Road Diaries – Naples

Francesco and I played our second duo gig Saturday night in what was one of the most interesting venues I’ve ever played. You can read about the Fontanelle Cemetery here. It has a very interesting, if not macabre history. I love Europe for things like this.

The performance was stellar. Francesco is a very accomplished pianist and his way of playing is as steeped in the European tradition as it is in the American. A very “ECM-ish” kind of vibe with lots of beautiful rubato. It really makes me play in a different way and it challenges me in the best ways.

An unexpected treat have been the hangs. Hangs on the road and especially in Europe are always deep, dinner doesn’t typically start until 10 or 11. What has been wonderful this time is that there is another American pianist in town for sort of a parallel tour. Peggy Stern is here playing with my good friend and fellow saxophonist Guilio Martino. It’s always nice to meet other musicians while traveling. There is a kind of “brothers/sisters in arms” vibe. Lots of talking, laughter, stories about mutual friends and colleagues going deep into the morning hours.

I have a couple of off days and on Wednesday I’ll be paying a visit to the Navy Band here in Naples to see some old friends from a past life.

Here’s the latest round of photos:

Metro stop on the way to the gig
Road leading to the catacombs
Audience during sound check. We killed…
Altar near the entrance of the catacombs
Audience from the stage, and my blurry saxophone neck.
Dinner after…
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Road Diaries Day 2/3

So far, this has been the most relaxing tour ever! I was met at the airport Tuesday night by my friend and wonderful piano player Francesco D’Errico. Wednesday was spent at his villa north of Rome where we rehearsed for our duo performance and enjoyed a beautiful spring day. Wednesday night was a house concert at Francesco’s. Today we’re traveling to Naples on the train. Tonight we have a session with some students at the Naples Consevatory.

I will never stop loving Italy and the Italian culture. There is such a relaxed attitude here and the idea of FOMO (fear of missing out) just does not exist. Whatever you’re doing at the moment is the only thing there is. This is a great reminder for me!

Looking forward to arriving in Naples…Naples will always have a piece of my heart.

The view from Francesco’s villa.

Piazza in the small town north of Rome where we spent the first day.

Waiting for the train to Naples.

Road Diaries – Day 1

It feels great to be out on the road for a couple of weeks. I’m going to be in Europe, specifically Southern Italy for a couple of weeks performing duo and quartet with my dear Italian friends Francesco D’Errico, Marco De Tilla, and Marco Fazzari. I’ll be putting some stuff up here every day or two. Today was a travel day. In fact I’m in the middle of my trip right now…sitting in the Dublin airport. I usually fly Lufthansa/United for my traveling, but I found a great deal on Aer Lingus, so I connect in Dublin. So far I’m really happy with them…no vibe about my horn and OHMYGAWD the accents!

I don’t normally do airport lounges but with a 6 hour layover and not much sleep on the long haul I decided to splurge a bit.

I was having a conversation with my wife Stephane about what constitutes “visiting” a country…do airports count? I’ve decided that my bar for claiming a visit is consuming an authentic meal or consuming an idiomatic beverage. So, after my Full Irish Breakfast I am squarely in the “I’ve visited Dublin” column on this trip.

Tomorrow, Rome…

100 days is a long time

Today I finished my “100 days of practice” challenge. For those who don’t know, I posted a daily clip of my practicing along with a short caption or explanation detailing what I was doing. My reasons for taking on this challenge were mainly:

– I was answering many similar questions from different students about how I approach things.

– I wanted to take a look at how I did things to see if there was anything I could learn.

When I started I didn’t have a specific goal in mind…no big audition or performance at the end. The only thing on day 101 that is different from day 1-100 is that I won’t be posting any more clips. I also didn’t have any kind of milestones in mind – no “let’s see if I can finish this transcription or see if I can push to 4 hours of daily practice”. I only hoped to document what I did for 100 days and try to take an objective look at my practice ritual to see if things are working. At the far end of the challenge, I have discovered a few things. I want to take some time here to share some of my reflections.

Routines are good…until they aren’t

I’ve always been comforted by routines. I like the idea of being able to look at a to-do list of sorts, check things off, and feel that I’ve accomplished things. What I’ve learned during this 100 days is that I have an almost compulsive impulse to organize my practicing. So much so, that there have been many times in life where my thinking went something like this: “I don’t have X hours to practice, so I can’t practice”. This challenge helped me with this because there were many days when I only had a few minutes, let alone several hours. I’ve learned that even the smallest bit of practice is valuable. There is something about dropping into the ritual, even for 10-15 minutes, that adds value. In this way, practice becomes almost more of a meditation than a utilitarian act. I can say that I absolutely have a different attitude about practicing with regard to time spent. While nothing can replace long periods of deep work, there is value in ANY work you do consistently.

What’s the goal?

Here’s something I learned about my habits that I would like to improve. I notice looking back that I seem to practice with the intention of “proving something” to my self (or others) – “I KNOW this tune…I have good technique…I have good time…” etc. I’ve found that when this intention informs my practicing, I don’t learn. I was often afraid over the course of the last 100 days of showing my weaknesses. Of course, the fishbowl-like reality of doing something like this will either consciously or unconsciously change the way one does something (observer effect, anyone?). Going forward, I need to be aware enough to be mindful of my habits of wanting to reinforce what I already know.

Practicing makes you better(?)

This one may be the hardest for me. I am coming to believe that after a certain point, development stops being linear. 100 days in the progress of a beginning or intermediate musician is a significant period of time (consider a college semester), but in the life of a professional, it seems somehow different. Of course, any time spent will aid in our development, after years and years it seems that the progress becomes less and less measurable. I don’t feel any considerably BETTER as a saxophonist than I did 100 days ago, and truth told in some ways I feel worse. I do know that I am 100 days further down the road than I was, and that’s a good thing.

Self-Sabotage

Of course, if I’m honest, a good bit of the above is most likely my fault. I don’t know why this is but I still have a habit of jumping around from topic to topic without going deep into any of them. Some of this may go back to my compulsion about routines and lists, but much of it comes down to not being mindful. I tell my students often that I’d rather they spend their time learning ONE thing to the point of mastery than run through a list of ten things everyday and only touching each one. I need to do better here…I don’t know how yet, but it’s taking up quite a bit of space in my head right now. Perhaps it would have helped if I had started these 100 days with something tangible – a transcription, a certain tune or progression, etc that I could have used as a “control” of sorts. At least it would have helped anchor me.

Final Thoughts

I don’t mean to give the impression that this was a negative experience, quite the opposite. I’ve learned so much about how I practice and what some of my habits are and I have some strong motivation about some things I want to try going forward. I’ve really discovered the kinds of things that work for me and the kinds of things that don’t. I’ve learned that everyone has ideas about the “right” way to practice or pursue any kind of development and I’ve learned that, while all of the feedback is an incredible gift, it is ultimately up to me to chart my path at this time of my life.

I hope I haven’t bored anyone too much, and I sincerely thank you for following along.

Sundays in the studio

As I was in the gym this morning trying to distract myself from, well, being in the gym I spend some time thinking about this blog, why I do it, and what I want it to be.  I think I’m going to try writing once a week and see what happens.  I do enjoy writing and I hope you enjoy reading.  The podcast I was listening to at the gym was NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour.  It’s a new one for me, recommend by my wife.  As with most things she recommends, it was awesome.  They spent some time talking about the film “Roma” (see it, it is as amazing as everyone says) and after hearing it, I’m going to rewatch it soon.  But the thing that really gave me pause was a brief segment about Mary Oliver.  Most know that she passed recently and there has been much discussion of her work.  I won’t rehash any of it…instead I want to talk about one of her poems that I love.  It’s called “I Worried”  Here’s the text:

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.”

I am, and have been for as long as I remembered, a worrier.  There were times in my youth where it just paralyzed me.  I’d get it under control sometimes and other times it would come back.  I forget where I first came across this poem but the thing that resonated with me the most is the last stanza.  “Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.  And gave it up.”  I love that she writes about the futility of worry…not something that happened to show her that her worry was unnecessary.  The fact that the worry has no result or positive end is, objectively, something that most of us know.  When we’re stuck in the middle of it though, it’s harder to see that.

My baseline state is to hide.  This sounds strange for someone who makes his life in the performing arts, but if I don’t take active steps all the time to put work into the world, I would never leave my house – maybe never leave my bed.  I don’t know if it’s realistic to expect that one can just “give up” worry and be done with it…I know I can’t.  But I still have to take my old body out into the morning and sing.

I marvel at people who are able to put work into the world without trepidation…although I suspect that there are in reality, fewer of them than it seems.  So, for the time being and for the future, I’ll continue to take my old body out into the morning and sing.  I’m going to try not to worry about the result.

 

 

So, what’s good?

A dear friend of mine greets almost everyone with this question.  In the midst of January, I find that it is a very important question indeed…here are some things that I’m finding very good, indeed.

The “100 days challenge”

Although I’m only 10 days into this, I’m really surprised at how enlightening doing this project has been.  I’ve received lots of feedback; all very supportive, but often with the subtext of “why are you doing this to yourself? (or doing this to us?)”.  I have a couple of reasons.  Firstly I’m doing it for some of my students.  I have a couple that are very curious about what I practice, so I thought that this would be a good way to show them.  Secondly, there is an accountability aspect to it that is really helping me.  Thirdly, the Heisenberg Principle is a real thing and I find that observing my practicing in this way is changing the way I do it.  I’m learning that I don’t spend enough time on any one thing before I move to something else.  A daily review of my recordings really drive that home.  I’m learning to be more mindful and to really sit with something longer.  Finally, there is a therapeutic aspect to this…it is making me put something out into the world everyday…essentially showing my work, warts and all.  This is proving to be very good for me.  Again I’m just getting started, so we’ll see how this project evolves.  If you’re curious, you can follow my Instagram page to see the dailies…

Some great music

There has been no shortage of great music in Chicago this month.  Highlights have included Jerry Bergonzi (!) passing through at the Green Mill.  He is as inspiring as ever!  I was introduced to a new group called “Real Feels” a couple weeks ago at Constellation.  They’re a trio of flugelhorn, guitar, and drums with some effects and pedals.             Heart-achingly beautiful colors and textures and a deep melodic sense.  Some of my friends are doing some great work as well – fellow saxophonist Mitch Paliga‘s sextet project knocks me over every time I hear it and just night before last I heard a quartet project led by trombonist Chris Shuttleworth that was very forward-thinking.

Coming up

I’ve been doing a lot of writing for trio in anticipation of my next recording.  Next Wednesday (1/30) we’ll be playing at The Montrose Saloon and starting to work out some new material.  In February I’ll be playing at The Serbian Village with Tommy Muellner’s group.  Then things really start ramping up in March.  Check out the website for more info…

See you in a couple weeks….

 

The Return of the blog and the 100 Days challenge

I’ve been thinking for a long time about resurrecting this blog (again) and I’ve decided to go ahead and do it.  I’ll be posting various types of things here…some will be boring, some won’t but they all will be from the depths of my mind.

Late last year I came across the great jazz violinist (and former Chicago resident) Zach Brock’s instagram feed where he was documenting his progress on something called the “100 days of practice challenge”.  I was intrigued watching his snapshots into his day and his process.  I did a bit of research and I discovered this article, which I believe informed Zach’s challenge.

I was hooked.  This was something I wanted to do.  It seems like a great way to start 2019, so starting tomorrow my instagram feed will be the exclusive home of my 100 days challenge.  I’ll be posting little snips of my practice recordings along with explanations of what I’m working on and some commentary.  So, fair warning.  If this sounds interesting to you, please slide over and follow my feed.  If this sounds awful to you, you may want to unfollow my instagram feed for a bit.

At the conclusion of 100 days I’ll post some thoughts on what I discovered about myself.

Stay tuned for more posts about other goings on.

I hope to post every couple of weeks…