It’s not often I get a week completely off. No rehearsals, no gigs, no meetings...no IRS audits. This happened a couple weeks ago, so I decided to fly out to the ”other” coast for a little R&R. I covered a lot of ground in six days: I spent some time with my daughters Emily and Lisa, did some wine tasting, and hung out at the Monterey Jazz Festival. It was a mix of new experiences and nostalgic revisitations.
I grew up California and still feel a pull to this amazing part of the country, with it’s incomparable coast line, mountains, desert. Just about every type of terrain, weather, and people are here.
In San Francisco I crashed for two days on a single mattress wedged between a couch and a window, in the living room of Emily’s Mission District apartment, which she shares with three other young people. Very bohemian. The apartment looked like it was decorated by six people who never met. But very sweet. I enjoyed hanging here, and seeing how my first daughter is living her life, going to the University, spending time with her boyfriend Jason, recording music in her spare time. We ate Ethiopian food, visited neighbors, and did some hiking.
Third day into my trip I dropped Emily off at school and drove a couple hours south to the very laid-back town of Santa Cruz, where Lisa has been living since June. She tried New York for a few months, but realized she preferred the more relaxed lifestyle of this West Coast town. After hanging here for a couple days I started to question my own reasons for living in New York.
Lisa’s apartment, which she shares with a couple friends, is in a beautiful Victorian house, about a four minute bike ride from the main drag. I had a great time riding around on bikes with Lisa, visiting the wharf, shopping for a stereo receiver for the turntable one of her roommates picked up at a flea market for five dollars, and going to cafes.
On day five I gave Lisa a big hug and continued a bit further south to Paso Robles. I came here for one reason - wine tasting! The wineries in this part of California have some some of the best ZIns, Grenaches, Cabs and Petite Sirahs I’ve ever tasted. I got to the area about 3 in the afternoon, a little later than I had planned, but was still able to hit about five places before things began to close down.
The next day I visited a couple wineries on the way out of town, tasted responsibly, and headed back north to Monterey, where my room at the Motel 6 awaited me. Yes, not first-class accommodations, but I wasn’t here for the hotel room.
After getting settled, (i.e. tossing my suitcase in the half-opened door and closing it again) I headed back to the car and drove down to the Monterey Fairgrounds, home to the Jazz Festival for 55 years. For the three years I was in high school I played lead alto with the Monterey All-State High School Band. For two of those years, sitting next to me on the other alto chair was Eric Marienthal. Great cat. I had such a good time playing and hanging out with him back then. (He was also the first person to expose me to a certain extra-curricular activity which resulted in a slight distortion in perception. The problem was I wasn’t expecting the accompanying paranoia, and this made the imminent arrival of my parents that night a bit stressful.) I haven’t seen him since we were teenager, but I’ve heard him on recordings, including work with Chick Corea.
Some of the other students who were in the band during those three were Dan Wilensly, Steve Bernstein, Joe Alessi, Randy Kerber, Larry Lunetta, Larry Koonse, and Chad Wackerman.
Anyway, I had a back stage pass for the Festival (thanks Tim!), and the first group up was the Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band. On lead alto was none other than Eric Marienthal. I found him outside the green room, getting ready to go on. We gave each other a big hug, and were so excited to see each other after all these years. We grabbed the Festival photographer, and he snapped a few shots of us together back stage. (Haven’t gotten them yet - will post when I do).
Gordon’s band sounded great. Clean and technical. It is a very different band from the JLCO, and I loved hearing that difference. Gordon is a natural entertainer, both on the mic and with his arrangements. Lots of humor.
After the set I ran over to another venue and caught harmonica player (harmonicist?) Gregoire Maret and his band, with Clarence Penn on drums. I first heard Gregoire on a John Ellis recording Ted Panken played for me as part of a Downbeat Blindfold Test. I remember questioning whether it was a real harmonica, because of all the bad shit he was able to play. A few weeks later, I overlapped with him in the studio - I had just finished overdubbing some solos on a recording for vocalist Rondi Charleston, and he was just coming in to do the same. I caught a little of his first solo, and he was killing.
There was something about the performance at the Festival which seemed to cause some restlessness in the crowd. They seemed to have a hard to time focussing. There was a lot of harmonic subtlety in the music, and maybe that wasthe problem - these days people need to be hit over the head. People don’t have the attention spans they used to. After every tune some people would get up from their chairs, squeezing past others, probably on their way to catch something at another venue (there are many at the festival). Often, the empty chair would be filled again by someone who had just arrived. It was distracting to a point, and I know Gregoire could feel it. But he continued putting his heart into the music, and the set grew in intensity. Ultimately, the crowd was riveted.
After the set I ran back over to the main stage and got there in time to find the Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra getting read to go on. I had a lot of friends and colleagues in the band - Mike Rodriguez, Bryan Lunch, Conrad Herwig, Joe Fiedler to name a few. And of course, the Maestro, Mr. Palmieri, who is not only an acquaintance, but also the father of my manager, Ileana. The band was on fire. Beautiful feeling, killing arrangements. Felt like dancing. But I can’t. I really had a good time listening to this music. And so did the other 10,000 people! The audience was feeling it, that is for sure!
Just before the end of the set, New York time caught up with me, and I drove back to my hole at the Motel 6 and crashed.
When I woke up the next morning, before opening my eyes, I tried to pretend I was in a four-star hotel room, but couldn’t fool myself. I quickly packed up and checked out. It was back to the Festival.
Over the next three or four hours I managed to hear a little each of the following:
• Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue
• Robert Randolph & the Family Band
• Gerald Clayton Blindfold Test with Dan Ouellette
• Judy Roberts and Greg Fishman duo
• The Folsom High School Jazz Choir
• The Folsom High School Big Band
Ali Ryerson & Mimi Fox Duo
All of these had their moments, but I felt most engaged by Ali Ryerson and Mimi Fox. The have a real rapport, and were really listening and responding to each other. Ali’s flute sound is rich and expressive. Also, I was really impressed with the Folsom High School jazz choir. Really creative and fun. Band director Curtis Gaesser is doing great things with the students.
Well, the week came had come to an end, and it was time to drive the two hours back up to San Francisco. I left early enough so I could have dinner with Emily, but on the way my Hyundai rental developed a slow leak in the left rear tire. By the time I noticed the change in the car’s handling, and started hearing some strange noises, a warning light on dashboard had come on.
I pulled over in the parking lot of a restaurant called “The Cats” whose entrance required a death-defying left turn between oncoming cars racing around a sharp bend. The tire was completely flat. When I opened up the trunk, emptied out my bags, and pulled up the spare tire cover, there was no spare tire! Just some blue compressor thing wrapped in plastic, and another little machine with a meter on it, with all sorts of hoses and cords. There were no written instructions, probably because the translation from Korean would be way too creative, so instead there was just a sheet with pictures and arrows. Great - an IQ test.
Took me about 20 minutes to get these contraptions connected and hooked up to the cigarette lighter, which probably didn’t place me in the genius category, but everything looked right. I started the car, and pushed the toggle switch on the compressor to the “on” position, and sure enough the tire was inflating. This thing was actually working! One of the little pictures showed the meter and it said “min 32psi.” Minimum 32 pounds per square inch. I mean, even I could figure that out. I watched the meter’s dial carefully, with my finger hovering above the toggle switch, ready to hit the button as soon as the meter read 32. It got to 20 and then just seemed to stay there. I wasn’t sure what to do - the tire looked like it was about ready. I looked back at the meter, then back at the tire, my finger shaking with anticipation. It was going on too long. I was just about to turn the compressor off when the tire exploded. It was instantly flat.
I flipped over the diagram sheet, looking for the picture of the person’s head next to the exploding tire, for an expression I could borrow. But the sheet was blank.
Hello, rental car company? I told them to send a tow truck out to get me. Forget about dinner with Emily, my concern now was making my flight. I figured I might be here a while. I reached into the back seat into a shopping bag. I found the remaining half bottle of Cabernet I purchased at the last winery in Paso Robles. I had had a glass here and there over the past day and a half while hanging at the Festival. I poured a generous splash into one of the wine-tasting souvenir glasses, pushed my seat back, took a deep breath and enjoyed my wine.
More than an hour and half had passed before the tow truck got to me, and now things were tight. It took about forty-five minutes to tow the car to the Firestone shop, and another ten to swing around and drop me at the airport. I made the flight just in time.
And that’s how my visit to the “other” coast came to an end.