Thursday, December 01, 2022

 


My friend, Beth McDonald Boger and I have travelled a long and winding road of a musical path over the last two decades or so. Travelling less to chase or to find something, more to follow it. In the promo copy we wrote for a show a few years ago, a line reads: "What might seem on the surface as an odd pairing has been called musical magic". The odd, or dissimilar part, is also the part that is exactly the same (Beth and I both appreciate paradoxes, so this works for us). To continue to quote the promo copy: "A reviewer once likened Beth to Miss Peggy Lee, calling her “almost....almost unapproachable.” In contrast to: "Joe, on the other hand, could be called “almost unrestrained”.

The photo above is from our recent appearance at the Stoltz Listening Room of the Avalon Theatre, in Easton, MD. We've played there together at least a half dozen times, and the theatre's promo for this last show called us the "beloved duo", which warmed our hearts. What started out as me simply being Beth's accompanist (including for a time in a jazz band in which she was the vocalist) has evolved into most of our performances as double billed shows (reference the marquis in the above photo). It is a true collaboration, and our programs these days are more of a weaving of the two of us together.  Not a balancing act so much, more as a balance between us, that is greater than the sum of the individual parts. There was actually a specific point in time, years ago, where we understood (or perhaps better, acknowledged) that there was a specific path given for us to follow, and we committed ourselves to it; a shared path, facilitated by music, weaving music and friendship into a tie that binds.


 When I settled back into college, in my early 20's (after dropping out and gigging full time for a couple of years), I soon adjusted my major to what would be the practical equivalent of basket weaving: General Music. Not music education, or performance, or production, or anything remotely useful. It was more of a liberal arts degree, with ample opportunity to peruse electives of choice. And I did.  Doing so was an eyes wide open embracing of what I purposed my return to college to be; an opportunity to learn. Because of my General Music track, I had ample freedom of electives be able to study what I was actually interested in learning, both within, and outside of music. When I knew I was ready to return to college was when I knew I was ready to take learning seriously, with grateful acceptance that this opportunity was available. Not that I thought about in those terms so much, though. It was, instead, the lack of thought, away from the dread of disciplines and task management, that brought me to acceptance. Or put another way, I knew when I wasn't ready, and (later) knew when I was ready to accept the responsibility of learning. This responsibility goes without saying (at least for me), having 40+ years to continue to travel that road.  But as I step back and think about it, I may have failed to acknowledge, or grasp, that this isn't necessarily true for many people; musicians or otherwise. I suppose it could be considered judgmental to be disappointed in people who rode out the pandemic entirely on their Netfilx subscription, or whatever else it might have been. But maybe it's really more of being disappointed for them, not seeming to have a sense of inner purpose or direction to guide them in otherwise troubling times. I suppose I never really made the connection until just now that my attitude of embracing the pandemic as the gift of a sabbatical was actually the fruit of the tree that was planted back when I returned to college. Nor have I been sufficiently thankful for the gift of the attitude adjustment (along with the opportunity to receive it) back in 1981. I'm sitting here now rather amazed, and grateful, to see how so much in the path of my life can be traced back to that. I am blessed, indeed.    

 

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

 


Small venues. Intimate performance spaces. These have always been comfort zones, and all totaled over the years, or at least in recent years, my circumstance more often than not. It's beginning to strike me in a different way, though; a reality check of sorts, as I press onward and look forward. There was a time, maybe until 20 or so years ago, that my musical center of gravity still maintained a connection to the culture at large, even if only tangentially. If nothing else, it remained the case that the Great American Songbook and Big Band eras (running concurrently) maintained a first hand connection to a portion of the population, large and vital enough to support it, at least to some degree. Even so, those of us (musicians) who were living the "old soul" life were witnessing that population decline, year after year. And now, although there are still some folks around who spent their teenage and college (era) years dancing to the big bands, they are very likely no longer going to dances. This is a reality that I've been making adjustments toward (as best I can, while maintaining my own center of gravity) for decades. Nothing new here for me, though I am feeling those winds of change from a bit of a different angle now. I've always considered myself in the category of a potential "discovery"; off the beaten path of the general culture, and a potential portal into the larger realm of "arts" music. But having what was left of the population that embraced my musical center of gravity as their own culture almost completely evaporate impresses on me that I now have nowhere to hide. And although I can find many subtle meanings in what I just wrote, what I mean primarily (I think) is that I can no longer rely primarily on a first hand cultural connection to guarantee a connection with those around me, as I make music. The analysis could become complicated and an general consensus on it all potentially elusive. But what it means, on a practical level, seems relatively clear. If my primary audience was a niche market 20 or 30 years ago, it is even more so now. I don't know if I'd agree with those who characterize me (particularly in recent years) as one who is continually "reinventing himself". I'd like to think I'm the same musician I've always been, just further along the path of growth and discovery. And perhaps (or hopefully), these days, a bit more open minded   :)              

Tuesday, October 04, 2022


It's that time again. Every 5 years I have the opportunity to renew my Board Certification in Music Therapy (MT-BC). The alternative to accepting (and meeting) the opportunity is to lose my certification, which is something (even though I don't actively practice now as a music therapist, or even use the certification at all) that I don't want to allow to happen. I am proud of having accomplished this, and to have lived this mid-life side trip for over 25 years. But it goes beyond that. Having this path arise for me was directly related to coming to understand my actual purpose to being a performing musician; beginning with a realization, when working at the Showboat in Atlantic City in the '90s, that music making, for me, is about far more than just pleasing myself. And, as just about everything with me can be boiled down to (or rest upon) a simple idea or premise (am reluctant to use the word concept, in general) it is the acknowledgement that my purpose as a musician is to connect with people. Or (speaking a little more like a therapist), to create connections with people, for a positive purpose. The acknowledgement that music making is not simply about me is the common lens through which I see these things. In it's essence, it all originates from the same space. 
The Music Therapy world has recently provided us (who are Board Certified Music Therapists) a virtual badge to hang on our virtual walls, or wear on our virtual sleeves. I imagine the intent is to aid Music Therapists in their promotion, particularly on their websites. Since I have never promoted myself as a music therapist, the badge doesn't serve much of a purpose, except to make a statement of who I am. Which is not so much a music therapist, at least in a clinical sense. Neither is it so much a performer, in the acclaim and accolades sense. It's a guy, who continues to learn to use what he has, purposing to stay out of the way of himself in the process. And believing in it.  
 


Thursday, September 01, 2022

In my mid 20s, I began gaining weight, slowly but steadily. Since I was rather thin at the time, the first 30 pounds or so were met with a "You're looking healthier!" from many of my friends. From about the 31st pound on, that abruptly changed to "You're getting fat!". My speculation at the time was that the weight gain was a side effect of a new medication. I stopped the medication, but the weight gain continued. By the time, years later, that I finally began to get a handle on it, my weight had nearly doubled. Along the way, there were nudges and expressions of concern that would come my way. Some were more gentle, like my doctor telling me that I had "reached my design limits". Others more blunt, like the school principal (the one year I was a part time band director) exhorting me "You want to be around to see your kids grow up, don't you?". Those exhortations, and others, hung over me, and still do, but with the sense that I may have dodged a bullet (so far), and am, in any case, grateful and blessed. 

20 years (or so, not entirely sure) ago, I was given a book about the glycemic index, which was a game changer in helping me understand how I was continually (and unknowingly) self sabotaging myself with food. I was finally able to stop the weight gain and, oh so slowly, begin to dial it back. Some years later, I began an ambitious walking regimen; 4 to 5 miles a day, most mornings, and things began to internally reset. These days I walk more modestly, but enough to keep my blood pressure in check and settle my weight into a much less dangerous place. Lately I've been back to hearing versions or "You're looking healthier" from many of my friends. Looking to continue in this direction.   :)    

Back in the 1990s, at pretty much my heaviest, I would occasionally sub in a trio where I may have been the lightest guy in the group. My guess was that the leader, John, possibly approached 400 pounds. (none of his habits were healthy, that I could observe). One night one of the patrons walked by us and asked "Hey, If I gain a few pounds, can I join the band?" Another night, I was talking to the club owner who, while looking out into the crowd, said "You know Joe, we have a ton of musicians here tonight". It took me a few minutes  ;?  Later on, John proposed renaming the band: "Men of Mirth, Men of Girth". Thankfully, it never went to a vote. In 2011, John died. He was in his 50s. 

Later on, I made the acquaintance of a fine pianist, Erik. Among other accomplishments, he had secured the enviable position of a Marine Corps musician and member of "The President's Own" (primarily playing events at the White House during the terms of Bill Clinton and George W Bush. He had lots of funny stories). Erik and I had a favorite chicken place where we would periodically meet for lunch. We both liked chicken. Unfortunately, Erik struggled to keep his weight in check. He soldiered on, even as he continued to gain weight; touring with a major jazz act, gigging all over the place, and eventually settling into a DC area church position. We were due for another round of chicken when, in 2018, Erik died. He was in his 50s.

And just last week, the sudden death of jazz organ legend Joey DeFrancesco was announced. In reading some of the postings, I learned that he had recently lost a lot of weight. But apparently he carried it with him for too long. He was 51. Last week was also my (quasi) annual physical, where, once again, I received a congratulatory clean bill of health from my doctor. The only real item of any concern is the a-fib that was diagnosed in 2016. Every night, as I lie in bed, I can hear the swish of my heart beat that (unlike in my musician world, never finds the pocket) reminds me both how fortunate and blessed I am, and how each day is a new gift, and a responsibility. None of us knows how much time we have here. For myself, I'm grateful to have some sense of what I am supposed to do with whatever that is. Purposing to make the most of it.  

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

I've learned a lot over the past couple of weeks. First. if you are going on a trip with only one pair of shoes, absolutely wear your most comfortable walking shoes, not the ones that might be more appropriate for an occasion that may or may not happen, Second, there is something kind of cool to navigating in a foreign country where you don't speak or understand any of the language. Until it isn't. Third, better to be on the other level of the train than the party animal German guys. Fourth, if my Airbnb hosts happen to be retired school music teachers, I might find myself with unfettered access to the music room of the house, and the very nice grand piano. 

I had no idea when (for the first time) I booked an Airbnb room, that this provision would be waiting for me; an affirmation (among others) that the decision to take a solo vacation, to a place I'd never been, having nothing to do with being a musician (until it did) was the right one. And so unlike me this was. Although I had previously been issued a passport (for a moving goalposts gig situation that would wind up not happening), I'd never been overseas. And I almost never take vacations, especially solo (I get away to new and most meaningful places/spaces every morning when I sit down at the piano). But I knew someone in Germany who was kindly willing to be a tour guide, and so "alright then!". My first Facebook post upon arriving in Germany read "Who and I and what have I done with myself?"  :)

I excitedly messaged my Airbnb host, Reinar, before the trip, after stumbling upon a reference in the reviews that he and his wife were musicians. He didn't respond, but as soon as I arrived, his feelings about the situation were clear: "When you are ready, I will take you up to the piano". Reinar and his wife, Urlike, are classical musicians, who practice most afternoons, which was lovely to hear on the occasions that I was in the house (downstairs) at the time. And I suppose you could say that I returned the favor most mornings, when taking advantage of the opportunity to engage in my daily routine of opening the space from the piano. And what a gift that was. This was the one component of the trip that I was not looking forward to, as (to risk sounding overly dramatic) my connection to the piano is one of the primary things that keeps me relatively sane. Or at least, more pleasant to be around  ;) 

One benefit to being a performing musician is that travel opportunities are built in, at whatever level one is operating. And though I am primarily a regional performer (these days), I've had the opportunity to perform in most of the states in the US over the last 5 decades. Opportunities to see and experience things that I otherwise wouldn't have had, some of which also become opportunities for little built in vacations/getaways (where someone else pays for the plane ticket). That's how it has always worked (for me), and I'm good with that. I enjoy this life, and the knowledge (or perhaps better, faith) that there will always be the provision I need, whatever that winds up being. All I need to do is make the best contribution I can to what I'm called to be.  

Much gratitude to Urlike and Reinar for allowing me open access to the music room, and the ability (until the last couple of days of the trip, where my schedule didn't mesh) to be myself. On my last opportunity to play the piano, I recorded the little video post embedded above, as a thank you to them. "They Can't Take That Away From Me" is an appropriate sentiment. Many thanks also to Cindy, who generously shared of her time to tour guide a friend of her American mother around northern Germany. A friend, who grew up in Germany and maintains a connection to the country, was excited to find out I was going, and told me that I would have "the trip of a lifetime". My inward reaction at the time was something like "It will be another moment, and I will be in it". But yes, the trip of a lifetime. I don't expect to do anything like this again, and am content with that. I'll keep this all with me in a special place in my heart. And now, very grateful for the unique experience, I return to my regularly scheduled life, and to whatever travels being a musician will take me from here. :)      

   

Sunday, June 26, 2022

 I was in the grocery store the other day and noticed that "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" (Tony Orlando and Dawn from the 70s) was playing in the sound system overhead. I often am oblivious to such things, but it was like the little Tony Orlando gremlin (or something) had walked right in front of me, standing there with a smirk, making sure to get my attention. My reaction was probably somewhere between rolling my eyes and shrugging, as I nudged the gremlin to the side and proceeded around the corner to the bread aisle. There I encountered a soft voice, coming from a woman somewhere around my age, singing along. Not singing to be heard, just engaging with the song in the manner in which she does, as do many others. And funny, at that moment I was no longer annoyed (or whatever I was) at the song, as my focus was taken from that to surveying the broader landscape. In the broader/contextual view, the emphasis shifts more to meaning, and the place that those singular components hold in the big picture, And the first thing that can be observed in the wider view is that everything has a place, regardless of what I (think I) might feel about it as an individual. Once that first domino falls, as long as you keep (your self/ego) out of the way, the sense of connection to what is around you begins to make more sense. Similar to the time that an annoying sing along on a casino gig turned my whole perspective about music making around, I was drawn into a moment, the meaning of which was a reminder to me that it (whatever it is) isn't about me. Not that I don't wholly embrace that, at this point, but I do need reminding (or something) whenever I encounter an expression of popular culture, the substance of which leaves me empty. So, perhaps, my next order of business is to figure out how to get myself authentically engaged with playing "Tie a Yellow Ribbon". I can hear Erroll Garner ... I'll think about it. Meanwhile, I attended a jazz concert tonight that included the great old standard "Everything Happens to Me" and smiled as I heard the woman 2 seats from me humming along with the melody. I already play that one   :)      

Monday, May 30, 2022

 


This article (using the picture above) came up in my Facebook memories (from 6 years ago) today:

https://chestertownspy.org/2016/05/24/mainstay-mondays-with-joe-holt-and-featured-guests-begins-monday-may-30 

.The article ran a week earlier, but I shared it on Facebook 6 years ago today (Memorial Day, 5/30), the day that the experiment that was "Mainstay Monday" began, originally scheduled as a 15 week series, to end on Labor Day. The article from 2016, announcing the new series, mentions the possibility of extending the series beyond 15 weeks, but who knew that it would take a global pandemic to end (weekly) Mainstay Mondays nearly 4 years later!

As is known now (but not when the series ended), it wasn't my intention to stop presenting shows, just to pull back from weekly to monthly shows. It almost didn't happen, and I was resigned to that, but as it turned out, the story had (at least) another chapter to play out, as the new director offered me a monthly First Friday series for 2022. I'm having fun with it, presenting themed programs, with wonderful guest artists, that vary from month to month. A welcome addition to the Mainstay this year is the livestreaming of shows, that archive on YouTube. Here are the links to the "First Friday with Joe Holt" shows so far:

February - In Love with Swing, featuring Cody Leavel - sax/vocals and Amy Shook - bass  full show

March - Straight Lines, Winding Roads, and Detours, featuring classical pianist Stephanie LaMotte  set 1  set 2

April - "Motown and More" - A Tribute to African American vocalists of the 20th century, featuring Paula Johns  full show

May - "Peggy Lee, Meet Blossom Dearie", featuring Beth McDonald and Sharon Sable  full show

So, my "First Friday with Joe Holt" series pretty much picked up where Mainstay Monday left off, but with even more possibilities for unique programming that you won't see anywhere else. Like this Friday (6/3), when a Traditional Jazz trumpet player, a Bop sax player, and a Latin trombonist join me to tackle the Great American Songbook all together (something that would very likely never happen on it's own). Just like Mainstay Mondays, these shows all find their own special "Mainstay Musical Magic" sweet spot. If you can't make the show, check in with the Mainstay Livestreams YouTube channel instead.  :)

Thursday, May 26, 2022


 Am enjoying being back to a more normal/busy gigging schedule, even as I am still getting used to it, or trying to (without an extra 8 hours or so in a day to keep all the non-playing plate things spinning, which never quite happens). Anyway, this (pictured above) was a fun gig, though I'll admit it was one that had "What have I gotten myself into now?" running through my head right up until the hit. Got a call to sub for the regular keyboard player in a trio that leans "smooth jazz". The other guys know where I'm coming from, and we created an amalgam tune list for the gig where we tried to draw from both our worlds. That can either be dangerous, or can be great fun. And there comes a point where the guys around you are laying down such a deep solid groove that you (or I) can't help but get really comfortable inside of it, even if it is music I almost never listen to (or play). But that's what living in the space (and in the moment) can do, and will do if you are prepared to let it. Recently was reminded of a Keith Jarrett quote: "My main job is listening. If you're improvising and you're not listening, the next second that comes up, you have nothing to say.". Years ago, I began to see music making as akin to prayer. And meaningful prayer (and things related to it) is much less about talking and much more about listening and aligning (and then talking, if so inclined). Music, at the deeper level is the same; listen, align, and then express, from that place, once you are prepared to allow that to happen. The restless mind is always lurking, ready to get in the way. Listening, in stillness, even as things swirl about all around, is the key.    

      

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

It is not beyond me to run ahead of myself. I'd like to think that this tendency is more in my past than my present, at this stage of life. But even if I'm correct, the potential is there, and always will be. I'm fully capable of being overly exuberant, or excitable, at any moment. So it is a bit interesting (to me, anyway) that I'm actually cautious about being overly exuberant now, as I look at this week in my gig calendar; a week that I have been anticipating for the last couple of months. Not that cool things haven't been happening already (like the Sholbertshires concert the other week, pictured above, among other things) But this is the week that my schedule suddenly looks like what it was before the pandemic. And for the next several weeks, the same. After that, a bit lighter, but with sufficient things already in place that the more last minute things will easily fill it out. In other words, my calendar finally looks normal. It's kind of like a feeling of wandering in the desert, and wondering if I am seeing a mirage, instead of the watering hole it appears to be. Well, something is there, even if not everything it appears to be. Or everything I want it to be, which better expresses the real concern. Crazy pandemic. It doesn't go away, choosing instead to dance on the front lawn to remind us it is still here, perhaps just taking a break before going full Tasmanian devil again. Or maybe it is dancing on the front lawn because we are going to have to learn to dance (live) with it going forward, since the evil potion that turns it back into a monster has sufficiently worn out. Jeez, way to over think it, Joe. Or maybe not, as we are all rather dizzy from it all, at this point. Come'on now, all I want to do is enjoy the fact that my world looks to be coming back to (or finding it's new) normal. And I will enjoy it, actually. And realize that <sigh>, yes, I am running ahead of myself. The future will be what it is, the present is the moment in which we live. So really, everything is normal (huh?). Good to know. Welcome to my brain.   :)      

Friday, March 18, 2022


Had a bit of a reality check the other day when I mentioned the name Victor Borge to someone the same age as me. As this person is connected to the arts, I was a bit taken aback when he responded to the name Victor Borge with "Who? I Don't know of him. Spell that please...". It eventually settled in my head that Victor Borge is from the Bob Hope/Jack Benny et al era of comedians. In other words (and like much of everything else in the center of gravity in my world), before my time. I was exposed to entertainers like Frank Gorshin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Lawrence Welk and Victor Borge on television when growing up because that's what my parents were watching. And while that may be true of many, if not most my age, what may be different is that I actually took to it. I hadn't thought of 
it in such a global/macro way before now, but it certainly seems that my taking to the music of the classic jazz era when I was growing up wasn't happening in a (cultural) vacuum. Apparently I was latching on to something bigger. And the fact this this is somewhat news to me today is interesting, because I already knew that my sensibilities, in general, are in the past. I suppose I just subconsciously assumed that "the past', with the obvious exception of musical tastes, included my own generational sensibilities. Though now that I actually consider the premise, it's obvious that this is rather ridiculous, especially in the big picture/everything is related and interconnected way that I perceive things. I was embracing the (puzzle) pieces of an overall bigger picture as they were being presented to me. Of course I was. Pretty much everything in my worldview is from the wayback machine. 

In recent years, as I have pondered the notion of an "old soul", it has settled inside of me that this is not simply a phrase we use to describe a particular circumstance. It is a thing. The heart knows. And in following our heart/heart's desires, we are responding to that bigger picture that our heart can "see", even as our minds cannot. But ultimately, our hearts can inform our minds (if our minds are open) allowing us to catch up (to ourselves, interestingly). And I'm realizing that this is exactly what is going on here, right now, as I type this. And my big picture has come into a bit more focus. As it should be. Wash, rinse, repeat.   

Tuesday, February 22, 2022


 Sharon Sable and I are moving to the home stretch of our Blossom Dearie tribute recording process. All of the music tracks have been recorded and (almost completely) edited. Now we move into the mastering phase which is, essentially, creating one cohesive unit from the individually recorded tracks. Perhaps the most obvious aspect of this is choosing the track (song) order, Sharon and I have found that we are of similar mind with creating set lists for shows; something we actually like doing (not a universal feeling among musicians). So we were looking forward to this part of the process. The discussion began at our last session visit, and remains ongoing   ;)

Monday, February 21, 2022


 Excited for Beth McDonald Boger that her new all-originals recording is out and available!  Although Beth and I consider ourselves collaborators and performing partners, the real "meat and potatoes" of Beth's creative musical activity (and of who she is) is as a singer/songwriter. And in this realm, my role is, ultimately, support. Though Beth and I will often ride the same wavelength and have much in common, our creative processes are different. Unlike whenever I play something on piano, which is almost always a "one time only" event (meaning I wouldn't know what I just did and would have no prayer of repeating it), Beth receives her songs often fully formed. And if anything is ever changed, it is deliberate, and stays that way. Implicit in the last few sentences is that our performances of her originals have evolved to an amalgam of our approaches, grounded in mutual respect. She had gotten used to my accompaniment being conceptually consistent (usually) from performance to performance, while being uniquely different each time. And I have gotten used to the structure that Beth's approach requires; as she knows what she wants, and unlike me, she doesn't forget. We've had 17 years or so to figure that all out and we pretty much have it down now. Early in the process, referring to when I would write out Beth's music from time to time, I responded to something (I forget what, I'll bet she remembers) by saying "Beth is right. How do I notate that?" Beth hasn't forgotten that (and neither has she let me).
 "Paint Me Blue" is a collection of 21 original compositions - 21 of about 21 million or so that she has written and filed away over the years. That's another aspect of my role, to remind Beth of songs she wrote years ago (or maybe even a month or a week). In this regard, the tables are turned on who remembers and who forgets. Maybe I exaggerated a little, but Beth is as much a songwriter, going back to childhood, as I am an improvising pianist, going back to childhood. Hundreds of songs are in play here, I'll bet, provided she remembers she wrote them (or finds old sheets of paper or cassette tapes). We have a system, a lane in which it all travels, a path of discovery and growth. And we are both better, and grateful for it.
Check out Paint Me Blue here, or on your favorite platform.   

Sunday, February 20, 2022

 


The road back to "normal" from Covid, for musicians, has been far from a straight line. Although Heron Point (our local retirement community) allowed me back on campus to resume in-person (limited attendance) Vespers services last year, the path to resuming live, in person entertainment has been a steeper hill to climb. In July of last year, they opened back up for live programming only to shut it down again a week or so later. This month, they allowed me to wheel the piano out to the lobby/lounge off the dining room for Valentine's Day dinner. Ready to give a live (with audience) show another go starting in March. Meanwhile, here is a fun selection from the one show that did get to happen last year, with Sharon Sable.


Monday, February 07, 2022



We're off and running with the first installment of "First Friday with Joe Holt", featuring Cody Leavel and Amy Shook. It was a delightful and inspiring (and super swinging) evening. 
This was also the first show of the Mainstay's 2022 weekly performance calendar, and the first show of our new director's oversight. Matt Mielnick arrived on the scene a few months ago inheriting the shows already on the calendar. Now, it's his turn to steer the Mainstay's programming ship. One of Matt's first bookings (if not the first) was to offer me this monthly series. After making the decision to severely cut the Mainstay's yearly programming schedule (from 100 to 50 shows/year), he handed me 25% of them (based on his evaluation of the success of Mainstay Mondays). I couldn't be more pleased and grateful for the opportunity to continue sharing the space from the Mainstay stage. Counting my blessings.  :)

 

Thursday, January 06, 2022


 On Monday, December 13, 2021, Sharon Sable and E Shawn Qaissaunee joined me for the final installment of my Mainstay Monday.series. It was a wonderful evening. And now, after 5 years and 200 shows, "Mainstay Monday" is history.

Beginning on Memorial Day of 2016, I was given the opportunity to present a full summer of weekly collaborative shows; 15 of them, through Labor Day. We had no idea what to expect, and were pleasantly surprised when the attendance for that first show was double what we were hoping. A few weeks in, the Mainstay director exclaimed: "Holy ****, this is working!". A few weeks after that, I was green-lighted to book guest artists for a few additional months of shows, then again, then finally, the open ended green light. Mainstay Mondays were a thing; a fixture on the landscape. So much has transpired along the way; and so much has been learned; the most important lesson being to have a taste of what can happen when you get out of the way and allow it, while remaining a fully committed participant. 

Weekly Mainstay Monday shows were scheduled to end (which was my decision) on Labor Day of 2020. The pandemic turned that inside out and sideways, from several angles. What also got derailed were the (secret, between the former director and myself) plans to unveil a new monthly series, continuing on Mondays, beginning in January of 2021. The bottom line of my decision to end my participation in weekly Mainstay Monday shows was the weekly part. As the series continued on, into 2017 and beyond, I continued to push the boundaries of (both) the series, and myself, to the point where the weekly schedule carried a time and energy commitment  that was no longer realistic for me (if it ever was). Many wonderful and positive things were accomplished, and I have no regrets. It just was time to turn a page. And after blowing in the wind for many months (and almost blowing away, as the Mainstay's administrative staff was in flux), that page has come to rest, thanks to the offer of the new executive director of a new monthly series, beginning in February: "First Fridays with Joe Holt". This page turn begins a new chapter in my relationship with the Mainstay. In the coming days, the new Mainstay schedule will be unveiled, and I'll remain in the mix, in a more "prime time" slot, excited and grateful to remain on board.   :)     


Monday, January 03, 2022


 Sharon Sable and I are delighted to have received the first review for our Blossom Dearie Project; of a performance earlier this year, written by jazz journalist Scott Yanow. Sharon and I are now putting the finishing touches on our tribute recording, which we plan to release in the Spring. This nice review puts a little spring in our step as we move forward.   :)

"Blossom Dearie (1924-2009) was a unique performer, a sophisticated pianist who had a light high voice that made her sound at times like a little girl. She contrasted her voice with the very adult and often witty lyrics that she interpreted, making many rewarding recordings in her career.

Sharon Sable is the perfect singer to pay tribute to Blossom Dearie because she has a soft and high voice that is quite attractive. She began her career as a backup singer to pop acts but soon switched to jazz, ballads, bossa novas and French songs. For her hour-long concert from the Mainstay in Rock Hall, Maryland, Ms. Sable is joined by pianist Joe Holt. Due to his background in playing swing and stride piano, Holt is able to function as a very musical one-man rhythm section in this intimate setting, accompanying and inspiring the singer.

            Throughout the enjoyable hour-long set, Sharon Sable hints at Blossom Dearie without trying to copy her, adding to her legacy rather than just recreating her voice. The performance begins with “Little Jazz Bird” (during which the singer’s delivery is quite fetching) and the other highlights include such numbers as “Surrey With The Fringe On Top” (which ends with a surprising final note), a charming rendition of “They Say It’s Spring,” a single slow ballad chorus of “It Might As Well Be Spring,” an uptempo and playful version of “Down With Love,” a sensitive “Once Upon A Summertime,” the quietly saucy “You Fascinate Me So,” and Dave Frishberg’s classic “I’m Hip.” The performance concludes with a surprise, a slow and heartwarming version of “Tea For Two.”

            Sharon Sable and Joe Holt have a recording coming out in the spring, (both as a duo and a trio with bassist Amy Shook, and) as they show throughout their LiveStream, they sound exquisite and quite complete as a duo. Blossom Dearie would have approved."


Monday, October 25, 2021


 The Blossom Dearie Tribute recording project is well on its way! Sharon Sable and I have made several trips to Morningstar Studios, near Philadelphia, enjoying both the process and the progress. Finishing and releasing a recording is not the end game, though. In our vision, it is more a first step. We are pleased to have our initial tribute show (live, in person) performance next week, on November 3, in Rehoboth, sponsored by the True Blue Jazz Festival. There is both the potential and the expectation of this being an ongiong and evolving thing. There is much material to explore as we go forward. But we feel we're off to a strong start and are looking forward to getting the new recording out to you early next year. You can follow us on our dedicated Blossom Dearie Project Facebook page. Looking foward to what's to come   :)

Saturday, June 26, 2021


It's official - The Mainstay is reopening for live, in person shows next month! And Mainstay Mondays are returning! When the pandemic hit last year, guest artists were booked solid for many months out. Now we can finally perform those shows, or some of them, anyway. I'll be presenting 2 shows a month, one regional (or national) guest artist and one local (or regional) guest artist. It's a work in progress. For July, the exceptional guitarist Steve Herberman joins me on the 12th, and the Washington College Jazz combo alumni reunite on the 26th.

it's going to be fun to be able to host the first live, in person show at the Mainstay in 15 months. It was also fun to be tasked with making the official announcement. And fun is only one of the many words that I would need to use to describe my unique association with the Mainstay over the last 5 years. Grateful is, of course, one of them.
  

It's been over 3 months since I began a second weekly night of livestreaming. In contrast to the "Escape, From Home" piano hour, which resembles a cocktail/dinner hour set (sort of, until I start meandering, quoting, and being ridiculous. In other words, being myself), my newer livestream, "Inside the Process", engages with both music and dialogue. The objective is to bring one more into the experience(s) of playing piano and of being a musician in my world. It was modeled to be a continuation of "Pandemic Piano" from the Mainstay page; primarily insights into the music making process. I'm finding, however, a freedom to dive more deeply into sharing from my more personal music making experiences and perspective. The context of this being on my own Facebook page, as opposed to the Mainstay page, has moved the center of gravity in such a way as to throw open the gate to a field full of flowers (topics) from which to pick. For every topic I explore, often several more are brought to mind. It is clear to me now that I could do this (and enjoy doing it) for a long time. Maybe. As my schedule fills out (which is happening quickly, especially with the rehearsals and recording sessions you don't see listed on my schedule), it's going to increasingly become a challenge to keep it all going. Which may simply mean, as has been the bottom line for the last 15 months, that I have to remain flexible, and be willing to adjust along the way with the changing landscape. 

An added and welcome dimension of doing the livestreams is the new community it has formed: a mixture of those who have followed me locally over the years, alongside of new (and longstanding) non-local friends, facilitated by social media. I began YouTube posting in 2007, the difference now being that livestreaming takes the experience to the next 'relationship" place. I can't say that my livestream community is huge, but neither can I say it isn't vital. Like the "community" that formed around Mainstay Mondays, it is real. And, ultimately, why I do this. Whether it is viable (or ultimately, sensible) to continue long term, juggled along with everything else, remains to be seen, but I am hopeful. Grateful for all the opportunities I have, and for those who encourage me along the way.

       

Friday, June 11, 2021

 As I was drinking my coffee this morning, I pulled up my journal (blog) to look for a specific post, and was confronted with it being about 2-1/2 months since I last posted here. I haven't forgotten. In fact, just last night I was poking around with various draft entries (there are more than a few) attempting to find a (writing) zone somewhere in them. There are so many things to write about. Too many, really. And I find my journal entry attempts rather scattered, even more so than usual (which is saying something). So it landed with me this morning (when my creative thoughts are often more clear) to embrace the "scattered" by going over to the laptop (instead of returning to my normal morning practice routine) and writing about it. And the first place this takes me is to the acknowledgement that these "scattered" in-progress journal entries are just reflective and illustrative of where we are now, in the lunge toward a post-pandemic "normal". In fact, that's what most of the half completed journal entries are about: some individual project or component part of the bigger picture, as it is unfolding. I knew this was coming. And I suppose I also knew that it would require some adjustment, as the "return to normal" is really a new normal, at least for me. Just typing this affirms that I really have embraced the ideas and things posted in this blog over the last year and change; especially concerning the "sabbatical" opportunity of practice and growth. I suppose it is also affirming that a part of me is resisting the adjustment that is required now. But, as it is clarifying itself a bit as I continue to write, the adjustment is not so much to put one thing down and pick another thing up as it is to release my hold on everything, in order to embrace it all again. To embrace it as the big picture that it is now, and is becoming, not what it has been over the last year, as much as I might want to romanticize all of that. And, of course, how many times have you heard me say that I only have a wide angle lens? So, this little writing exercise seems to have been necessary (and probably overdue) to remind me that every egg I am juggling is actually an ingredient in the cake already being baked. Ahhh, a paradox ... NOW we're getting someplace.   :)

The picture above is from last night, prior to presenting a solo piano entertainment show (similar to what I would do for American Cruise Lines). It felt good. So does actually completing a blog entry, for the first time in way too long. Wide angle lens, Joe. Embrace it, it's where you can see things most clearly. 

I knew that.   ;)

Now, back to practicing.   :)       

Thursday, March 25, 2021


Well, this was a nice thing to find when I read this month's True Blue Jazz Festival newsletter: 

Artist Spotlight ~ Joe Holt, Pianist  

I can tell you definitively, as a Vocalist, you are nothing without a talented musician the likes of pianist, Joe Holt. Whether he’s on the gig as a ‘Sideman’ solo with you, or with a band…Joe is the standout performer on that stage. I don’t mean to imply he’s dominating the spotlight. Joe is there as an artist performing so fluidly, with the group or the singer, that the depth & grace of his musicianship may be lost on the audience. Joe Holt’s range of style is only surpassed by his ability to play those styles so incredibly well. And it’s that reason that Joe Holt is one of the most in demand pianists in all of the Mid-Atlantic region. Singers love him because he allows them room to truly deliver a lyric with all opportunity for any amount of emotion, subtlety, punch, or that slight slide off of a low drawn breath in to that next phrase…Joe is there with you as you tell your song story. To hear Joes’ mastery first-hand, catch Beth McDonald doing her tribute to Miss Peggy Lee, watch (& listen) for the sweet vocalization of Sharon Sable when she breaks out her Blossom Dearie Show, & of course Peggy Raley (True Blue Jazz Artistic Director) as she wraps the crowd around her little finger...  All these Ladies of Jazz & Song Styling are in the capable & sensitive piano hands of Mr. Joe Holt. Experience the gift of Joe Holt…check out his Facebook Piano Hour, or best yet...visit Joe’s Website for his Performance Schedule. He really is a truly, bluely one amazing artist at the piano!

What jumped out at me, and was actually quite validating, was the entirety of focus on me as an accompanist. I could imagine that some pianists would be disappointed, perhaps even annoyed, at this framing. But, honestly, most pianists are not (self-realized) accompanists first. While it is certainly true that I put myself out there as an instrumentalist and a soloist, I know who I am (in a earlier post in this blog, I arrive at the understanding that my solo performances are accompaniments as well; accompanying the experience of the audience). So I have to say that Eddie Sherman nailed it. I am not a performer who gets your attention by saying (or playing) "Look at me!". Rather, if I do get your attention, it's by drawing you in, to share in the experience with me. And sharing (and supporting) the experience is how I would describe accompanying, so there it is. One of the truest lines I've ever read is "When you grow old, you grow more like yourself". Don't call me "old" quite yet (old man in training though, for sure), but perhaps call me "appropriately maturing". At least I'd like to think so.  😊     



Monday, March 08, 2021


  When the pandemic hit last year, the Mainstay was quick to offer on line streaming programming as a means to serve and remain connected to their audience. Because Monday nights were already an established regular thing in their programming, they chose to jump in there. I was given the initial opportunity, and suggested a streaming hour titled the "DIY Cocktail Hour". This opened the door for an eventual evolution of Monday night programming for the Mainstay, leading to a variety of virtual concerts and interview shows. This evolution in programming allowed me to move the cocktail hour concept to my own Facebook page (on a different evening of the week). Understanding that I had essentially given the title "DIY Cocktail Hour" to the Mainstay, I renamed my livestream the "Escape, From Home" piano hour, which began weekly streaming on my page May 21 of last year. I remained in the pool of presenters for the Mainstay, evolving the concept to a program sharing music, stories and insights in a look behind the curtain approach I called "Pandemic Piano". The Mainstay will be winding down its Monday night livestream series over the next couple of months, and my last "Pandemic Piano" stream will be this evening (3/8). Can you guess where I'm going with this? That's right, I'll be rebranding the concept (like I did with the DIY hour) and moving it to my own Facebook page beginning next week, stepping up the frequency from once a month to every Wednesday night. Wednesday 3/17 will kick off a 6 week trail period of the new "Inside the Process" livestream (As I type this entry, the alternate title "Making the Sausage" floated inside my head, but I think I'll let that one roll by.). This will be a more conversational stream as I share stories, songs and explanations, bringing you more inside my world and my process. My intention is to keep this new concept as a permanent companion to the Escape hour, provided folks are engaged by it and I can handle the discipline. So far, my weekly livestreams have evolved and grown into what I'd hoped they would be. I'll continue to seek to make the best contribution I can, trusting that, in the process, everything will find its place.   



Sunday, February 21, 2021


Last Sunday was the first live in person gig for me since Jazz Festival weekend in Rehoboth last year. It was fun. Fun to perform with someone else, for starters. Fun to actually go somewhere. And fun to have the feeling that the last year devoted to increased practice time is actually amounting to something. 

In the grand scheme of things, it wasn't a big deal important show or anything. Not even a real piano. But still, a very nice Valentine's Day brunch, where Beth McDonald and I were the ambient (of sorts) entertainment. Beth and I have a long history of performing together, with an established rapport, both on and off the stage. The gig was a reminder that when a rapport is multi faceted and a piece is missing, putting that piece back is a bit like opening the window blind in the morning and letting the sunshine in. It feels good.

There have been some in person gigs scattered across the last year, but primarily I perform from home, livestreaming by myself. I thought I was fine with that, but the experience of actually being somewhere, with more company than just myself reminded me of life outside the blinders. There is a social component to making music (actually, layers of such), that even a social curmudgeon like myself (that actually enjoys playing solo piano) realizes that he misses. And it's just nice to be somewhere, enjoy new food and surroundings, and be around friends. 

Even though I am in my own presence every day as I practice and play from home, and am experiencing the continued creative growth, having a few months between gigs is kind of like not seeing someone for months and immediately noticing whatever has changed, that hadn't stood out so much to others around them, as it was happening gradually. It was nice to feel the sense of command in a performance situation that I (continually) practice toward. 

In pandemic world, one big reason that it is easier for me to navigate, even thrive, compared to many musicians, is that I am primarily a soloist. Or at least primarily self contained. But music is ultimately about the many layers and levels of connection, and even a reclusive, nomadic, introvert soloist needs that. It was good to be reminded.   



Saturday, January 23, 2021


 I recently came across a fellow musician's Facebook thread that reminded me of what most (of us) musicians understand about ourselves; that we listen to (or experience) music differently than "regular" people. I had never questioned (and I doubt many musicians do) the assertion that a musician listens to music more analytically, engaging in such a way that the idea of "background" music becomes a challenge, at best. Because we are now listening with more of an intellectual awareness. Back in the day (when I was teaching regularly), I would tell new students to prepare for the way they listen to music to change as they grow artistically. At the time, I knew nothing else. Now, after decades of unpeeling the layers of discovery surrounding the rapport between performer and listener, and the connection between the stage and the audience, I find myself in a different place, both as a listener and a performer.

Music is an experience. Right? Or is it something that we experience, which is really something else?   Perhaps it could be said that some (perhaps many) musicians listen to music to understand, as much as (or more than) to experience. Particularly jazz musicians. Perhaps it could be said that when music becomes a (more) academically, or intellectually oriented pursuit; the goal, or perhaps even the meaning of music moves in that direction as well. When I was in college is when it really became clear that music is often taught (and therefore understood) as the assembling of component parts, like as the pieces of a puzzle. And of course, from one angle of view, it is. The most effective practicing is that which narrowly focuses on one specific area, idea or concept. But that is not how music is generally experienced. Until it becomes that (or you let it). Perhaps it can be said that (at least) some musicians don't turn off their brain when they put down their instrument. Or for that matter, when they pick it up. This is related to a fundamental principle that Kenny Werner teaches in his "Effortless Mastery" writings and seminars (I recommend the book). He asserts that, for many performing musicians, performance is sometimes (or often) indistinguishable from practicing. Working things out, thinking things through, setting a predetermined goal or outcome (and whatever other purpose driven agenda) becomes the focus, as opposed to being/creating/living an experience. Because, for the listener, music is that; an experience, an experience which (we) musicians provide. And share. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2020


Christmas Eve happened about a week early this year. Or at least I pretended it did, emailing the hymns for the Christmas Eve service at Heron Point the week before the fact. I'm getting used, in some respects, to the current realities. Until I'm reminded that I'm not. Especially in this year of firsts, or first year for everything, when things are as we've never imagined they would be. The difference in this (pandemic driven) circumstance is that the changes are not permanent. Until we realize that they are; though perhaps not in the same way as the loss of a family member or loved one, or other circumstance where we grieve over someone or something that is never coming back. Because life as we knew it before early March is coming back, maybe even soon, right? Which brings me to one of those multi-pronged forks in the road where all I can do is stare at the landscape of potential paths and destinations, and then sit down.

A recurring theme in this blog is my (growing understanding/acceptance of, and) acclimation to having only a "wide angle" lens though which to see things. Embracing this has allowed me to connect more deeply and consistently in musical expression, but does me no favors with forks in the road such as these. My particular situation is complicated by being in an industry  (though that seems a funny term) that is impacted by this pandemic as no other. Music performance opportunities disappeared suddenly and completely at the start of the pandemic, and will be among the last things to fully come back when it is over. And by fully come back, I mean resolve to a place where it exists from that point forward. We are watching things (habits/expectations/priorities) change around us. And some of these changes will linger in the fabric of society in places and ways that we will only really know once we really get to that light at the end of the tunnel (whatever that actually means).

One of the forks in my comprehensive (wide angle lens) view of the road takes a path that few may want to acknowledge openly, if consider at all. What if the current Covid circumstance is the first volley, or the first domino in a string of events which steer our society to a new place, or new era? Actually, as I type that, it is apparent that this is already the case, as new habits have formed and new procedures have come to the front in our daily and societal lives. So really, it is just a question of degrees, in terms of what daily life looks like when this is entirely behind us. And maybe it looks just like it did before, although the lens through which I view has trouble seeing the path to that. From the beginning of the pandemic, the focus of most everyone, including our political leadership (at least publicly) has been to steer things in such a manner that we will be able return to the way things were (and therefore always should be, right?) as soon as possible. It didn't take long for this to really concern me, particularly as I watched some other musicians in my social media universe throw up their hands and begin tapping their feet and looking at their watches saying "Are we there yet?", with the expectation that this circumstance was no more than a burp, that would resolve itself to exactly the way things were before. Sitting and waiting, particularly with the disengagement that many, in the culture at large, seemed to have (How much Netfilx can one watch, really? On second thought, I don't want to know) is something I just can't relate to. Or feel good about, for the sake of society at large. But each of us have our own lives to lead, and I've already owned the idea that my path is off to the side (or somewhere) away from the mainstream, and uniquely my own.

If you've read this blog, you know that I've embraced this time (and still do) as a kind of sabbatical. But it is bigger than just having more time to practice. It's about being prepared. So what am I preparing for? Actually, this hasn't changed at all. My job (or objective) remains the same; to manage myself in the space, at the piano, so that every time I sit down to play, the connections are open, and what I uniquely do can happen. And it still can, and does. Not as frequently, at the moment, and with different trappings. But my "job" remains the same. The picture above came up in my Facebook memories today, from the "piano bar" days at JRs pub in Chestertown. Actually more like a "piano room", combining drinks, dinners, conversation and listening into a rather perfect social cocktail (for the demographic it attracted), although you can't see the piano from this angle.  And it revolved around me doing my job, much like my current Escape From Home piano livestream. So, for all the uncertainty about the future, and all the moving targets, there is a constant between now and then: us. Today is the last day of 2020. Some will say good riddance, but I'm going to try to keep my focus not on the things that seem to be out of control, but on the space around me, and my connection to it. Because tomorrow will likely look much like today. And we bring ourselves and who we are to each new day. Not in expectation of circumstances readjusting themselves so that things can snap back to the way they were (though that would be nice, or perhaps comfortable), but with a surrender to the moment. And, just now, my dad (who passed away in October) taught me something, as I recall a conversation with one of the ICU nurses at the VA hospital. She questioned my dad as to why he refused to take his shoes off in bed. He said "Because a Marine is always ready". So there it is. I've been wandering all over the landscape, and he summed it up in a sentence. High five, Pop.    :)

Friday, December 11, 2020


I'd imagine that name dropping is human nature. Some of my well connected musician friends on Facebook seem to not be able to post a picture or recount an experience unless there is a name to drop. Makes sense, until I question if it really does. Then it becomes something else, and something I had to wrap myself around before i was comfortable posting my own pictures and sharing my own stories on social media. Are they of lesser importance, or worth less, because I likely can't immediately impress you with optics before any attention is given to the meaning, or essence of the story I'm sharing? If so, then what is the story about? 

I'm in that place in my career, or path (or life), where there is (increasingly) more where I came from than where I'm going. Like everyone, I have a history of experiences. And the longer I live and work, the more I have. Typically, I'd be among the first to say to keep facing forward. "Forgetting what lies behind, press onward ...". But there is a place and a context for everything, including looking back, once you reach a certain point on the path. Many experiences to recount, stories to tell, lessons to revisit. Earlier in this blog, I recalled the moment I realized that I was transitioning from one listening to the stories of the older guys, to one telling the stories of my own (particularly for the benefit of the younger musicians). At this point there are many stories to tell. And if I'm to believe what I'm told, these stories, and the lessons they hold, are meaningful, even important. One young musician in particular surprised me one day when he said, in effect, that he listens to everything I say, intently, and ponders on it. And that just encourages me to continue seeking to encourage and inspire others with my own experiences and the lessons I have learned from them. But there have been times along the way when I've wondered about the impact of the stories I have. Or perhaps the validity of sharing them in the manner that I do, at least in the perspective of some. In the contemporary context of what it means to be successful as an artist, some may conclude that I'm not. The current popular culture seems to pin everything on popularity, or being a star. That I couldn't care less about, seriously. And that's a good thing, because what I do is way off to the side of anything to do with contemporary culture. What I have always cared about is being able to survive the experience, professionally. To live another day, then another... Or put another way, to make a living playing music. It isn't easy (especially as a free lance musician). It sometimes isn't pleasant. And it isn't a life (or income level) that most would be willing to lead. But having lived it, essentially my entire life, I do consider that I have succeeded. My thoughts about what it would mean to succeed as a musician were always in this place. And to define this place more broadly, it would be the place where I find myself; where I can make a contribution today, and by virtue of that contribution today, have the opportunity to work tomorrow. I can honestly say that at no point along the way did I ever seriously consider perusing "the big time".  I've always been honest about myself. Or honest enough, at least, to know where I fit in, what I'm capable of (not just musically but also temperamentally), and what I'm not. My permanently affixed rose colored glasses don't obscure this view, they just allow me to stay the course on the path I continue to travel. 

One example of being honest with myself was in college, when my music theory professor spoke to me after class, saying something like "You don't need to be here. Go to New York and get yourself in the scene". I thought about it seriously, and knew that I wasn't ready, especially personally. Looking back on it now, I never even considered that New York is where I could meet important people, or network and eventually play with well known musicians. Or that a career was waiting there for me to step into. Not to say that there weren't times along the path that I made calculated moves toward a goal I set for myself. But the best moves I've made have been the ones that watch the flowers grow around me and then create a bouquet from them. Which can make for a sweet smelling landscape, actually. 

On one of the infrequent occasions when being driven to a show (by a professional driver), I was asked what would seem to be an appropriate question of the musician he was transporting to New York to play a show; something to the effect of what big names I had played with. I'm not a young guy, and have been at this a long time, so I'm sure he was expecting an interesting (maybe even an exciting) list. As this is something I seldom think about, I stumbled all over my response (including the few names I could mention, while trying to explain that this wasn't the point). Some of it may have made sense, particularly the part about me primarily having been a solo player working in niche markets (a double drag on the idea of networking with other musicians). Having the opportunity to ponder over it, a decent sound byte answer could have been "that's not the path I took". But in either (or perhaps any) case, a prejudice concerning what success in music means (such as, if you're not famous yourself, then there must be famous people involved) gets in the way. Next time I'm asked that question, I'll try to have a better answer. Or at least a shorter one.

 I'm proud of my career and what I have accomplished in it. (Way) back when I started, my goal was rather simple, at least conceptually if not practically. I sought to make a living (such as it is) playing music. Is that an accomplishment? In this business, it is. I've always believed that there was something to for me to contribute. And when you have something to contribute, there will be a place for you. Affix rose colored glasses here.   



Friday, November 06, 2020

 

It is more than fair to say that I had very supportive parents. It is also fair to say that my career choice (to the extent that it was a choice) was not the direction they had in mind for me. But, as I said, they were  more than supportive. They may not have thought much of it at first when the toys I asked for as a child were mainly (toy) musical instruments. But it quickly became a thing. These weren't the only toys I accumulated. Christmas and birthdays and such were replete with Hot Wheels and action figures and other "normal" toys (that I didn't ask for). And sports equipment. Lots of sports equipment. And lessons on switch hitting in the backyard, complete with a pitchback, basketball hoop, and hanging spare tire to practice throwing the football. I was the only child. Dad was a Marine. The culture I would grow up in was a given. But so was who I am. And the older I became, the more freedom I would have to loosen the grip on one path and tighten it on the other. I certainly wouldn't blame any parent for not desiring an unstable career (such as in the arts) for their child. But in the end, I would blame the parent for not (eventually, at least) allowing their child to grow up and be who they are. But parents are susceptible to  worrying about their children. Of course. And want the best for them. Of course. My mom said to me 20 or 30 years ago "If I would have known that you were going to make a career out of playing the piano I would have never gotten you piano lessons". Which was quickly followed with a smile and a "Just kidding". She sorta was. But I get it. And my dad was never able to let go of wanting me to get a real estate license or an accounting degree or something, and work music around that. Al least until I finally found the magic response that made it stop: "I have my hands full with one career, how to you expect me to manage two?" My dad was always proud of me, especially in his last years, when he moved into a retirement community that I was already working for (as a music therapist and an entertainer), and was able to more closely experience the connections that can happen when I play. My mom was too. I know that. I was blessed with good parents. And blessed to have them for a long time. 

My dad passed on last month, days before his 96th birthday. My mom left this realm 7 years before. It won't be the same from here on. Torches pass. Pages turn. And, ultimately, each day is a new opportunity to find oneself more deeply, for the purpose of being that person you were put here to be. And make the contributions to this world that you can. While you can.  


 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020


  The annual True Blue Jazz Festival is this weekend, and with it another opportunity to stretch the wings of quartet concept that was introduced in a special edition Mainstay Monday earlier this year. All 4 of us knew each other, but had never been assembled as a single unit. Amy pitched the idea to me of bringing this group together to pay tribute to the Stan Getz and the Oscar Paterson Trio album (1958), something that she and Scott already had on their drawing board. The 4 of us share a center of gravity (or love) of classic, hard swinging jazz, so this was perfect.  With the help of a sponsor, we presented the concept for a Mainstay Monday show in February, and had a blast. A few months ago, Amy was given the opportunity to suggest a group for this year's True Blue livestream event, and pounced on it, on behalf of this project (go Amy!). Now that we've ventured beyond the Mainstay (and beyond the realm of "what's Joe going to do this week?"), we needed a group name. In one of my (few) linguistical (or linguisticated) accomplishments, I suggested the combination of our 4 last names: Sholbertshire. It doesn't tell you anything about what we do (though swingtet does tell you something), but it's fun. And another livestream opportunity is in the works, so this concept will live on (to swing another day). 
The music of Oscar Peterson strikes a chord (or a flurry of notes) deep within me. So much so that I've long held a dream of getting to the point where I could credibly release a recording titled "Oscar In My Soul". I don't have anything near the technical facility of Oscar, but I do believe I have a connection to the feel (or feeling) that he expresses with every note. More than the amazing technical displays of note flourishes that Oscar is capable of (and sometimes overdoes), his deeply musical and soulful delivery of each note is what paints a mural in my heart. Years ago, I wore out a cassette tape, listening over and over to Oscar playing a single note ("plink") at the end of a phrase. And it may be fair to say that this single note has been among the most influential music I've encountered. I have practiced to this ideal from the day I first heard it. So what a wonderful opportunity to share in this concept with these 3 hard swinging, soulful cats. And, despite that this in in tribute, in part, to Oscar Peterson, my goal is not to play so many notes. Rather, to express, in each one, the connection I feel, in my soul.

Friday, October 09, 2020

My thoughts may have sharpened a bit lately, distinguishing between 2 approaches to musical performance. Or perhaps 2 prototypes, or something. These aren't mutually exclusive, and to some degree, overlap in all performing musicians, I would imagine. But I do think these may represent contrasting starting points of individual temperament, considered as something like opposite ends of a continuum: 
Performance as proclamation versus performance as expression/channeling/connection. 
And it may be fair to say that some, if not most musicians could probably identify where they are on this scale, in their approach, if they thought about it. As for me, I appreciate the contributions of many great pianists, though have found that the ones I am most drawn to (or that most deeply penetrate my heart) are those whose primary trait is (as it strikes me, at least) what is expressed through their instrument, as opposed to what is produced by it, if I can make that distinction. And, as I already mentioned, this dichotomy seems to me to be more of a function of the temperament of the musician. We all have things that work for us, and we all have things that don't. Case in point: I was listening to classical music radio in my car some time ago, and was captivated by the pianist. The playing felt intuitive, like the personal expression of the performer (which is always what I want to hear from classical music, while, of course, remaining true to the composition/composer). As the piece ended, I held my breath in hopes that the announcer would come on and tell me who the pianist was. He did. It was Lang Lang. So it didn't surprise me to later read an interview where Lang Lang gave this advise to students, "Don't just play the note, feel the note, and make every new piece your best friend". Yes. I realize that some classical music folk don't like Lang Lang, and I get that. But when he expresses what he feels, I can feel it too. Not formulaic or mechanical or calculated (not always, anyway). Felt. Some weeks ago, in this blog, I made reference to reading an interview of Smokey Robinson where he declared that he certainly wasn't a great singer (he went on to list other singers, like Celine Dion, who do have great chops and know how to use them), but he can feel what he sings, and believes his audiences feel it with him. Yes. And the jazz musicians that have impacted me the most deeply are perhaps less those that I am in awe of technically (save, maybe Oscar Peterson) and more those who move me to tears, or leave my heart full. I'm presenting this expression vs. proclamation as a dichotomy, which, of course, it isn't. Or not exactly. Or perhaps it is. Actually, now that I am confronted here to write cogently about this, it is probably both/and. Or, perhaps another way, both are required, to a point. And whatever I do with this corner I may have just painted myself into, the bottom line is something I've said for nearly as long as I can remember saying things; that we express and reveal who we are when we make music. And Keith Jarret may have a point when he says (at least about improvisational performance) that, for a musician, it is less important to work on the music and more important to work on yourself.
As we travel the path, this may become increasingly true (for me, at any rate).