Monday, November 20, 2017

Brian Blade blesses The Jazz Standard

11/20/2017 14:25

For those of you who have not seen Brian Blade, I strongly recommend blessing your eyes and ears to see this man rip over a simple drum kit.  He is an artist and has formed a compact group of musicians who will whisper to your angelic soul.
There were a couple of tickets available for the last night’s gig, Brian Blade & The Fellowship band played at Jazz Standard.  It was the last show after a five night run.
I went into the city with a friend.  Another sober friend who has been blessing in my life.  I brought my sketch pad.  Found a parking spot a few feet away from the entrance to the club.  We went in and saw Brian standing against a wall talking to someone.  I put my coat down, excused myself and brought over the pad to get the man’s autograph.  He was at the bar by the time I got back and I spilled out how I was going to sketch and how many times I’ve seen him.  I was like a little kid telling Mr. Blade how much I respected his work.  He was soft-spoken and sounded surprised that I’ve seen him as many times.  God bless, were my parting words. 
I was back in my seat, the light dimmed in the house.  The band took their places on the stage.  The music began.  Seltzer with lemon, one for me and one for my friend who was excited about a night out. 
The band was tight, Jon Cowherd on piano, Myron Walden, alto sax, bass clarinet, Melvin Butler, soprano and tenor sax, and the ever present, cheering Chris Thomas on bass.  
Not knowing the music which was a mixture of free jazz, fusion.  At first it was a slow somber setting, but the music increased in energy and pace.  It leveled off once again.   Jon Cowherd merged so many styles and yet each song spoke to me. 
Eventually, the set was finished.  Brian spoke, introduced the band, and told us what they songs were played and said God bless. 
They came out for an encore, This Little Light.
The show was over.  Paid the bill and we were back in the car, passing streets and steaming street caps. Heat kicking on.  Dodging taxis who were out to kill me.  The gigantic Met Life building, and drove over to the East side and up and over the 59th Street Bridge.  The shimmering water, the colored lights on the water, the cold water leads to the endless ocean, and the twisting roads led me to the Long Island Expressway.  Think it would be a breeze on a late Sunday night?  Think construction.  Think Northern State. 
After walking down the driveway, just before going inside, I stood outside in the frigid November air and gazed up at the stars.  Their lights.  The cold air.  I thought of the music I heard, and imagined Brian Blade smiling up at a different ceiling.  Good night.

Thank you for reading this.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Ravi Coltrane at the Village Vanguard

11/14/17 08:08

Sunday morning.  There were a couple of goals I needed to complete, a walk in the woods.  The VA woods which I used to walk and ride my bike in, before mountain biking was popular.  I had a BMX bike, but I would ride a Schwinn Stingway or a ten speed with thin tires through the woods if I didn’t have anything else.  My BMX had a plastic cover across the handlebars that said, Disco Sucks! 
This was the place where I brought a BB gun to shoot unsuspecting birds and squirrels, rabbits, the last two with a pellet since the BB would pop off them.  I was an amateur hunter with my lab mix and a few disturbed friends.
A middle aged couple were just leaving the woods as I was entering.  The woman wore a helmet.  I felt like telling her, when I was a kid riding through here, I didn’t wear a helmet.  I let her go without insulting her, besides she said hello to me, so I should be nice.

The paths are the same, but the woods are smaller than what I remembered. 

A soccer game in the distance, fierce fathers shouting from a half mile away or more.  Their voices carried through the silence of the trees.  Moss on the sides of the path.  Leaves lingered on autumn branches. I closed my eyes and just listened to what the woods carried.  What memories this place held, what secrets did it want to share.

When my knee is back, I will go running in here.  I’d like to find a long trail and just go.  Me and my water bottles and a snack.

The day before I drove up to Hyde Park to pay my respects to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.  He was a French Jesuit priest who inspired countless soul seekers.  Controversial in his time and yet renowned.   He is buried on the grounds of the Culinary Institute of America - in what was a Jesuit seminary.   “You are not a human being in search of a spiritual experience.  You are a spiritual being in search of a human experience.”  Here is another, “It is our duty as men and women to proceed as through the limits of our abilities do not exist.”
I ate a delicious and late lunch in the school’s tavern.

I drove back to Long Island in silence.  Passing dark hills and listening to the hum of the tires.  I saw a sign for Purchase College, where I met Ali almost 27 years ago.

De Chardin: “Someday after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, we will have discovered fire.”

At the end of certain stages in our existence, we discover a new beginning.

I wanted to drive into the city to see if I could get a ticket to see Ravi Coltrane who was playing at the Village Vanguard.  I’ve seem Ravi a few times, but this place holds history, is very intimate – only holds 120.  Last time I was there was to see Charles Lloyd.  I changed my mind and headed back.
This leads me back to the first paragraph, welcome back to Sunday.  All of Ravi’s shows were sold out at the Vanguard.  I sent an email, called the Vanguard, and thought of sending an email to his manager, yes I was getting obsessed.  I was on this spiritual journey and seeing Coltrane would put the comma where it had to go, keep on searching.
When I got back from the walk, I received an email, there was some cancellations for the 8:30 show.  How many did I need?  One please. 

Driving into the city, I get excited each time I'm driving on the LIE and can see the beautiful Manhattan skyline.  It was a clear night.
Twenty minutes later, I parked and was walking down the old stairs to the club.  I gave the house manager my name, his face is heavily scarred and wore a heavy grey sweater.  I was brought to my seat, after explaining I’d like to sketch.  Jazz brings out the creativity in me.  

I’m a mediocre artist.  Not too shabby for someone who rarely sketches. 

A mother and her teen aged son sat across from me at the same table.  They were in from Chicago, visiting schools, NYU, Columbia.  I was impressed with the kid’s knowledge of the various jazz trumpet players.  He looked like he was twelve and I thought of my son, visiting schools.  I couldn’t imagine sending him to Chicago. 

Ravi and the band came out to a sold out house.  We were packed in.  I could not believe how close I was and I sketched away, but could not see Eric Harland, the drummer.  I tried but to no avail.
Looking at Ravi, I saw his father so many times, his eyes scanned the heavens, his cheeks blew out, his long thin fingers raced across the instruments and yet there was peace in the room.  There was a sense that we were all a family for this period of time.   
After playing for close to an hour, using different instruments, the guitarist was brilliant - a British term which I will use here.  The young bassist held a smile throughout most of the set. Ravi closed the show with a Charlie Parker original.  Ravi brought down the house.  The lights came back on.  I had a chance to talk to Ravi once again and am impressed how genuine and humble this man is. 

“Nothing can resist the person who smiles at life - I don't mean the ironic and disillusioned smile of my grandfather, but the triumphant smile of the person who knows that he will survive, or that at least he will be saved by what seems to be destroying him.” Pierre Teilhard De Chardin
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Saturday, November 4, 2017

Running the Suffolk County Marathon in the rain!

11/3/17 16:33

Last Sunday, I ran the Suffolk County Marathon.  Anytime I mentioned I was preparing to run a marathon, notice my friend, “a” I was asked if I was running THE New York City Marathon.  No, I responded, and clarified, I am going to run the Suffolk County Marathon. 
Last year, I ran the half marathon with barely any preparation.  I challenged myself, two weeks before the race, if I can run 10 miles, I can run the half.  I accomplished the task and beat the time I wanted. 
A marathon is a lot different.  There are training guides which I could have followed.  I don’t follow no guides.  I was a rogue marathoner.  I increased my distance gradually.  I wanted to prove I can run a marathon.  It’s been a goal of mine.  Placed on the bucket list, with flying a plane – done, getting to bat in a major league game.  Not.  And having a book contract with a major publishing company.
The last three or four years I told myself, run your first marathon.  Years passed.  Run one by the time you’re 50.  That threshold passed, a few weeks back I turned 52. 
Preparing for a marathon takes insanity, slight determination and the constant pursuit of a vague and very long race in the future.  In April of this year, I signed up for the marathon.  Noe that I paid for it, I was committed.  I had time.  The race was at the end of October and for most of this year it felt like a lifetime away. Slowly, I increased my distance.  I could have psyched myself and at times I did, reminding myself not to push it.  I was injured while in yoga.  I know what you’re thinking.  Yoga?  What the?  The hamstring was the culprit and for weeks I was hobbling.  Gradually, I got back in the game, slowly and carefully, and after six weeks I was back.  My pace was back.  I was making good time.  I ran a 10 K race in the woods, but started too fast and by the end of the race, I was huffing, watching other racers pass me in their steady pace, which I scoffed at earlier as I hustled past them.  Slow pokes!  They got me.  Lesson one, pace yourself.  Last year, I started the half marathon faster than I should and by the end, I was beat.  I am a slow learner. 
Let’s start with the weather.  It was raining.  The organizers sent an email the night before the race, to let the runners know, it will be raining.  If that wasn’t bad, the after race events (music, mingling, free beer) were cancelled, but dear runners - the race will continue.  And by the way - there is a chance of lightning.  If there is lightning, seek shelter, under someone’s front porch.  Imagine a huddled, dripping mass of humanity cringing for safety under a stranger’s front porch.  The cops are called.  Who is on your front porch?  A dozen joggers?  We’ll send someone over.  Could be a new cult. 
The night before the race, I laid out my clothes, the shorts, the socks, the t-shirt and personalized bib and was ready.  I knew it was going to rain, but did not expect the rain from the time I left the house at 06:30 to the time I hobbled back down the driveway hours after the race.   
I took my time at the start, like I said I am a slow learner.  I told myself the first two miles, go slow.  I stayed at the even pace, 9 minute mile for a good chunk of the race and in fact I did not stop.  Typically, I get to mile 7 and slow down and walk a hundred yards and get back on it.  I was still running past 12 without a break.
Carrying my bottles, one filled with Gatorade and the other water and a nuun tablet for sodium. I bought GU packets and a Gatorade extra energy packet.  I don’t mean to be crude, but I had more energy stuffed in my pockets in case I ended up lost and abandoned on the side of the road.  I passed the water stations and thanked the volunteers for coming out in the rain.  I kept going.  Keep going.
Rain seeped into every pore of my skin.  The Under Armor underwear which I typically highly recommend, was chaffing an area that is very sensitive…to men.  That was around mile 13.  Around the same time my knee was sending me warning signals.  Remember me?  I’m the area you pushed the week before when you intended only go out for 10 miles?  Me? Yet you wanted to run 16!  Bright idea, Einstein, now take this…ouch, and I walked and felt this odd twisting, liquid sensation.  I tugged the underwear away from the raw skin.  It was either or.  Deal with one pain or the other.  My knee behaved and I got my head back into the race.
My drenched shorts started to slide down.  I knew I needed help.  I saw a cop and ran over and asked if he had scissors, I needed to cut the cord in my shorts and pull it tighter.  No, he said there’s a First Aid station a mile away.  He was not going to help.  I made it to the First Aid station was given scissors and pulled the cord.  The cord was ripping out from the liner.  I was fucked.  Need tape?  The kid asked.  No, I should be alright.  The cord stopped pulling out from the liner and I was able to tie it up and got back out on the street.  A woman approached me, I told her my shorts were falling down.  She laughed nervously and quickly passed me.  What?  Do I offend?
There is an area where the half marathon runners are separated, they turn down a long driveway which once was Dowling College.  The noble and gallant marathon runners, continue straight and continue.  We ran like soaked idiot warriors.  Briefly panic struck, it felt as if we were lost - till I saw the First Aid stations and the mile markers.  I passed marker 17.  Let me be clear, the marker 17 was facing the runners in the opposite direction, the fast runners who were finishing the race.  I comforted myself with the thought, eventually, I would face the marker from the correct angle.  As that point, I was feeling beat, I felt I had run 17 miles.  I was barely over 10.
Through a neighborhood, the cops blocking the roads.  Through the empty streets, one guy ahead of me stops and takes in a GU.  He’s shorter and slower than me and I can tell he’s a couple, maybe even ten years on me?  I should beat him.  Right?  I pass him and make my way into the woods.  What’s this?  A crowd?  Cheering us on.
A narrow path weaved through the drenched trees.  Puddles the size of small ponds caught the constant rain drops.  I made way around the puddles and tried to stay on the path.  What difference did it make?  My shoes were soaked like everything around me.   The air inside the woods was still.  Barely a sound escaped except for my breath that carried out a long painful sigh. Runners were passing me.  I kept my eye on the guy who I passed earlier.  As long as I beat him I was making progress.
The path is lonely.  The roads were empty, only the cheerful volunteers at the water stops who encouraged us.  The volunteer cops stood on the side of the roads with their yellow rain coats.  They appeared like solemn monks contemplating the weather.
After passing marker 17, I walked more frequently.   The older runner passed me and I did not give a shit.  The County Executive who organized this race for the third year in a row passed me.  I saw him earlier in the race and told him this was my first marathon.  Good luck, he said with a smile.  The second time I was him was when he passed me.  Shit, I thought he was slow.  Go Steve, I said and nodded and he raised a limp thumb.  We were all in the same boat by mile 20.  I didn’t want to quit, but I wanted to get the race over with. 
I found a Porta Potty and took a piss.  The sensitive area I detailed for you previously was screaming at me.  Why did you do this to us?  Settle down.  I was back out on the street.
There was one woman who was having a difficult time.  We passed each other a few times, until 22 when she was out.  She was running with a member from her club, who was about my age.   We were the same height and yet he was leaner.   He looked as if he could run four marathons and smiled over at me when I was walking, You alright?  I looked at him and smiled back, Yeah, just trying to finish.
When we passed through Sayville earlier, there was a good crowd.  Hours later as we moved our slow bodies and sore feet and aching legs, there were a few die hard waiting.   We moved through the town.  Getting closer. 
One guy kept running and walking.  He said we were playing leap frog with each other.  There is a lot of back and forth banter as the race progressed.  You’re travelling with these strangers for an hour or two, each keeping pace with the other, and yet I wanted to finish.  Mile 24.
I saw my sister Eileen close to the finish line.  She was jumping up and down and tried to take pictures of me.  I assume the startling gate was the finish and made by way over.  I raised my arms a most painful triumphant pose. There were only a couple of people standing there.  It was odd. I was told it was not the finish line. Go straight down the hill.

Picking up my pace and seeing the actual finish line, the crowd, one of my targets was ahead of me and I ran as fast as I could and pulled in ahead of him.  I beat him.  I finished, but not with great time.  I significantly surpassed my intended goal, and yet it was a miserable day.  The race was over. I was starving.  Grabbed a banana and bagel.  Was given my medal. Eileen came over and pictures were taken.  Let’s get out of here.  Ali texted to congratulate me and that made my day. 
Maybe next year I will run THE New York City Marathon.

Thank you for reading this.

Six Months since I saw my wife due to Covid

  9/6/20 19:13 Home Tomorrow will be six months since my wife and I waved goodbye at the airport in Mexico City.   I planned to work in Me...