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 glassed 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.   

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Here's a cool story. You may remember, if you have followed me for awhile, the regular gig that Shore Jazz held at Beseme', in Lewes DE, for a few years. When that ended, we found a new home (once a month, anyway), at Jerry's Seafood, also in Lewes. For three years in a row, Roger Dellar, an artist from England, has paid a visit to Jerry's to hear us, while in Lewes for his annual exhibition at the Peninsula Gallery. It's not uncommon to see Roger sketching, from different vantage points, throughout the evening. One of our friends noticed Roger sketching the group from a bar stool, and later commissioned an oil painting from the sketch. Once home, Roger completed the painting, and shipped it back to the States. I paid a visit to our friend's house after our last gig at Jerry's to see the original (and only) oil painting hanging in her entryway. Art breeds art. Just like it's supposed to.    

Thursday, January 01, 2015

I am seldom accused (actually never, in my memory) of being unambitious. As a youngster, I took on 2 paper routes (with competing newspapers) as soon as I was old enough, earned the rank of Eagle scout at the youngest possible age, began in home piano teaching and gigging as soon as I received my driver's licence (and kept the paper routes), and so on. Skipping ahead, I supplemented my education in my 30's to receive a certification as a Music Therapist and (combining those contract opportunities with other performing) maintained 400-600 gigs/year (depending on how you counted) for over a decade. Several years ago, things began to change, both slowly and all at once. As circumstances have evolved around (and through) me, I find myself in a new place, with a new, or redirected energy. If you have been reading this blog, then you are aware to some extent of what I mean. We are all on a journey, and perhaps a reasonable summary statement of mine, at this point, is to have arrived at the place where I can say; "It's not what I do, it's who I am."  I'm asserting this not as a platitude, but more as a commitment, or procedure, or lifestyle, or something. Another way to say it, with more recently adopted terminology, is that I am learning more to live thru the lens from which I actually view; not my head, but rather my heart. So now this ambition (or drive, or restlessness, or ...) has me walking several miles a day (learning how to "feel" moments and capture than with my phone camera), returning home to spend a considerable chunk of my day practicing at the piano. This is notable for two reasons; First, that I am practicing (far) more (in time and consistency) than I ever have in my life. Second, that I realize I need this time to get myself in the place I need to be. In other words; to be who I am, on any given day, I need to work it out from the piano first. What it amounts to is that much of the day has become preparation for the gig (performance) at night. This is how I have taken myself (been taken) to that next place. It is certainly a journey of faith. The picture above was taken by a friend, from her car, as I walked the Chester River Bridge (which I am somewhat famous in these parts for doing, small town and all). And as I walk, I am never alone. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Rehoboth Beach jazz festival weekend is now in the books. I have described this weekend, in the past, as an "in the trenches" sort of thing. The "official" festival went smooth some years back, largely abandoning more traditional jazz, and the local/regional musician who perform it. The local restaurants and clubs have not, though, by in large; and jazz fest weekend has always been a busy one for me, performing with Mike McShane (in different configurations) around town. And now a new wrinkle (or crease, or maybe even tear); a new jazz festival has sprung up to compete with the existing one. Now in it's second year, the "True Blue Jazz Series" has tripled it's sponsorship, and similarly expanded it's performing venues and band slots. Saturday (10/18) was a taste of that for me, and a fun day; performing 3 shows, all including Geoff Gallante. I think it's safe to say that Geoff and I have our own rapport, which we lived (and played) in throughout the day. In the picture above, we are setting up for the bandstand afternoon performance, which started it off (grateful to have the wind in my face while on the bandstand) . In an earlier post (on my "news" blog), I detailed the venues and the musicians I would perform with. So I'll just add here that it was all successful, and fun. I was first introduced to the Rehoboth music scene near to a decade ago, and it has become an important piece of my world. Grateful for it. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

I am enjoying having a regular gig close to home. it's not something I ever expected to, or thought could happen. You have to know the local demographics to understand that. Chestertown is among the most arts friendly "cities" on Maryland's Eastern Shore. It's also among the smallest. At 5,000 and change, it is hardly a city, but it's the highest populated town, by far, for 30 miles in any direction (by car. 20 miles or so to Baltimore, if you can fly over the bay; which makes this area a unique melding of insulated, isolated, and connected.). Most will agree that Chestertown offers the most welcoming community to artists, intellectuals, and overall esoterics on the Eastern Shore. Unlike the other population centers, however, no one passes through here, at least routinely. Unlike cities such as Easton, Cambridge and Salisbury, which sit on the highway, Chestertown is off the highway (Rt 301) by 12 miles, at it's closest point. You pretty much have to want to come here to get here. And people do, we just don't have the advantages that other places have, except for one, and that uniquely; it is Chestertown. 
When my family moved to this area, nearly 2 decades ago, I wasn't looking at it as new turf. I kept my connections I had, and sought to establish new ones in commutable population centers. I left the small pond - and thoughts of big fish status - alone. As was inevitable, though, I became increasingly visible here. Impossible not to be, ultimately, in a small town. Now, all these years later, I am blessed to have established myself in the wonderful arts community here, and with concert venues such as The Mainstay (in nearby Rock Hall) and the Garfield Center for the Arts, where I have performed many times. I have a home here. But one thing was missing; an easy answer to the (incessant) question: where are you playing locally? Even with my relationships with the aforementioned venues, a local performance date could still be months down the road (and I'd have to remember it when stopped cold on the street). Now I can say simply; "Every Wednesday 5-7 and select Sundays 6-8 at JR's." And folks are responding. Every time I play at the "piano bar" I see old friends, and make new ones. Yesterday I walked in to find one of the tables in the piano room already reserved (which is a good thing, as the room generally fills up). Word is getting around   :)  

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Well, here I am; in the picture, and back on this blog. This one was taken by Mike McShane during a bayside gig, outdoors, in Dewey Beach, DE, a few weeks ago, as the sun was setting. Yes, I was taking pictures. Here is one of them:

Over the past months (better part of a year now), I have taken thousands of pictures (with my android phone) and have posted (often several) daily on Facebook. It has become quite a thing, actually. I have friends and fans who follow both my pictures and my music, and am encouraged just about daily to submit/exhibit/display/sell my photography. Okay, I actually am considering exploring a line of postcards. But, I am not a photographer. I am an artist, exploring what I can feel and find, and how that happens. My expression, to which I am called and committed, is from the piano. My explorations, lately, have included picture taking. And what I have come to grasp, which is actually profound (to me, at least), is that the essence of both pursuits are the same: step away from thought, and wait for it. Stop trying, embrace what already is, and is, in fact, fully formed already. Don't dissect, analyse or overthink; feel it (be still) and know. About 8 years ago, and chronicled in this blog, I came to the realization that music making is (for me) spiritual, and performance is prayer. After taking the conscious, or purposeful leap through that portal, and travelling the path for some time; here I am. And how would I express it today? It's about seeing, hearing, feeling and living from the heart; an open and surrendered heart. And it is a blessing, indeed. I know I have been guided and brought to this place, and it is for a purpose; ultimately, my calling. And like the old song; Every time I feel the spirit moving in my heart, I will pray.  

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Here is as good of an explanation as any of my absence from blog posting. I've been distracted. Most mornings I will be found walking; to and over the bridge into Chestertown (I live about a mile from there) and taking pictures, for several months now. Funny, I've never done this before. But it's become a thing; especially on my Facebook timeline (personal page), where I've been posting several images a day for all this time. It's a "fruit of the spirit" thing, really; external evidence of inward growth. Artist types are (ideally, at least) searching souls; seeking to grow, reaching for truth. We are all on a journey, and travel a (lifelong) path woven into the larger tapestry of providence. The last year or so of my personal journey has been particularly transformative. Not anything new really, while actually, everything is. Put another way; I am blessed to be more in connection with who I am than ever before. And blessed is the word. it's a God thing, totally. In stillness of mind, the heart can know, and find it's way. It's a new day. And each (new) day brings long walks, encounters with beauty, and a new drive and discipline to practice as I've never had. Come to one of my performances sometime. I suspect you will notice. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Last month, I made a brief pilgrimage to the home of my childhood. Actually, not exactly, or sort of. I was a "military brat"; which means that home is often a fluid concept. When my dad was shipped overseas, however, my mother and I found a little house to rent up the street from my aunt, in Ashland KY. Until we later settled in Bellmawr, NJ; Ashland was home, no matter where we were living at the time. This is where my mother's family is from, and where we would find ourselves on visits and family vacations. Our house was on Thomas Street, but every morning I would make the turn on the street for my school. And I felt important.  

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Meet Cody Leavell, pictured here with Mike McShane, the night of his last local gig (with us) before shipping out with the Glenn Miller Orchestra as their new lead tenor man, back in the Spring. I met Cody last summer, after he returned home from Shennadoah University with his music degree. I wasn't connected with the Rehoboth area when Cody was in high school, but I've heard of the amazing kid who showed great promise n the clarinet and saxophone. Cody is the real deal. And, thanks to Facebook, we all can share the adventure with him. For example, just a few days in, he posted:  "Two of the weirdest things about being on a bus and traveling is that you have no clue were you are and I honestly forget which day of the week it is". I'm sure that, by now, Cody has his sea legs relative to all that. And just in time for a few weeks break. As Cody continues to live the inside out life of the artist, he will, no doubt use his vacation time as an opportunity to stay home. And work. In fact, Cody will be joining Mike and I again on 9/29 at the Delaware Distilling Company (formerly Old Bay Steakhouse) in Rehoboth. Take advantage of the opportunity to see him, if you can.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Tonight, Beth McDonald and I (joined by Jeff Davis, pictured) returned to Baywood Greens, in Long Neck, DE. It's been several years. Beth and I have performed there many times; but this evening, for the first time together. As you can see, it's a beautiful (and meticulously kept) venue. We are appreciative of friends (old and new) who came. We felt the connection, and the love. And as for our new performing unit, we are (also) most appreciative of our (already close) friend Jeff. He is, by all who know him, highly regarded (both) as a musician, and a human being. He is a true team player. Stay in touch with Beth's website (or mine) for where we will be performing, around the region. BTW - Beth and I will be at Baywood again next Saturday for a (now rare) duo performance. Feels like home, again and already. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

God spaces. Or whatever terminology you choose. But if the "G" word is within you to use, then go there. Or be there. Years ago, the cable provider where we lived included a T.V. station that continuously played (Christian) praise music, accompanied by images of nature/creation; many of them stunning. I think I watched more of that channel than anything (not that I watch much television in the first place, but this just drew me in). Beauty, majesty, awe, wonder; these (along with other "places" like gratitude and compassion) pull our focus away from our own self centered places. And when we are not the center, that center (the universe) expands. Now to some of my Eastern friends, the directional imagery suggested by this may seem backwards. And to some of my Western (Christian) friends, the exhortation may seem insufficient, or vague.   
But every path begins someplace. And in each of us, that place is wherever we are. 

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Job Descriptions

Learning curves for me are often long and jagged. I've known for a long time (as long as i can remember, really) that I keep too much on my plate. My to-do lists have to do lists (you think I'm kidding?). So, I've made a difficult, but necessary decision. Starting this month, I am devoting my performance efforts to the public realm (and concert/listening venues in particular). In order to do this right, I need to take myself seriously. Which includes listening to my own advise. I'll often say that this music business (for me) is (at least) 2 full time jobs, One: performance and preparation, and the other: administration  product development and sales. So, starting this month, I have cleared (all of) my daytime working hours in order to stay close to home, and properly administer and prepare for what's in front of me. In the evenings (and throughout the weekend), I will perform, (with a few exceptions) in the public places. To pull this off, I am setting down my active music therapy work. This actually been a winding down/transition for some time, but it required me to own this last step. I will continue to provide music for seniors in care communities, from time to time on a volunteer basis. And now, I need to gather all of my dots and crosses. and own this path.  I'm grateful for the opportunities that are coming my way.   
Shown above is my picture, added to the wall of performers at the Manistay, in Rock Hall. This year I have been added to their (short) list of "legacy" performers  This means increased performance opportunity there, including a annual concert (up until now, it's been every 3 or 4 years) of my choosing. This year I've invited Beth McDonald to join me for a specially themed jazz concert in October - see my schedule for info. And speaking of my schedule, I've a bunch of dates to add. But now, I will find the time; for that, and for better staying in touch (via my newsletters and blogs), and for following and keeping up with the to-do list. 
And I do need an updated promo picture. I'll add it to the list.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

In comes the tide. Predictably. Even so, seldom without being noticed. Even in just the gentle rise and fall of that which the water supports; we know. And not only know, but welcome. And sometimes, the tide swells a bit beyond that to which we grow accustomed (and perhaps immune). 

And the tide moves the water, to fill up the spaces designed to hold it.

And on occasion, to move beyond, to areas left vulnerable

And continuing to move, securely held by the river; nurtured by the movement, the erosion, the transporting of minerals; supporting the aquatic life, seen and unseen. And as the water gently rises to meet and then laps at the vulnerable places, we feel an almost divine sense of helplessness, alongside the tranquility of seeing beyond. Because, no matter how severely (or gently)  the unimpeded current affects us in our fragility; we know that the tide will again recede. And we will have time; to reflect, repair, and rejoice before the next inevitable and majestic rise.  


And we learn, sooner or later, that we are never without provision. Even in the storms of a lifetime, hope is never fully absent, voices of encouragement never completely silenced  and promise never a frozen relic. And each day, with each new swell, we find the places to be; even if we are forced there. And where we are guided (especially when circumstances may seem to be cruel, and leave no other options), is just where we need to be.