Uprooting

When I first moved to New York, I was rootless.  I made sure of that, having broken up with the woman who is now my wife (necessitating a prodigious effort to win her back years later).

It was September 1986. I had my Datsun B210, a (surprisingly short in retrospect) list of contacts, the promise of a room in a Manhattan apartment, my keyboards and four-track recorder,  $3000.00 in savings,  a Master’s degree, and a dream of being a jazz musician.  I was nervous, but not reticent.  Maybe it was the foolhardy confidence of youth.  Maybe it was the pride of following in the path of so many generations of  musicians before me. Maybe it was the fact that 1986 felt like one of the better times in history to be young gifted and black. Jmood photoAs I head toward New York now, some 28 years later, the butterflies are familiar.   I wonder about my reception, about whether I will measure up.  But I also feel something different.  It’s only nine days, but I feel tugged, dislocated.  I feel uprooted.

New York City is not the hard-edged place it was in the mid-1980’s.  Morningside Heights, the East Village and Bedford-Stuyvesant don’t’ strike the note of fear they did at that time.  Broadway and Disney have taken over Times Square and the subways are clean.  It is still true that New York is easiest for the rich. Even though the spread of gentrification has made previously off-limits parts of New York safe for Starbucks, Hanna Andersen & Banana Republic.

New York is also still the place for the young and ambitious.  A young Portlander who recently moved to the city to begin his career as lawyer  wrote me: “New York is a good place for a young man to cut his teeth in any profession.“

NYC- Day 1 Book010
My first NYC notebook from 1986

Although I didn’t own a home, I felt at home in different places in New York.  I had my neighborhood– or more accurately, multiple neighborhoods–that felt like my stomping grounds at different times during my decade there.  The Upper West Side, Park Slope & Fort Greene, Brooklyn; even North Yonkers and Hastings-on-Hudson all felt like my place at times, as did the Midtown rehearsal studios & music stores, and Greenwich Village clubs.  By the time I left in 1996, I had a drycleaner, a bank, a dentist, even some hobbies-having discovered sailing just a short train-ride up the Hudson.

But two things that I have now that I didn’t then are a connection to place.  Much as I loved the view of the Cloisters from the Westside Hwy, and sunny days in Central Park, I didn’t have ’t a sense of grounded-ness in New York, and gazing at the harbor in Brooklyn Heights, wasn’t like surveying the Gorge from Crown Point.  There wasn’t the visceral connection between the land and its history. Maybe you need living things to feel that. You need 100-year-old trees, or million-year old rocks.

The other thing missing  for me in New York was a connection to community—a feeling of belonging that went deeper than friends, or local sports teams.  I was looking for a sense of contribution, that I was a piece, even in a small way, of the ongoing story of a place.  To be part of a scene.

The Willamette Valley, more specifically Portland as its cultural locus, is known for scenes and sub-cultures: the indie music scene; the DIY Maker scene; the foodie culture; the artisanal coffee scene; food carts, craft-brewing, pinball;,  locally-grown food, pedestrian and bike and outdoor culture.  There is a sense of abundance in this plethora of scenes.  There is a feeling of the possible in this part of the world that I think seeps out of the verdant landscape into the  politics the urban planning, the ways of living on the land.

I’ve been thinking and writing lately using the metaphor of the jazz scene as an ecology.  In my analogy, the young jazz musician is like a wild spore or twig that tumbles across the landscape, carrying musical DNA and seeking fertile ground in which to grow- a place to bear fruit.

It was clear on my first visit to Portland, that its territory allowed for different realities- different ways of living and thriving.  How else to explain that musicians I had never heard of (insular East-coaster that I was in 1995) owned homes, when I, touring half the year could barely keep up with rent.  How was it possible for them to so visible thrive as “local” musicians?

Christmas 2012

I seems to me now that if Portland were a soil it would be a warm loam, full of the stuff that breeds quality of life, and nurtures the beginnings of things.  New York, by contrast, is a dense clay –hard to penetrate, requiring a hardiness and resourcefulness to obtain even a bit of purchase below the surface. The things that denote stability in New York, the rent-controlled apartment, the array of adjunct teaching positions, the regular weekend slot or good sideman gig–are hard-won and take time and a measure of  luck.

I remember loving the challenge of this environment in my 20’s.  I embraced the uncertainty, the mobility, and the fact that the next phonecall could take me to parts unknown.  I felt like I was ready to be blown by the wind, ready to  hustle for purchase in the New York landscape, to use initiative and the energy of youth  to carve out new opportunities, and find my niche.

Close on three decades later, my memory – digital and human – is satisfyingly filled with reminders that I have deep roots in the Northwest now—photos of my wife and son, vacation trips, birthday parties, the living room full of Christmas presents,  concerts played and presented, satisfying artistic collaborations,  projects completed, classes taught, relationships built, differences made in a community.

The thing is,  I have a hard time disconnecting those memories from the landscape in which they occurred. From the fertile green, the open spaces, the mountain, the two rivers, the creative culture, the trees, the land-use policy, the ideas, and the people who live them out.  It is hard to imagine me, separate from the community and the territory in which these things happened. The things I’m exploring now weren’t possible for the younger, rootless me.

I used to be pretty good at traveling. But I’ve lost the routines and the rituals that frequent travelers acquire over time-  what to do in airports, how to score the exit row seat, how to eat healthy in an unfamiliar environment, how to disconnect and wander, how to turn a hotel room into a piece of home.  In Pete Townshend’s autobiography “Who I Am,” he talks about his reticence toward touring as an adult, after marriage and fatherhood, About how he has to brace for not just for the work of performing, but for the feeling of being uprooted.DSC08405Makes sense. The roots we lay down have to draw nourishment from something, after all  I’m reticent now  I know it is only nine days.  But I long for familiar faces and places.   I’ll sip some hot Stumptown coffee, and think about who I have become in the Territory where I have roots.

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Over The Shoulder

Payette_Lake_HBIt is one month today since we performed “The Territory” at Chamber Music Northwest.  A month seems like a good amount of time for a pause.  Long enough to let things settle down-not so long  that forgotten what all the fuss was about.

The “inevitable post-project letdown,” –which always catches me by surprise no matter how many years I’ve been doing this–was delayed this year.  The day after the final performance at St Mary’s Academy  I went right into solo papa mode so my wonderful wife, who had been shouldering the whole “run-our-daily-lives-while-my-partner-pursues-his-artistic-destiny” thing for far too long, could take a little restorative camping break.  Not surprisingly, my son Malcolm and I went the other way. We rolled out to Seaside and threw down at some skee-ball, bumper cars and arcade games.

After that I jumped right into The Shed, our PSU Intensive Summer Jazz Camp.   Four days of  all jazz all the time, 9 AM to 8 PM.  Did I say it was intensive?  Not that I’m complaining. We had some great young players, and it is inspiring to to be in the music with a bunch of people from sunup to sundown.  Needless to say I forgot all about post-project letdown for those four days.

No sooner did we turn out the lights on The Shed, than I got in the car and drove to  McCall, Idaho for a family vacation on the shores of beautiful Payette Lake, which I was privileged to enjoy thanks to the generosity of  my colleague Jeff Baker.  His family’s “cabin” – a euphemism that borders on the silly- right near the water is like a mountain paradise.  We chilled, we swam, we read books, we played foosball, we paddle-boarded, we sat in the sun, we ate ice cream, and then chilled some more.  And for a week I didn’t think about much of anything.

After a quick trip to Seattle the following Monday– (The Bolt Bus feels suspiciously similar to Greyhound when it is completely full, and the wi-fi conks out, as it did on both my trips) –and my “summer” was finally ready to start. And damned if the “inevitable post-project letdown” didn’t pick that exact moment to mosey up and slap me upside the head.  Surprise.

I’m happy to say it has done its dance and left the building–just in time to commemorate the one-month anniversary of “my big project.” And in the space left behind, I’m feeling  ready to look back at the endeavor so far. I’m also feeling energized to think about what is next- which is turning out to include some pretty awesome opportunities.  So it is time for mapping again. Time to sharpen the tools, check supplies, scout out new ground.

Meanwhile, here is a link to a recording of the 1st movement “Hymn to the Four Winds” from the performance at Kaul Auditorium.  Thanks to Matt Snyder for an awesome job of live recording.

http://www.instantencore.com/work/work.aspx?work=5074269

Walters Cultural Arts Center Speaker Series: “The Jazz Scene as an Ecology” – June 18th

I will be a guest speaker at the Walters Cultural Arts Center Speaker Series in Hillsboro on Tuesday, June 18th at 7:00 PM.Oregon Album cover

My topic is  “The Jazz Scene as an Ecology”.  This is a culmination of a line of inquiry I embarked on  in 2009 on music and sustainability.

Here’s a short teaser for those who might be interested.  I’ll post the whole lecture here after I present it.

A little fable about Jazz and Academia

Think of Jazz as a wild plant, a native species that grew in America.  Took root, found good soil.  But its environment grew crowded w/competitors.  It’s niche was overrun by rock & roll.  As jazz matured and spread, it was less connected to its initial purpose, the nourishment of communities.  It became famous, the property of everyone and no one. So it sought refuge in the academy

Introducing a new breed- The Jazz Educator

I’d say Dr. Billy Taylor was the proto-species of the Jazz educator.   He was the first of the evolutionary line. He possessed the ideal combination of traits that enabled him to thrive in academia.  A virtuoso with a Ph.D. degree, he was articulate and well-spoken. The “fruit” he produced-television shows, the non-profit Jazzmobile,  paved the way for other musicians like Max Roach, Archie Shepp, Willie Ruff, and eventually, me.

There were others –John Mehegan, Jerry Coker, Gunther Schuller @ NEC, who were also pioneers, They created the first jazz curricula & schools: The Schillinger School,  Berklee College of Music,  North Texas State,  These  environments and infrastructurebig bands, textbooks, play-along records  provided fertile soil for jazz to grow in academia.

Below are a couple great blog posts that get to this topic.  Two are from Dr. Jeff Todd Titon, ethnomusicologist at Brown University.  His writing has been groundbreaking in this area. He has also been an encouraging mentor to those of us interested in thinking freshly about the place of music in our culture.  His blog “Sustainable Music” is a fantastic resource for provocative and inspiring new ways to think about what we do.
http://sustainablemusic.blogspot.com/2011/07/resilience.html

Titon blog on Sustainbility & Ecology

http://sustainablemusic.blogspot.com/2009/10/ecological-approach-to-cultural.html

Theses on Sustainabilit- A Primer

http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/5502/

There are also a number of earlier posts on this blog that explore this same topic.

Chandler AZ -The City Beautiful?

I was in Chandler, Arizona last week.   On a September morning I stepped outside my friend’s house to make a phone call (long story about lack of cell-reception inside the house).  I looked around.  No-one to be seen.  Admittedly it was 101 degrees,  but that didn’t make the view of the deserted street in the  new suburb any less daunting.

I wonder how this became someone’s idea of a city:  Identical bland subdivisions stretching for miles and miles.  Camouflage beige brick walls shielding them from the street.  Each house a duplicate of the one next to it.  3-car garages in lieu of front porches..  It’s not a neighborhood, it’s a cluster of nondescript pods surrounded by five foot high walls. They are spacious and comfortable pods, no argument there–they have  flat panel televisions, KitchenAid refrigerators, surround sound and all the modern day staples, as well as family pictures  and homey touches.  But they hermetically sealed to the outside.  They have no shared spaces, no outward side of inner life, no color, no welcome. And they don’t make a community.  Not even Identical CVS Drugstores on every other southeast corner and Mini-mails full of franchise chains on every other northwest corner can make it so.

This was not the vision.

Chandler was founded by  Dr. Alexander John Chandler.  In 1887 Dr. Chandler arrived in Prescott, the capital of the Arizona Territory as the first appointed veterinary surgeon to the region.  According the Chandler Chamber of Commerce website: “Unfortunately, the entire southwest was experiencing a severe drought. Dr. Chandler found that he was unable to help the area’s cattle herds and resigned his post and made plans to move on to California. However, as he arrived in the small frontier town of Phoenix, a deluge of rain began to fall that halted all travel. Dr. Chandler watched from his hotel room as the desert blossomed into a fantastic array of renewed life. The doctor, moved by what he saw and the possibilities it foretold, reconsidered his resignation and canceled his departure. Seeing the great changes that the rain brought to the parched soil, Dr. Chandler began to learn about irrigation methods. Returning with the financial backing of two Detroit friends, Dr. Chandler formed the Consolidated Canal Company. When the Granite Reef Dam to the southeast of Phoenix was completed in 1908, water from the Salt River was available for all canals to the south. Thousands of acres were put under cultivation, but there was still not enough water to keep the land from remaining dry. In 1911, the Roosevelt Dam was completed, but each landowner was restricted to irrigating only 160 acres. Dr. Chandler was forced to subdivide his nearly 18,000 acre ranch and he began to advertise and marker his land to draw settlers to the area. He  hired a city planner and an architect to design a planned community with spacious lots, wide boulevards and a town green unique to the Southwest.”

Ironically, Chandler was inspired by the city beautiful movement.  A late 19th century idea that believed that a beautiful city would create harmony and improve quality of life.

So how did that vision become this?

Chandler today
Chandler today

Even more significantly, I ask myself,  as an artist, how can community possibly flourish here, with no bridge to the outside world?  How do I reach these people?  Not with homogenized pop radio,  cable television, NPR  or Facebook–but with what is happening under there very noses.  How do I draw them out of their pods to experience local music or theater?  How do I put them in relationship to the painters,  poets, potters, woodworkers, glass blowers and jazz musicians who could make their homes, their lives and their community richer.

Tell me.  How do we build community in a place like Chandler?  How do we get people to think outside the pod–If only as far as to add some color other than tan, beige or gray to their exterior walls?   The desert can still bloom.  But we can’t just leave it up to the flowers.

Here is a  blog post that echoes this view.

On The Territory

Here are some photos from the first gig of “On The Territory” at the Oregon Coast Music Festival in Coos Bay.  Thanks to Jeff Turner for the great pix and to Jardin  and Kristin at Black Market Gourmet for the great food, vibe, room, etc…

This lovely band
This lovely band

Jessy & Darrell
Jessy & Darrell
Cameron laying it down
Cameron laying it down
On the Territory
On the Territory
Cameron Morgan, Ji Tanzer & John

Another band shot
Another band shot
Playing
Playing