This is no longer the Blog you’re looking for.

In an effort to consolidate things (and stop you from having to look at advertisements) I’m shifting my blog home to a page on my website. Here’s a link. If you are inclined, please update your bookmarks. Better yet, subscribe at the website and you’ll be on my mailing list.

The WordPress site will be inactive as of Jan 1.

Happy Holidays!

Year’s End

As we come up on the end of 2020, as with the end of every year, I find myself reflective.  Typically I’d be looking back and assessing how successful my year had been, but this year we’ve all had to drastically redefine and reframe what success means!

This year as I look back I am entirely filled with gratitude.  My home and family are safe and secure, I am able to continue to pursue creative work, and I am a member of a supportive, thriving, and resilient community.  This year – indeed every year – this is more than enough!

I do want to specially thank Origin/OA2 Records, WDCB radio, and Kelly, Chris, and Jeff for all the support, love and great playing this past year.  There will be more to come next year.  I also want to thank each of you for the love and support you’ve given me this year.

There are still so many questions about next year, but I have a couple of things brewing:

On January 21st at 8pm Central, we’ll be doing a live-streaming performance from The Fulton Street Collective.  More details about that in the January newsletter, but please make your calendars now.  I’ve been doing a lot of writing and we’ll be playing some new music!

Speaking of writing, and inspired by Rick Margitza‘s “365 Days of Practice”, I’m going to try something new next year…52 weeks of composition.  Every week, I’ll document what I’m working on compositionally.  I would love to think that this will end up with 52 new tunes neatly presented, but I know the muse don’t work that way.  My goal with this is to develop my compositional practice to be a daily thing, alongside my instrumental practice.  I’ll be using this blog and my Instagram feed for this project.

Finally, I’m planning another recording for next year.  A lot to figure out between now and then but my hope is to go back in the studio next Fall for a new quartet recording.

That’s it for now…wishing all of you a very happy holiday season!

Stay safe and healthy everyone!

Passion, Patience, Perseverance

The title for today’s post comes from a podcast I was listening to this morning on my walk. While discussing mindfulness, the host used these three words in succession and it really stuck a chord with me.

If I’m going to be honest and vulnerable – and why not…it’s 2020 and there is not point in not being either anymore – I’ve been struggling the past week or two. It’s no surprise that performing work has really dried up. There are a couple of things here and there, but my entire summer and fall have turned out much differently than what was planned; again, like all of us.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of work as an artist and musician. In a practical sense, the work is the performance – after all that’s where we make money. But with that gone, it’s been hard for me to find my North Star about what I do.

I’m very lucky to have some close friends who are artists in more solitary disciplines that I’ve been talking with lately and they’ve been incredibly helpful. They’ve helped me to reframe the idea of work quite substantially and it has been a big help to my mental health.

Work is the daily practice. Work is getting up and going to your studio, and picking up what you were working on yesterday and continuing. Work is “Groundhog Day”.

I suspect that many, if not most, creative people know this. It is frighteningly easy to forget, though. I had forgotten it completely and when the landscape of reality cracked in March, it left me reeling. I’m finding my footing again recently through he daily work of being a musician – that is – the continued development of craft along with a healthy detachment from the need for my artistic practice to be any more than that right now (full disclosure – this is a serious work in progress and I have as many bad days as good!).

A few more words about the title…the phrase came up in the context of a discussion with a senate staffer about maintaining mindfulness over the course of a LONG (15+ years) legislative campaign (I believe it was about marriage equality). The host asked how the staffer maintained passion, patience, and perseverance over such a long timeline with often no visible forward motion. The staffer’s response was something along the lines of “put a win on the board everyday”. Now this on its own seems almost trite, but in the exposition of the idea it really started to resonate. A ‘win” can be ANYTHING that is accomplished in service of the goal. Did the staff have a conversation with a constituent? Win. Was there a town hall on the topic? Win. Was there formal or informal debate between differing points of view? Win. Nowhere in the exposition was there the mention of an outcome. It was ALL about doing the daily work in service of the goal.

It’s not easy to perform right now. It’s not easy to gather with people to make or experience music together right now. But, something that I CAN do everyday is to get up, go to my studio, and work on the craft. If I do that, it’s a win.

A treasure mine

One of the things I’ve really dug about the internet is how easy it is to both host material and find material that would otherwise go unheard. A few days ago a friend forwarded me this link. It’s a very deep collection of bassist Gene Perla’s personal recordings from his own archive. Perla has, very graciously, made this available for listening through the site and there are some AMAZING things here. Of specific interest are the many recordings from “Perla’s Loft”. This is a rare peek into the Loft Scene of the 1970s. This is especially poignant right now with the recent loss of Steve Grossman who is featured on many of these recordings.

Enjoy!

Considering Colby

I was very sad to wake to the news that Mark Colby had passed. Many of us knew he had been sick and home in hospice the past weeks, but I was so shocked at how quickly things turned for him. I watched his streaming performance in June!

I first met Mark when I was in school. I never had the opportunity to study with him – he taught at DePaul and I went to Northern Illinois – but he was a guest lecturer in our music business class one semester. I remember him playing and being a very positive, encouraging presence.

Once I joined the Navy Bands, I left Chicago for many years…Mark popped back into my orbit with the release of his “Speaking of Stan” record. It got significant airplay in Norfolk Virginia where I was living at the time. I corresponded with Mark on and off after that – mostly “fan-like-letters” with occasional questions. He was always very gracious, even once asking me for a lead sheet to one of my tunes saying “This is my kind of tune!” Needless to say I was quite flattered!

When I moved back to Chicago, Mark was one of the first cats I reconnected with. He was, again, very gracious. He invited me to join him for sets at Catch 35 and The Jazz Showcase as well as giving me some sub work. The times I spent playing next to him AND the time spent in the hang were lessons that I’ll never forget.

My friend Ryan Miller said in a Facebook comment: “Mark was such a heavy musician, and an even greater person. The real deal.
His biggest talent in my eyes was his ability to make YOU feel like the real deal when you were around him. We all felt it. Extraordinary.” Ryan got this exactly right. When you were with Mark, you were the most important person in the world to him. You were never made to feel like a pest, or a bother. Never made to feel like you weren’t a friend and colleague.

I’m regretting not spending more time with him, but I suspect I’d be regretting that regardless of how much time I spent with him.

Safe travels and rest well, Mark. You were the best of us and we will mourn your absence for a long, long time.

Resets

One of the things that has been nice (and I have to work hard to find them) about the current situation in the world is that I’m finding that I have to be much more purposeful about seeing people and doing things.

A week or two ago I went to a gallery show that was featuring the work of my friend Ryan Miller. Ryan is a world-class musician who was a couple of years ahead of me at NIU back in the day and has since made a very good life for himself working in various circles in Chicago. He has recently added painting to his portfolio and the results have been beautiful. I first saw his work at a musician’s new year’s party in January of this year and I was really taken aback at the beauty and depth. When I heard about his show at The Andersonville Galleria I made it a point to go.

Shortly after the show I saw that he was lending some of his work to the Quiet Pterodactyl project to support independent music venues in Chicago, so I bought a coffee cup.

This is a long prologue to say that in doing these things it led to a very meaningful conversation with Ryan about the idea of resetting.

One of the things I’ve been struggling with during the pandemic is resolving the way things currently are with the way I want to be or the way I think they should be based on the past. Both my therapist and my Zen teacher get a kick out of this and this way of thinking keeps both of them quite busy.

Speaking to Ryan, we discussed the idea of using this time to do a “hard reset” of our artistic realities. What if, instead of laboring against the current reality, we accepted it and learned to work within it?

I think if you spoke to 100 jazz musicians they would all have a version of a dream that mimicked Sonny Rollins’ bridge sabbatical. It seems to me that if we can quiet our ego and desire for the past enough that we all kind of have that right now.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what an artistic reset would look like for me. I have some vague ideas and some concrete…it’s both frightening and invigorating.

Right now I’m going to enjoy some more coffee (roasted by Ryan!) in his cup and keep watching the squirrel on my front sidewalk.

Time is relative

I was thinking this morning that it had been couple of days since I last wrote here…it’s been between 6 and 7 weeks. My sense of time is getting worse!

But is there really anything to write about? Is there anything I can write or say that improves on the silence? That can be a paralyzing thought for an artist…especially one who struggles with valuing their own work. As with everything, it’s probably more important to just write and have no expectations about it…so that’s the role of this post. A placeholder? A way to somehow prime the pump? I don’t know.