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). 

Saturday, September 05, 2020

 Throughout my professional life, and even going back to high school, there has been a recurring theme, or story (or drama). I'll find (usually not directly) that there is some other pianist having a competition with me. This can go on for months, or years, with me being blissfully unaware. When it is brought to my attention, nothing changes. Apart from some minor level of curiously, or amusement (or sometimes annoyance), it has little impact on me. Actually, apart from purposing to use the knowledge appropriately (and ultimately, for good), I honestly don't care. I have never considered this pursuit a competition among musicians for finite resources (or prizes) won at the expense of another's loss. But apparently some do. Rather, in my view, it's up to each of us, individually, to find our place; to understand one's best and deepest contributions to make, and live there. This ties back to the primary thing I attempted to teach my kids about money; particularly when it comes to working. We are paid for the (value of the) benefit we provide to others. If we have a contribution to make, we can find a place. And as for my musical contribution, yes, I do feel I have one, and that it is uniquely my own. Furthermore, if I were falling back (as those who are in competition tend to do) on seeking to be the best (or, at least, better than those who are targeted to "beat"), I would end up quite discouraged. The landscape is full of pianists greater than I; who can do things I can't, who have skill sets I don't, and are comfortable in situations where I would struggle, at best. I'm not beating myself up here, just being honest. I know who I am, and embrace what I can do well. My pseudo tongue in cheek way to say it is that I can indeed, do something better than anyone else - be myself.   ;)

On one of those rarer occasions when the "competition" was brought out in the open, and spoken to me directly, a fellow musician told me that I was the better pianist, but he/she was the better musician. I'm sure I had given this person a look that could have been interpreted as my being offended. Actually, it was the shock that someone was actually willing to say that out loud. I don't care about opinions, including, at this point, my own. Yes, I am capable of tripping over something, but just as capable of getting up and brushing it off. Let's just all go on and make our contributions, shall we? 

So, rather than seeking to be the best, instead, I seek those spaces I can fill up. And seek to be the best version of myself I can be.   :)


Wednesday, August 19, 2020

I look for (but not directly toward, else they would seldom happen) those moments which bring clarity. They often come early in the (my) morning, particularly when walking or practicing, often coming in what I call "balls of yarn"; a conceptual understanding to unwind (usually at a later time). Some of the entries in this blog are the result of unwinding yarn balls. The following highlighted sentences are kind of an amalgam of the two. They all have to do with "managing the space", and are things I ponder on often (or pretty much continually). This all has direct application to playing music, for me, but can also be presented and understood in general terms, which is what I'll attempt to do here: 

In order to see something clearly, pull away from it.
This is my wide angle lens thing, and something that has become much clearer in practicing, recently. I'm a conceptual guy. Pull back to see the bigger (or better, the entire) picture and I can much more easily access the individual moving parts. Focus on a point of detail (apart from its context) and I'll find myself lost in the maze.

To see the entire picture is to see in a different way.
I am only beginning to come to encounter and absorb some of the science behind this (which is adding some understanding to what I've already been uncovering), so I won't even try to go there. Suffice to say, we can see beyond what our eyes can find. 

Remember that context and associations provide meaning.
And meaning to me is everything. What something is can only be understood (for me, at least) in terms of what it means. If this seems nonsensical to you, then you are blessed with not having a single wide angle lens through which to see everything. And if so (that it is nonsensical to you), then the way that you see things is also nonsensical to me, and I am blessed as well.

Seeing something in isolation has little meaning to me.
Same thing, from the opposite angle. Seeing things from multiple angles is important. And this, I would (want to) believe, would (or should) be true of everyone. In fact, this strikes at the heart of the current "political" state of affairs. I'm attempting to create a dedicated blog entry concerning this. It may happen, or else it may just seep tacitly into some other posts (which may have been the case just now, if I hadn't come out and said it).  

To see what something is, look closely.
Sometimes you need a microscope to properly see what something is, even if it means you have to borrow someone else's. In my internal process, few things are labeled, though I have come to learn that labels have their own importance (especially when trying to communicate something to someone else). Music theory class in college was a good illustration of this. The class that causes a significant percentage of music majors to drop out of school was, for me, "Oh, THAT'S what you call it" class. That was important.  

To see what something means, step back for a larger view.
You'll never begin to understand the interrelationships of the big picture if you never put down the microscope. Distancing yourself from your subject may not mean moving away from the particular thing or idea, rather toward the context or the meaning. Put another way, to have a sense of what to do with something, step back from it.

The preceding has been a glimpse inside my head. Which, by the way, never turns off, though I am getting better at putting it down (or letting go) and staring at it.    ;)

Monday, August 17, 2020

The Washington College Jazz Combo at the Mainstay, 1/27/17. From left - Michael, me, Lis, Ben, Kevin. 
Gabby and Maura (pictured here with Ben and Kevin) came on board soon thereafter.

At Washington College, I have the smallest possible faculty position; a single one credit course. I direct the jazz combo, and am delighted to do so. I'm not there because I am a professional educator (in the academic world, with a post-graduate degree). Adjunct faculty positions allow for those with relevant professional skills and experience to make their contributions in higher education. Or something like that. More simply put, I have a strong rapport with the students and fill the bill in that setting. I was already involved as an "advisor" for several years before I was given the position. One of those organic things. We (the students and I) were all there because we wanted to be. We really wanted to be. It was our thing that we "owned". And as a teacher, inspiring ownership is the primary objective; job one, as I see it. In a group setting, in particular, that will feed on itself. In our case, so much so that when the pandemic hit, mid semester, we had already fulfilled (exceeded, even) our rehearsal/performance requirements for the entire semester. As such, I was probably the only active facility member who didn't have to pivot and finish the semester with online learning. This was particularly problematic for performing ensembles, as you might imagine, and even more so for me, as, with satellite internet, two way streaming wasn't an option. I was able to assign grades and call it there (to the profound disappointment of the students and myself, but it is was it is. or was). As for going forward at the college (for reasons both involving and beyond the pandemic), major changes are in store. One of them is reduction in adjunct faculty positions. Happy to say that jazz combo (I) survived the cut, but as it turns out, not the pandemic, for this semester at least (as there will be no on campus activities this Fall). But it is nice to know that that space is left open to be filled when the circumstances again will cooperate. As with many things in my world, they don't exist because I assembled the jigsaw puzzle in the prescribed manner. rather they are like flowers in the garden; nurtured into being in the larger scheme of things, and maintained with care.  

Sunday, August 02, 2020

I'd not thought much about the term "old soul" until recent years, as the term has been thrown around concerning young musicians mysteriously connected to musical traditions of generations previous. Now I'm realizing this applies to me also, and perhaps not just because I find connection to music before my time. I think I'm just flat out old fashioned. 

And if not that, something. Driven with purpose, perhaps. If you've been reading this blog over the past few months, you know the perspective I've embraced from the beginning of this pandemic; that I'd been given the gift of a "sabbatical", giving me time and opportunity to deepen my relationship with the piano, and the space. In recent weeks, I've had to begin the adjustments that I knew would be coming, as opportunities to work (which I would define as making artistic contributions for which I receive compensation) expand. It will be a long road back to "full (self) employment", even as it's been a bit of a journey to get to where I am now, somewhere in the middle. It's been a combination of making adjustments to the emerging new normal, and deepening my understanding of, and connection to who I am. One circumstance, early on in all this, was particularly illuminating. I was encouraged by a friend to apply for a small (unrestricted) grant, provided by a local organization for professional artists whose work had been sidelined. Given the small scale of this, I would imagine the process took a lot less time to complete than a typical(ly more involved) grant application (Just assuming, as I have no experience with these things). It took about an hour. Soon after hitting the send button I felt uncomfortable, and knew why. I had just spent an hour in a process of asking for someone to give me money, when I could have used that hour to make a contribution (given the opportunity). I don't intend to apply for a grant like that again, and if I would, I'd ask instead for it to be a commission. I would much rather spend my time making a contribution than (simply/only) asking for one. The lesson that this taught me (or more accurately reminded me, as it was something I already knew) is that I don't want to ask to be given money. I want to be able to earn (make a contribution in order to receive) it. In order for this to work, I need to put everything (internally and externally) in the proper place, as much as I can. I believe in what I do, and that I am called to do (be) it. I believe I am given a path to follow, one not for me to construct, but one that opens to me as I place myself (my self) to the side and allow it to be found. I believe I do what I do for the benefit of others, and that I will be taken care of in the process. 
And nothing in the last 5 months has suggested to me otherwise.   

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

One of the most important formative experiences for me in the music business began when I was 18 (or perhaps 17, not entirely certain), and Joe and Paul Midiri decided that our little trio (modeled after the original Benny Goodman Trio) would enter ourselves in the Monday Amateur Night contest at a local club; the Crazy Horse Saloon, in Barrington NJ. Not far over the river from Phildelphia, this, by the time we decided to go, had become one of the big weeknight events in the greater Philadelphia market, with a full house, most every week. As for Joe, Paul and myself, I'm sure it helped that the celebrity host (Ken Garland, from WIP radio in Philly, which was big at the time) was an old trumpet player with a bit of big band background. So he got where we were coming from, beyond the novelty of young kids doing the "before their time" thing. I knew nothing about this amateur night going in, and I doubt that Joe or Paul knew much more. The Crazy Horse wasn't the place or vibe where we would have been inclined to hang. So perhaps we had a bit of a fish out of water thing going on. Though, for me, the Crazy Horse would soon become the training pool in which I'd be swimming laps and getting into shape.

The brothers and I didn't know that the night we decided to enter was the next to last week of their recurring 13 week cycle. This meant that whoever won that night would be back the following week with the 11 previous winners for their quarterly "finals". As most of the acts were singers, there was a Fender Rhodes piano (this was the 1970s) already set up, belonging to the house accompanist (no drums though, so Paul had to schlep some in) so I could just sit down and play. Needless to say, we were the novelty act of the evening. For that, or whatever reason, we left the Crazy Horse that night with plans to come back for the finals the following week. I don't know that we endeared ourselves to any of the 11 other finalists; showing up to win the last week of the cycle, coming back the next week to win the finals (with the grand prize including tickets to an upcoming Benny Goodman concert, it seemed that Ken Garland may have had his mind made up going in), but that's how it went down. 

But something else happened that night. At the end of the evening, the house accompanist pulled me aside to tell me that he had put in his notice with the agency he was working for, though they hadn't yet secured a replacement. He offered me the gig. A week (and a few phone calls) later, I was lugging my own Fender Rhodes piano into the Crazy Horse Saloon to begin an 18 month adventure and an invaluable experience. I'll often say that the stage is the best school for musicians, and that was certainly true for me here. I would arrive to be set up well in advance so that the contestants who needed piano accompaniment (which was most of them) could have a brief time of rehearsal with me. I already had some experience with accompanying vocalists by this point, but not like this. I had a crash course in sight transposition from night one. The recurring theme quickly appeared, which I would learn to anticipate, sort of. In the rehearsal period, we would determine the singer's comfortable key for their song (sometimes they knew, but most often they didn't). An aside here to mention that deferring to the comfortable range/key of a vocalist, when possible, is job one for an accompanist, from my viewpoint. Not everyone agrees with me on this, but to me, the task of accompaniment is to support the person you are accompanying, and not to make it about yourself. Looking back, I'm glad I understood this early on. Back to the rehearsal time - for the inexperienced singers (which were most of them), whatever key we agreed to would often go out the window when it was time to perform and the nerves kicked in. I would start in one place, and they would start somewhere else (and always higher). And here's another place where not all will agree. Some will say that if a key is agreed to, you hold your ground and insist the singer find you. Okay, for professional vocalists, sure (and that should never be an issue anyway). But for nervous amateurs, if they can't find it to begin with, it would seem unlikely that they would be able to find their way back to it. So I would try to find them. And since I would have a lot of opportunity to practice, I became better at making it happen rather quickly. In the article pictured above (click on it to enlarge), I'm quoted as saying "Sometimes, if a singer goes off key, I have to figure out where they are, modulate up to them, and hope they're still there when I get there."     ;)  
Of course, to whatever extent people in the audience may have been clued in to what was going on, much more was happening out of view (even if there was no curtain to hide behind). One of my favorite memories (which, if you know a bit about music theory, is pretty funny) is when one of the contestants said to me during the rehearsal time: "My voice teacher said to take it down a third, but you can just take it down a quarter if that's easier". My least favorite memories mainly revolved around the host. It was not a well kept secret that Ken Garland could be (to put it mildly) difficult to work with. I got to experience that multiple times, from multiple angles. Fortunately, I think (in his own way) he kind of liked me (or at least appreciated that I knew what I was doing), which allowed the pendulum to swing back and forth, at least, rather than being stuck (on stupid) in one place all the time. After 18 months though, I'd had enough. Back then, I would privately joke that I deserved a medal for hanging in so long. (Much) older (and maybe a bit wiser) now, I can see difficult "working" relationships like this as the norm for many who are employees with unreasonable bosses and working conditions and stuff. There is always a bright side, out of view to whatever appears dark at the time. 

So, after a year and a half, I "graduated" amateur night school. No formal degree, just the prerequisite training for the experiences/school to come. 

Saturday, June 27, 2020

In late 2005, I rejoined the Midiri brothers quintet/sextet and, from 2006-2008, played the traditional jazz festival circuit (which, at the time, was still alive and somewhat vital). Many of the festivals were on the west coast, but there were others, scattered about. During that time I was able to give each of my children the experience of travelling to one of the festivals with me. Each of these trips was it's own unique adventure, and one that I'm grateful I could give my kids, even if I was able to take each one only once. 

The first year I played the festivals (2006) I took Joe, Jr to Pismo Beach, over the weekend of his 18th birthday. As it was the first year I was on the festivals, it was both my, and my sons first trip to Pismo. He was the one, of the three, that was most engaged (and still is) with music, on a personal level. I didn't push any of the kids into playing piano, rather, encouraged them to have a connection with music, and the arts in general, in whatever way resonated with them. For Joe, it's the drums (he has kept a connection to it, still playing now, in the worship band at his church). So he was engaged with the festival more like one of the musicians, checking out the sets of the other bands, finding who he really liked, and even hanging with some of them. He also went shopping on his birthday, because he could. That was another thing altogether. It was a good weekend.  

The next year (2007) I took Robert, who was 10 at the time, to the Juave Jazz Festival in Decatur IL on a snowy weekend in February, where we were late in arriving because of flight delays due to snow. And even later in returning home for the snowstorm that crippled the local airport that weekend. It created an adventure for us beyond the more limited festival environment (everything contained within one hotel), which gave us lots of together time, and was fun.

The final year, Charie' (then 15) came with us to Mammoth Lakes, CA, which was my favorite festival destination, in the High Sierras. Since I'm not a skier (and had never been to a ski resort before first going to Mammoth in 2006), the idea that summer could be an off-season caught me off guard off at first. Having lived all my life on the east coast, my image of an off season was a beach resort in winter. But just like the Golden Inn in Avalon NJ created special theme package weekends in the winter (see blog post from a few weeks ago), a ski resort town would host a jazz festival (among other summer activities) to keep the travelers and tourists coming. Charie' loved the trip. She did interact with the festival, a little, but was much more interested in the shopping opportunities. And our trip to the top of Mammoth Mountain (photo above). It remains a nice memory. All 3 trips do. it's nice to feel that all the boxes have been checked. 

Thursday, June 04, 2020

I keep coming back to what I love; the music that moves my heart and can make me cry at the drop of a hat (don't reference the above picture, yet). Sure, at a given moment, most any stripe of music can move my eyes to water. But, for whatever reason, a hard swinging, deep grooving rhythm section (such as Oscar Peterson or Count Basie) can shut me down. It reaches into my heart, deeply. And if I am to follow my heart, I need to pay attention to just these things. And although it is only in the last decade or so that I've had even a remote understanding of head space vs. heart space (or knew of that heart space, much at all), it has always been there. I have always been who I am. When I was about 11 or 12, I stumbled onto a AM radio station, on a Sunday evening, with a signal that barely came in. But it grabbed me immediately. And every Sunday night thereafter, lying in bed, I would tune in, struggling to find the sweet spot on the dial (which would always, at some point, become a moving target). Sometimes the signal would improve, and I was delighted. Sometimes I would lose the signal altogether, and I would cry with sadness. It was my own private personal space. Thing was, I didn't know what the music was actually called. Eventually I was able to describe it as "old time jazz". But that still didn't really help me put a finger on it in a record store. Then, on one good signal night, I heard the word "Dixieland". It was all I needed. The next day, I walked (maybe I ran) to the neighborhood 7/11, which, believe it or not, had a record display. And I saw the word. Dukes of Dixieland. I bought my first record (now reference the above photo. I still have the record). I got a bit lucky, as this was a more swinging Dixieland approach, with a upright bass playing mostly in 4. So the itch was scratched. which, of course, only causes more itching. The chain reaction that connects that "now" to the current (and every other) now, weaving and creating the tapestry that it does, was underway. This discovery, at 11 (or so) years old, was one of my most important. Not because I bought a Dixieland record. But because a clear path was cut right in front of me to (unknowingly) begin the practice (or maybe better, discipline) of following my heart. And now I know. And now understand (I use that word cautiously these days) that in order to be myself, and to truly speak with my own voice, I am to bring all things into and through my heart. 
The young (around 30 y/o, I think) jazz saxophone phenom Chad LB, in an interview I read recently, expresses, in relatively simple language, what I can now recognize as mature wisdom. "Really focus on what you love about music... Let that naturally help you approach music. The most genuine musicians play the music they like."  For all that I might want to expand on the verbiage and nuance of expressing this, he actually nails it. So I'll shut up now.