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Category: Jazz Or Bust Tour

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.

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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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