon, as I'll head for the post office in the morning to get that important 2017 postmark. The wonderful group of students pictured above are members and friends of the Washington College student group "Musicians Union" (don't think ACLU). What started, early last semester, with a request that I come and speak to the group about Music Therapy, has become a monthly visit to the health care unit at Heron Point in Chestertown, where the students gain experience presenting music and interacting with the residents, while I have the privilege of guiding the process. The smiles on their faces reflect their genuine enthusiasm.
When I first spoke with the group, I told them that this is a just piece of the bigger picture of what we ought to do whenever we make music: look out. Take the focus off yourself, and make the connections beyond you, and with others. It all starts there. That didn't really sink in with me until well into my 30's. Happy to have the chance to point others toward getting it sooner.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Sharing an article that appears in this month's edition of "Happenings at the Mainstay"; our monthly hard copy newsletter:

"Mainstay Mondays with Joe Holt began as a creative idea, launching from an initial 15-week engagement from Memorial Day to Labor Day last year, into a regular, ongoing Monday evening series. Joe, popular pianist extraordinaire and favorite accompanist to a multitude of musicians, curates the shows, headlining local, regional and national musicians. The setting is cabaret style, the show runs from 7 to about 8:30 p.m. and audience members can choose to bring their take-out dinners to enjoy beforehand, or even while listening (and Mainstay audiences are known to be very good listeners) to the always remarkable live music. “I’m always looking for a substantive show,” says Joe. “The Mainstay is a wonderfully intimate venue, so everyone is in the center of everything. It’s a special experience, particularly for the guest artists.” 
That experience is a collaboration between Joe and his guest musicians, which creates a unique space that extends to the audience. “Everybody feels a part of what’s going on,” he says. The energy in the room is palpable. He likens it to throwing a lasso around the room, bringing everyone into the same space. "Ultimately, it’s about the expression,” notes Joe, “a conscious surrender to the larger experience.” And Joe brings all his experience with him as host of the weekly venue. He’s been a musician professionally ever since he had a driver’s license and could get to gigs. He received the Louis Armstrong Jazz Award upon graduating from Triton High School in Runnemede, New Jersey in 1978 and has been a full time musician ever since, performing both regionally and nationally. His credentials include studies in classical and jazz and he is widely known for his creative improvisational skills. Along the way, Joe supplemented his college music degree to become a Board Certified Music Therapist, which is an extension of his approach to music as being a connection made with others. Picking up a music therapy contract at Heron Point in the mid 90's brought him to Chestertown for the first time, and eventually, to the Mainstay. Reflecting on the good reputation Mainstay Mondays enjoys, Joe continues to look for diversity and balance, interspersing local talent with regional and national performers in his orb. As the venture continues to evolve, Joe has been bringing a higher percentage of vocalists to the stage. Joe feels most at home accompanying, so it's a perfect fit. His enthusiasm for Mainstay Mondays is obvious. “What an opportunity, a privilege,” says Joe. “Musicians want to perform at the Mainstay. Now it’s my responsibility to use that opportunity in the most beneficial manner for everyone.“ And he never forgets his audience. “This area wonderfully supports its own. This is why so many magical things can happen here.”  

Monday, August 28, 2017

"Improvisation is the art of forgetting" -Keith Jarrett . 
So many things become clear with this statement. Which doesn't mean I can necessarily tell you, or even tell myself, unless I lose my focus on what is, or what I want, or what I think. Ultimately, this strikes at the heart of where I seek to be when performing, and frankly, whenever; in the moment. In the moment, what is forgotten is not lost, rather it is not held on to. So it appears as it will. Because it is not held, it is not lost, and I am not trying to recover it. Instead, I am trusting that I will be shown, and as such, not be burdened with remembering. So rather than remember, I receive. And what I receive does not come from me, rather to me. And if I am in the place I seek to  be, through me. 
So in this, forgetting is letting go. You don't lose that to which what you are not holding on, or trying to keep. Rather you find, if a seeker, with an open heart.  

Friday, July 14, 2017

On Sunday June 11, I performed at the 1867 Sanctuary in Ewing, NJ with Danny Tobias. The video above was one of the solo features. This wonderful historic venue is run as a non profit arts organization. Still in it's formative stages, I see much in common with the Mainstay in terms of vision, determination and potential. Good on them for giving it a go. The video was taken my Michael Steinman, a prolific videographer and blogger on traditional jazz. Also, this was Michael's first exposure to the venue, and was most impressed. Here is the blog post Michael made from the concert, which contains the embedded video:

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Hard to believe that we've completed a full year on Mainstay Mondays! We began on Memorial Day, 2016, not knowing what to expect, or if we would last beyond the 15 week trail period. We've learned a lot over the past year, and will continue to do so as we go. Mainstay Mondays have become a thing, and we're now open ended; already booked through (calendar year) 2017, and beginning to schedule 2018! The Mainstay is a coveted prize for many musicians who seek to perform here, and it will never be lost on me what a wonderful opportunity I have to produce and perform a new concert each week, and create more opportunities for performers to access our stage than would be possible otherwise. In fact, Mainstay Mondays accounts for about half of our programming now. So, if it's Monday night, count on a unique and original show at the Mainstay. Every week.  :)

Monday, June 19, 2017

My privilege to be involved with the Washington College Jazz combo continues. Here are some photo memories of this past semester:
On May 22, vocalist Lis Engle joined me for Mainstay Monday, putting the finishing touch on her graduation weekend. Will miss having Lis in the combo.
A performance shot from our semester concert for the college, on April 30th. The kids nailed it!
Pre-concert pow-wow with Dr. Ken Schweitzer
On April 26th, we took a field trip to Blue House recording studio in Silver Spring, MD. Here's Ben getting situated in the drum room.
And Michael and Kevin, in another isolation room.
And Lis in hers. 
We also were invited to perform at several college functions where no one got pictures. But you get the idea. Am really enjoying this opportunity to encourage and work with the students, and looking forward to September!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

I'm in the KFC in town today (yes, I occasionally succumb), and someone asks "Is your name Joe?" This opened up a conversation about how this person has come to several Mainstay Monday shows, and how much he enjoys the Mainstay, in general. It's a thing. The Mainstay is a unique and wonderful venue; magical, even. In a little tiny town in the middle of nowhere, at the end of the road; and known across the country, even around the world. Now well into it's third decade, the Mainstay has earned a reputation for having top quality performers, whether local/regional, national or international. You come to the Mainstay, you see a strong show. It's a reputation that, I'm proud to say, Mainstay Monday has earned as well. As we near closing in on completing our first year of Monday shows (we began on Memorial Day, 2016, with a 15 week "trial" schedule), we're hitting a stride, learning as we go, and continuing to grow. So many wonderful experiences already, and  many more to come. From finding new creative spaces in duo performance with regional and national artists, to providing opportunity for quality local performers to push their own boundaries (and often, mine); each Monday is it's own unique, and often memorable, experience. Each week a show of substance, each week it's own thing. Personally, there's an important lesson in all this. When you allow something to come into being, organically, rather than deciding what you think ought (or you want) to happen, and then let it be what it is, you may find that providence reaches beyond understanding, and what you never would have thought of (or would have believed you wanted) may be what was waiting to happen all along. And waiting, most of all, for you to get out of the way. Bloom where you're planted. Be where you are. Amen.    

Friday, February 03, 2017

I made it. And a lovely trip it was. It was good to get away. Though I did have 5 nights of shows, there was also time to visit friends, and take in the scenery. Was a bit concerned about the driving, not sure I could keep up the pace I used to, but was able to both pace myself, and push when I needed to, and made it happen. Was able to easily step into the space for all the shows, which is encouraging, and humbling. And validating. And to be in the space means to be connected; including to those around me. Similar to when I perform (as a walk on entertainer) for American Cruise Lines, I love walking in a room full of people whom I don't know (and, in large measure, who don't know me), and leave with new connections; even new friends. It's what it's all about. 

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Getting prepared to leave in a couple of days for my first driving trip/mini-tour in 7 years. After making a few stops on the way to visit friends, I'll get to Naples, Florida over the weekend for a duo concert with Geoff Gallante on Sunday. Then 4 additional nights (in a row) of retirement community programs, ending with Gainesville, GA on Thursday. Hoping to get home late the following evening, so I can be in reasonable shape for a gig in Lewes (Shore Jazz at Jerry's Seafood) on Saturday. Reasonable shape is yet to be determined, and this trip will tell me if I've still got the juice for this. So it will be an adventure. But the real thing that motivated me to make this post is my procedure for getting my vegetables when out, or one of them; lunch at Golden Corral (that and supermarket salad bars). I'll load up my plate with 6 or 7 different hot vegetables, then go back for more. It's not gourmet food at all, but still it's a bit magical. And the last few times I was there (I don't do this so often when home, but on occasion), I was struck with the idea of common man indulgence. For starters, you'll generally find a greater percentage of overweight folks there than on your typical street corner. All you can eat, and then some. And the lunch price, if you don't care about the dinner meats that up the ante later in the day, is accessible to most. It's a feast, of it's own kind, for one and all. And for whatever reason, when at a Golden Corral is when I'm the most struck with the concept of how blessed we are to have this unending supply of food, and how indifferent many of us can be to those hungry folks in other parts of the world who may never see anything like this a day in their life. While this is our everyday. Golden Corral, of all places, is where I am more strongly reminded of needs and inequities around the world. Of course, this opens up the big, and often divisive debate of what we ought to do about it. These days, I'm less about wrapping myself in opinions (mine or others) and more interested in being present, learning, and being led. And I think that's probably the point.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

So I’m sitting here at my desk when the realization hits me that my work is so much more than playing piano, so much more than making music, so much more than work. My “work” is where I can experience a taste of freedom. It’s now been over a decade since I first began to understand music making as a spiritual practice. Rather then reaching in to try to find it, I was opened to, instead, letting go to receive it. That realization was definitely a page turn, so to speak, in the journey. Many page turns, or bends in the road later, I am walking the path of (purposing to be) keeping the “space” open as I go along. Not just at the piano, but, in a way, to live my entire life open, and prepared to sit down at the piano bench, in a position to receive. Or perhaps better put now, to connect (to others around me, to God), and to be (to use Kenny Werner’s words) a clear channel. In recent years, I’ve begun to recognize the intuitive signals, and develop  the trust (to use my words) in God, enabling me to let go and move out of my own way. This is not just for playing the piano, this is for all life. And though I stumble continually as I walk, I am free to get up and continue again. Frankly, this is what motivated me just now to stop what I was doing (in this case, sending invoices), and do my best to give words to the space I am finding. It is about being led, and intimately trusting that leading. It has been proven to me over and over again. And I am struck once more by the wonder of where I’ve been led, and the awesomeness of getting to be in that (“God”-)space; the space of being connected, beyond myself, as my life’s work. I could uber-generalize it and recount the saying “Find a job doing what you love and you will never work a day in your life”. True. And so much more. I am a blessed guy. That’s all.   

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

What a remarkable ride! We started Mainstay Mondays on a trial basis on Memorial Day, 2016, and wound up the year on December 19 - 30 shows later, with Mainstay Mondays having permanent status, and 50 shows(!) planned for 2017. This is a most unique series, where I partner with a new guest artist (occasionally more than one) to create a new collaborative show each week. And this series may be the most uniquely suited to me of anything I've done. I've learned so much here, and if I were in the habit of blogging daily (or a least more often, as in times past), I could probably fill many web pages. Hopefully you are connected with my Facebook musician page, where I do share happenings a few times each week. The picture above is from the final Monday show of 2016, with guest Lester Barrett. Scroll down on my Facebook page a bit to find more shots posted from that evening. And come see me some Monday in 2017     :) 
Joe's Facebook musician page

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Something interesting, and fun, has happened this semester. I've returned to college. Sort of. The jazz ensemble at Washington College in Chestertown was without a pianist, so I have been brought in to play with the group. Through prior workshops, I'd already built a good rapport with the students, so it was easy to just step in. There is a lot of enthusiasm, which makes it even more fun. And we are all excited to be preparing for a Mainstay Monday show featuring the group, on January 30, 2017. That will be a fun night. Hope you can come. Pictured above is Michael, from a little gig in the school cafeteria. Lis, Ben and Kevin round out the ensemble. Grammy award winning drummer Joe McCarthy is the faculty teacher for the group. A pleasure to work with all of them!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

After a 3 year run, the piano bar at JR's Pub has run it's course. It seemed fitting to use this picture, from after the room had emptied, on what wound up being the final night, a few weeks ago. For most of the run, Philip Dutton (who got it all started) and I shared Sunday nights, while I had Wednesday as my steady. A few months ago, we lost the Sunday, and it was apparent that Wednesday would go the same way. But we hung on for a time, as the community has always been solidly behind this, and wonderfully supportive. But management had moved on. Actually, all music has been suspended from JR's for some time, except for Wednesday night piano bar. So now, as businesses do, they have gone another way, and we all go on. But before this door closed, another door had swung wide open. The big picture is where we best keep our focus.   
So here is what I posted on Facebook, as I needed to let friends and fans know:

"... in everything give thanks ...
For 3 years, a highly improbable thing happened for a musician, in an isolated small town; a recurring gig - the "piano bar" at JR's Pub. Weekly at first, then 2 nights/week for much of the run before moving back to one. It said, and meant so much to me about this area, and the people who live here, to experience the support and love of so many. Over the course of the run, we continued to grow (slow but sure) to an average attendance that was, essentially, a full room. Though it has now run it's course (all music had been cut from JR's some months ago, while Wednesday piano bar night hung on, for awhile), there is much to look back and smile about, and be grateful for. A nice chapter in the journey. And .... Earlier this year an (even more) highly improbable thing happened: Mainstay Mondays. So now, all the energy goes there, as we continue to create quality programming each week, and I continue to be humbled and grateful for all the love and support. This area is a beautiful place to live. I'm glad I landed here ." 

Sunday, June 05, 2016

"Mainstay Mondays" saw an opening night that exceeded expectations on every level, and personally, was a demonstration to me of just how much love I receive around here. When Rory Trainor approached me about "a steady gig" at the Mainstay, he was offering something unheard of, and nothing any musician would ever even imagine to expect. The Mainstay is a coveted performance venue for musicians regionally, nationally, and even around the world. Rory was certainly breaking new ground in this move (among others he has initiated in his new tenure as Executive Director), but not until the first performance, on Memorial Day, did his perspective on this begin to sink in with me. In our initial discussions; of weekly shows where I would bring a new guest each time, I blew right past the emphasis Rory was placing on my own participation. I was given total freedom, even to the point of being encouraged to shine significant light on myself. As our discussion continued, though, my mind went straight to how featuring the guest each week would be the focus, and not me (or at least not too much). First of all, I know what a performance at the Mainstay would mean to whoever I invited to share the stage. Secondly, folks around here see me all the time (or at least have the opportunity to). This concept fell right into my inclination to take the supporting role; finding that particular space to be in the other's expression and space. So, leading with that was a given; a no brainer. Not that I wouldn't feature myself. I planned to open with a solo feature, then introduce the guests, and be, of course, an active participant in the process. 
By the conclusion of our first night, I was shown, or perhaps reminded of the deal. A performer sees from where they are. Sees out, yes, but from our eyes. It's like a gig with a sound engineer. You really don't know what the sound is like out in the room. All you can really work with is what it is like where you are sitting. An effective sound person manages both spaces; the artist, and the audience. It is kind of like that; I know what it feels like to have the connection with those around me (on stage and off) when I play. And I know that this community is amazingly supportive. But while I go on in the place where I am, Rory spent his initial months on the job (beginning the first of the year) being out where everyone else is, and learning the landscape. What became clear to him is something I know, but was brought to see with fresh (and grateful) eyes: that, as I said earlier, I get a lot of love around here. Of course, so did Mike McShane and Paul Midiri on that first night. The people here are wonderfully supportive in general. But the depth of rapport and connection that I am blessed to have here was quite on display in our "Mainstay Mondays" kickoff show last week.  
In our performance that first night, there is this happy place that I think we immediately fell into, where all of us on the stage poured it on, leaving our egos wherever it is that we saw them last (as best we do); sharing a strong connection that was felt, even shared, by everyone in the room. Yes, this is what it's all about, Charlie Brown.
We knew Mainstay Mondays would be a good thing. Now that we've opened the box, though, this ride may teach us all a thing or three. Hang on ....     :) 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Recent months have been busy and full, with both blessings and challenges (which, ultimately, are also blessings). As things can get away from me, at times, for no good reason; give me a reason and a pothole will likely appear. So now, I'm getting back to this journal blog after a somewhat lengthy absence. Funny that, just recently, I was reflecting on something my father would say to me incessantly when I was young: "When you start something, you have to finish it". My dad and I are very different people. He was a career military man, and I am the creative contemplative go everywhere type. Needless to say, I struggle with the advise. Especially as most things I start (as most things I see or perceive) are open ended. Not so much a line from start to finish, but a journey. Evidence this journal. When will it be finished? I suppose whenever it is that I stop. 
In contrast to my father's admonition, my mother would give this advise when it came to managing the to-do pile: "Just pick a place and start". It has only been recently (and since her passing) that this has begun to truly sink in, and I begin to grasp the profundity of her words. The obvious piece of this advice is that you have to keep moving and plowing through.The tacit deeper place of this advice, that I am now realizing, is in that space between stop and start, stillness and movement, being and doing. And as this space becomes more familiar, I may actually be getting this, even if just a little. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

Earlier this month, we inaugurated a First Monday Happy Hour with Joe, for the Independent Living residents of Heron Point. Like the Philadelphia Protestant Home, I began coming here in 1994, but on the health care side. Living in Elkton, MD at the time, Heron Point was my introduction to Chestertown, and the 36 mile drive down route 213 to get there. Frankly, it was that drive that sold me on the Eastern Shore, not long thereafter moving in this direction, first to Galena. So I guess you could say that all things Chestertown, for me, began here, at Heron Point. Now, 20+ years later, I have many friends, and the opportunity (unlike PPH, which is far away, and I only go a few times a year now) to perform throughout the community, in
various capacities for multiple populations; from health care, to church services to concerts and special events, and now, happy hour. These days I no longer regularly visit senior communities, particularly health care, focusing instead on public performance. Heron Point is the one exception, and a place where I have many friends. Grateful.  

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Got to perform on the Mainstay stage twice in 2 weeks; on 1/31 for Barbara Parker's show (in a musical director role) and last Saturday (2/13) for a double billed performance with Beth McDonald, for Valentine's weekend. Always a great experience. This has also given me the opportunity to get to know Rory Trainor, the Mainstay's new executive director, a bit. Rory succeeds Tom McHugh, who founded the Mainstay in 1997. Tom's vision and passion has brought over 750 concerts to the stage, building a reputation for memorable performances in a delightful space. Rory came on board at the beginning of the year, and has hit the ground running. He'll fit right in to our local arts scene. And he's already come to my piano bar gig twice, so, cool! The Mainstay will continue it's tradition of quality programming (local, regional, national and international artists), while broadening the scope of performances. And yes, maintaining jazz in the schedule. The Mainstay is one of the many reasons I'm glad I live here. You should visit sometime, if you haven't already. 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

A random moment from the process of creating Barbara Parker's new recording; a process that took several months and happened to fall, on one evening, on Pres' Harding's birthday (Pres had no problem being in the studio on the night of his birthday, His anniversary, however, was off limits. Good for him.). As the project evolved, finding it's way to the place it needed to be, so did the personnel, landing on a core rhythm section of Pres Harding - guitars, Ray Anthony - drums, and me doing the left hand bass thing from the keyboard. Every group of musicians finds their own center of gravity. In this case the center is a little off (center) from my own, which makes it fun for me, and on target for where Barbara is coming from, and wants to go. At the final rehearsal for Barbara's CD release concert (tomorrow at the Mainstay) the chemistry was apparent. So it's a thing. For me, a thing among things. A good thing.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Reflecting on blessings I have received recently. Maybe I've been  told this before, and unable to hear, or perhaps not. Certainly, at least at many points along the way, it just wasn't true. But these days, I am told that my performances occur with little ego. Or that I am a(n uncharacteristically) humble musician. This is certainly new, at least as a conscious point within me. Or more accurately, to the extent to which it is true, it is the place to which I continue to arrive as I learn to more fully connect, and to get out of the way.
To get out of the way doesn't mean not to participate, but rather to move toward selflessness in it all. Kenny Werner (in Effortless Mastery) appropriately describes it as observing yourself from a detached place. As it has happened, this blog, over many years now, has become a chronicle of my growth in understanding, or perhaps better, the unveiling of this journey to me; a journey of letting go, of myself.
And it is in the very losing of myself that I have found myself, my connection, and the ability to share it, or be a reflection, or a bridge. My whole life's journey has brought me here, to this point. It is, indeed, humbling. and an affirmation that I continue to move toward where I need to be. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

When I go from one "performance venue" to another, I'm really not moving at all, if I am where I need to be. If I play the cozy little "piano bar" at JR's Pub one night, then sit in as a guest musician at a large church (guessing they seat near to 1,000 in this room) for 3 Christmas Eve services, I am playing in the same space, even if they are over 100 miles apart and the music is different. it's about being, in the space, in the moment. 
What I bring to a performance situation could be described as aptitude or inclination that looks to connect with that which is around me. Or perhaps I say; being myself, in sync with the context. It's all a surrender, a succumbing, a prayer, when it is where it needs to be. 
Hope you had a nice Christmas. 
And Happy New Year! 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Here's a statement, coming from one who professes a Christian, that may seem less than Kosher: going to church can be difficult for me, particularly in the morning. Any gathering, actually. To be in the middle of a group of people is something I need to prepare for, in solitude. Actually, it is that solitude, or peace, that travels with me; grounding me, focusing me in circumstances where I might otherwise feel cacophony all around. In peace, there is no cacophony. Seeing from the heart, the focus turns outward, away from what may be confusing or overwhelming, connecting the inner and the outer, bringing wholeness, bringing peace. And prayer is the key. I find this through varied avenues, including and especially, for me, in playing the piano. And from the piano, I have some of my best conversations.  

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Still taking pictures, although my relationship with them is shifting. Where I am focused, or purpose to be is not on the picture, but on my own connection to what is around me. This is in contrast to when I began taking pictures when I first got a smart phone, a couple of years ago. Once I realized that the pictures were a thing, I was focused on taking them; motivated to get a nice shot. Now I find myself in the place of understanding (I use that word cautiously) that this is first about my own experience. I can then have myself in a position to share that experience with others. In others words, find the space/connection, take the picture. Not take pictures in search of the space. To capture a moment means to seek the moment, not the capture. And to prioritize the moment, not the capture. Actually (ideally), to not care about the capture at all (this is a big shift).
The real take away for me here, is that this is precisely the process/means by which I have found the deeper levels of connection from the piano. Performing is about sharing the connection I find. Which means focusing sqaurely on that; not on the fact than I am performing, or that people are watching, or that I am supposed to be saying something. Rather (to pull a quote from an earlier blog post) that I am a bridge, touching those deeper places to which I am given; giving them expression to which I hand to others.
So these days, when someone asks me about picture taking, I tell them that it is a part of my piano practicing, which is exactly what it is.

I continue to post pictures on my Facebook profile page. You can click on follow if you would like to add my posts to your feed.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Every time I sit down and play the piano, I am starting anew; finding it again. Not recreating, but discovering. Walking the same path in the morning/evening I find new spaces, make new connections, learn new things. Same with the piano, The same piece of music is a new connection every time. Unless I am looking back. Look ahead. Move ahead. From one day to the next. From one piece of music to another. Step into the space and find your place.   

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Jazz. A word that can have so many meanings, to so many different people, it may be worse than useless. I don't like calling myself a jazz musician, for all the preconceived ideas and bias surrounding it. But there is no short version, at least for me.
Here's what I am:
I am a musician. Most of the time I am improvising on tunes at the piano. With some exception, these tunes are in the classic jazz/pop standard and show tunes book. Sometimes I will play hymns, or themes from classical pieces, and sometimes a more contemporary song that I happen to know. Sometimes I improvise freely, but usually not in public (though I have released some of these on a CD). I play to express the depths of my feeling, not my knowledge. At this stage, I find it more important to connect with my deeper feelings and intuitive places than to prioritize concerning myself with the biggest vocabulary words. I am not opposed to that, but rather to the idea that performance should be evaluated on the number of big words that can be used in a sentence. I play for people in the room, while surrendering myself to where I am led to go.
Like I said, no short version.
I guess it's still jazz.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

I don't want to overstate things, but what has happened at the little "piano bar" gig at JR's Pub has been truly remarkable, at least from where I sit. Looking out from the piano bench, I see friends, old and new; some socializing, some intently listening, some looking at phones or computer screens or books, but all connected to the music, or the larger picture, in some way. It's like the entire room, full of autonomous people, each doing their own thing, becomes one. On the side of socializing, one friend wrote this to me:
"It was like a little cocktail party -- everyone had a good time and your piano work really set the stage for that, as always."
 Another friend, from another angle, wrote this:
"Your music is a bridge to a person and his own solitude. And I thank you for it."
And another friend was so kind as to say this:
"Joe is a gifted musician who blesses us all when we take the time to stop and hear him".
But perhaps what spoke to me the loudest is when she also said:
"Thank you Joe, for always bringing peace in the midst of chaos."
This resonates to me not as a description of my external environment, but of that within. Am feeling bold enough to assert that (at least from the piano) "peace within the midst of (my own) chaos" is what I have been led to find, or experience, even if just being brought to the outer rim. It has been a process; not unlike an unveiling. And as the layers are drawn back, or the light illumines a broader area, I find the paradox of peace and chaos, perhaps in an untangling, so that I can be removed from one (even as I may continue to observe it) as I move more into alignment with the other. Perhaps I can truly begin to be a presence of peace in the midst of chaos (around me), as I truly begin to cultivate that within myself. Or perhaps I have always been that (at least potentially), even if I've seldom realized it. It's nice (a true blessing) to feel as if I may actually be getting it.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The other day, a friend referred to me as a "prayer warrior". I have not been called that before, nor would I have thought of myself in those terms. I've heard it said of others and not thought twice, in the sense that the description seemed apt. Now that I actually think about it, it paints, to me, a bit of an aggressive, or assertive picture of one who engages God. It's a positive image to me; of someone looking past their own concerns to hold up the concerns of others. Knowing my ability to be self absorbed, I wouldn't give myself that much credit.
Upon reflection though, it is true that I have sought to cultivate prayer as a lifestyle; from playing piano to walking/picture taking, to learning to (better) listen, to just getting out of the way to find the awareness of "pray(er) without ceasing". The warrior image seems to suggest conflict or struggle against something, and maybe that's why I hadn't gotten there on my own. Words that ring of prayer to me are, among others; awareness, connection, surrender. A few days ago I posted this picture on Facebook with the caption, "If we say that the universe has aligned, we may mean that we have aligned with it." This is where prayer takes us, I believe; through the struggle, to a place of peace.   

Friday, May 29, 2015

I keep thinking that the picture posting (going on two years now) is going to stop, but it just keeps happening. Here is the picture I posted on Facebook (my timeline) today (taken 4/27). This phase of my explorations has helped me to clarify how it is that I make music, and as such, has helped me to connect more deeply from the piano. In short, I don't put things together, I see what is already there. I've always been that way, but with less of a handle on my own process than I now have. And the one thing that I can't escape, is the link between practice time and this connection. I recently watched a short documentary on (the classical pianist) Glenn Gould. In, I think, his early twenties, he essentially sequestered himself for several years, spending nearly all of his time at the piano. The commentator said "this was the period in which he became Glenn Gould." I get it. Talent, or aptitude, or the inclination toward something is the seedling to be cultivated, or the coins we are given to invest. This can be taken in many directions, but my point here is that the last few years have seen an increase in my practice discipline, and I have seen it's fruit. There is a time and a season for everything, and I am grateful to find myself where I am, right now. And as if the time I spend at home at the piano every day isn't enough, I am also spending considerable time walking, often in the early morning, and feeling my connection to that which is around me. Essentially, it's just more practicing working in "the space". What allows me to do this is the impact it has had (on me, personally, and) on my performances in the evening. Over the last several years I have transitioned from juggling dozens of recurring senior communities during the day (wearing my Music Therapist hat) to using the daytime to prepare for the evening, and finding, purposefully, that which I would often only trip over before. Yes, it is a leap of faith. And like (the growth in) knowing where and when to point the camera, or express the notes I am given to play; there is a knowing that as I put one foot in front of the other, there will be given a place to land.

ps - You can follow me on my Facebook timeline, if you'd like to see the picture postings.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Last evening was one of those more spectacular times to walk out on the Chester River bridge, and view the sunset. I was actually headed somewhere else, but knew, as I traveled, that there was some place I needed to be; someplace else I was supposed to be. So I went there. It would be fair to say that the outcome of that was to capture images, like the one posted above. But why was I there, really?  I was there to experience it. And by experience it, I mean the way that I do (or should); by letting it speak to me, by becoming absorbed by it, perhaps even a part of it. And most importantly, to be thankful for it. So, here I go again to assert that I am not a photographer. I am a musician, who is learning to make music by this same means; to experience what is already there, to connect with it, and to document it (for others). Kind of like the old adage to listen before you speak, just applied everywhere. And although I have learned that this is how I am made to operate, it doesn't mean it necessarily comes easily. Because, to listen first, one has to stop talking. Like I said, not always easy, at least for me. So, if I already feel that I have something to say, it may well be that I am speaking on my own, even if trying to listen at the same time. Doesn't really get me there. So I wait. Not long, though one can never overestimate the potential of human impatience, or measure it in too small increments. And when I get out of the way, there it is. So as I stood out on the bridge last night, it hit me: I am a bridge. What I can find intuitively (or with my feelings), I can pass along to others through sensory experience. This is what it means (for me) to play piano. And why picture taking is (for me) piano practice. It puts me in the place I need to be.   

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Have dodged the weather bullet this year, in terms of gigging, until last weekend. Was playing in Rehoboth on Saturday night, where the snow and ice storm that hit Delmarva was mostly rain. It was eventually going to turn to rain everywhere, and I was hoping the timing of that would allow me to return home that evening. Unfortunately, any trip east from my home involves significant 2 lane road time. And some of those roads, particularly going to Rehoboth/Lewes, are lesser travelled. About half way home, entering one of those lonely stretches, it was clear that I would be going no further. So I made it back to the highway and continued to Dover. DE. I found myself in an old chestnut frame of mind, by then. Back in the day, I would frequently find myself driving around the Midwest, performing concerts in small churches. And when alone, I would always look for a Super 8. Nothing (even close to) fancy, but perfectly adequate to sleep and not get hurt. Arriving in Dover after one in the morning, I felt the old habit directing my car. It's been several years since I have travelled (for work), and decades since the drive around the country thing. Have always felt that this chapter (a new version of it) would open up again. When it does, I will be ready with my super 8 directory. A creature of habit I am. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

I recently revisited my very first attempt to post on YouTube, back in 2007. Any learning curve tends to be long (and often bumpy) for me, including things that are touted to be of the "snap your fingers" ilk. I finally made the ripping process work, from a DVD I had received of a concert, only to discover that I had messed up the screen dimensions, giving me whale like attributes. By that point, I was exasperated enough not to care (too much), and began my YouTube journey with the above video post of "Somewhere Out There", from a concert in Newark, DE. Now, hundreds of posts later, it can be argued that my YouTube presence is not as tight or as efficient as it ought to be. I am continuing to post from time to time, but also working on cleaning up the overall presentation, both on YouTube and on my website in general. I find it encouraging though, that my first YouTube video post remains one of my favorites.