Today is my last day on the road before driving back to Bloomington after a 10-day trip. Touring is a crucial element of being a musician as a way of finding new audiences, sell music, and create new opportunities especially at a time when music sales through retailers have become minimal. There is a romantic aspect to touring, a general vision of traveling to exciting places all over the world, being treated like a star at fancy places and full concert houses, and staying in beautiful hotels. The reality for most musicians is quite different and means driving in cars for very long hours, barely making it to performance venues in time that most often didn’t promote the event very well and blame low attendance on the performers, finding a cheap place to stay, and trying to find healthy food and exercise opportunities. It can be a lonely venture or it can be socially challenging when a group of band members travel together. It’s important to find a healthy balance between traveling and staying connected with family and loved-ones and for each person that balance is different.
I do enjoy the occasional outing especially after a stressful semester of teaching. Clay Corley, host of Spotlight on Jazz and Poetry, invited me back to Philadelphia for the yearly live show – a mix of great musicians and poets that I enjoy very much! So I had to figure out how to make my way to Philadelphia with my equipment and back. I started in Indianapolis on Wednesday, May 13 with a presentation on Jazz in Indiana at noon and did a mad 6-hour dash to Clarksburg, WV to make the 8pm downbeat at Washington Post hosted by the WV Jazz Society. With no rehearsal time, the musicians from the area – two of them IU graduates who I had played with before – rose to the occasion and played two great sets with me. The work of Eric Spelsberg with the WV Jazz Society is one great example of a grass-roots group dedicated to honor the legacy of jazz and combine community development with the Arts.
On Thursday morning I drove four more hours to Washington, DC to reunite with old friend and current Army Blues trumpet chair Graham Breedlove for a concert at Twins Jazz. We played a mix of mine and his tunes with a fantastic local rhythm section to a small but appreciative crowd. I got to stay with my good friend Katja there. On Friday morning we received the news that Blues Legend B.B.King passed away. Before I left Katja’s apartment, I plugged in her old Clavinova and improvised a tribute to the King of Blues based on the date of his passing. It is posted here – enjoy!
After settling in at the Clarion Hotel in Philadelphia, I joined the Friday evening Mixer – a mingling event where the organizers, supporters, poets, and musicians gather previous to the concert and enjoy food and good company and a bit of jamming as a warm-up for the next day. Once the jamming started several poets and closet poets stepped out from the audience – what an interesting mix. The next day was filled with set-up and rehearsals and by 6pm a nice audience was gathered and we started the show. I help guide the program through a mix of music and poetry that makes the evening flow well and gives everyone an opportunity to shine – love the challenge – and it worked out great. Christopher Fields and Tyree had the audience under their spell expressing their perspectives in words and rhyme and vocalist Barbara Montgomery opened the dance floor with a Samba version of My Favorite Things. Saxophonist Nasir Dickerson blew his heart out and bassist Jason Fraticelli is a fascinating sight as his playing is intense with a lot of movement. And of course, such celebrations call for an after-party into the wee morning hours.
Sunday I hit the Pennsylvania Turnpike all the way to Fort Lee, NJ – the area around NYC is always congested, the tolls are high, driving is not an enjoyable task. But it was great to reunite with some of my recording partners for The Whole World in Her Hands as we rehearsed for our two upcoming performances in the city. In New York speed of light we prepared the two sets of music on Sunday night. Monday was the first big showcase of The Whole World in Her Hands at Shapeshifter Lab in Brooklyn. It’s a beautiful gallery space that presents jazz in a concert setting. The set was full of excitement and energy and several dear friends came to support us – everything is documented on video and will be released soon. Just as we ended, the audio engineer confessed that he had hit the stop button by accident during our performance of istop, so we got to play the tune again – an even better version. We capped the evening with a visit to the Blue Note to see Jay Rodriguez, Ratzo Harris, and Jeff Tain Watts tear it up in a pianoless trio setting.
On Tuesday, the same group featuring Jamie Baum – flute, Lakecia Benjamin – sax, Reut Regev – trombone, Jennifer Vincent – bass, Rosa Avila – drums, and myself on piano was scheduled to perform at the Zinc Bar in Manhattan. After we caught an announcement and scheduling error from the venue we decided to do one long set at 9pm. The energy was great and everyone vowed to get back together and do more. I decided to stay for the jam session – and I’m glad I did! The level of players was amazing – here is a taste, a piano solo that I caught by Eric Lewis. Finally I got to sit in and was joined by a bassist that they called Emily. We played Caravan and Emily was one of the most amazing bassists I ever heard. When I inquired the next day about the origin of Emily, we found out that it was Esperanza Spalding in discuise (with braids) who is making her way through the NY jam sessions in order to hone her chops for her next recording. What a treat!
After two days of driving the distance from New York back to the Midwest – tonight is the last performance of this little outing in Cincinnati at the Washington Platform with Mike Sharfe, Sandy Suskind, and Jim Leslie. Since I’m working on the Chick Corea Listener Guide, Mike invited me to share some Chick Corea tunes – really looking forward to the program we put together! Good supporters Joseph and Diane Shaver invited me to stay at their home while I’m here – so I’m enjoying the beautiful sunshine in a house in the country, just like ours, it’s good to be back nearly home! There are lots of great opportunities in New York, but what a crazy lifestyle. And Saturday – back at the regular space, Rick’s Cafe Boatyard – see you there for more adventure updates.