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Category: Jazz Or Bust Tour

2012: My Ridiculous Year In Review

I hesitate to write this, but 2012 may have been the most tumultuous year of my life. (Dear 2013, please don’t feel you have to break any records.)

Toward the end of 2011 I met someone who in 2012 turned out to be one of the great loves of my life. By the end of the year, she was gone, we were finished, I was in Alabama and my show was over. I also spent half the year without a home of my own, and several months of it traveling more than 13,000 miles on Greyhound buses.

From Bushwick and more – Dec 2012


New Year’s Day 2012 included an interview for my former show, The Jazz Session, and a trip to the Museum of Modern Art in my former city with my former girlfriend and our former roommates. (Sensing a trend? So am I.) I did a lot of interviews in 2012, including with some major names in the jazz world. January was a good month for drummers – I spoke with Jack DeJohnette, Matt Wilson, Barry Altschul, Aaron Staebell and Deric Dickens. I also gave a talk at the annual JazzTimes conference. My topic was musicians telling their stories. You can hear the entire thing here (and see part of it, too).

From Trip to PA: Feb 4-5, 2012


Early in the month, I went to State College to visit my sons. For various reasons, my visits to PA were usually quite short. This one was just overnight. Back in NYC, I interviewed Charles Mingus’s widow, Sue, and saw great shows by Pete Robbins, James Shipp, the Mingus Big Band, Tim Berne’s Snake Oil, Peter Eldridge & Matt Aronoff, Enrico Rava, Ken Filiano, Vernon Reid, Myra Melford, Jeremy Siskind and The Wee Trio. (In one month!) I also went to a Vegan Shop-Up at the wonderful Pine Box Rock Shop in Brooklyn. I met DJ Soul Sister and Jeff Albert for the first time in person, and interviewed jazz giant Jimmy Heath at his Queens apartment.

From Warm nights, warm days in Brooklyn


The month started in fine style with a show by Matt Wilson’s band at Dizzy’s. I’ve never been a huge fan of that club, but I do love me some Matt Wilson, and his show was hugely entertaining and musical. A few days later I traveled to Jersey to interview Billy Hart. I also saw a show by one of my favorite singers, Trixie Whitley. I went to State College again, this time for my son John’s sixth birthday. My sister, Gretchen, went with me. Carmen Staaf and I got together for the first of a few sessions of my poetry and her piano playing, although we never ended up doing a gig. I also hung out one-on-one for the first time with my friend Sally, who would go on to become an indispensable part of my life. On the 18th, a gang of us got together at the apartment my girlfriend and I shared to read Walt Whitman’s “Song Of Myself” (the 1855 version). It was a moving experience, as it always is. I went to Albany for one day to visit my doctor. My partner and I went to see Nellie McKay perform a show about Rachel Carson at some ultra-swanky place where we clearly didn’t belong. The show was worth it, though. We also went to another vegan shop-up. Oh, and I took my sister’s cat to the vet. Although this trip was no big deal, Chloe would go back to the vet later and be given a few months to live. But by the end of 2012, it turned out she was fine. I still don’t understand what happened.

From Trip to PA: April 26-28, 2012


I went to a CD release party for Theo Bleckmann’s album of Kate Bush songs. It was so good – a real show, not just a performance of the songs. I took an extended walk around Washington Heights, one of my favorite parts of Manhattan, and talked with a friend about my role as a father. I saw Natalie Cressman play at The Jazz Gallery, months before she would become the final interview I conducted for my show. For the first time ever, I showed up at an interview without my recorder (the aforementioned Theo Bleckmann), so I had to go back home. I took the self-guided East Village Poetry Walk, which I can’t recommend highly enough. You can download the guided tour here. I saw my pal Josh Rutner play gospel music at St. Peter’s Church in Manhattan. It’s the “jazz church.” I interviewed Dave Brubeck’s son Chris in the Teddy Roosevelt Room at the Museum of Natural History. I went to a tribute to the poet Philip Larkin. Paul Simon was one of the readers, making it the only Paul Simon performance I’ve ever attended. I went back to State College to see my older son, Bernie, play saxophone in his first school concert. On the last day of the month, I interviewed one of the smartest people around, guitarist Vernon Reid (of Living Colour, etc.). Other shows I saw in April: Romain Collin, Jo Lawry and Kate McGarry.

From Daryl Shawn & Todd Reynolds at The Firehouse Space, May 2012


In May I met and interviewed vocalist Maria Neckam, whose album Unison was one of my favorite records of the year. I saw my pal Jill Knapp in New York, who would become my first host in June at the start of my tour. I interviewed my good friend Nicky Schrire, whose Freedom Flight was another of my faves. I also heard her perform at Rockwood Music Hall. At the beginning of the month, my girlfriend and I learned that we would have to move out of our apartment. She moved in with her parents, but I had nowhere to go and no money. So I decided to go on tour instead, taking The Jazz Session and my poetry around the country. At the end of the month, my friends Andrea Wolper and Ken Filiano hosted a farewell dinner for me. I did a ton of interviews in May, and also saw shows by Gregoire Maret (whose final song with Raul Midon was one of the live highlights of the year for me), Daryl Shawn and Foolish Hearts.

Me, somewhere.


On June 1, my girlfriend accompanied me to the Port Authority Bus Terminal, where I boarded a Greyhound for Wilmington, DE. I stayed with Jill for a few days and had a great time with her and her partner, Matt. I also interviewed the guitarist Judith Kay. Then I went to State College to spend a couple days with the boys before heading south. I ended up doing an interview there, too, because Barry Kernfeld, the editor of the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, lives in town. On the 5th I went to Shepherdstown, WV, where I gave a poetry reading and interviewed Jeff Cosgrove. On the 7th I went to Washington, DC. I attended a tribute to the poet Gwendolyn Brooks at the Library of Congress and met poet Sandra Beasley, whom I subsequently interviewed at a nearby coffee shop. I was also briefly naked in the Library of Congress because I was very overdressed and stripped down in the men’s room so I could put on cooler clothing. Certainly a career highlight for me. While in DC I did a freelance interview for an education company, and jazz interviews with several musicians. I saw a show by saxophonist Brian Settles. On the 10th I went to Richmond, VA, where I stayed with drummer Scott Clark and then with guitarist Scott Burton. I interviewed both of them, too, as well as educator Doug Richards. I read poetry at Chop Suey Books and saw a show by Janel & Anthony, who were kind enough to come to my reading. On the 14th I traveled to Charlottesville, WV, where I met my Twitter pal John Mason and heard John D’earth play at the club that launched Dave Matthews’ career. I was interviewed on WTJU and I did two interviews for my show, too. On the 16th I took a long bus ride to Nashville. I did a poetry reading there the following day and conducted several interviews, including with Jeff Coffin, saxophonist for the Dave Matthews Band. I spent most of my time with Jeff and fellow saxophonist Evan Cobb, who has a great dog. I heard the Nashville Jazz Orchestra perform and saw fantastic shows by The Time Jumpers and the comedy/country team Doyle And Debbie. I did another radio interview, too. On the 20th, I went to Knoxville, TN, where I interviewed pianist Donald Brown. I also took a canoe trip on the Little River and did a poetry reading. On the 23rd I took an insane bus trip from Knoxville to NYC to see my girlfriend. Then on the 26th it was back down south, this time to Raleigh to meet Twitter pal David Menestres. From there it was on to Atlanta, where I interviewed jazz organist Matthew Kaminski at his day job – as the organist for the Atlanta Braves. On the 29th I traveled to Auburn, AL, at the suggestion of Twitter pal Patrick McCurry. I did a poetry reading at The Gnu’s Room bookstore on the 29th and was interviewed there for public radio on the 30th. Little did I know the role Auburn would play in my future.

A second line in New Orleans.


On July 2 I realized a lifelong dream when I traveled to New Orleans. I went to Jeff Albert’s Open Ears Music Series and also went to several second lines to commemorate the death of Uncle Lionel Batiste. I spent a week in New Orleans before heading back north to New York to see my girlfriend, then to State College to spend time with my sons. I stayed in State College from July 18 through the 25th, when my debit card was hacked and I had to travel to NYC to get a new one. I returned to State College the next day and stayed till August 3.

This happened in August.


I spent the weekend of August 3 in beautiful Tarrytown, NY, with my girlfriend. Then it was back to State College until the 7th, when one of my relatives by marriage, um, caused my plans to change. In somewhat of a scramble, I went back to New York, where my sister and my friends Daryl and Deborah were kind enough to give me places to stay. While I was back in NYC, I saw shows by Keith Ganz, Aaron Parks, Josh Rutner & Twelve Gates, Fay Victor and Jersey Band. I also did a solo two-day meditation retreat. At the end of the month I flew to Detroit as a guest of the Detroit Jazz Festival.

With my friend Mike and his son Jack in Mississippi.


I spent Labor Day weekend in Detroit at the Jazz Festival. I MC’d a few shows, including one by the wonderful David Binney. I interviewed Geoffrey Keezer and Donny McCaslin, and did my third interview (the first one face-to-face) with Sonny Rollins. After the interview, Sonny and I and our mutual friend Terri spent an hour or so talking about life. It was beautiful and humbling. On September 4, I took a bus to Windsor, Ontario and then a Greyhound to Ottawa to stay with my pals Renee Yoxon and Craig Pedersen. While in Ottawa I did a Skype interview with the Upaya Zen Center, where I planned to go stay after my tour. I also interviewed bassist John Geggie and journalist/pianist Peter Hum. And I locked myself out of the house briefly. On the 9th I took a train to Montreal, where I met and interviewed Twitter pal (and pianist) David Ryshpan and stayed with David’s friend Sarah MK. The next day was my 39th birthday, so I treated myself to a little boat trip. Sarah and her friend gave me a little cake and sang to me, which was lovely. I also saw music by the Kalmunity Collective. On 9/11 I went back to NYC, where Jonathan Matz, a listener to my show, kindly offered me a place to stay. I had a small birthday dinner with friends. I met the guitarist Joshua Maxey for pizza. I saw shows by the DIVA Jazz Orchestra (with the wonderful Nadje Noordhuis), The Respect Sextet and Anat Cohen. And I did the final interviews for my show. On September 21 I got back on a Greyhound bus and went to Jackson, MS, to spend a week with my friend Mike Roberts and his family. Mike and I were union organizers together, and he’s one of the most important people in my life. While I was there I was accepted to the Upaya Zen Center and made plans to go there in October. On the 28th I went back to Auburn to stay for a couple weeks.

The Gnu’s Room in Auburn, AL.


In early October, Tina Tatum offered me a non-paying job as the assistant director of The Gnu’s Room. I accepted, canceled my trip to Upaya, and decided to live in Auburn. I went to State College for a few days to spend time with the boys, then headed back to Alabama. I did a poetry reading at The Gnu’s Room on the 12th and attended the store’s fall music festival the next day. On October 19, I posted the final episode of The Jazz Session. I saw quite a lot of music and heard several authors read. Late in the month, my girlfriend and I had our come-to-Jesus conversation about the end of our relationship. At the end of that same week…

With my pal Marie, who plays in a band called HeY!ALLigator.


…I missed Bernie’s 10th birthday, the first of my sons’ birthdays I’d ever missed. Between that and the break-up, I was thinking I’d made a horrible mistake. By Monday, though, I decided I needed to stick it out in Auburn for a while and take a shot at rebuilding my life. So I made a one-year commitment to myself to stay. I went hiking at Chewacla State Park and at Lake Martin. I went to a Diwali celebration at the university. I saw lots of music at The Gnu’s Room and heard Katie Martin perform several times. I went to Thanksgiving at the home of Tina & Kelley (owners of The Gnu’s Room) and made another Thanksgiving dinner with a friend. And I did the first interview for a new podcast series based at The Gnu’s Room. And at the end of the month I had my heart broken in what turned out to be the real end of the love story.

From Christmas In PA (2012)


In December I was hired by the College of Human Sciences at the University of Auburn to do web work and create content for the college’s various sites. My first full-time job in two years. I also signed the lease on my first solo apartment in two years. Thanks to some help from a very generous friend, I was able to fly to State College to spend Christmas with my sons. I met several new friends, too. As the year ended, I worked at The Gnu’s Room while the university was closed. I moved into my new place on December 27. And on New Year’s Eve I was on my weird built-in couch relaxing with a cup of tea.

So there you have it. Twelve months of change, travel, love, loss, music and discovery. Who knows what 2013 will bring?


Tour Diary: L’histoire de Mon Anniversaire

(September 11, 2012) ON A TRAIN FROM MONTREAL TO NYC — I spent my birthday in Montreal. The first birthday in 39 years that I spent without my close friends or family. But you know what? It turned out OK, thanks to a beautiful city and two very generous people.

I awoke fairly early and found a cash machine so I could figure out whether I had any money or not. I did have a bit, as it turned out, which was a nice surprise. I spent some time in a cafe to catch up on email messages and site updates. Then I went to the historic part of Montreal, which used to be the heart of the city and is now primarily a tourist destination.

I strolled around for a while admiring the buildings and the old cobbled streets. This was the first place I’d been in the city where as many people were speaking English as French. Judging by their accents, they were mostly American tourists from the Northeast and Midwest.

After a short downhill walk I spotted the river and made a beeline for it. Wherever I travel, if there’s water, I try to get near it. There was a marina with both small private boats and larger tour boats, and I walked down a ramp to get to the series of docks that ran between the boats. I walked out to the very end of the longest dock and enjoyed the play of sunlight on the water:

After a while of that I decided to head back and walk around town again. On the way I noticed people boarding a very long tour boat that looked like a spaceship or some sort of giant bug. It’s bow had a long, pointy snout with a glass canopy covering it. It was filled with dining tables with four chairs each. There was a bar on the bottom deck and another canopied dining area on the upper deck, plus an open-air terrace in the stern. I looked at the price, decided I couldn’t afford it, and continued walking.

I got as far as the ramp and turned around. “I’m in another country on my birthday by myself, so I’m going to take a ride on this boat, by gum!” I thought to myself. Or words to that effect. I paid the fare and boarded. The boat took a 90-minute trip along the river and past several of the small islands near the city (which is also an island). Our guide had an amazing vocal delivery — his native French was delivered in a melodious singsong, but his English was spoken with an exaggerated singsong that sounded like someone was artificially — and randomly — changing the pitch of his voice as he spoke. His voice and choice of phrases inspired a poem, too.

Here are some photos from the ride:

After the boat cruise I hung out in a Starbucks for a while then eventually made my way back to Sarah MK’s place. She was still teaching a lesson, so I went for another walk near the University of Montreal, which is in a very pretty neighborhood. When I got back, Michele, Sarah’s student, was still there. She asked whether I spoke French and I said no. It turned out, though, that she was only distracting me, because seconds later Sarah emerged from the kitchen with a piece of cake with three lit candles, and she and Michele sang “Happy Birthday” to me. It was the highlight of my day, and yet another example of the completely unexpected kindness I’ve encountered on my tour. Thank you, Sarah and Michele.

We ate cake and chatted for a while. Michele is a massage therapist in hospitals. She works exclusively with cancer patients. Her work sounds both difficult and rewarding. The three of us talked about being present in our lives and also about music.

After Michele left I interviewed Sarah for The Jazz Session. That interview will be posted in early October. Sarah will be performing in NYC on October 10 at Sugar Bar. If you’re in the area, go see her.

This morning I arose early and took the subway to Montreal Central Station to catch my train to NYC. I checked my bank balance again and discovered I had no money at all. So there remains the question of exactly how I’ll get from Manhattan to Brooklyn. But I think with the change in my bag and the few Canadian dollars I have left, I’ll make it. I’ll probably write a book at the end of all this, but it sure won’t be a how-to guide for travelers. Although maybe I’ll publish a pamphlet that says DON’T DO WHAT I DO.

The northernmost house in this part of New York State:

Gorgeous sunset:

I’ll be in New York for a week or so, I think. I’m scheduling some interviews while I’m there. Then I think it’s on to Mississippi and Alabama.

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POEM: caught in the St. Mary’s Current

caught in the St. Mary’s Current

the guide’s singsong voice
like the constant winding
of a siren calls our attention
to the left or right of the captain
to see the sights of Montreal
owned by American multinationals
sold to save what the city itself
can no longer support
it’s 800 kilometers to the Atlantic
250 to what the guide calls
“salted water” as if God had
seasoned it to his taste
we cross the angry current
named after the Mother of Christ
the part of the river no ship can
navigate without being torn
asunder by concealed rocks
in the stern are two men with
identical haircuts and sunglasses
either lovers or brothers
they haven’t said a word
a cup of Earl Grey is cooling
on a metal table on the deck
a birthday treat

10 September 2012

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Tour Diary: In French, No One Can Hear You Scream

(September 10, 2012) MONTREAL — It sometimes amazes me that I’m still standing.

Take tonight, for example. Here’s the scene: I’m in Montreal (I’ll fill in the rest of the day later), and I left my host’s place to find a bite to eat before meeting a Twitter friend to go see music. I knew the surroundings of one subway station a tiny bit, so I got off there and walked a block or two. I’ve mostly been eating pizza for the past week cuz it’s cheap, but I was feeling like it was time for a break from what my friend Jack Mindy calls “nature’s most perfect food.” There was a sushi place down the block. I had $5 in my wallet but I was pretty sure there was a decent (for me) amount of money in my bank account. So I went in and ordered.

I ate my small amount of veggie sushi, drank my tea and asked for the check. It came and I took out my bank card. In this restaurant, the server brings a little card reader over to the table. She slid my card through, then handed me the machine so I could put in the tip. I handed it back. Then the lottery began. Round and round it goes, where it stops … DENIED. Oy.

I’ve had difficulty with my card at other places in Canada, so I was hoping it was just that. I went to the ATM in the front of the restaurant and tried to take out enough money to pay for the meal. I tried $40. Nope. I tried $20. Miracle of miracles, $20 came out of the ATM. The bill was $28 and change. (Much more than I expected, fool that I am.) I had $5 in my wallet and I remembered that I had two $2 coins and a $1 coin in my pocket. So I paid in cash, left a tiny tip, apologized for the tip, and exited into the Montreal night with $0. There was some chance a PayPal transfer would be in my bank in the morning, and I have a Starbucks card with some money on it, too, so one way or the other I knew I could eat in the morning.

And there you have it. That’s how I travel. The thing is, I’ve been in this exact situation — far from home, completely broke — so many times in the past two to three years that I’m just used to it. That’s probably not good, but it’s better than panicking.

After the sushi fiasco, I met my Twitter pal David Ryshpan and we went to Diese Onze, a club that has jazz seven nights a week. David is part of the Kalmunity collective, a large and impressive group of musicians of all kinds who collectively improvise music together. On the bill were David on piano, Jahsun on drums, Eric Hove on saxophone, Mark Haynes on bass, and Malika Tirolien on vocals. Their set was totally improvised, but completely melodic and funky and danceable and fun. Like a great R&B band with no set list and tons of creativity. I was impressed. And Malika? Damn. She had an incredible voice and an equally good ear.

I stayed for a set before fatigue got to me. I went back to the place where I’m staying and chatted for a while with my very talented host, the singer and songwriter Sarah MK.

/ / /

And now, back into the past a bit…

I spent the past five days in Ottawa with my friends Renee Yoxon and Craig Pedersen. Judging by the time I spent with them, they’re two of the hardest-working musicians on the Ottawa scene.

Ottawa is nice. I walked eight miles the first day from their house to downtown and back. Lots of lovely architecture downtown, although for some reason I took no photos at all. I also did two interviews while I was there, one with journalist and pianist Peter Hum and the other with bassist and educator John Geggie. You’ll hear both of those in the next couple weeks.

While I was in Ottawa, I desperately needed a book of poetry. I can’t quite say why — it was just one of those things. I went to several small bookstores but they had almost no poetry books, so I went to Chapters, which is like Barnes and Noble. I spent a looooong time deciding before eventually buying a paperback copy of the collected poems of Philip Larkin (not the huge new one that just came out). It’s a book I already own at least one copy of, but sometimes you just need some Larkin to carry around.

One other smart thing I did in Ottawa was to lock myself out of the house with no shoes, wallet or phone. I went on the porch to read and to write a poem and forgot that the door locked automatically. Luckily Renee and Craig came home between gigs and let me in.

I took a Via Rail train from Ottawa to Montreal. It was a two-hour trip through very lovely countryside. An attendant came down the aisle with a refreshment cart, too, just like on Amtrak. Cough.

Montreal is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been in. I came here once before in 2000 with a fellow union organizer. We had a day or two off from our campaign and we were in Concord, NH, so we hopped in a car and drove up to the city. I remember how much I loved it then and I feel the same way now. It’s like going to Europe without flying. I’ll write more about the city in a later installment.

When I arrived, David Ryshpan met me at the station and I interviewed him right there. Then I went to a coffee shop and mixed my Sonny Rollins interview, which you can listen to here. I took the subway to my host’s neighborhood, turned the wrong way and took a 40-minute walk around a very big block. As I later learned, if I’d turned the right way I would have been to her front door in three minutes. Well, at least I wasn’t carrying a 40-pound backpack. Oh wait.

Three Montreal observations: When the subway doors close, they play the first three notes of “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds.” The subway doors open and close before the train has stopped. School crossing guards are called by the awesome name “brigadier scolaire.”

French tip: In French, all the letters are silent. (Thus the title of this post.)

Today is my 39th birthday. I think I’m going to go walk around the old part of the city.

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POEM: I just want to go home, that’s all

I just want to go home, that’s all

I just want to go home, that’s all
sit on my futon couch reading a book
poop in my toilet with nobody listening
I want to walk from the bed
to the bathroom with no clothes on
drink tea out of my own mug
fill up my rice cooker then listen
for the click that means it’s time
to make avocado and cucumber rolls
eat them with my own hashi
on a plate I brought back from Japan
I’m tired of saying “on tour”
when I mean “homeless”
I even threw away my bed because
it didn’t fit in my tiny UHaul storage space
it was a comfortable bed, even at the end
when all that was left was my mattress
stacked on top of your mattress

5 September 2012
Ottawa, Ontario

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Tour Diary: 2012 Detroit Jazz Festival … And Canada!

(4 September 2012) TORONTO, CANADA — I’ve managed to eke out another week of the “Jazz Or Bust” Tour, or, as it’s now known, the “Desperately Looking For Places To Sleep” Tour. My search for a bed is taking me out of the U.S. this week to Ottawa and Montreal. I’m on a layover in Toronto as I write this. Before I say more about that, here’s a look back at the 2012 Detroit Jazz Festival.

I have to say that my recap of this year’s festival will not be nearly as in-depth as last year’s. This year, however, I recorded interviews at the festival, which I didn’t do in 2011. In fact, two of the three people I spoke with became third-time guests: Sonny Rollins and Donny McCaslin. I also spoke with Geoffrey Keezer, who is technically a second-timer, although his first episode hasn’t aired yet because the album it’s tied to hasn’t yet been released. (It’s a solo piano record, coming next spring.)

Donny McCaslin played in my two favorite sets at the festival — his own gig with his new current working band (Jason Lindner, Tim Lefebvre and Mark Guiliana) and his duo set with Keezer. McCaslin’s band played music from his forthcoming CD Casting For Gravity. It was full of everything I like about live music: passion, guts, energy, joy, intelligence, and RAWK. The music leapt off the stage and surged through the crowd like a herd of wild horses. I saw strings of 19-year-olds bobbing their heads and air-drumming to Guiliana’s otherworldly rhythms. Lindner has always been one of my favorite keyboardists, ever since I first heard him with Claudia Acuna about 10 years ago. He’s got such a great ear and knows how to use sound to enhance and skew the audio landscape in exciting ways. And, as I said on Twitter, Lefebvre is like the lovechild of Jaco’s chops and John Wetton’s monster 70s sound. It was more like a rock concert than the “typical” jazz show. And I loved it.

Keezer and McCaslin’s duo set was another highlight. First of all, they started with Rush’s “Limelight.” If you know me, you know that hits all my spots. They also played a tune of McCaslin’s called “M” that really grabbed me with its intricacy and exuberance. They both seemed to be having such fun on stage, and that definitely was reflected back at them by the large outdoor crowd slowly baking in the sun. Keezer is a dazzling pianist, but not dazzling for dazzle’s sake. He’s just so good that you can’t help but come away feeling like time listening to him was time well spent.

I also heard a few songs by Cecil McLorin Salvant, a French-American singer whose name I’d never heard before but who impressed me with her command of her instruent and her very real, gut-level feeling for the material she was singing, particularly a version of “John Henry.” I first heard her voice while I was eating in the food tent, and the people around me stopped talking to listen. That’s the sign of a good singer.

David Binney has been a guest on my show, and he fielded a band that made me feel like I was back home at the 55 Bar — except with more sunshine. Binney was joined by Jacob Sacks on piano, Eivind Opsvik on bass and Dan Weiss on drums, a quartet of New York’s finest. Binney is one of those rare soloists who can bring a crowd shouting to its feet. The whole band sounded inspired. Toward the end of the set they were joined by saxophonsit Chris Potter, who would share the main stage later that evening with Pat Metheny’s Unity Band. Potter and Binney were a wonderful front line, challenging and supporting each other.

I caught the Unity Band at the main stage. The music didn’t grab me all that much (although I generally like Metheny’s writing and playing), but what did make me happy was the intense love shown by the crowd for Metheny. I wonder whether any other jazz artist commands such a truly passionate following among such a diverse group of fans — even non-jazz people. When I asked that question on Twitter, folks suggested Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock or Charlie Hunter, but I’m not sure I find any of those names convincing. There’s just something about the ubridled love that Metheny’s fans throw at the stage that puts me more in mind of Clapton devotees than Herbie fans.

Here are a few more photos:

A massive triple big band from Michigan State University that would have impressed Stan Kenton with its size:

Seas of people digging the music:

David Binney’s case, backstage (I just like this photo for some reason):

My quiet space in the hotel:

I should mention that, just like last year, the festival brought me there and put me up in a hotel. Huge thanks to everyone who made that possible. It really is a wonderful festival in a great city.

This morning I took the tunnel bus from Detroit to Windsor and caught a Greyhound to Ottawa. I’m staying in Ottawa till the 9th, when I leave for Montreal for two days. Then I head back to NYC, where a kind member of the show has offered me a futon for a bit. Then I don’t know what’s going to happen. If you’d like to help out, please join The Jazz Session.

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Tour Diary: The End Of The Line

(30 August 2012) NEW YORK CITY — It appears I have reached the end of my rope.

Tomorrow I fly to Detroit for the 2012 Detroit Jazz Festival. The festival is sending me there and putting me up in a hotel, just like they did last year. They’re lovely folks.

I check out of the hotel on September 4 … and that’s when the truth of my situation will hit home. I’m not writing this to play on your sympathies. I just want you to all to know what’s going on with me and why the tour, which I’ve been promoting so heavily, can’t continue right now.

I asked for a one-way plane ticket because I had planned to spend another 2-3 months traveling on part two of my “Jazz Or Bust” Tour. But I’m out of money. I can’t afford the bus pass, and I probably couldn’t afford to be on the road even if I had the money for the pass.

So I have to put the tour on hold. Which still leaves the question of what I’ll do. I’ve got a few irons in the fire:

  • I applied for residency at two Zen centers — one in Santa Fe and one in San Francisco. The one in San Francisco is full. I haven’t heard back yet from the one in Santa Fe. I’m in the process of applying for residency at two others. (UPDATE: I’ve heard back from three centers — all are full.)
  • I’ve applied for dozens and dozens and dozens of jobs in the past two years, and I’ve got quite a few applications out right now. In all that time I’ve had two hits — both were on the West Coast, and at the time I didn’t want to move there because my kids are on the East Coast. But I can’t afford to make that choice now. I’ll go anywhere.
  • I signed up for Workaway, a site that pairs volunteers with places that offer volunteer opportunities in exchange for room and board. I’ve got a couple applications for opportunities in the US. There are many opportunities in other countries but I can’t afford to get to another country.

Maybe something will come through while I’m in Detroit. If nothing does, I think my only option will be to come back to NYC and stay in a shelter while I look for a low-wage job. I make $600 a month from The Jazz Session, which just isn’t enough. I had unemployment benefits but those ended. And I don’t have any family who can take me in.

If I come back to New York, I’ll least be able to keep the show going. And who knows, maybe I’ll find a gig.

Again, I’m not writing this to play on your sympathies. But the rest of my life is quite public, so it seemed like this should be too. I do hope to get back to the tour at some point. I’m just not sure when.

If you’re reading this and you’re not yet a member, please consider supporting The Jazz Session. There are monthly levels ($10/$25/$50) and yearly levels ($110/$250/$500). You can join at

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PA Diary: The Poet, The Monk, The Knight — Taking A Tour Inside Myself

(31 July 2012) STATE COLLEGE, PA — Today is the day my first two-month Greyhound Discovery Pass expires. Although I already finished part one of the Jazz Or Bust Tour, there’s something about the expiration of the pass that makes it feel truly final.

Last night, I started booking part two of the tour, which begins Labor Day weekend at the 2012 Detroit Jazz Festival. From there I’ll be heading through the Midwest, the Rockies, the Pacific Northwest, down the West Coast, and probably into the Southwest. If you’d like to help me with a couch, an interview suggestion or a poetry reading suggestion in any of those places, I’d be very grateful.

Having a few weeks off the road (well, more or less — I’m still traveling and staying somewhere that isn’t home) has given me time to think about myself as a traveler. I wrote a poem last week called “while all the while searching” that attempted to describe at least part of my self-image as a poet or a monk or a knight. These are somewhat fanciful conceptions, but all are tied into a real search for identity. One that I’ve been engaged in my entire life with varying levels of success. Varying low levels.

The Poet: This is a persona with which I’ve only recently become comfortable. I love the idea of going from town to town sharing my poems with people, and writing new poems along the way. There aren’t that many people who make a living by reading poetry. In fact, I can think of only Michael Czarnecki, though there may be others. I certainly don’t make a living, either, though I did sell a decent number of books on the tour.

There’s a rich tradition in this country of traveling orators, singers, actors, etc. People who moved from place to place plying some sort of artistic tradecraft. Tombstone is one of my favorite movies, and I’ve always loved the two actor characters who come to Tombstone as part of a trek across the Great American West. They recite Shakespeare and put on a version of Faustus and draw in the rowdies who might not otherwise have access to this kind of culture. I just watched the 1949 film My Darling Clementine the other day. It’s also set in Tombstone, and it also features an actor in a prominent scene. And a few weeks ago I was in New York celebrating the 100th birthday of Woody Guthrie, one of the great American troubadors.

I like to think of myself this way. My poetry is, for lack of a better word, accessible. I write in a narrative style, primarily about the things that happen in my life. I expose a lot of my life to my audiences and as a result tend to make friends at poetry readings with people who’ve experienced the same things. This is a great way for me to feel connected to the communities I visit. As you know if you’ve been following this tour diary, that’s been an issue for me.

The Monk: A friend once said he thought I was more suited to religion than anyone he’d ever met. This was someone who knew me very well and knew I was an atheist. I’ve turned that statement over in my mind many times and I think he wasn’t far wrong. I started life as a Catholic. One of my first adult friends was a Franciscan friar who was close to my mother’s sister. I wanted to be a priest when I was very young. Later in life, my family became Methodist and I grew very close to the two pastors at our church. I went so far as to audit seminary classes with one of them. And I wanted very much to be a minister.

At age 15, I realized I didn’t believe in God. So I became an atheist and gave up any thought of becoming a member of the clergy. In my late 20s, I discovered Buddhism and became very interested in the idea of a religion that wasn’t predicated on a belief in anything. But I still shied away from the religious trappings of the Zen centers in which I practiced. That said, I continued to be attracted to both monasticism and the idea of being at the center of an intentional loving community. I applied to Naropa to study to become a chaplain, but I couldn’t afford to go. I’ve thought in recent years about applying to divinity school. I’m still an atheist, and I’m not sure if I’d call myself a Buddhist, although my 9-year-old son seems to think I should, given all the Buddhist trappings I carry with me.

Matsuo Basho is one of the models of the poet/monk life. I first discovered his work in 1991, the first time I lived in Japan. Basho traveled throughout the main island of Japan, writing poetry and being keenly aware of his surroundings. I reread his work frequently. I’ve since added the writing of David Budbill and the Chinese mountain poets to the “monk poet” list in my brain. Throw in good old Walt Whitman and an idea of how to move in the world as a “present poet” begins to take shape.

This persona was very much on my mind during the tour. I brought a lot of Buddhist literature on my Kindle (including flugel horn player Dmitri Matheny’s suggestion — Dogen’s Extensive Record), along with other books inspired by Buddhism, such as On The Road and The Dharma Bums. I didn’t do a great job keeping up my sitting meditation practice, but I think I did a good job being present on the tour and observing the world around me and the world inside me. And lest you think I’m being overly dramatic or serious about this, I also brought along the first two seasons of Kung Fu with David Carradine on my laptop.

The Knight: I didn’t access this part of myself all that much on the tour. I gave a stern talking-to to a guy in Union Station in New Orleans after hearing him blame the 2005 flood on the sins of the city. Other than that, I didn’t take part in any protests or do all that much that I would consider “activist” activity. I strongly believe that making art is a revolutionary act, so to some degree both my poetry and my show are examples of that. But they’re not “put your body on the line” examples, by any means. I’ve had a lot of experience with that kind of activism, and it hits a different part of me than art does. I’d like to explore this more on the second leg of the tour.

I can’t say I’ve arrived at any conclusions from all this. I’m still very uncertain about my place in the world, but these three aspects of my personality represent a lot of who I want to be. I hope the next part of the tour will give me a chance to solidify some of this thinking and figure out some way to put it into practice when I’m not on the road.


PA Diary: It Goes Together Like Baseball And … Hot Chocolate?

(July 22, 2012) LOTS OF SMALL TOWNS IN PA — The “Jazz Or Bust” Tour is on hiatus for a few weeks while I spend time with my sons in central Pennsylvania.

These first few days have been all about baseball. My older son, Bernie, plays on a tournament team, which means each weekend he plays a ridiculous amount of baseball in some tiny spot in the Pennsylvania hills. This weekend it was Mountain Top, PA. Here are some photos from the past couple days:

With my younger son, John

Bernie, in his State Grey uniform

Bernie takes a swing during one of the FIVE games his team played in two days.

We had to drink a lot of hot chocolate on Saturday because it was cold. In July.

In the final inning, Bernie got to pitch, which is not his usual position. The look of delight on his face when his coach called him in from right field was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. My phone was dead by then, but his teammate’s mom was kind enough to take some photos:

It wasn’t all baseball, of course. There was also bowling:

And here are a few interesting signs I saw in (from left): the camp my kids go to, the port-a-potty at the ballfield, and a truck stop. The latter I photographed purely for the town names. Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size photo.

A few more photos I like:

Downtown Bellefonte, PA, the town where I’m staying until the end of July.

John, with strawberry

I love this photo of Jen and John

Bleacher Buddha

And one last baseball photo:

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Tour Diary: The End (Of Part One)

(July 17-18, 2012) NEW YORK CITY to BELLEFONTE, PA — True story: “Bellefonte” is French for “Helvetica.” Look it up.

With my arrival tonight in Bellefonte, PA, part one of the Jazz Or Bust Tour is officially complete. In case you missed the numbers the other day, here they are again (updated with NYC & PA figures):

  • Total miles traveled: 5,225 (through July 18). This is probabaly quite a low estimate. I used Google Maps to figure out the mileage between each city I went to. However, my route was longer than the Google Maps route because the buses stopped many times and often traveled miles out of the way.
  • Days on the road (through July 18): 48
  • Homes stayed in: 15
  • Shows attended: 29. This isn’t counting any of the second lines in New Orleans, which weren’t official shows.
  • Interviews conducted: 21 (plus two interviews for a freelance project)
  • Interviews given: 8
  • Poetry readings performed: 5 (You can listen to them here.)

I’m housesitting in Bellefonte till the end of July, then staying in State College for a few weeks in August. The tour will resume again on Labor Day weekend, probably at the Detroit Jazz Festival.

/ / /

I’ve been conducting some freelance interviews for an education company, as I mentioned back when I was in DC. Yesterday I spent time in the Garment District, where there’s a giant sewing needle:

And also a statue in tribute to garment workers, erected by the union I used to work for:

Both my interviews were canceled, though, so it wasn’t a productive afternoon.

I spent my last night in New York hanging out with the person whom you all must have figured out by now was my girlfriend for the past 10 months. We’ve been dealing with all my travel and its impact on our relationship, and we both have separate plans to travel in the months ahead. So it was a bittersweet night, realizing that we can’t really stay together, but don’t want to part either. Life seldom provides clean exits or transitions.

It wasn’t all sadness and moping, though. For example, we took a short cab ride (something we’ve never done together in New York) with a driver who was playing solitaire while driving:

And we heard some of the worst cover-band music ever wafting across the river from Hoboken. Three of the four songs we heard in ONE SET were “My Way,” Cee Lo’s “Fuck You,” and “White Rabbit.” It was like a set list programmed by a cat walking across a computer keyboard with iTunes open. Lots of long guitar solos, too.

Today I went back to the Garment District and managed to squeeze in one of the interviews that was canceled yesterday. Then I made a quick dash to the Port Authority Bus Terminal to catch a Greyhound bus. I went first to Philly, transferred there to Harrisburg, and transferred again to State College. My host picked me up in a red convertible and he was playing Stevie Wonder. Good start.

I’ll still be posting here while I’m in PA. I have more things to process about the tour, and I’ll be writing poems, too. I’m working on scheduling a poetry reading in August, and I’ll let you know about that, too. Meanwhile, head over to to hear all the interviews I conducted during part one of the tour. Thursday’s show, for example, will feature drummer Scott Clark from Richmond, VA. I recorded a lot of interviews and it will take me until nearly the end of August (and episode #400!) to post them all.

I’m gearing up for part two of the tour now. If you live anywhere west of the East Coast, I need places to stay, places to read my poetry, and people to interview. Let’s do it! You can email me at

(If you’d like to support my tour, you can make a one-time donation and get great thank-you gifts HERE. If you’d like to become a member of The Jazz Session and make recurring monthly or yearly payments, you can do that HERE.)

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Tour Diary: Paging Mr. Hobson

(July 16, 2012) NEW YORK CITY — The trick to writing a public diary is figuring out how much to tell y’all so you’ll be able to follow along with what’s happening, while not (a) revealing more than I should about my private life or (b) turning this into an open-air confessional. I mean, (b) is what my poetry’s for, right?

I’ve been saying for the past few days that I expected this brief visit to New York to clear up some major questions I had about my personal life. I wasn’t wrong. In the past 48 hours I’ve figured out that I want to come back to NYC after the tour, and I’ve also defined or redefined two major relationships in my life in ways that were both helpful and painful. Those three outcomes will help me plan what happens next, but I can’t say I’m completely thrilled with the way they turned out.

That said, I also feel like I’m getting a better handle on what I’m doing right now. This tour (the part that is ending now and the part yet to come) is stripping away so much of the excess detail and bringing me back to the core of who I am and what I’m about. You’d think at 38, with two children and about a dozen careers behind me, I’d have a fairly clear picture already. You’d be wrong.

I often feel that everyone around me has figured something out and I haven’t. I look around at the people in my life and think they’ve learned how to be happy in their current situation in a way that I never have. I don’t mean they’ve settled for what they’ve got, nor do I believe they live problem-free lives of all-day bliss. I just mean that most of the folks I know appear to be reasonably well adjusted to what’s actually happening. That’s something I’m working hard to achieve in my own life. Meditation is one technique I use. Close observation (through poetry or photos or this diary) is another.

So now I’m at a place in my life where I’m faced with one “Hobson’s choice” after another. Frankly, that lack of choice has been useful in pushing me out onto the road and in defining, at least for now, some sort of path to follow. And so for the moment I’m going to just go with what presents itself and see where I end up. More about that later.

/ / /

Meanwhile, I saw two wonderful bands tonight, neither of which I’d heard of. My pal Daryl Shawn invited me to go to Galapagos Art Space with him. It was my first time there and I was stunned by what I saw when I walked inside. It’s gorgeous! The floor is a walkway through a pond to platforms with tables. Apparently the building is very green, which is cool.

The first band was Loop 2.4.3, a percussion duo. That’s a hilariously incomplete description of the band. Thomas Kozumplik and Lorne Watson made a crazy amount of music on dozens of drums and also vibes, piano, voice, loops and samples. The music alternated between achingly beautiful and thrillingly polyrhythmic. And I loved every minute of it. They were joined by very talented guests for a couple tunes, too, although to my ear the duo music best showcased their skills. The last piece they played really tickled my Phil Collins/Chester Thompson bone, reminding me of their classic drum duets from the 80s and 90s. I’m going to buy Loop 2.4.3’s new album, American Dreamland. If you’d like to do the same, go here.

The second band was Clogs, a quartet that combined classical counterpoint and folk lyricism with the open-space sound of bands like Oregon. (They were helped on the latter count by having a bassoonist as one of the lead voices.) Violist/pianist/singer Padma Newsome’s songwriting was unlike any I’ve heard, with each song even more beautiful than the last. But I’m too in love with this music to describe it. So go buy their records and listen for yourself. I also wrote a poem inspired by one of Newsome’s songs which included the idea of a Hobson’s choice. You can read the poem here.

Tomorrow is my last full day in New York. Then I’ll be in State College, PA, for a month to visit my kids before heading west on the second part of the tour.

(If you’d like to support my tour, you can make a one-time donation and get great thank-you gifts HERE. If you’d like to become a member of The Jazz Session and make recurring monthly or yearly payments, you can do that HERE.)

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Tour Diary: If You Liked It Then You Should Have Put A Stamp On It

(July 15, 2012) NEW YORK CITY — As you can see from the photo above, I figured out a way to get around the country that’s even cheaper than Greyhound. Same amount of legroom, too.

I spent the day in Manhattan today, wandering with a friend from Central Park to Teddy Roosevelt Park to two good vegan places, with a brief detour to Land Of Buddha on MacDougal Street in the West Village. And I realized something: I’m a New Yorker. This is where I want to live.

As much as I loved New Orleans, and as much as I want to spend a lot of time there, it’s New York City that feels like home. It’s been so long since someplace really felt like home to me that I think I should pay attention. Of course I’ve had “a home,” meaning the place where my wife and kids and I lived. But I’m referring to the cities in which we lived. I always felt like a short-timer in all those places, even when that wasn’t true. But walking the streets of New York, I feel like I belong here. I mean, where else can you walk down a street lined with tall buildings that ends at a cliff?

Or find a Pet Fetish van?

OK, that one’s a little creepy. But all in all, I love this city.

That said, I do intend to spend far more time in New Orleans than I did during part one of the tour. And I still have the rest of the country to visit in part two, which will begin in late August or early September, depending on whether or not I make it to the Detroit Jazz Festival.

It does look like I’ll be on my own for part two of the tour, rather than traveling with a friend as I’d thought might happen. Given that I expect to be gone much longer for the second leg than the first, I’ll need to find better ways to deal with the loneliness that hit me a few weeks ago and never really left. For one thing, I need to get my daily meditation practice back. I think staying in State College for a month will help me do that. I hope I’ll be able to then carry my practice into the tour, although I failed almost completely to do that during the first leg.

In the next week or so I’ll start putting together the itinerary for the rest of the tour. But if you’re reading this and you live in the Midwest or anywhere west of that, please consider hosting me and suggesting someone to interview in your town. Thanks!

I’ll leave you with this guy, who looks grim but not unfriendly:

(If you’d like to support my tour, you can make a one-time donation and get great thank-you gifts HERE. If you’d like to become a member of The Jazz Session and make recurring monthly or yearly payments, you can do that HERE.)

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Tour Diary: Hey Hey Woody Guthrie

(July 14, 2012) NEW YORK CITY — Woody Guthrie would have been 100 years old today. And there’s no better place to celebrate one of our greatest songwriters and activists than at the place he called home for so many years: Coney Island in Brooklyn.

My friend Kate and I went to Coney Island tonight to hear Steve Earle and Billy Bragg sing and to watch a movie about Woody called Bound For Glory, which is also the title of Woody’s book.

Coney Island isn’t what it used to be, if the stories are to be believed, but it’s still a one-of-a-kind place full of nonconformists, as Nora Guthrie said this evening. There an amusement park crammed with rides that look both fun and harrowing — mostly due to their advanced ages. There are still stalls selling every trinket under the sun, and you can still get a hot dog and Coney Island fries at Nathan’s on the boardwalk. The beach is long and, to my eye, lovely. It’s not the perfect beach you might find in Hawaii or the Caribbean, but it’s a classic Atlantic coast American beach and I like it.

We got some food and set out our blanket in the shade of the enormous inflatable screen, still several hours before the performance and the movie. Woody Guthrie was coming through the big speakers and filling the beach with songs of regular Americans and of hope for a better tomorrow. A tomorrow we’re still working on, all these years later, and who’s approach is even less certain now than it was when Woody was around. At least in my opinion.

Billy Bragg’s advance man, Graham, was a joy to listen to all on his own. He had the perfect tone of voice to get exactly what he wanted out of the sound engineers without ever seeming like a dictator. It was the most entertaining mic checking I’ve heard in quite some time.

Just before 8 p.m., Billy and Steve appeared together on the boardwalk. I love Billy Bragg with a desperate passion. I discovered his music in Tokyo, of all places. My friend Tom Hals had a greatest hits collection of Billy’s music and he asked me if I’d ever heard him. I’d never even heard of him, but from the first few bars of the first song I was completely in love with his songwriting, his lyrics, his voice, his guitar playing, everything.

This was back in 1997, I think, as I was becoming radicalized by my exposure to non-American media and a different way of looking at the world. That process had begun years earlier, in high school, but I had a lot more data to work with by my second time living in Japan. Anyway, after Tom played that record for me, I was hooked and I started buying Billy’s records.

When I came back to the US at the end of 1998, I was lucky enough to see Billy play twice and to meet him, too. In 2000, my then wife and I moved to Brooklyn. That year, Billy played at Symphony Space on a bill that also included Ani Difranco, if I remember correctly. Nora Guthrie was there that night, too. I think she sang a tune with Billy. Later that year Billy played an in-store show at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square during lunchtime on a weekday. I went there on a (cough) long lunch (cough) from my job uptown. I got to meet him and stammer something idiotic and I also got him to sign my copy of one of the Mermaid Avenue records he made with Wilco. It was a real thrill.

But back to tonight. Steve Earle played first. Earle is one of our sharpest and most insightful songwriters, and he showed his stuff tonight with a song of his called “Christmas In Washington.” He also sang Woody’s “New York Town.”

Then Billy performed “She Came Along To Me” and one of Woody’s songs for children about not wetting the bed. For this latter song, he was accompanied by Nora Guthrie (Woody’s daughter) and also by two of his great-grandaugthers, who were just about the cutest kids you’d ever want to see or hear.

Then everyone took part in a rousing version of “This Land Is Your Land,” which should be our national anthem and which stirs me in a way “The Star-Spangled Banner” never could. (And yes, I think we shouldn’t have nations anyway, but if we’re going to, I’ll take Woody’s song any day.)

Woody Guthrie is very special to me. I didn’t really discover him until the 1990s, but when I did he hit hard and he’s stayed with me ever since. And in light of the recent beginning of my tour of the country, reading poetry and interviewing musicians, I’ve turned to Woody’s music again and again for inspiration and comfort and for a kick in the ass when it’s needed.

We didn’t stay for much of the movie — Kate wasn’t feeling too well so we left soon after it started. We stayed long enough to see David Carradine as Woody, which was a funny coincidence given that I’ve been watching Kung Fu recently. I liked Carradine a lot and thought he made a good Guthrie. I’d like to see the movie someday. I’ve still never read the book, either, even though I’ve owned it for decades.

Today also answered some questions about the next phase of my life. I’ll probably tell you more about that when the tour starts again in August. I don’t mean to keep you in suspense, but I’ve still got a lot to process for myself before I start sharing things in this diary.

(If you’d like to support my tour, you can make a one-time donation and get great thank-you gifts HERE. If you’d like to become a member of The Jazz Session and make recurring monthly or yearly payments, you can do that HERE.)

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Tour Diary: The Long Ride And Part 1 Of The Tour, By The Numbers

(June 12, 2012) ON THE BUS to BROOKLYN, NY — This is the conclusion of the Great Northbound Bus Trip, a story begun in yesterday’s diary. I left New Orleans on Tuesday morning, stopped overnight in Auburn, Alabama, then left there on Wednesday at 11:45 a.m., arriving at New York City’s Port Authority Bus Terminal 26 hours later.

All of my transfers had very tight windows, but I managed to make every bus. And my bus pass karma, which took a hit when I was unable to get on my preferred bus in New Orleans, was redeemded when I made it onto an earlier bus in Richmond solely by virtue of having a pass rather than a specific ticket for the next bus.

I sat next to a very elderly man who was traveling from Gainesville, FL, to Lynn, MA. He was moving to Lynn permanently, and he was carrying his possessions in two white garbage bags. I regret not getting more of his story. I was so tired and so absorbed in reading Game Of Thrones that I just wasn’t that talkative or inquisitive. But I’m sure there was a quite a tale to be heard.

Sitting behind me was a woman from Maine who was headed home after visiting her son in Georgia. She had an amazing Maine accent. Unfortunately, she also had a set of very cheap headphones and a desire to see how many decibels they could produce. She and I also had very different taste in music. Here are my tweets from hour 22 of the trip:

  • Sweet Lord Jesus, make the woman behind me on this bus stop blaring Nickelback through her headphones. Amen.
  • Jesus, you fixed the Nickelback issue. But I guess I wasn’t clear. Now she & the tone-deaf guy with her are singing along to Enter Sandman.
  • A child just threw up. And the tone-deaf people are whistling along to Metallica. Hour 22 on this bus is not going well.
  • Woman behind me just said, “I’ve got Creed on here, too.” Go Greyhound and leave the driving to us. You’ll need both hands to load your gun.
  • And now she’s playing the Eagles. “Hotel California.” This is obviously a set-up. Which of you bastards hired her?
  • I kid you not, she just asked Tone-Deaf Guy: “Lynyrd Skynyrd? Do you like him?” I’m praying for the sweet release of death.
  • Could somebody Google “justifiable homicide” for me? I’m fairly sure there’s a Creed clause.

After a while she settled down and the rest of the trip was uneventful. I arrived in New York an hour earlier than planned. I’m staying in a cheap hotel in Brooklyn for two nights, then staying with my sister till I leave on Wednesday.

There are a few things I forgot to mention in yesterday’s diary that I want to be sure to write down for the sake of my own memory.

One cool thing that happened because of Twitter was that I spent some of my time on the bus exchanging favorite lines from the movie Tombstone with Dirk Maggs, the director of the radio adaptations of the final three books of the Hitchhiker’s Guide series. Dirk is a brilliant radio producer and, thanks to Twitter, someone I now know a tiny little bit. And he, like me, would bring Tombstone to a desert island if need be.

The guy I sat next to until Richmond was a very interesting guy, too; a young, African-American truck driver who was traveling from Atlanta to Connecticut to contest a traffic ticket he’d received there. He didn’t believe it was warranted by the circumstances and he wanted to keep his driving record clean, so he was making the long trip. This guy, whose name I never learned, was a very observant person. He owns his own truck and has driven all over the country. He showed me gorgeous photos from Washington of frozen lakes, and a photo of the St. Louis arch taken while he was touching it. He and the guy behind us showed one another photos of their dogs, too. And when I snapped a shot of a rainbow (which he pointed out to me) he asked me to text it to him, which I did. And unlike almost every other passenger on every other bus I took, he disliked smoking and was vocal about it. When I told him what I was doing and that I had no home at the moment, he said he was the same way. “No kids, no wife, no apartment,” he said. “I sleep in my truck and spend most of my time on the road.” He said he’s planning to come off the road at the beginning of next year and start driving locally in Atlanta.

My seatmate also leant his phone to a guy sitting in the back of the bus. This man had just been released from prison that day, and he was using the phone to call the family of his cellmate to encourage them to visit the man more. He talked to a member of the man’s family and pleaded his case, then talked to the guy’s girlfriend and encouraged her to move closer to the prison. “But not to Atlanta,” he said, “or any place close to it. Move to one of the counties far away, where there’s nothing but grass and trees. Grass and trees.” He was headed for Baltimore to get away from the life he’d lived in Atlanta that had landed him in jail. He said he was born in Michigan, raised in New York and then moved to Atlanta, where things had gone wrong. Now he said he was headed to “a new life” in Baltimore. I wish him well.

I also want to share this bit of wisdom, sent to me by a friend who recites it to herself often: “All that you do, do it with love. All that you say, say it with love. All that you are, be it with love.”

And now to the numbers. Part one of the Jazz Or Bust Tour is just about over. It’ll be officially finished when I reach State College, PA, next week. Although I’m scheduling a poetry reading there, so I guess it’s not completely finished. Here are some numbers from part one:

  • Total miles traveled: 5,225. This is probabaly quite a low estimate. I used Google Maps to figure out the mileage between each city I went to. However, my route was longer than the Google Maps route because the buses stopped many times and often traveled miles out of the way.
  • Days on the road (through July 18, when I arrive in PA): 48
  • Homes stayed in: 14
  • Shows attended: 28. This isn’t counting any of the second lines in New Orleans, which weren’t official shows.
  • Interviews conducted: 21
  • Interviews given: 8
  • Poetry readings performed: 5 (You can listen to them here.)

Part two of the tour will likely be even longer. It will restart in late August, probably at the Detroit Jazz Festival. Then I think my route will be to the Midwest, the Rockies, the Northwest, California, the Southwest, Texas, New Orleans. Or something like that. I’m planning that part now.

Thank you to everyone who helped make part one a success. The interviews I recorded will air through the rest of July and August, just in time for the tour to start again.

(If you’d like to support my tour, you can make a one-time donation and get great thank-you gifts HERE. If you’d like to become a member of The Jazz Session and make recurring monthly or yearly payments, you can do that HERE.)

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POEM: everything stays

everything stays
(for Uncle Lionel)

just last night we danced in our hundreds
on this very same street, arms upraised
now the shop windows are barred
the doors hidden behind metal grates
no sound but the occasional birdcall
and even those are rare on this day after

but the pavement carries with it the feel
of our feet moving to the bass drum’s rhythm
the walls like the banks of a mad river
slowly receding after last night’s flood
after the deluge of outrushing emotion
the tears of pain, the wild sounds of joy

how we danced at the Candlelight Lounge
embraced against the wall of Kermit’s Treme
comforted one another on Frenchmen Street
while the band played “I’ll Fly Away”
that’s the dire beauty of this old city:
even carried on wings of song, everything stays

12 July 2012
on the bus from
New Orleans
to New York