Being on the road often provides a chance to reconnect with old friends, family, musicians we haven’t seen in a while. It's a little over a week into this six week tour, and already I have reunited with several people I haven’t seen since I was a teenager. That’s a long time ago...
First stop was Greensboro, NC, and Branford Marsalis was in the audience. He lives and teachers near there, and brought some of his students to come check out the band. It’s always inspiring to know that someone who understands this music at a deep level is really checking you out. Branford is very down to earth and straight up, and it is always great to see him. This was a nice first concert - tight and swinging - setting the tone for the next weeks, which will take us all over the States, Canada, and Europe.
Next up was Ravinia, outside of Chicago, where we can always count on a visit by Wynton’s friend, TP, and his sons Anthony and Branford, both musicians. Besides being very cool, TP has the biggest hands
I have ever seen.
Third stop was Winnipeg, the home of our bassist friend Steve Kirby, who runs the jazz department at the University of Manitoba. The night we arrived we had off, and Steve hosted a big reception/jam session, which featured Jimmy Greene and Derrick Gardner as well as some younger musicians playing at a very high level. I ran into the classical pianist Judy Kehler Siebert, who hooked up a bassoon lesson for me with the teacher at the University, Allen Harrington (yes - don’t tell anybody, but I am teaching myself how to play the bassoon. No idea why...).
The next day was Carlos Henriquez’s birthday, and needless to say we had a great hang in the hotel bar after the concert.
Swinging back into the States we hit the West Coast. Portland was the first stop on this leg of the tour, and the first night was off, so I headed to Jimmy Mak’s, the most prominent jazz club there, and ran into our trombonist Vincent Gardner, sitting alone at a table, his trombone at his side. Drummer/band leader Mel Brown introduced the band as they were about to take a break, and I heard a name I hadn’t heard in years, Ed Bennett. Could it be, is it possible this was the guy I jammed with in L.A. when I was 16? Sure enough it was he, and we spent the break catching up. During the next set, Vince sit in and tore it up.
The next night, before the concert, I had dinner with my childhood friend Steven Drew who I hadn’t seen since I was a teenager. He and his wife Kathleen drove down from Seattle to see the concert. Lots of catching up there. One memory we recalled was the pyromaniac stage we went through when we were something like 11, making smoke bombs, and setting fire to what ever we could get our hands on, my dad chasing us around the backyard, yelling at us while stomping out our efforts.
In the Portland audience was the great bassist and arranger Chuck Isreals, with whom I played when I first moved to New York. I joined his National Jazz Ensemble (really a precursor to the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra) when I was 19 and got to play with Tom Harrell, Jimmy Knepper, John Scofield, Sal Nestico, Bob Mintzer, Junior Cook and Bill Hardman. In fact, this is where I first met Joe Temperly. Knowing Chuck and his wife Margot were in the audience (and because we love playing it) we performed Chuck’s imaginative arrangement of Monk’s Four in One.
Next stop - Grass Valley. This is where my daughters Emily and Lisa grew up. I traveled to this old mining town, the center of the gold rush of the late 1840s, several times a year to spend time with them, and fell in love with this place. Set in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, Grass Valley (and it’s sister town Nevada City) is rather an enigma. Located half way between Sacramento and Reno, this community is a mix of Silicon Valley retirees, hippies out on the “Ridge” still living the 60s, families, red necks, artists and business owners. Although largely conservative politically (it also has the distinction of being the whitest county per capita in California), it has a strong artistic element. It’s just a little too far off the beaten path to get a lot of traveling groups like ours, and you can certainly tell by the enthusiasm of the audience that they are a bit starved. Without questions this has been one of the most appreciative audiences I have every played for. The last time Wynton and I played here was ten years ago, when I was artistic director of the first (and last) Nevada County Jazz festival. The reason it didn’t continue wasn’t because of lack of interest (we sold out both nights), but because of some political/power struggles between the arts council groups. Julie Baker, who used to own an art gallery in Grass Valley, became director of the Center of the Arts in Grass Valley two years ago and has been trying ever since to get us there. The stars finally aligned, and we had a great concert, and wonderful reunion with many friends.
Last night we played in Sacramento. Cynthia Poindexter, who I haven’t seen since I was 17 or 18, drove 100 miles from Lake Tahoe to see the concert, and reconnect with me. I used to play with her late husband, Rick Poindexter, in Los Angeles when I was a teenager, and Cynthia worked in the coffee shop, Ryan’s, where my friends and I would meet up at midnight after whatever we were doing. My song “Always Open,” on my first record Conception was written for this diner.
I think I’ve written enough. To be continued...