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Category: PA Diary

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?


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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