Friday, September 15, 2023

There is an order in the pulse,
There is a rhythm to the rhyme,
In the things that we find,
In the things that are hidden,
Within the pulse,
Layered beyond our vision,
Hidden beyond our reach,
Until our reach expands,
Within the pulse,
Surrendered to the order,
The order creation knows,
The order that holds all things.

The above poem came to me some months ago, in one of my morning practice sessions, in the clarity of opening up the creative space. As I revisit it now, I am reminded of where the "creative space" can go, when one is truly surrendered (losing one's ego/self) within it. I'll keep revisiting this one.  

Thursday, August 31, 2023

 

There is always something new to learn. As it strikes me right now; each new thing is kind of like a new level of entry, to take you to the more important things you actually wind up learning. One of those important things I've learned (and continue to learn) in the winding path of my own life's tapestry weaving, is my connection to intuition. This is something that I've always had, which I can recognize as I look back over my life. Except that, for much of that life, I didn't understand what I was seeing. Or perhaps better, feeling (or even better, sensing). Now that I get it (at least enough to not be totally oblivious to it), I've come, first, to accept this as central to my approach to making, and practicing music. And when intuition comes, connecting into my mind (as opposed to coming from my thoughts), I continue to learn to trust, without asking questions. That's when the music starts to, in a way, play itself. Which is a beautiful thing to watch. Especially when you're the one doing it.  

Simply put (to the extent that I am capable of simply stating anything); living in the intuitive space (listening before speaking, trusting over worrying, knowing over guessing) is where I can be myself, most deeply and effectively. And what I am learning (and continue to learn) at the piano is what I purpose to take with me everywhere. Which can make every day a new adventure. For example, a few months ago, I was taking music therapy shop with a fellow music therapist, and the intuitive nudge hit me to (of all things) mention that I've always wanted to take swing dance lessons. I was surprised to have that come to me, but not surprised by the outcome, as I've learned to trust (and not overthink). So my new friend and I recently took a few weeks of beginner swing dance lessons. Oh my! Now I can ask "What was I thinking?!", as I can't keep the dance steps straight any more than I can keep my desk clean. Of course, the answer to the question is: I want thinking. I was trusting. And the picture is always, always bigger that we can see (or even imagine).  One (dance) step at a time   ;)   

PS - the above photo is from a swing dance at the Mobtown Ballroom in Baltimore, where I was on stage with the band. Where it's safe (and I won't fall down or step on anyone or otherwise embarrass myself).  :D    

Thursday, August 03, 2023

 


It had never been on my radar screen to become a music therapist. But in the 1990s (in my 30s), the dots began to connect. Once I attained certification (MT-BC) in 1997, the network of senior/geriatric communities (many of them continuing care facilities) that I serviced grew to over 30. Most of these were ongoing contracts, ranging from once a week to once a month. It was, essentially, a full time day job, in addition to maintaining my gigging schedule. And for 3 of the busiest years (2003-2005), I held a half time position as Worship Arts Director at a local church. And I was a dad to 3 young children, as best I could be. It was an intense season of life, where sleep was at a premium, and piano practice time was minimal. These days, piano practice time is my center of professional (and to some extent, personal) gravity. But back then, circumstances pushed me in another direction. Becoming board certified as a music therapist allowed me, on a practical level, to pack my daytime hours with contract work (read, gigging). On a professional level, I became deeply immersed in (and a perpetual student of) music therapy in Alzheimer's care, finding a zone of achievable therapeutic benefits and repeatable positive outcomes. On a personal level, I knew, and often would say, that the most important things I (would probably ever) do in music are in places where no one will see. These many experiences were deeply moving, and will always remain in my heart, even as I have moved away from music therapy practice completely in the time since. That place in my heart has been re-touched deeply in recent years, beginning with the public acknowledgement of Tony Bennet's Alzheimer's disease diagnosis. And especially with the window being opened for all of us to witness his collaboration with Lady Gaga, leading up to Tony's final performance (with her) in 2021. Many people (including me) watched the "one last time" televised event with moist eyes. The additional profundity for me, was to be able to see all of this through the lens of a music therapist; seeing Tony's wife and family, and particularly Gaga, do everything right, with care and genuine love. A beautiful as this was to witness is as beautiful as Lada Gaga's posted tribute (image above) upon Tony's passing. Much respect ... to everyone. RIP Tony. Thank you. 


 

Thursday, June 29, 2023


 Some musicians that I work with have heard me talk about (what I semi-jokingly characterize as) my PTSD. I'm not sure how much (or even if) I've referenced it in this journal blog, however. It's not necessarily a common occurrence, having a specific trigger that takes me back to another time; when I was different, and the (jazz) world was different. I also have a bit of an internally complicated relationship with the term jazz, which is not unrelated to all this, I'm sure. When this (PTSD) hits, it's fair to say that I come off as less than confident, and far more off center than is warranted or necessary, perhaps even to the point of undermining myself. And I came to realize, in conversation with Scott Robinson (my First Friday series guest at the Mainstay back in April) that the wheels can kind of come off the bus, from the vantage point of someone on the outside, looking in. To avoid taking this into the weeds (or perhaps, clouds) I'll simply characterize it as slipping into an extreme glass half empty mindset, obsessing over a specific (perceived) deficit, blinding myself to the larger context (obvious to everyone but me), in that moment. And I know better. Or at least I should. 
 
To come up as a young, traditionally-minded jazz-influenced musician in the 1970's was to, at times, be the subject of ridicule from those who considered it un-hip, or not sufficiently sophisticated, or just not jazz at all. I can encapsulate it in one incident back in my high school years when I was told, by someone in a authority position, that my attempt at a particular jazz solo was "the most ridiculous thing that (he'd) ever heard (because my references were too traditional)"  Now, 50 years later, the jazz world has matured somewhat, and there is less tribalism (though it still exists). Voices like Wynton Marsalis, who ascribe legitimacy to all stages of jazz development/evolution, are much more prevalent and heard. Back (and especially) in the 1970s, the condescension of the "hipper then thou" crowd, toward those who did not have "modern" jazz sensibilities, could be brutal. Of course, the inevitable outcome of this was for many in the traditional jazz community to return the condescension. It became complicated and confusing for me. I knew who I wasn't (or thought I did, based on the condescension of others who were telling me so), but wasn't really sure who I was. I knew who I wanted to be (or thought I did ...), except that the wanting was borne out of a false construct, thinking that I needed to attain the proper relationship to the jazz vocabulary to be worthy of being called a jazz musician. It's one of many examples where I can look back over my life and see myself stuck in my own head; and doing myself no favors. 

When one is stuck in their own head, it's difficult to see outside your head. Which is the last place you want to be if your objective is to play/live from your heart. Apparently, I still need to be reminded, on occasion, not to do that. In fact, all I really need to do is just step aside, out of my own way. And my conversation with Scott before that show was the perfect nudge, allowing me not to short change the opportunity to enjoy an evening of solid connection and sincere rapport. Thanks, Scott!   :).     

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

When someone first learns that I play music for a living, one of the responses I'll get is "You're living the dream!". But when I was a teenager, I had a very different dream (that I eventually let go of for the more realistic one; the one I'm actually gifted for 😉). My dream was to, someday, be in the company (as a peer) of guys I would watch on the Saturday afternoon Professional Bowlers Tour telecasts on ABC (preceding Wide World of Sports). In the 1970s, that would include greats like Dick Weber, Earl Anthony and Mark Roth, among many others. Saturday television, for me, was not just morning cartoons. In fact, some of  those morning cartoons would gave way to Saturday morning youth bowling league; first one (11am), then, eventually, a second (9am), pushing Saturday morning cartoons completely off to the side. I was hooked. For all of my father's attempts to nurture my interest and aptitude in sports (being the only child of an E9 in the Marine Corps wasn't exactly a walk in the park. Or at least any park I actually cared about), this is the one thing that stuck. And not only was there a bowling alley within walking distance of my house. In the military world, there is (or at least was) a bowling alley within walking distance of just about everything (save the battlefield). Even the Naval Hospital in Philadelphia had a bowling alley in the basement. And yes, I bowled on it. 

That was over 40 years ago. Now my bowling days are long behind me. But in recent years, I've reconnected with the modern PBA tour as a fan again. And imagine my surprise when I discovered, a few weeks ago, that the annual national PBA doubles tournament was taking place a half hour up the highway from me (keep in mind that I live in a very rural area), over the week of my birthday, no less.  So I gave myself a birthday present; buying a spectators pass for a day of qualifying rounds, and reconnecting, vicariously, with my childhood dream for awhile. It was cool to see many of the guys I watch on the televised events, starting from the moment I walked in the door. The photo above shows Packy Hanrahan on the verge of a 300 game, though in the end, the 10th frame didn't cooperate. This didn't stop Packy, and his doubles partner Mitch Hupe (also in the photo) from eventually winning the tournament. It was a nice way to spend my birthday   :) 

Friday, April 28, 2023


 
The reviews have been coming in for "Once Upon A Summertime - The Music of Blossom Dearie", with Sharon Sable. Though grateful for them, many have seemed like the writers were cooking breakfast and reading the newspaper while composing their reviews, or something like that. This most recent one was very different. Raul De Gama writes as one who is deeply immersed in music; both as a subject, and in the experience of a listener. Sharon and I happened to be together when we received the notification of the review in our email, and so were able to share the in experience of reading what spoke validation and encouragement directly to each of us, and to both of us.  Thank you, Raul!

https://jazzdagama.com/music/sharon-sable-joe-holt-once-upon-a-summertime/ (text below)   

 "Blossom Dearie – the dedicatee of this wonderful album – had a voice like no other vocalist in popular music. Both in appearance and in the manner of her voice she resembles a sort of proverbial ingénue – not “unsophisticated”, in the sense that is described in lexicons, but beyond “endearing” as the French, in their impossibly poetic manner, describe as: “qui laisse voir librement et naïvement ses sentiments; une pauvre fille ingénu et sans malice.”

 As tributes go there are not many women who have stepped up to perform one better than Sharon Sable, who has both the voice of girlish timbre, the style of airy shaping of melodic contours laced with admirably restrained embellishments and affectionate communication of the poetry ensconced in the songs. This refers to the songs associated with Miss Dearie, as well as songs that may be attributed to her as well of numerous others. Once Upon a Summertime – The Music of Blossom Dearie is also ethereally an appropriate a title for an album given that someone like Miss Dearie also come once in a lifetime.

In songs made in the intimacy of the duet – in this case with an exquisite interpreter of song in the form of pianist Joe Holt – make everything so much more magical. Mt Holt is exemplary on his own. Indeed, there are very few like him [Steve Kuhn, who has glorified recordings with the great Sheila Jordan is another.] However, speaking of Mr Holt: his has a silken feel for melody and notes magically roll off the keyboard, caressed by his fingers. His harmonic intellect is flawless and, as a result, his choice of chords [and the harmonic] inventions and inversions that he employs will leave you breathless – if Miss Sable has not yet done so already. Mr Holt’s sense of time makes this music almost unspeakably rhythmically beautiful to behold.

You cannot really go wrong with repertoire when producing an album like this one. But you may have too much of ‘a good thing’, if it [a given song] goes on for far too long. However, both Miss Sable and Mr Holt are acutely aware of this and their brevity when exploring each song indicates that both know when to start and when to usher in the perfect dénouement for a song. Moreover, they intersperse dallying, balladic material with slightly saucy, but ever-so-endearing narratives.

On several songs – where the duo becomes a trio – the inimitable contrabassist Amy Shook graces the studio soundstage with her majestic presence. Miss Shook brings uncommon gravitas and elegance to songs such as the eloquently Down with Love and L’etang [on Miss Shook shows off her magnificent con arco technique], the puckish Boum, and the magical Tea for Two. Any one of those charts might easily qualify as the apogee of the album – in no small part because the contrabassist adds much to what Miss Sable and Mr Holt already bring to it.

This album is one for the ages – not only as a Blossom Dearie tribute but as an album by a truly miraculous vocal artist, made of glorious warmth and intimacy.

Deo gratis…!"

Tuesday, April 04, 2023


 
The director of the Mainstay, Matt Mielnick, included his perspective on me, and the "Frist Friday with Joe Holt" series that he initiated upon arriving here, in this week's Mainstay email blast. In order to preserve this beyond whatever email folders it resides in, I'll share it here:

"Joe Holt’s name is well known to Mainstay audiences, and to music lovers throughout the Delmarva Peninsula. I was introduced to Joe shortly after I was given the keys to The Mainstay in October of 2021. I had little direct information about him, but recognized that he was listed on the Concert Logs I was given as having a show every Monday night for the four years leading up to the pandemic. Alongside his name, each show highlighted a different guest performer, usually with widespread local credentials, but occasionally musicians that I recognized from as far north as my home in New York – and not all of them were jazz players. Well, I thought, this guy invites these people, serves as the host of the event and then moves aside for them to do their thing, perhaps jamming with them for a few tunes. I couldn’t have been farther off the mark.

Joe used our first meeting to give me his resignation. My first thought was that it must have been a challenge to find a really impressive different guest to spotlight every week. But after asking people about his shows, the truly surprising report I consistently received was not about the brilliance of his guests, but about how inspired the collaborations were. These were not jam sessions. They were well-planned, audience-focused productions, and Joe’s marvelous, at times capricious playing was the lynch pin. For you visual artists out there, try to complete a painting or sculpture every single week for four years that you’re proud to present to the public. I feel a panic attack coming on just thinking about it.

This is how local favorite Beth McDonald phrased it: "The most in-tune accompanist I have ever encountered, and not just because he hits the right notes (haha), but because he is able to meet those who share a stage with him exactly where they are. He isn't thrown off by switching genres or trying new arrangements. Musically speaking, he takes the hand of the one he's accompanying and together they find that sacred place of connection with their audience. It's a beautiful thing to witness, both as a fan and a fellow performer. He's quite simply the best."

Four years of Monday night shows (not most people’s preference for a night on the town), and Joe’s fans were always there. That's a compelling endorsement. The second time I met with Joe I tried my best to persuade him to continue doing these shows, but only on the first Friday of every month. The idea seems to have worked. Those that recognize his passion are already convinced. Those first-timers to his Friday night shows keep returning, regardless of who he shares the stage with. And Joe always shifts the spotlight onto his guests. But there’s another wide spectrum light that falls on him and the work he puts into each and every show. If you could read the label inside his jacket, I’m sure you’d find the following words printed – Joy, Sensitivity, Humility.

By the way, Joe and vocalist Sharon Sable have a new recording about to be released this month celebrating the music of Blossom Dearie, titled Once Upon a Summertime. If you come to Joe’s show this next Friday you can ask him about it."

It's always interesting (and in this case, nice) to see something through another's eyes. So thanks, Matt.   :)

Sunday, March 26, 2023



Roughly 3 years ago, Sharon Sable and I began talking about the idea of a Blossom Dearie tribute project.  Now we are in the final weeks of the countdown to our official album release date of 4/11/23. It's been a long and deliberate road; limited on straight lines, boundless in openness and surrender to where this would take us. No one can accuse us of rushing this through. Neither should anyone accuse us of wasting any of our time. The process was exactly what it needed to be, to get us to this point. Who we each are is reflected in this project, or better, embedded in it. What is also embedded in this project is the rapport and connection Sharon and I have recognized and developed over the course of it.  

Some time ago, I came across a refrigerator magnet that was so perfect, I had to buy 2 of them; one for Sharon and one for me - "Hang on while I overthink this",  Sharon and I are each capable of self-doubt. But underneath (and perhaps even foundational, in some way, to) the surface tendency to overthink, is a knowing that we (each) hold something inside of us, a specific (even unique) divine gift. A sense of purpose, shining an inner light that, ultimately, never goes out, needing be put to use. Sharon, like me, has been a performing musician from teenage years. Our stories are dissimilar, until they become much the same. I met Sharon just a few months before beginning this project. But in this limited time, from then until now, I've seen in her the essence of my own life's journey; one that brought me to see my connection to music as far more than an ability or an opportunity. In my early 20's, I consciously accepted making music as my calling. And though I didn't fully comprehend it then; a calling for the benefit of others. Sharon has undergone the process of this too, in her own way. And the place, or lane, in which we collaborate, is where these abilities and realizations are shared.  One of the great blessings of making music are the friendships it forges and nurtures. On this, and on many levels, we are blessed indeed. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

After not flying for nearly 14 years, I've flown commercially twice in the span of 6 months; first, a transatlantic flight, then a cross country route. On the 8 hour flights to and from Europe, I took advantage of the bells and whistles of individually controlled entertainment options. It was fun to do once. On the cross country flight (en route to the jazz festival in Pismo) there were fewer options, which was okay. Old school works for me. So when a bit of conceptual clarity entered my mind (I call these moments "balls of yarn", given to be pondered, as they are unwound) I pulled out my clipboard, opened the tray table, and began writing. This is usually a slow process for me, which is actually good on a long flight. I took out that clipboard the other day and tried to clean it up a bit. Here is an example of what may randomly enter my view (or leave it) at any moment: 

"Anything that can be measured, or considered as going from here to there, on any level, is a measurement of, or response to the created/temporal realm. From our vantage point, time is, perhaps, the most unique measurement in that it is seen as a moving target. To capture a place within time requires that you “freeze” it. These frozen memories, or single frames of experience, turn our focus, at least to some extent, away from acknowledging that these experiences are cumulative, contextual, interconnected and interdependent. “Cumulative time”, as opposed to the frozen frame, reflects more truly the reality in which we live. Cumulative time paints a landscape that gives unique meaning to the individual features; each park bench, tree, puddle and pebble, to whatever extent, or not, you are inclined to ponder these things. Often, though, our pondering (becoming more like imagining or projecting or worrying) fails to consider, or even acknowledge the landscape of context, as we hold a single frame of experience in our hand, staring at only that. As our awareness settles in this manner, whether in memory, current experience, or anticipation; we may retreat into ourselves, holding our frames, disconnected from cumulative time. This works to constructs our own unique version of reality, into which we may imprison ourselves.

Cumulative time allows context to be seen. Without seeing, or knowing the context (in any particular situation), we are inclined to respond to the frame in view, or whatever we are clutching. Admonitions such as to “not worry about tomorrow” or to be “thankful in all things”, rely on some sense of acknowledgement of cumulative time. We disconnect ourselves from context/greater reality when we fail to do this and more so (and to our determent) when we act on our disconnection.

Modern science is beginning to construct a framework for what spiritual and religious teachers have been bringing to our attention through the ages.  Scientific explanations, however, may lack the necessary emphasis to allow us to loosen our grip on the freeze frames; as scientific explanations, in isolation, tend to create their own. The necessary path of connection to the sense of living in cumulative time, with larger purpose, in an interconnected universe, at a place where self (and the frames it clutches) can move to the back seat, is faith."      

A bit of an illustration of what it's like to live with my mind. And why there are few straight lines in my experience.   ;)      

Friday, February 03, 2023



 On the Pismo (Jazz Jubilee By the Sea) festival with the Midiri Brothers band a few weeks ago, I learned a bit more about myself (or received some additional clarity) as the layers of discovery continue to be puled back. Here is what I posted on Facebook when the situation happened:

"When we arrived at the venue for the livestream set today, I was thrown into a bit of a panic. Have never seen a piano with this (first picture) done to it. And when it's on one end of the stage, and the rest of the band is on the other side of it, for me, whenever I play, all of my sound is hitting me in the face and canceling out the sound of the band. Being an accompanist by nature, it's more important to hear the other player(s) than it is to hear myself, because what I'm playing is entirely connected to, even dependent on, what everyone else is doing. What to do? I realized that the several additional piano folders (in addition to the main book) could be put to good use (bottom picture). Problem solved. But now most in the audience saw it, which I was made aware of after our set. So now, perhaps I buy some additional colorful folders and make this my signature look. ;)"

Also, the night before, the band had a late evening set at one of the smaller venues, where an electric piano was in place. The pianist in the band prior to us had the volume way up. It wasn't quite deafening from the audience, but certainly noticeable (and to me, distracting). When it was time to reset the stage before we went on, I discovered that the monitor speaker was actually behind the pianist, facing the audience (which is the wrong direction) and the source of much of the volume. I immediately understood why the band before us was not playing cohesively, as if they weren't listening to each other (I know that I wouldn't have been able to hear much of anything beyond myself if I had play in that circumstance). I didn't think much of it in the moment of readjustment, other than to make sure my speaker situation was adjusted to something appropriate (for which another musician in the band thanked me, once we started playing). But pondering later on these 2 situations brought me to realize (even more so than I had already) just how much of an accompanist/collaborator I am.

 Something I always say, when setting the stage to play behind singers, is that I can't accompany what I can't hear. Until now, I wouldn't have thought about myself as an accompanist (at least in the same way) inside the rhythm section of a band, but really, isn't that exactly what it is? My job is to be in the collective moment at all times, right? Of course, I understand that you have to be able to hear yourself on stage, which was the motivation for the well meaning woodworker to surgically alter (or mutilate) the piano casing. But you also have to clearly hear everyone else, or at least I do. I'm still working on the more global takeaway from this, but what is clear to me (and perhaps all that really can be) is the reinforcement of who I am and what I'm about (and what music is all about, Charlie Brown): connection. Connection with the music, with the other musicians on stage, with the audience, and ultimately, all that makes it go. 

Wednesday, January 04, 2023


 Haven't had much to say here lately about the status of the Blossom Dearie project with Sharon Sable, so it's time for an update, as things are gearing up. We have now, finally, put the physical CD in for manufacturing, which, when completed, will allow us to begin our 3 month promotional campaign, leading up to the official release this Spring. We were all set to release the album last fall, even to the point of securing the venue for a release concert. Then (and yes, at the absolute last minute), we finally succumbed to engaging a publicist. This is something neither of us have done before (with many self-releases between us), and was no small decision. The bottom line, for both of us, is our sense that this project is an important marker; individually, on our separate paths, and as a statement of our shared path. We are proud of it, and are looking forward to the major publication reviews and national radio play that the promotional campaign will generate. This project deserves that. We are excited for you all to hear it.  Soon  :)
This Spring also begins the season for concerts in support of the project. 2 are already scheduled; in West Chester, PA in March and Mt.Vernon OH in April, with more to come. Details on these shows will soon be available on our schedule web pages. Stay tuned  :)
In some ways, this is like a new adventure into the unknown. In other ways, it's like a trip that has been well thought through and prepared for. Kind of like we don't know quite where we are going, though we have some sense of what clothes to pack. Or some analogy like that. Wherever the adventure will take us, we are grateful, and looking forward to it    :)   
    

Sunday, January 01, 2023


What does it mean when "the moment comes"? If the operative word is "the", the answer may be rather evident, until it is elusive. If "moment", then something else altogether, and a place we can live, or at least purpose to. The elusive moment is the particular one we (decide we) are looking for. Or worse, trying to recreate. The moment in which we can live is the one that we embrace, (perhaps paradoxically) by releasing to it's entering. We do not find moments. Moments are there to be found, not because we are looking, but because we leave the doors and windows open, along with leaving our minds/thoughts in another part of the house. And although we might wish or desire for something particular to enter, we embrace that which does. 
When I worked at the Showboat in Atlantic City, for example, I would be working there, until I wouldn't be. What got me there was certainly not worrying about getting there, or in my case, even thinking about it at all. Being who I am got me there. But that didn't stop me, once there, from trying to preserve the moment, or the circumstance, by continually drawing my attention (or, distracting myself) toward what I needed to do to get that next contract extension. In other words, concern over being able to keep the gig was the mental focus that sometimes kept the deeper artistic moments more out of reach. And ultimately, didn't keep me there any longer than simply continuing to do what got me there in the first place; being myself. And it strikes me that I am particularly blessed in that being myself has pretty much become my life's purpose. Or, how I purposely life my life, which allows my life to create it's larger purpose. The words of one reviewer, some years ago, of a solo piano concert, seem to ring true today to those encounter it, which validates them within me: "(Joe) has found the elusive balance sought by all jazz musicians: the balance between the craft of performing music that is recognizable as being in the traditions of jazz, and the artistry of creating a very personal expression within those same traditions. He is the genuine article, an artiste, whose work is a reflection and an extension of who he is".
I am who I am, uniquely so. When I embrace this, fully, I am free to be my unique, live-in-the -moment self. When I forget this, I can immediately become intimidated inside the awareness of all the things I am not. It's when you can fully let go that you can fully embrace what you actually have, or better, who you are   :)



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."