Not With the Band

There was a physical therapist I met a few years ago when I was in the hospital. She was a very nice older middle-aged woman and we got along well from the start.

We got talking about our lives and it turned out she had been a dancer many years before. While she loved dancing, there were other things she wanted and wasn’t finding in her life. The lifestyle didn’t suit her and she moved into her current line of work helping folks like me learn to move our own bodies in better ways.

The thing I remember best about our brief acquaintance was a conversation that started out with a question I get asked frequently. It is an innocent question—but one filled with deeply rooted emotion for me.

The simple question was if I go out to ‘hear jazz’ anymore. My response, as always, was that I don’t play much saxophone these days, that I favor the piano, and that no – not really – I don’t go out to hear music much.

People’s’ response to my answer is usually one of surprise—or maybe a little embarrassment when they realize that I left a music career behind in a tactical decision—and perhaps that seemingly insignificant small talk of an ice breaker is just the opposite; and leaves me feeling defensive, nostalgic, and even a bit regretful all at the same time.

My friend the therapist surprised me. I went through my usual mental contortions of saying ‘no’ and trying to make this answer sound reasonable in such a way that most people would take my answer at face value and forget it. To my shock; she said something a kin to feeling the same way as I—having been a performer and left it behind, how difficult it was to go and see other people perform.

This might seem shallow at first – but imagine a relationship with something (or someone) that is so deep that your every breath is taken for it. All your dreams revolve around it. Everything you are, every friend you have, everywhere you’ve been, every victory and defeat – all involve this relationship. One day the relationship ends. You change. Your perceptions change. Your needs change. For one of a million reasons you just have to leave.

I sometimes look back on those years with a heavy heart – and though I know why I made the decisions I made – I don’t need to relive my twenties on a regular basis. In fact, it is painful to do so.

I still derive great pleasure from music. I bought a piano. I play it often. I’m constantly trying to work out new things to play. My listening tastes have expanded into new areas. The music is still in me. There is still a saxophone inside my head that gets played – so much so that on the rare occasions I do pick the instrument up, it is all still under my fingers. But this is all very private for me now.

There was a deep sense of belonging to something back then. This need to belong went way back to my earliest roots as a player in my teens. Maybe it is that camaraderie and the being ‘one of us-ness’ I miss. Maybe I feel like an outsider,  just a patron, on the other side of the curtain with no back stage pass.  It isn’t ‘us’ anymore and I cant say ‘I’m with the band’

Again For the First Time

There is a concept, or maybe it is better described as a muse, The idea simply involves seeing familiar things in the fresh light of new discovery.

I’ve discovered it isn’t a new idea; rediscovering old things. There are even books with titles like Meeting Jesus Again For The First Time, Scientific American articles with titles like, Element 118 Discovered Again–For The First Time.

The first time I began pondering this oxymoron enigma of “Again For The First Time” was back in my teens. I was reading about people’s self reported experiences while under the influence of different recreational drugs.

One young male in his twenties reported smoking marijuana and then going outside after a snow storm. His description of the experience was filled with a sense of wonderment. His very words were that it was, “…like seeing snow for the first time”.

This idea of re-discovery, cultivating the skill of finding new ways to see, hear, touch – is a powerful contrivance. In it lies the power to create, inspire, and find new power to live our lives. It is the fundamental essence of childhood play–one we too often tragically lose as we age.

It seems to me there is a fundamental human need to find new things or rediscover old ones. We become psychically ill when we stop having the sense of discovery and life falls into a lifeless pattern of predictability.

A Most Magical Night

Credit: NASA,ESA, M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project TeamWe make our way up to my Mother’s house in New England most Friday nights. It can be a moderately arduous trip after a long work week when we might rather sit back at home and take in a movie, sleep, or just enjoy each other’s company.

None the less, we go. My Mother is 82 and lives alone. My kids live nearby with their Mother and Step Father. We stay connected.

Kristin usually drives. As we make our way north and farther away from urban skies, I often look up and check on the sky. There are few stars visible in Manhattan.

When we arrive at my Mother’s, it is typically quite late. She also bathes the entire yard in flood lights. None the less, I have to spend at least a few minutes looking skyward if it isn’t completely cloudy. I sheild my eyes from the lights as I make out whatever familiar constellations or planets I can.

I’ve been captivated by the night sky since I was a little boy. I can remember looking up at night and seeing a full blanket of starts filling the night sky from horizon to horizon—the faint colorful ribbon of the Milky Way stretching above.

My Mother lives not far from that place where I grew up—but sadly much of that dark sky is gone. Light pollution from urban areas to the north and west, and to some extent the east, have made dark skies like the ones I remember just a memory. But on a good night, you can get some wonderful views over head down to about thirty degrees, and down as far as the tree tops will let you in the south-east to south-west.

This past Friday, the sky was nothing short of magnificent. I stepped out of the car and was dumbfounded. I can’t express the feeling I have when I look up at the sky and have such a breath-taking view.

There was no moon, it had set hours previously. There were no clouds in the sky. Thousands of stars were visible in nearly all but the most light-polluted directions.

I told my wife that no self-respecting sky-gazer could let such a night go by without some viewing. So I went to the garage and dragged out my 8″ Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope and set it up in the drive way.

I’ve been an astronomy buff for a while. I don’t have much opportunity living in the City—so a night like the past Friday was particularly exciting. I first pointed my telescope at the Orion Nebula. This is perhaps the easiest object to find in the sky and one of the most impressive. The first time I ever saw it was through a cheap department store telescope and it was still amazing. All you really need are a good set of binoculars. Binouculars are a much overlooked astronomical accessory and every beginning astronomer should start looking at the sky with binoculars.

So I pointed my Telrad sight at the second ‘star’ down in Orion’s sword. As I focused, the most beautiful and stunning sight filled my eye piece. I’ve looked at the nebula in Orion dozens of times. But Friday, has to be the most stunning I’ve ever seen it.

My eyepiece was filled with the green glow that all deep sky objects have when viewed through the telescope. (the colors only come with long photographic exposures or artificial processing). The wispy green ends of the nebula stretched out like lime-flavored cotton candy. Hot bright stars shined fiercely in the middle, like precious, un-reachable diamonds. All of this display contrasted against a black velvet sky. It was the first time any object other than perhaps the moon has been too big to encompass in my widest eye-piece. The wispy green web-like strands seemed to flow out forever.

I began to notice an ever loudening chourus of coyotes in the background. First one would howl, than another would answer. Then another would answer, than even more. At one point, it was so loud I was sure our two small dogs were going to start barking in the house. It was an eery haunting sonic backdrop to my stellar voyage.

Next I pointed my telescope up to Mars, which was particularly bright and orange. There was a lot of shimmering going on and I had trouble focusing my all-manual telescope. The sky wasn’t so still, but Mars was a beautiful orange disk with just a hint of polar cap as usual.

I next turned my telescope over toward Andromeda. Andromeda is a tough one for me strangely. Andromeda is one of the brightest deep sky objects in the Northern Hemisphere, and one of the largest. It is also the largest and brightest galaxy visible from the Earth. None the less, it gives me a lot of trouble.

I don’t use a computer controlled telescope. It might save me a lot of time, but I enjoy the challenge of mapping things out, holding up my thumb and pinky to map out ten degrees—finding a nebula or galaxy that I know lies within a few degrees of a given star, or halfway between one star another…

Andromeda is ‘easy’ because Cassiopeia, the constellation points right to it… more or less. The Andromeda galaxy hangs off one arm of the Andromeda constellation.

The tough part is that Andromeda is usually in a not so great part of the sky for me. It is either too low, or completely drowned out in artificial backwash from man-made light reflecting off the sky.

I still managed to find it on Friday. It was in the west-southwest up just high enough that I could catch it. There was still some artificial twilight to contend with, but I got to look at it. It’s 2.5 million year old light was bouncing off my retina.

I went inside and put my gear away after many hours. The next day was a struggle due to the lack of sleep – but it was so wonderful. A most magical night.

–Orion Nebula photo courtesy of: NASA, ESA, M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team

Silly Little Things That Mean A Lot

I’ve been shouldering some depression the past few weeks. I’m prone to it and have been a long time. It is no stranger. Shorter days, impending holiday negotiations with family, and factor X all come into play. Eventually I get through it—but it takes it’s toll.

Last night my Mother-in-law Karen out in Milwaukee sent me the following email. She’ll often send things like this and I always enjoy them. Sometimes they are silly and funny. But this one just knocked me off my feet last night. I had just gotten out of meeting with my support group and discussing this depression and how to deal with it.

There were various answers. It is hard when you are NOT depressed to really give much in the way of answers to someone who IS depressed. To the depressed person it usually all just comes out sounding like, “Well, you know it could be worse…” or, “Why can’t you just be grateful for all you have…?” And while these are certainly valid sentiments, they aren’t too much help. Reassurance, confirmation, validation, an open ear from people who care about you – those things help.

I had just left last night and was making my way to catch the bus that comes up to my neighborhood and this email came through on my Blackberry. It was just one of those synchronous moments. The perfect home run hit where the ball meets the bat in just the right spot that knocks that thing out of the park.

It isn’t really the email itself necessarily, which is kind of fun and clever. It was the timing of when and how it hit me.

So I share it here and maybe it will move you too.

The Beauty of Math

1 x 8 + 1 = 9
12 x 8 + 2 = 98
123 x 8 + 3 = 987
1234 x 8 + 4 = 9876
12345 x 8 + 5 = 98765
123456 x 8 + 6 = 987654
1234567 x 8 + 7 = 9876543
12345678 x 8 + 8 = 98765432
123456789 x 8 + 9 = 987654321

1 x 9 + 2 = 11
12 x 9 + 3 =111
123 x 9 + 4 =1111
1234 x 9 + 5 = 11111
12345 x 9 + 6 = 111111
123456 x 9 + 7 = 1111111
1234567 x 9 + 8 = 11111111
12345678 x 9 + 9 = 111111111
123456789 x 9 +10 = 1111111111

9 x 9 + 7 = 88
98 x 9 + 6 = 888
987 x 9 + 5 = 8888
9876 x 9 + 4 = 88888
98765 x 9 + 3 = 888888
987654 x 9 + 2 = 8888888
9876543 x 9 + 1 = 88888888
98765432 x 9 + 0 = 888888888

Brilliant, isn’t it?

And look at this symmetry:

1 x 1 = 1
11 x 11 = 121
111 x 111 = 12321
1111 x 1111 = 1234321
11111 x 11111 = 123454321
111111 x 111111 = 12345654321
1111111 x 1111111 = 1234567654321
11111111 x 11111111 = 123456787654321
111111111 x 111111111= 12345678987654321

Now, take a look at this… 101%

From a strictly mathematical viewpoint:

What Equals 100%? What does it mean to give MORE than 100%?

Ever wonder about those people who say they are giving more than 100%?

We have all been in situations where someone wants you to GIVE OVER 100%.

How about ACHIEVING 101%?

What equals 100% in life?

Here’s a little mathematical formula that might help answer these questions:

If: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Is represented as:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26.

Then: H-A-R-D-W-O-R-K
8+1+18+4+23+15+18+11 = 98%

And:

K-N-O-W-L-E-D-G-E
11+14+15+23+12+5+4+7+5 = 96%

But:

A-T-T-I-T-U-D-E
1+20+20+9+20+21+4+5 = 100%

THEN, look how far the love of God will take you:

L-O-V-E-O-F-G-O-D
12+15+22+5+15+6+7+15+4 = 101%

Therefore, one can conclude with mathematical certainty that:

While Hard Work and Knowledge will get you close, and Attitude will get you there, It’s the Love of God that will put you over the top!

A New Kind of Content Filter

I have quite an awful habit. It is email. The thing is that I’ve developed this email ‘voice’ that isn’t entirely pleasant. It isn’t awful ALL of the time… It tends to be worse in the morning—and look out if I’m actually upset about something. But, you see this voice really isn’t me. I suspect my friends know that. My wife certainly knows it and I’d guess that the people I work closest to every day know it too.

Email is such a tricky thing. There are no facial expressions, no body language, no eye contact… None of the OTHER frequencies we transmit on get picked up in an email. It is pretty much just black and white on the page.

I’ve understood all of this for quite some time. But I just can’t seem to get a handle on it. Maybe I’m just too damn impulsive. Maybe I’m just a fool. Whatever it is I can’t seem to reign in that urge to hit the send button – usually after cc’ing everyone from you to God.

Despite my bad habits I do tend to be a clever guy from time to time. I believe I may have come onto a rather brilliant idea today and I’d like to share it with you.

You know how we filter incoming email for junk and spam? Well what if we had an OUTbound mail filter?

It would be a little bit similar to those “are you sure you want to close without saving this file” prompts, or that particularly annoying Microsoft Office thing that says “It looks like you are writing a letter…” – except that it would detect things like the over usage of the CAPS KEY, profanity, or derisive language. In fact we could even program our deepest secrets, our biggest resentments, and add special filters for people we like, or hate, the most.

Upon detecting a potentially damaging email, say one that might get us fired or just make us look like a plain old jerk, the program would pop up a special warning message or prevent us from sending the email altogether.

This is a piece of software that would change my life.

As I rode the A Train home this evening, I imagined what some of these warning prompts might look like.

Say, that sentence in the fifteenth paragraph really makes you sound like an arrogant ass. Click here to cancel.

You’ve neglected to enter your age in the default settings, but it is suggested you avoid such excessive use of capital letters if you are over the age of twelve.

Do you talk like that to your mother?

This is really sweet, but are you quite sure he/she is ready for the ‘L’ word? How about some nice X’s and O’s instead?

It appears from the copious spelling and grammar mistakes in your email that you may be drinking again. Why not sleep it off, or click here for help with that problem. We can forget this ever happened.

The filter has detected that you are attempting to forward a gag email to 53 of your closest friends, all addressed in plain view on the cc line. Is it really that funny? Click here to quit.

Aunt Trudy in Sheboygan has dial-up. May I remove this 20MB bitmap of your cat?

Images stolen, Photoshop by me.

Courtesy, Professionalism and Respect? MY ASS…

Courtesy, Professionalism and Respect…

That’s the motto of the New York City Police Department—painted on the side of every squad car.

Well I’ve got a different story to tell tonight about one of New York City’s most un-civil servants.

I often leave work after seven which means I have to cross 42nd street at Lexington Avenue to get to the subway. They close my building’s entrance to the subway early, so I have to go outside.

Tonight I stood at the corner waiting for the lights to change so I could cross 42nd Street and get on my train home.

There were at least a dozen or more other souls with me, waiting for the light to change. There were some German tourists, a few tired businessmen, a pair of pretty girls and some kids out on the town.

The light changed and I made a dash for the cross walk. Several people strode out in front of me.

Our pack was halfway across the street when suddenly the handful of fast walking citizens in front of me came to an abrupt halt as a New York City Police Department squad car came to a squealing halt right in the middle of the crosswalk.

He’d’ been trying to beat the light and failed.

The stunned passersby got themselves back together and continued around the police car as if nothing had happened. The car couldn’t go anywhere yet as there were those dozen other souls still crossing the street (and so many more witnesses).

I came eye to eye with the cop driver, a young man of Asian decent in his 20’s. It was an odd perspective having been on his end of this particular visual angle just a few too many times.

I asked “Where’s the LIGHTS, where’s the SIREN?” He used neither his headlights, strobe lights, horn, nor siren

He looked at me with great disdain and inquired, “why, you too STUPID to look?”

All I could think of were the years of shitty pay and misery he would have wasted had he actually hit someone.

I didn’t get his car number, don’t suppose I’d  bother even if I could.

You see a very similar thing happened to my wife and me just a few years ago. She was nearly hit by an NYPD squad car racing down the street (no lights, no siren). A voice sounded over the loud speaker “Ya fuckin’ retard”

We got the number that time and followed up on a complaint.

Of course the answer was there was no wrong doing found. So yeah, Courtesy, Professionalism and Respect… MY ASS.

Now to all those cops out there who really do give a damn about serving and protecting with true professionalism and respect, I say Thank You – and where the f*#k were you tonight?

Just for laughs, here are a few links:

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/19/nyregion/19hit.html

http://youtube.com/watch?v=LfFfUxBDMDY

http://youtube.com/watch?v=7FPokZXLoI4
 

My Rhythm Is Good

Tito PuenteOn the worst of days I will find a moment and live there—in a precious place unto itself neither present nor past.

I had a moment today on the fourth beat of the 28th bar of Tito Puente’s’ Oye Como Va.

So far I’m going on many words to express the singular special-ness of this one beat.

It is no secret I like music, all kinds, and I spent the day at my desk listening to a mixture of Bach, Bird, Mozart and Bill Frisell. On my way home, to Washington Heights, I hungered for el sabor latino.

I recently downloaded the Anglo-Saxon Salsa for Dummies collection from iTunes – everything from cheesy 90’s’ synth pop dance numbers, to classic clave (clah-vay) tappin’ – drop everything else – this is the best time I ever had being human – and when can I book my next flight to San Juan, kind of music.

I queued up my salsa playlist and first up was Mr. Puente and crew from the Mambo Birdlandalbum. Everyone has heard Oye ComoVa a hundred times or more. Santana covered it. Its in the drug store, market, elevator, la bodega, everywhere. Its a simple cha-cha really, and the words roughly translate to “Listen to my rhythm girl, it is good for partying”

The moment for me lies in the last bar of that 28 bar intro. There’s a pause, a guttural “HOO!”, and then the fattest horn hit ever, “BAP!”

You feel that horn hit coming, you know it is inevitable but somehow it’s different when it arrives. It lands heavy on the beat like a fat man sitting down to eat lunch.

After the intro’s repetitive on the beat/off the beat riff, the click-click cha-cha squarely on the beat, and the riffing flute: those horns squash that last beat of the intro soundly in place.

I can live in a moment like that. My rhythm is ready for a party.

HOO!

Bitter Pills To Swallow

Tiny bitter pills
Another one to swallow
Another day gone

Mama didnt say
But there are bones in this fish
Chew it carefully

The air is foul here
Yet one must breath to survive
Plug your nose and laugh

Once my wine was pure
Now its filled with sediment
I filter the grit

No more golden haze
My light lacks natural color
Blue skies a memory

And so I move on
I filter, endure and laugh
What else can i do?

Nothing New Under The Sun

I was watching a movie this evening and heard the phrase, “There is Nothing New Under the Sun”.

It is one of those things that has stayed with me, in my mind, the way certain memories sometimes do. I’m not sure why this particular bit of language has held so much meaning for me, nor why I have reserved this particular set of neurons and such to store it.

Perhaps it has something to do with artistic time squandered in the blind pursuit of something new.

A very fine pianist I once worked with used the phrase often when giving his opinion on learning to improvise music – a reminder not to get so caught up in trying to be original that you forget everything else. Don’t worry about it. There is nothing new under the sun.

A friend once told me that this phrase is from the Holy Bible – the Old Testament in fact. I’m not much for Bible verses (as I’ve already said…) but this excerpt struck me this evening, and so I share it with you.

Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.

What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?

One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.

The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.

The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.

All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.

All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:2-9

Thinking About Music and The Ghosts of Past, Present and Future

Charles Socci with New England Jazz EnsembleI’ve been thinking about music a lot lately—playing music. If you’ve seen my main site, www.socci.com then you probably know I started out my adult life as a musician. Indeed from the time I was eleven or twelve years old it became my life’s main mission.

Somewhere along the way I got lost. I lost faith. I became bitter and discouraged. I gave up. I even considered it a victory.

I’ve told the story of my musical education and history here. I won’t bore you with that.

Music became everything to me while I was still in high school. All of my friends, everything I did centered around music. As soon as I could drive I was sitting-in at a dark and funky jazz club in the south end of Hartford. The owner wore a gun on his ankle, but he was a true patron of the music. I didn’t have my first real girlfriend until I was 18; and she was a music student where I went to college.

I met Jackie McLean, the legend, in my teens. He took a musical interest in me as he did many young men. Eventually I entered into his African-American Music department and earned a Bachelor of Music degree with a major in Jazz Studies.Tony Scherr

This college period is something i continue to try and understand today. I had two options for higher education: one was to follow my friend Tony Scherr down to North Texas State where he was quickly rising to the top and getting recognized for the amazing talent he is. My other option was to continue following Jackie and attend his program at the Hartt School of Music.Jackie McLean

I chose to stay with Jackie which may not have been the best decision for me at that time—although these things are had to tell—and hind sight being what it is, who really knows. I had already around two years of private Saturday lessons with Papa Jackie. Saxophonist-ic-ly speaking I had already received about as much as I was going to receive from him in that period of time. Jackie’s style of teaching the instrument and the language were mostly about mimicry—I remember his wife Dollie’s comment one day when she heard me practicing that all Jackie’s students sound just like him. Most players start out ‘aping’ or mimicking somebody. But Jackie’s influence was just so strong… And there wasn’t anybody else around to counter it. I eventually switched from alto to tenor. The lessons were also about playing together, learning tunes, and being exposed to recordings of saxophonists I might never have been exposed to—Earl Bostic, Don Byas, early Dexter Gordon. He showed me and demonstrated the nuances of Charlie Parker and Sonny Stitt. He taught me to navigate Giant Steps. But I think after those two years I had gotten most of what Jackie was going to give me.

I decided to enter the Hartt School for a variety of reasons. It would have seemed like a betrayal on some level to leave Jackie, I felt a strong responsibility to stay near my Mother and my Brother (who was extremely disabled) and I was probably just plain afraid of going away and actually standing on my own two feet so far from home.

North Texas State was a world famous school for musicians at that time. Jackie’s comment about it was, “well what are you going to do…. look at cows?”. But the truth of it was that instead of a few saxophone players, all vying for Jackie’s attention and all trying to out best the other at impressing him, there were dozens or maybe even over a hundred saxophone players. What I needed was the experience of finding myself, my own voice, and then rising to the top of that group of other players. I needed that kind of challenge. I already had all the Jackie McLean I needed to absorb, or could absorb. Where the experience at Hartt was all focused on replicating the small jazz ensemble classics like Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers; North Texas had a full spectrum of music. There was an emphasis on commercial viability for a musician… Were you ready to go out and join the real world and make a living playing music; or were you going to go out into the world with limited skills, no doubles, and little exposure to the vast pallet of musical genres – or worse yet maybe an attitude that the music you had learned in school was the only ‘real’ music, or hip music, and everything else was square. There was a whole community of musicians of various styles and skill levels who played together frequently at North Texas. It isn’t always the school, or who teaches at the school. Its about your peers and the overall philosophy.

I realized the need for doubles while I was at Hartt and I began incorporating them into my bag of tricks, finding instruction when and where I could. To mention hind sight once again, I suppose if I knew then what I know now I might have been able to get a whole lot more out of the place professionally.One thing that stands out strongly from my days at Hartt are Jackie’s History of African-American music classes. These classes were filled not only with learning about the African origins and obscure pioneers of modern American music; but also became a mouthpiece for the expression of Jackie’s political and social opinions. His first hand stories of the jazz legends were also fascinating and could only truly be delivered with his inimitable charismatic style. These things—like his playing—formed an indelible impression on me.

I hung out with the A-list Hartt jazz guys for most of the time. Then I started to develop something of an attitude in the way of having my own feelings about certain things that didn’t quite fit the A-list Students of Jackie McLean club. I found myself cast somewhat out. I took a few lessons with some other famous saxophonists which probably alienated me from the clique even more. Somewhere around my junior or senior year everything stalled for me. I remember dealing with a depressive episode, which I hadn’t dealt with since high school. I became very emotional and broke down one day. Jackie’s response to that was to say that in the nursing homes they take the depressed people and move them away from everyone else so they don’t bring everyone else down. He also expressed negative opinions about me taking any kind of anti-depressant medication. When I look back on Hartt, I wonder if those last two years or year and a half were really a waste. I should have moved on.

I graduated in 1988. Jackie shook my hand on stage; and that was it. I was turned out into a world I had no idea how to deal with and was also completely unprepared for.

My first real gig out of school came through one of my friends from Hartt, a fine pianist majoring in accompanying. Norwegian Cruise Line needed a saxophonist for the ship band on the MS Southward. SouthwardA small cruise ship by today’s standards, it seemed quite large to me. I never really had a contract. There was a contractor who staffed the musicians. I sent him a photo and some cassette tapes of myself playing some lounge tunes. I was hired and flew out to Los Angeles to meet up with the ship.

The Southward turned out to be a pretty tough experience. The band I joined decided to hate me from the start. Part of it was that I was simply very young and very green. I had a huge Jackie McLean sound on alto and that concept just didn’t fly in a lounge band playing The Days of Wine and Roses. I hadn’t really developed my tenor playing yet and it just sounded rough. My doubles on flute and clarinet were a little weak. Part of it might have been some jealousy—they bet each other money on who could pick up a certain ‘babe’ in the disco one night. I won. The trumpet player was a vicious alcoholic and used to beat on my door in the middle of the night on his way back from the crew bar and tell me how badly I sucked. It was rough—really rough.

I stuck it out. I never even really thought about going home. They tried to get me fired. The contractor came on the ship and stood next to me all night as I played the gig. After the gig he said he didn’t know what the big deal was. He said I was a little green but other than that I was doing fine. I did learn a few things from the band leader/pianist who was from New York and half Cuban half Columbian. He taught me how to do a proper head butt if I ever got into a bar fight… I never have gotten into an actual bar fight (witnessed more than few…); but i continue to remember the maneuver just in case a smile, psychology and reason aren’t enough to overcome the situation.

Soon, those guys went home which was a huge relief. The band was replaced (and I stayed) by a super gentle band leader/bassist named Sam Goldenhar from Houston who was also a North Texas State guy, Manny, a pianist from the Philippines, Las Vegas Larry on trumpet , and my friend Jim from Hartt. We all got along super well and the music was good as ship lounge bands go. I was glad I stuck it out. I went home in December and was promptly dumped by my girlfriend. It turned out we’d both been unfaithful during my four month absence. She didn’t want to reconcile. I was suddenly stuck in Connecticut; in December; alone with no idea what was going to happen for me next. (note: I’ve since learned there are two kinds of people, those who wait for things to happen and those who enable them to happen – being the second is a huge advantage in the music business).

Fate is funny thing. Two weeks later, Tom Murray – another Hartt saxophone player – called me to see if I was interested in doing a ‘bus and truck’.

“What’s a bus and truck”

“That’s where they take a show on the road and you ride the bus and everything else goes in the truck”

It turned out to be a non-union tour of the Broadway show 42nd Street. I auditioned and took the gig. This gig was probably the greatest opportunity I had to really start trying to get some kind of controllable sound together. A big sound would be great for playing with Elvin Jones, but not so much in an orchestra pit. It helped me get my clarinet going pretty well also. I was out with that show for about four months. Charles Socci 1989We went to Israel which was an educational experience. Hanging out with the cast and crew was the most significant exposure to gay culture I’d ever had and also an educational experience.

Through 42nd Street I became affiliated with a summer stock theater in Long Island and spent two summers playing shows there. Again, this was great training in terms of discipline and the doubles. I was pretty sure I’d have an entree into some kind of music scene in New York now and I used the money my Grandmother left me to buy a studio apartment in Washington Heights, Manhattan, NYC.

This was followed by a national tour of Dream Girls. It was pretty low budget all the way. The bus leaked. There were petty rows among the cast; but we did over one hundred performances all over the country. I can now say I’ve been to all 50 states except Utah and Nevada.

After Dream Girls and another summer of summer stock I started really questioning what my musical career was all about. I will say this though, in terms of keeping your chops together, playing a show like this 8 times a week or more and having to play it EXACTLY the same way every night is incredible discipline. Boring. Soulless. But, great discipline.

The first thing that drew me in to music and jazz specifically was the language. The language I couldn’t speak with words. Telling the world what I was feeling in my heart. Expressing and creating. Those things always felt so good to me. I could always escape in the music and say exactly what I was feeling even if I couldn’t put it in words. Musical theater just wasn’t making that happen for me…I moved back home with my Mother and dated a local girl. I worked in an office for a while. I played with a local party band on the weekends. I scrounged up some cash and made my first CD, which I did nothing to promote or distribute. I drank wine and smoked pot and played around with a tape recorder and my instruments at night. My brother died. I taught private students at home and through various music schools during the day. I got my chauffeur’s license and drove limousine and taxi part time. I broke up with the local girl and met another local girl who soon became pregnant and gave birth to my son Alex. Three years later my daughter was born.

Charles Socci and Mike Jones with SharkpoolI found other bands to play with. Some were better than others. I was starting to get work with some of the better wedding bands around. I played in bar bands and drank a lot. I played in Puerto Rican Salsa and Merengue bands (great for building chops). I made another CD, for an actual label with actual distribution but I never promoted it. Most of the stuff I was doing was leaving me empty inside. Little of it had to do with that internal soul language. I got bitter. I resented the bubble headed brides. I resented the bubble heads period—the yahoos. I was working so much between the limo, and the teaching, and the gigs and I had nothing. I made $18,000 that year – with no benefits. NobodyCharles Socci forced me or put me down; but I felt like a real man would be taking care of business; not living with his Mother and being a dead beat Dad. Marriage plans with their Mother never worked out. I had a quick fling with a 20 year old chick I met in one of the bands. I began getting really bitter. A trumpet player friend of mine had enrolled in technical school and was loving it. I’ve always been technical. I had a computer long before most people. I began thinking I should exploit that technical interest because the music thing had become bullshit as far as I was concerned. So I did just that, graduated at the top of my class and had a job before I even finished. $37,500 and full benefits. Man, I thought I won the lottery.Charles SocciSo I became a professional computer guy. I stopped taking a lot of the gigs. They stopped calling. My horn went into it’s case in the corner and has mostly stayed there.

I think about this and it is just weird. It seems like a waste. The music was me and I was it. There could be no Charles Socci without it. That all changed.

Time has flown by. I moved into that New York studio when things with the BABY MOMMA finally died for good. I got another computer job and did really well with that but never returned to the music.

I was afraid in those years I hung out at my Mother’s in Connecticut. Those were the years I should have been in NY trying to get around and play. I did a little bit but the whole thing terrified me—like sick to my stomach, walls closing in, have to get out of here NOW terrified. So I just couldn’t do it… try and hang on the scene. Hang on the periphery of the scene. Begging the question, ‘What Scene?’ – there is so much going on in NY. There is so much talent. New talent continually comes in. The thing was I felt like the only thing I was really good at was bebop saxophone a la Hartt and a la Jackie McLean. I was really mixed up as to who I was as a musician. I didn’t know. When I say maybe Hartt was a mistake for me, that is what I mean.

Today, my horns sit in the corner but my keyboard stays on. I married and share a two bedroom apartment with the sweetest and most wonderful woman in the world.Charles Socci Kristin Socci I haven’t had a drink or used any drugs in four years (7/18/03). I’m constantly playing piano. I love to play free form improvisations that wander in and out of different keys and tonalities. There was a time when I was playing saxophone this way and making private recordings of myself. It was very freeing. At the moment I’d almost pay for the opportunity just to play with some crappy band at a wedding. Even the soulless musical prostitution that it is—I just miss having the horn in my hands and communing with the band.

My intuition tells me that opportunity will arise again. I’m just not sure exactly when. So guess i better get out those horns and start putting them in my mouth.

Please bring this piano to meOh – and by the way – I’m definitely lusting for the touch and growl of a fine piano. This 7′ Baldwin will do nicely. If you feel charitable, won’t you buy it for me? I hereby send this wish out to the Cosmos for one grand piano. (my wife only agreed to a full sized upright, and I guess I’d settle… but I’ll give up my comfy chair if i can have the grand… Pretty please?)

A Poem For My Wife

I often wonder
why it was I you chose dear
or was the choice mine?

does it yet matter?
we are now the best of friends
the way it should be

romance novels tell
of slender heroes wooing
no, they are not I

balding and chubby
proudly farting in my chair
you bring me dinner

off to the bedroom
for a special little game
familiar partners

what time is our show?
we really shouldn’t miss it
where is that ice cream?

where you are is home
my Venus and Nightingale
you are a blessing

those dark nights are gone
you brought the lamp of loving
and gave me new life

The Song of A Life

My wife sent this to me while we were still in the process of dating. It is truly special to me.

It speaks of the importance of remembering who we really are when we face adversity.

It is easy for us to forget who we are sometimes. If only we could all live in families or communities that could support us this way.

Please share this with anyone you know who might find some light or some hope in it. The author is unknown.

The Song of A Life

When a woman in a certain African tribe knows she is pregnant, she
goes out into the wilderness with a few friends and together they pray
and meditate until they hear the song of the child.

They recognize that every soul has its own vibration that expresses
its unique flavor and purpose.

When the women attune to the song, they sing it out loud. Then they
return to the tribe and teach it to everyone else.

When the child is born, the community gathers and sings the child’s
song to him or her. Later, when the child enters education, the village
gathers and chants the child’s song.

When the child passes through the initiation to adulthood, the
people again come together and sing. At the time of marriage, the person
hears his or her song.

Finally, when the soul is about to pass from this world, the family
and friends gather at the person’s bed, just as they did at their birth,
and they sing the person to the next life.

In the African tribe, there is one other occasion upon which the
villagers sing to the child.

If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime or
aberrant social act, the individual is called to the center of the
village and the people in the community form a circle around them.
Then they sing their song to them.

The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not
punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity. When you
recognize your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything that
would hurt another.

A friend is someone who knows your song and sings it to you when
you have forgotten it.

Those who love you are not fooled by mistakes you have made or
dark images you hold about yourself.

They remember your beauty when you feel ugly; your wholeness
when you are broken; your innocence when you feel guilty; and your
purpose when you are confused.

You may not have grown up in an African tribe that sings your song
to you at crucial life transitions, but life is always reminding you when
you are in tune with yourself and when you are not.

When you feel good, what you are doing matches your song, and
when you feel awful, it doesn’t.

– Author Unknown

Information Technology – Under Water

I’ve yet to write anything here concerning the thing that consumes most of my time, IT. I can’t think of much that is more dry or uninteresting to talk about than IT, so I don’t.

I love the challenge of it, all the little puzzles and the problem solving; it engages a huge part of my mind. I learn new things every day and it earns me a living—but IT as the stuff of inspiration or conversation—not so much. My boss has to drag me to IT expos, even though they give away free stuff like foam dice, keyring flashlights, and steak dinners…  None the less, I guess it is about time for some kind of piece about the thing I spend so much of my life doing… So here goes.

Several years ago I was working as IT Director, Chief Cook, and Bottle Washer for a very vigorously growing company in downtown Manhattan.

I was very happy at this job for the most part and my boss was more than good to me. Change then came in the form of business strategies and management structure. My Mother and Father both became ill. Life changed and it was clear my own time for change had arrived.

I have to say that while I lack the nice office and view; and a good percentage of the salary; I feel better about things now—working for an organization that functions not for profit but to make human lives better in areas of war, terror, and natural disaster. Despite my personal pay check I know the company I’m supporting has a much deeper purpose and I feel very good about that.

With all that said I wanted to tell an IT horror tale from my days at that other company.

I was sitting in my office, next door to the server room, gazing out the window at the Chrysler Building and across the East River to Queens; when in walks Eddie the maintenance man. Eddie was looking quite concerned and strode right into my office and began checking all the pipes under the window and above the drop ceiling.

“May I help you?” I asked…

“Oh, I’m just trying to see if I can find a small leak… You haven’t seen anything have you?”

“No, I’m afraid I haven’t – can I give you a hand with that file cabinet over there?”

“No, I’ve got it, thanks…”

“Well, ok then.. I’m going to go to the men’s room and leave you here at it Eddie, ok?”

“Yeah, no problem…”

So, I leave and go to the men’s room and take a seat upon the john. I call the third stall from the right “the library” because someone always leaves at least one newspaper in there. Usually its the Wall Street Journal, but occasionally you’ll find the Post (much more appropriate for the surroundings) or even a Vanity Fair if you’re lucky.

I stayed a leisurely fifteen minutes or so before leaving the men’s room to walk back to my office. As I turned the corner, I saw all the girls from accounting standing at the elevator. We all seemed surprised to see each other.

Someone asked me what did I think of it all?

“What do I think of what…?”

“You know, the FLOOD.”

“The WHAT, oh I know – you guys are pulling my leg aren’t you?”

“No, really… You mean you haven’t seen it?”

“No, I was reading…”

At this point they all kind of looked at each other like ‘Oh Shit’ and I hurriedly made my way back to my office and the server room.

As I rounded the corner I beheld a sight I shall not forget for the rest of my life. Hundreds of gallons of water were pouring a deluge directly over one of four server racks. The water was pounding the top of the rack and cascading down the sides. There was already four inches of water on the floor.

Our developer and two man IT team stared on in shock and wondered what to do about the ELECTRICITY, seeing as the power supply to the servers was fed with around 400 Volts. Sparks and smoke were flying…

I decided that something had to be done so I put out my elbow and ran as fast and hard as I could run through the water toward the master power switch, which I successfully hit (with my elbow) into the off position. The only remaining power issue would be the existing batteries and breakers in the power supply which were still live to the breakout panel feeding the servers. We later manually pulled out batteries and switched off breakers on the back of the power supply itself. We had no documentation on it and none of us had been around when it was installed. We did the best we could with it and got APC on the phone promptly thereafter to do a completely safe shutdown.

The fire department came, axes ready but there wasn’t much for them to do at that point.

The Vice President of Global Operations came downstairs and asked me what was our plan. I more or less told him I didn’t know. We both stood and surveyed the destruction for a while as it slowly sunk in that about 95% of our IT infrastructure and data had been completely wiped out.

We began pouring water out of servers and taking them apart to dry, with hope that something might power on and give us enough time to recover something. Of course we had data on tape stored off site, but that was two weeks old and required retrieval. Also, our tape drives and library were part of the wreckage – so at that particular moment tape wasn’t going to do us much good.

I was able to get one domain controller operating and seize the master active directory roles onto this server. I was then able to get one mail server and data store on line. So before the night was out I was able to restore email which was a pretty big accomplishment.

We didn’t have much hardware that wasn’t ruined. Most of our older hardware was less damaged – the cases were bigger, the internal components spread out more, and the fans were not placed directly next to dense circuit boards. The newer servers were all one or two rack space jobs and the internal electronics were really densely packed. The fans were set in such a way that they just sprayed water all over everything. None of those new servers survived, but some of the drives did.

It became clear I was going to need some working servers to try and bring everything back on line. Of course this was a Friday night, and we were now in the middle of a snow storm as well. I was able to get an entry level Compaq server and a high end Sony Vaio workstation from a local IT dealer. This was the best I could do. The store was about two avenues over and 8 blocks up. I went over and purchased the two machines with my Amex. I also purchased power strips, extension cords and anything else I could think of. Somebody else went to a department store and picked up some hair dryers and towels. The hair dryers brought my cell phone back to life.

We placed all of this equipment (server, workstation, cords, miscellaneous hardware) onto a cart and two guys from the store and I wheeled it back in the snow.

Over the next 36 hours (I worked 36 hours straight) I was able to bring all of the data back on line in a temporary fashion using the purchased server and workstation, plus some of the other equipment that was still partially running. Over the coming weeks and months we turned the experience into a positive one by replacing all our old hardware with brand new hardware using the insurance money.

I received a very generous bonus which I promptly turned around and used to buy my first digital SLR.

It was quite an experience and I really hope I never have to go through anything quite like that again!

Meeting With the Dawn

mornings come and go
some seem better than others
one must move forward

vexing me harshly
must I yield to it’s urging?
giving up the night

my youth found the light
welcoming it—arms open
saved from the unknown

a life poorly spent
now the light brings back those things
disappointing me

I surely must rise
again conquering darkness
a new day to change

its not just me now
linked and sworn to many more
depending on me

tangled web woven
it now must be unraveled
this is my life’s course

meeting with the dawn
feeling cross and crestfallen
I have no courage

Racing thoughts torture
there is no more choice for sleep
rise, you unwilling

Another Drowning Story

I grew up in a small rural area of Connecticut far from the New York suburban bedroom towns of Fairfield County. For the most part it was the sticks.My childhood summers were spent outside; and my constant companions were three sisters who lived down the block.One hot summer afternoon we decided to head over to Jones’ Pond in Irvington* to go swimming. It was a popular local spot for kids looking to cool off. There were no cabanas or chaise lounges to attract the adults. Just the water.

Most small towns have one of ‘those‘ families I think. Families that have become notorious and even legendary for one reason or another—kidnapping and cooking small children for dinner, domestic violence, criminality, or what have you…

Irvington’s local family (I’m changing their name lest they read this) was the Hardgraves.

We went up to Jones’ Pond which wasn’t far from the Hardgrave compound. We were enjoying playing in the water and didn’t even notice the presence of Bobbi-Jo, then perhaps twelve or thirteen years old, and her friend’s presence nearby. I must have been six or seven.

I’m in the water and the next thing I know Bobbi-Jo is on top of me holding my head under the water.

She eventually let me up for air and followed with several more good dunkings before finally letting me go, laughing the whole time. We all went home, shaken.

Many years later (like fifteen or twenty) I found myself in the Irvington Tavern. The Irvington Tavern is kind of a rough around the edges type of place. Filled with regulars, it is home to a pool table, a juke box, and many shrines to Harley Davidson and Miller Beer. I’m not sure exactly what I was doing there, but my girlfriend’s older sister had tended bar there for years so I felt pretty safe.

I was minding my own business when a guy came up to me and said, “My name is Beaver Hardgrave and I bet I could kick your ass…”.

I looked him square in the eye and said, “Well, you probably could… but what if I buy you a beer instead?”.

He thought that was funny and obliged the offer and pulled up a stool next to me.

I said, “Hardgrave… do you mean like Bobbi-JOE Hardgrave…?”

“You mean the DYKE?”

“I didn’t know she was a lesbian… but are you related?”

“Yeah… she’s my sister…”

Small world.

(*some names and places changed to protect the innocent…)

Drowning

Many years ago, before my parents divorced, we used to make frequent car trips to Detroit from our home in Connecticut. The nature of these trips was to take my brother Joey, who had Down’s Syndrome (Trisomy 21), to see one Henry Turkel, M.D. who was treating Down’s children with a regimen of massive nutritional supplementation. Dr. Turkel was not allowed by FDA regulation to ship his preparations so the patients came to him. (there is quite a bit of literature online regarding Turkel, some hailing him a genius and some a quack).

Our trips would begin in a green Chevrolet station wagon. My father would build up a nest of sorts in the “way back” with suit cases on the bottom and various layers of quilts and blankets on top. I’d spend most of the trip back there. I was about five years old.

We’d always stop overnight at a hotel. On this one particular trip we stayed at a Holiday Inn I think; I don’t know where. Of course we kids had to use the pool. Joey needed a tremendous amount of attention. He was very fidgety and very busy and someone really needed to dedicate 100% of their attention to him during every waking moment. He was severely retarded.

We went to the pool. It was an outdoor pool and fairly crowded. My Mother stuck close by Joey in the shallow end of the pool. There was a lifeguard on duty. My father was sunning himself on a chaise beside the pool. The deep end of the pool was filled with perhaps four or five Japanese men enjoying the water.

I was roaming around the shallow end of the pool alone. I was five. Suddenly, the bottom fell out from under me and I began sliding down the decent that becomes the deep end of the pool. I remember my first moment of panic realizing I couldn’t touch the bottom. I remember looking down and seeing the bottom through the blue green light, and looking up at the surface, shimmering in the sunlight. I went under. I don’t know how long I was under. It seemed like a long time and when I look back I remember it in slow motion play back.

Nobody came to my aid. My Mother was busy. My Father wasn’t paying attention. I don’t know what the lifeguard was doing—probably not his job since I was the only unattended small child in that pool.

Eventually I felt several hands hoist me up out of the water. It was the Japanese men who realized I was in trouble and rescued me. At that point all the attention shifted to me and my parents took me back to our room where I coughed up water for what seemed like hours.

Later, I saw the Japanese men in the hotel elevator. One of them gave me a small gift. I don’t know what it is. Can you help me identify it?

The photo is of that small gift. I included the penny for scale. The cord used to be a very vivid purple but has since faded quite a bit.

Stream of Consciousness

Stream of consciousness. Writing. Listening to Keith Jarett. Driving down I-95 from my Mother’s house. We were up for the day. She told my wife I’m like a ghost. Like a ghost since those things I had to go through long ago. I don’t feel like a ghost. I feel like a dead plant come back to life. Green buds peering out with hope into the light. That’s how I feel today. In my 40’s things look and feel so different than they once did. If I knew then what I know now what would I change? This is supposed to be stream of consciousness. I am thinking to much. We are driving. It is late. Will I go up to the dog run with Kristin tomorrow? Will I push myself to leave the house? I enjoy my house. I enjoy my Sundays. Time alone at peace. Quiet. Time to enjoy my home. I love Sunday.

My son is becoming a young man. I wonder what he thinks of me sometimes. It is hard to entertain a thirteen year old. Up for an afternoon once a week we drive to Lily’s in rural Connecticut and spend the day. The smell of dog pee makes my nose burn. Alex has a new guitar. His step Dad bought him an amp and new guitar as a bonus. I wonder why. It seems unusual. It has distortion, see? Now I can REALLY play Smoke on the Water, check it out… Later he seems so bored. Painfully bored. What are we going to do, Dad? I don’t know. I don’t know what to do. He wants to do something just the two of us. That sounds nice but I can’t think of anything to do and I feel bad for that. Eventually I go to the piano and tell him to get his guitar. I ask him what key does he know how to play a blues in. He doesn’t know. But he plays some of those rock songs. He’s taking lessons but all he seems to learn are 70’s and 80’s rhythm guitar parts. I’ve heard him play blues. At least a little. I mean how can you not on a guitar? Its made for the fucking blues. Anyway, I say well play that blues you know that I heard you play and he starts that little riff off the bottom two strings that is the first blues thing you learn on a guitar. I say that’s E. We’re going to play blues in E and I play the piano. The guitar is not in tune so I make him tune up with the piano. Then we start. I just keep playing 12 bars after 12 bars and he mostly gets it except sometimes he goes to the four chord too soon or misses the five all together. So I stop. It can go like this. There are three chords. E is the one chord, here. You can play either four full bars of the one chord, or one bar of the one chord and one bar of the four chord followed by two bars of the one chord. Let’s just stay on the one chord for four bars. Then we play two bars of the four chord, see? And I sing and play it. Then it is two more bars of the one chord. Five chord, one bar, four chord one bar, and one chord one bar, five chord last bar to bring it back to the top. That is it. 12 bar blues. I play rhythm piano and a base line while he tries it out. I play some pentatonic bluesy lines. He tries to keep up but he can’t really play all the chords. At least we tried. What is that teacher teaching him anyway? I don’t play guitar. I worked in a guitar-centric music store once. I fooled with them a little. I showed him the blues scale and he picked it up really fast. I hope he will practice that. We’ll have more to do next time if he does. I said I love you when we dropped him off on our way back to the City. I told him to practice. I often feel guilty, especially after I drop him off. He craves attention and my time; but it is never enough to sit still. He asks me about junior high and what it was like for me. This is something I want to share. I want to share everything with him. I want to give him everything I know, all the failures and successes. All the mistakes. I want him to know and I want to share it. If I can give him this it will have made sense. He won’t have to do the same stupid things. I can be there to guide him like the person I always wanted but was never there. He asks me and I start to tell my tales. He gets bored or maybe just distracted and starts to talk about something else. Its ok. He’s thirteen. But sometimes I just have to get pissed and tell him how I’m trying to answer him and tell him about something and he isn’t listening. I’ve already been through it. There’s nothing you can tell me about being thirteen at John Winthrop Junior High that I don’t already know. But even if there is, I’m listening. Listen to me. Let me share. I’ve already been where you are and where you are going.

photo of me and my dad Rye Playland, NY1974 or 75

photo of me and my son Queens, NY 2003

I Love a Piano

Willie I’m not sure exactly where my passion for stride piano started. I started my musical career with piano lessons when I was very young – but it never went anywhere as I just didn’t have that much interest. Dumb kid. When I finally did start paying attention and getting interested in music it was all about the saxophone.

The piano has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. I grew up with a baby grand piano in the house. I guess you could say its really a part of me even if I was too ignorant to understand this privilege early on.

When my ambitions as a professional saxophonist kind of petered out in my thirties I began returning to the piano as an outlet for my musical inclinations.

If you don’t know what stride piano is; in short it is a style of piano playing that descended from ragtime but is far less rigid and much more open to the artist’s skill and interpretation. Listen to this excerpt of Thomas “Fats” Waller playing “Carolina Shout”. Get the original recording here.

One thing that always frustrated me with the saxophone was that it doesn’t easily fit into the idiom of solo instrument. I mean with the possible exception of some great artists like Sonny Rollins; it is pretty difficult to hold an audience’s interest (or even my own interest) playing solo saxophone.

Stride piano brings an entire orchestra to the keyboard. From the low register bass through the harmony and counterpoint in the middle to the melody itself. – and rhythm. Stride got it’s name because it employs the use of a very mobile left hand that constantly strides between the bass notes, chords and counterpoint of the tune. In fact, stride pianists often criticize a lot of ‘modern’ jazz pianists as being ‘right-handed’ players. Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith used to heckle young players with a quip like, “What’s the matter with your left hand there…? Are you crippled?” When that left hand and right get together and the pulse is right it is pure magic.

I think my fascination comes from this ‘one man band’ aspect of stride. I can spend hours by myself at the keyboard working on a ‘complete’ piece of music – in my ‘own’ style. With the saxophone my practicing was always geared toward what I would play with the band at the next opportunity. My focus is much more toward pleasing myself and playing for friends or family now. I think if I can play Carolina Shout by the time I die I will have lived a full musical life.

I recently watched a terrific documentary on the pianist Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith. He was a fascinating character and absolute piano master. Unfortunately there aren’t many recordings of him available.

Jackie McLean used to talk about Willie “The Lion” Smith in his jazz history classes all the time. Smith was one of the great influences on Thelonius Monk. Monk was a stride pianist or “tickler” before he came to prominence as one of the architects of modern jazz. Smith’s influence on people like Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, and Monk among others can’t be underestimated. Listen to Monk’s Solo Recordings. (I found his solo recordings to be a great entree into his genius)

My favorite pianist has to be Thomas “Fats” Waller. Waller isn’t someone I really got interested in until just a few years ago. Like Louis Armstrong, Fats was subject to the style dictated for Black entertainers to mug for the camera. This kind of turned me off to Sachmo and Fats for a long time. All I could see was that image which seemed so denigrating to the music and to people of color in general. I knew Fats had written “Ain’t Misbehavin” but in my mind he was just some entertainer and not among my musical heroes like Charlie Parker, Miles, or Coltrane.

Sometimes I get into these ‘intellectual’ moods where I’ll buy a book or a recording just because I think any self-respecting scholar would have it… or because I read somewhere that it was important. “Fats Waller Greatest Hits” was one of those purchases. I think it sat around my place for a year before I finally took a hard listen one day. The cover art sucks; but the music is great! When I got to the solo piano renditions of “Carolina Shout”, “Handful of Keys”, and “Smashing Thirds” I was completely blown away. It was one of those rare and beautiful moments in life where you discover something wonderful for the first time. The Smith documentary features an audio visual mix of James P. Johnson, Wille The Lion, and Waller playing “Carolina Shout” which is fascinating.

James P. Johnson is another major figure and he, Fats, and Smith were fans of each other. Johnson was the elder of the three and significant early influence on Waller.

Pianist Art Tatum is in a class by himself. Jazz pianist Herbie Hancock said that when he’d gotten comfortable with himself as a jazz pianist he’d listen to Tatum and have to reevaluate… Tatum’s style is very much about incredible technical virtuosity in addition to the use of stride. He was an early admirer of Fats Waller.

My musical passion has returned in the form of this style of piano playing. For now, my digital keyboard and headphones will have to do. Its a really good digital keyboard with a very nice action… My mother still has the out of tune baby grand, so I play when I visit. One day I’ll have my own grand piano sitting proudly in our new living room.

My next goal is to find the right piano teacher who can help me with the basic piano chops I so desperately need to work on, and pick up on what I’ve already been able to develop and take it to the next level.

All things is due time.

Photo of Willie “The Lion” Smith and Thomas “Fats” Waller stolen from New Jersey Public Television’s Willie “The Lion” Smith page.

Being Grateful

I was listening to a friend speak about his angst, unhappiness, depression, and inability to simply feel good. Now I may be contradicting myself here, as so far I’ve really been championing the view of illness, chemistry and medicine vs. mind over matter. But after listening to this friend go on (and on and on…) about his extreme dissatisfaction with life; all I could say was, “show some gratitude…”

I’m not really a religious person. I hate the use of the word ‘spiritual’ – but for lack of a better word I guess it describes me. I was raised a Christian, but as I entered adulthood, learned a little history, science, and diversified my social circle; the bounds of modern Christian thinking left me with some very huge and irresolvable question marks. For the purposes of public explanation; what I do believe in is an intelligence greater than humanity. That’s about all I want to say publicly.

Sometimes I just have to say Thank You. When life sucks; Thank You. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You.

Thank You for this moment. Thank You for the people that love me. Thank You for a job where I can make a difference. Thank You for my wife. Thank You for my children. Thank You for life even if it is hard and painful sometimes. Thank You for the mean people that teach me compassion. Thank You for the sick people who teach me about health. Thank you for the people who keep me in line. Thank You for the opportunity to know it all, good and bad.

Thank You.

(moon shot by me 7/10/2005)

A Mind of It’s Own?

I recently splurged on the purchase of a sleek, black, 80GB Apple iPod Video. I was never an Apple person. It was IBM and Intel for me from the start which meant not so much an allegiance, but an arranged marriage of sorts to Microsoft.

Now Microsoft has been the main key to my livelihood for the past ten years or so when I began a profession supporting the Intel platform and Windows networking. It has been a relatively good living and for that I am grateful. I’ll never own a Mac and I even run traditionally Mac applications like Adobe Photoshop on the PC.

So much for my personal history of Apple vs. Microsoft. This isn’t where I meant to go with this story.I love music – all kinds of music. If you’ve seen my website you know that music was my main raison d’etre for over twenty years of my life.

I’ve fallen in love with a device smaller than a deck of cards that currently holds nearly a MONTH’s worth of continuous, back to back music and its not even half full. My favorite feature, and one I am fascinated with is the shuffle mode. Press shuffle mode and the burden of deciding what to listen to is lifted from your hands. The iPod decides the songs in supposedly random order mixing your classical and your country with your techno and your jazz.

I love this feature. It is a constant guessing game of exactly what, out of over 7000 songs is going to come next. It is an education in over 300 years of music history and styles in the palm of my hand.Yet, I suspect there is even more than meets the eye.

The cold, digital brain of my little black machine seems to be favoring certain artists and songs over others. I have fed no ratings nor preference data per song – which is another iPod feature. Of course I do have my preferences; but so does my iPod. I find the same artists coming up again and again, and while I have the entire Steeley Dan library on board it almost never plays – and when it does it seems to always be  ‘Reelin’ In the Years ‘.

How is it with over 7000 songs that this random device can be so seemingly subjective? I believe it has a mind of i’s own. It has morphed into a true artificial intelligence. Perhaps a tool of of evil media demons seeking to amass a new generation of clones with homogeneous, Big Mac cultural sensibilities.

Perhaps subliminal messages are being delivered through our ear buds with messages of Orwellian type mind control; in an even more dastardly plot to rule the world.

I guess I’ll take the chance that it is really the cute shiny black music box that it appears to be. Subliminal suggestions or not; I love my little iPod. It gets me through my morning commute and puts me to bed at night.

Courage?

What is courage?

I think for me the first image that comes to mind is that of the brave fire fighter running into the burning building; or perhaps the soldier, medic or policeman running into the fray to save a life or battle some unknown demon all in a day’s work.

When I was a kid one of my heros was one of my mother’s boyfriends. He had been a Green Beret and jumped out of airplanes in WWII and Korea. He had been taken prisoner by the Germans and the North Koreans both. He’d escaped numerous times, had his feet broken and the tar kicked out of him multiple times. Somehow he survived all of that. He told me once the key word was courage. Courage. I think he wrote it on a picture he gave me. A picture of him receiving the Silver Star.

I’ve thought about that off and on all my life. I never knew quite exactly what he meant. What was I supposed to be courageous about? I wasn’t being beaten or having limbs broken or trying to save mine and my friend’s asses as machine guns and mortars exploded around us.

My courageous friend was also a raging alcoholic and smoked about four packs of Marlboro Reds a day. His pretty young wife had divorced him and taken six kids with her. I was present one evening when he fought with her on the phone. One night he ripped the phone right off the wall.

It wasn’t long before he left. The Alaska Oil Pipeline was being built and skilled labor was in high demand. My friend was a welder; a pipefitter and paid very well for it. He’d often call my mother late at night from Alaska. Way up north. Prudhoe Bay. He’d tell stories of bar fights. Once he said he beat the hell out of four guys who tried to jump him coming out of the local bar on pay day.

I’d always look forward to his visits home. He never stayed long. Sometimes he brought gifts. A t-shirt, a pair of boots. Sometimes he’d arrive in the middle of the night. I’d know he had come from the smell of cigarettes and old spice wafting up the stairs.

I was too young to really question adult behavior. I just accepted things as they were. My friend was larger than life and probably everything a lot of boys would wish for in a hero. Yet I always wondered about the keyword being courage because somehow that phrase always seemed slightly empty. The keyword is courage. Half the story.

There was one time we were going to go to the movies. What a thrill. My great friend, the war hero who jumped out of airplanes and beat up muggers in Alaska was taking me to the movies.

We got to the theater and he took off. I watched the movie alone. When the movie was over I waited for my friend but he had gone. I called my Mother and she picked me up. I must have just happened to have a dime in my pocket.

My friend had gone to the local bar. He was a celebrity of sorts. The town war hero. The guys who didn’t admire him were afraid of him or perhaps both.

I didn’t understand what alcoholism was at that age. What I DID understand was that my friend needed that company every night. He needed those people. He needed that stimulation. He needed whatever it was that he got from the local bar every night; he needed it to survive.

In reality he was a broken man. In reality he could barely cope.

Somehow courage never quite sank in with me; Not as the ‘key’ word; And not the most important of virtues in life.

On Believing

I don’t know why bad things happen to good people.

I don’t know why or how two armies can go to war and both do so in the name of God.

I don’t know why those men flew those planes into those buildings one September day; but supposedly did it in the name of God.

I don’t know how any religious group can trumpet their moral religious values and then even more fervently pass JUDGMENT on their fellow men.

I don’t know how any spiritual leader could ever encourage hate or dissention. (no matter what the ends and means happen to be)

I don’t know how an omnipotent and merciful God could allow the second by second tragedies and horror that are continuously inflicted on humanity – by their fellow men. War. Genocide. Oppression. Lies. Hate.

I don’t know how a loving God can permit a natural disaster to devestate millions of lives.

Yet I look up to the sky on a crisp rural night. I peer into the deep space with my telescope and marvel at the glow of objects whose light left its source long before anything resembling a human yet existed – or when dinosaurs still roamed our planet. I look at the stars, each one something like our own – the Sun. There are billions all around us. Then there is empty space and then there are billions more upon billions more. All of these suns. All of these worlds. Out there. Where did it all come from? The farther out we look, the farther back in time we go. Technology has brought us to the very edge of our creation. It seems certain that all matter in the Universe came from one infinitesimally small point of infinite or nearly infinite mass called the Singularity that exploded with a force unimaginably huge. From the great heat and pressure were eventually formed the basic elements, the molecules that make up everything we are and know. About 14 Billion years ago it all began.

So what happened before that? What made the singularity?

How did our beautiful planet, with its single moon to stabilize its orbit, and its breathable atmosphere come to being? How did it happen to be just close enough to the Sun and have just the right combination of electromagnetic fields and atmospheric conditions to make it so habitable to so many creatures?

How did LIFE come to being? How did those creatures get here? I can wrap my little brain around gravity and pressure and heat and chemistry – but the creation of life?

What about our ability to be aware of ourselves and aware of others and contemplate our origins? What about our ability to quantify our thoughts and feelings into language?

I put my headphones in my ears and they are connected to a device that can process millions of numbers per second. A device that can reproduce sound from a digital source – composed of ones and zeros.

I listen to Mozart and Beethoven. I listen to Art Tatum and John Coltrane. I listen to James Taylor and Willie Nelson. Something happens. I re-live their creations note by note. I marvel at the structure of composition. The poetry speaks to my heart; that they too felt the way I feel. Just human. I look at my beautiful children. I put my arms around my beautiful Wife.

Where does love come from?

Where did WE come from?

So many questions… ugly questions… beautiful questions… but I still believe… more than ever… I still believe there’s something greater than just us, sitting on our planet, in an ongoing battle for survival of the fittest. I believe in the hope for a better humanity.

Maybe there’s a creator… or maybe science will show us some new way we are connected to each other…

(photo of the Whirlpool Galaxy, M51 by Charley Socci 2001)

Cruise Ship Gigs and an Egyptian Incident

The first steady music gig I got out of school was as the saxophone/flute/clarinetist on a cruise ship. The ship sailed out of LA on three and four day cruises down to Mexico, Catalina, and San Diego. My friend from school Alex, a really fine pianist, got me on the gig through an agent who worked for the cruise line company in Miami. They flew me out to LA and I spent a night in a hotel before meeting up with the ship in San Pedro the next day. I shared a very, very small cabin with no windows with another friend of mine from school, Jim. Jim was also the drummer. The evening before our first hit playing together was surreal. I had never been aboard a craft that large – nor seen anything like it ever before. I had never even been in a true luxury hotel or a casino resort before, which is essentially what cruise ships are – big floating luxury resort casino hotels. I stood out on the top deck as the ship made its way to the ocean from the dock. It was a warm August evening. I was alone and a long way from home.

The band was five pieces, trumpet, sax, piano, bass, and drums. We played lounge music and dance music. We also played the books that the various entertainers – jugglers, magicians, singers, and comedians brought for their acts. Things were really difficult on that first run. There was a mixture of alcoholism, resentments, and general unhappiness among much of the band that my gig came down to a sheer matter of having the tenacity to stick it out and not come home. Eventually the problem personnel in the band got changed out and the new band was a lot of fun to work with. I stayed for three months until I went home. The agent wanted me to stay through Christmas but I didn’t want to do it. I was always proud of myself for sticking it out through that rough time. It was extremely dark for a while; but got so much better. I didn’t do my second cruise ship until about seven and a half years later when I went out on the world cruise. That was a much bigger ship than the previous one. I replaced another saxophonist who couldn’t do the gig any more. My friend Alex also did the gig for most of the time I was on it. Musically the gig was about the same, but we added a trombone. The drummer, a woman named Cindy, was the bandleader. Mostly the gig was very laid back. The cruise went through the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, India, Africa and into the Med before ending in the UK which was where I flew home to the States. Both of the ships I worked on were managed by Norwegians. There was a definite rank and pecking order of people who worked on the ship. There was an officer’s dining room and an officer’s bar. We were part of the Entertainment Department and we ate either in a dining room for mid-level crew, or we ate in the main mess hall with all the other non-officers. It really wasn’t that big a deal. But if you are sensitive to that kind of thing – it could be a big problem because there were always subtle reminders of rank.

Crew life for me in both cases was pretty good. Sharing a living space is never the optimal situation but we made it work. I was very young on my first ship gig, and since the cruises were only three and four day cruises we got a lot of young passengers who really wanted to let loose. Crew areas were off limits to passengers, but certain crew members could frequent the passenger areas as long as they didn’t cause any problems – and as long as they paid their bar tabs. Crew were also not allowed in the passenger cabins. *Those rules were broken on occasion* There was also a crew bar where crew could drink very cheaply and many did. On my second ship I was already a father and I really missed home. It was also a much older and wealthier crowd as they were the only ones who could afford to pay to be on a world cruise – which was tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on how long you stayed and what type of accommodations. I had a friend named Brian and we used to hang out in the crew gym in the afternoons and hang out over a few beers in the evening. Cruising in the South Pacific was beautiful. Most days I would get up late, go up on deck and just hang out in the sun and breeze. Then I would go workout, have lunch and take a nap! Then there was usually an afternoon rehearsal for something, time for dinner, and then we would play four sets at night. After our sets we’d go to the crew bar for cheap beers or hang out in someone else’s cabin before hauling off to bed. I missed my kids terribly the entire time I was gone. These gigs are great for young people who don’t mind being away or other people who can fit into the lifestyle. There were one or two married couples who worked on board. I can’t imagine a marital spat under those circumstances though. Musically its artistic death. There isn’t much chance to be creative, and you can’t simply hop the train or get in your car and go somewhere to get away from it all. You are stuck there. You never get to go home from work.

As an aside, shortly after this photo was taken, I was sitting on a tour bus with one of the dealers from the ship casino. It was just she and I on the bus and this young Egyptian peddler, perhaps 14, came to us trying to sell us some kind of souvenirs. My dealer friend wasn’t interested, nor was I but he wouldn’t leave us alone. Finally he flipped us off and turned away. Something about this hard sell/flipping off routine hit me at some primal level and I leapt off the bus and chased the kid for a dozen yards before getting back on the bus. Soon an entire cadre of local gift shop merchants surrounded the tour bus and I was sure we’d made the next day’s headlines at Al-Jazeera. They brought the kid back to the bus, called me to the door and then slapped him several times across the face as an apology – of sorts – I guess. I felt bad for kid being humiliated like that. I felt like I overreacted and should’ve just let the whole thing slide.

(Photo of me at the Pyramids in Giza 1996)

Around the World

I saw this cool thing this afternoon while surfing Flickr. You check off all the countries you’ve ever been to and it generates this map. There is one for U.S. States as well; but I’ve been to all of them except Utah and Nevada and it would’ve looked like I might be *gasp* *wheeze* *cough* Republican the way the map is colored red on blue…

Back in 1996, which seems like yesterday, I was hired to play the woodwind book in a band aboard a very luxurious cruise ship. We made all these ports of call.

The Camera

     

I’ve had a long affair with cameras and making images. My first was a plastic Kodak camera that took 126 cartridge film which had a square format and I don’t even think they make it any more.

When I was 11 the interest really took hold of me and I bought a Minolta Hi-Matic F which got me in to 35mm. I took tons of images on tri-x and plus-x and submitted them to Boy’s Life magazine for critique. The photography editor wrote me back and told me what was good about them and very gently what was not.

What I lacked in the Minolta range finder I sought to find in an SLR. I lusted for a new Nikon F2. What I got was a Minolta SRT-101 with a 50mm f/1.7. Suddenly I was really able to see depth-of-field and compose close-ups much easier than before. The feeling of composing and shooting thorough-the-lens is something that has always felt right to me.

In junior high I built a basic black and white darkroom and started processing my own film and prints. I accomplished this on my own; though my own reading of how-to. I was also able to pick up a Nikon FM around that time with an f/1.8 I think. Of course I wanted the f/1.4 but couldn’t afford it.

That camera got stolen and then for the next twenty-plus years I used an Olympus OM-1.

 When I left the music business and started doing well in the computer business I purchased a Leica M6 and a few lenses. The sharpness and contrast were really stunning. I wanted more so I went to a Mamiya 7 and then to 4×5 and 8×10.

The thing with the Leica was the ‘look’ of the image, the ease of handling, the build quality and the optics. But I just really missed that feeling of seeing through the viewfinder. The same was true of the Mamiya 7. I picked up a 645 SLR but it just didn’t feel secure to me off the tripod. What I’m saying is I really needed a hand-holdable SLR.

During the time of all my gear-hopping; digital photo technology was racing past milestone after milestone. I sold almost all my other gear and bought a Canon EOS 20-D and several lenses. I’ve been incredibly happy with it.

 I still shoot 4×5 sometimes – but I don’t print larger than maybe 16×20 inches – and at that size its hard to see the difference sometimes… At least when you compare a tripod mounted, cable released, mirror locked digital print with the 4×5 (mount, cable assumed) One can shoot multiple frames to get over exposure latitude issues in digital. Photoshop is an amazing tool Its also so much easier to set up and tear down gear, or change configurations and filters that I hardly ever shoot anything except digital any more.

My motivation to shoot comes and goes. Its usually a matter of opportunity. I don’t like shooting images I know other people are shooting. So first I have to feel like bringing my gear with me and then I have to see something that inspires me to shoot. Then again I’m constantly surprised by how clever some of the shots are on sites like Flickr of even the most mundane objects. You can view some of my own photos on flickr here.

(the photo above is me, at age 11 taking a self-portrait with my Hi-Matic F)

My Father

I’ve been thinking about my Father’s death more often lately. I really haven’t written much or talked much about it. It has taken me a while to process and accept it. He died last October (2005) from a brain tumor.

Due to my parent’s divorce when I was seven, I only saw him about once a month on average and less often as I got older. Due to my age and the lack of time spent with him I never forged a very close and intimate relationship with my Dad.

It wasn’t really until I got married in 2004 that I began to have a closer relationship with him. My wife and my Dad’s other half, Sally, really got along well. As the rapport between my wife Kristin and Sally grew, we began to spend more time visiting them – and I began to feel my Father’s presence much more strongly than ever before. Then a year later he got sick and died.

Its taken me a very long time to process it. Its only recently that I find myself frequently stopping to think about him; to look at his picture and realize that he is really gone. There is a real hole there. There are so many things I wish I could say to him and talk to him about… Things I know only he could understand. Things about being a man. Things about being a husband. Things about being human and growing old…

My Father was a simple man. He was not an intellectual or high-powered executive. But He was one of the most gentle people I have ever known. Everyone liked him and he liked people. He was always so proud to introduce me to his friends when I would visit. I remember him telling me one day when I was very young, “Never feel anyone is beneath you - Never think you are better than anyone”. A powerful lesson from a very humble man. I always remembered that and have tried to live by it all my life.

I really miss him.

About Neil Young

I just got done watching Prairie Wind, the new Neil Young concert movie. I really enjoyed it. Sadly, I didn’t really listen to Neil Young or many other rock genre musicians until I was in my thirties.

A few years back; an aquaintance of mine, Eric, from high school passed away somewhere out on the west coast. I found out about it when his parents called me and asked me to put something together and provide music for his memorial service.

Eric and I met in junior high but were never close friends. We both played the saxophone but Eric later turned to the guitar and I remember him singing and playing Neil Young songs when we were in high school.

I asked about what they had in mind. They said Eric liked Neil Young a lot and maybe I could do that… Neil Young on the saxophone… I agreed but wanted help.

I happened to be working with a band called Sugar Daddy at the time, and Sugar Daddy himself, Grant, was a Neil Young fan. I was able to convince Mr. Daddy to come play guitar and sing Neil Young at my friend’s funeral while I noodled soprano saxophone lines around the melody.

It was a nerve wracking thing for me. The phrase “put something together…” always leaves me in a panic. This was also a funeral service… I felt a strong pressure to do exactly just the right thing…

We chose two songs, I believe one was Needle and the Damage Done, and the other I don’t remember.

We played our songs. We played them well. There didn’t seem to be a huge reaction either way. People cried. Some were silent.

Eric’s father gave me some money and thanked me. The pastor thanked me. There seemed to be something a little strange in the way he looked at me… I gave the money to Sugar Daddy.

The next day I was in the local convenience store when one of Eric’s friends saw me. I’d known Eric was in with a certain crowd but I didn’t know how far he’d taken certain types of experimenation. The friend told me Eric had died of an overdose.

I’ve never been sure how to feel about it. Beloved son dies in a tragic heroin overdose and I come in and play “Needle and the Damage Done” at his funeral.

I didn’t know the cause of death. Would I have made the same choice had I known? Did it bring more pain to his survivors? Was it a terrible mistake?

Its been years but I still wonder.

I GOT THE JOB!!!

I haven’t written about it, partly out of superstition, but I’ve been waiting over the past 10+ days to hear back from a potential employer regarding a possible job offer. Today they called and offered me the position and I’m absolutely thrilled.

I’ve been out of the workforce for a while. Family illnesses, my Father’s death, and some personal crises are to blame. I’ve also been carefully looking for the RIGHT job, which has less to do with salary than it does with the right business and environment. I’ve hoped to find something with either a non-profit charitable organization or a corporate business who’s product is related to the arts.

My new position is with a very large nonprofit humanitarian organization based here in NYC. The company works to provide social services and relief all over the world. I’ll be a network administrator and in charge of managing the network and servers, both local and remote, and doing all the other things IT folks usually do in concert with the Technology Manager, domestic and international support people.

First Manhattan Bike Ride of the Season

I went out for my first NYC bike ride of the season. I can’t store my bike in the hall or the basement; so it has to be parked inside my apartment – my 365 square foot piece of New York City heaven. My wife Kristin bought a wall mount bike rack that is now mounted above my desk. Fortunately the bike is fairly new and fairly light – so lifting it on and off the wall isn’t too big a task. The hardest part is maneuvering the thing out my door, past the dog’s piddle pads without stabbing myself in the gut with the handlebars…

It was a perfect day, around 70 and sunny with a nice little 10 mph breeze from the north. (precisely due north as I’d discover on my ride back home). I came down 181 Street from our building; over the footbridge next to the famous collapsed retaining wall of May 2005, and down the steep winding path into Ft. Washington Park. From Ft Washington Park you can follow the bike path and Greenway (with a few minor detours) all the way down to Battery Park without having to contend with much auto traffic. There is a little detour around the 130’s to just past the Fairway around 125th but there usually isn’t much traffic. Just watch the lights and be extra aware of what’s around you – like delivery trucks, opening doors, etc… And it does get a little crowded with pedestrians around the Intrepid and the cruise ship terminals.

I rode down just past Chamber’s Street today and then turned around and rode home.

It was on the ride home that I realized just how out of shape I am… That wind from the north felt more like a gale and I had to ride straight into it for all of the twelve or so miles home. I’m six feet tall and over 250lbs – not exactly aerodynamic. Of course I neglected to eat anything, or drink anything except four cups of coffee this morning. About two or three miles into the ride home I wanted to puke and all I could think about was scoring a very large bottle of Poland Spring. Winter definitely took its toll.

Now I just can’t wait to do it all over again.