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.

Historical Documents

I happened upon a bunch of old blog entries (2007-2012) from the first iteration of “The Ear of the Mind”.  When I started occasionally blogging again a couple of years ago I moved the operation to WordPress with better results.  It was fun to look over the old posts and it occurred to me that I really enjoyed doing it.  I’m not sure why I stopped…that’s not exactly true.  I’m pretty sure I stopped because blogging made less sense in the world of social media.  At least, so I thought.

Could it be that right now the long-form blog is more important?  I know that for me, writing a post for this platform feels quite different than writing a Facebook post or an Instagram caption.  I mentioned in last week’s post that this feels calmer for me.

Since my last post, I took about a week off of social media and am now back on.  The week I was off felt wonderful.  To be honest, the only reason I came back was to do some promotion of my new CD that is releasing later this month.

I’m going to have to see if I can have an effective home here and on my website.  We’ll see what happens…

If you’re inclined, here is a link to the old digs.  Enjoy!

Antisocial Media?

I’m really glad I didn’t delete this platform.  It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged so I have some weeding and garden-tending to do, but I am jumping back into it.  I don’t know what it will look like yet but I feel like a place like this is a little quieter and more conducive to getting some more complex thoughts into the world, as well as to share some news.  

I’ve had a complicated relationship with social media.  I was an early adopter of MySpace and then Facebook.  Instagram came later.  I really enjoyed the immediacy of it; the ability to connect with old and current friends, and the way I could learn through it (for a great example of what social media can be, please check out Rick Margitza’s Instagram page!).  It caused me some problems though.  When I was in the service it tended to blur lines between work and non-work life and caused me (and probably others in my orbit) some unneeded stress.  It also has an addictive quality that I struggle against.  I have addictive tendencies and the jolt of dopamine I get from a like on a post or a comment can be a powerful to me as a shot of booze or other substance.

There is an understanding that a social media presence is a requirement to work in the arts.  In my own artistic life I have a new recording releasing this month and the idea of not using social media to promote it makes me anxious, while the thought of promoting it on social media makes me just as anxious.  It’s a powerful tool to engage your audience and build a base of supporters to be sure, but for many of us it can be more of a distraction than anything else.  I know of many musicians and artists that are purposefully eschewing a social media presence to allow for the space to work more organically.

The climate in the world in the past months hasn’t helped.  Again, social media has been invaluable for organizing and communicating, but the unfiltered platform for hate and vitriol has been too much for many of us to deal with in healthy way.

I don’t yet know the answer for me.  My intent with this post isn’t to make a grand exit announcement (social media isn’t an airport, departures don’t need to be announced).  I read this post a couple of weeks ago and it has really been resonating.  Clearly, I am not an elite athlete, but the spirit of the post has a lot of universality.

I do know that my goal is to move my online home to places like this blog and my website.  It feels calmer for me.