from lean on me to kneel on me.

The last three months have shown us the best and the worst of humanity. We’re still working our way through the reopening process from COVID, we’ve become an incredibly virtual society, and we don’t know what the future will bring. We’re all hopeful that the day when we go back to “the old normalcy” comes sooner than later, and that this unusual part of our lifetime becomes a distant memory.

When the quarantine first began, we saw numerous acts of charity and unity, as we saw the numbers of new cases (and deaths) begin to skyrocket. When R&B legend Bill Withers passed away, his signature song “Lean On Me” became an anthem of inspiration and unity. Although the pandemic didn’t have the sudden tragic impact of 9/11, there was a mindset shift beginning, where unity became the focus, as worldwide we were all separated from our everyday lives.

Over the last 30 days, we’ve seen the worst our country has to offer….the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, the stereotyping and threat against Christian Cooper, and the tragic murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department. “The Kneel Seen Round The World” has brought back memories of the Rodney King riots, and the frustration, anger and violence has brought great divide, as racism and police brutality have again come to the forefront.

Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd.
Rest In Peace. Rest in Power.

Although our first responders and health care professionals continue to work around the clock to help save lives, the division and careless disregard of human life has now overshadowed the hard work of so many people. The frustration of social distancing and the economy is secondary to the frustration of oppression, prejudice and racial inequality. The virus of COVID-19 now replaced by the virus of racism, neither having a vaccine.

As we work through these two issues, now more than ever, we need to lift each other up, respect our differences, and spread love. We’ve lost over 100,000 lives to the coronavirus in the United States. How tragic would it be to lose any more lives to civil unrest?

I pray for all families who have lost loved ones during this pandemic, and also the families of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, as they all need our love and support through this tragic time.

Lean on me, when you’re not strong.

I’ll give you strength.

I’ll help you carry on.

grey.

I just watched the evening news and read the news online about the four cops in Minnesota and about the “Karen” in New York City. Yes, they all got fired, as they should have. But what happens next?

At what point do people stop using stereotype-fueled fear as an excuse for blatant bigotry? I’ve lost count of all the viral videos where people go on a racist tirade, because they feel entitled to do so.

I really try to keep politics out of my social media, but as an African-American male (who just as easily could have been in either of these type of situations or the Ahmud Arbery tragedy), this shit has gotta stop.

I don’t care if your Evangelical Conservative or extreme Liberal, pro-gun or anti-gun, pro “Wall” or anti “Wall”, there are not “good people on both sides” here.

I want to believe that we’ve moved the needle forward since April 4, 1968…have we?

If anyone has to live in fear of going for a jog out of fear of a hate crime, the system is broken…..correction, it’s REALLY FUCKING BROKEN…enough lip service – I never want to see riots like the ones after Rodney King….those were days that I wish we could erase from our history. We’re already divided as a country, and I pray that these events don’t become the straw that breaks this nation’s back.

If your initial reaction to any of these three events was to assume that these victims “must be thugs” before the truth was known, I feel incredibly sorry for you. George Floyd matched a description of a suspect for forgery, not rape (like the acquitted Stanford swimmer) or murder (OJ). Even though he resisted arrest, he did not deserve to have a police officer’s knee in his neck until he choked to death. Christian Cooper was threatened by a Caucasian woman who stereotyped him after he asked her to leash her dog as required in Central Park. Ahmud Arbery – he was out for a jog….A FUCKING JOG!!!

I named this post “grey” for two specific reasons; grey is the combination of black and white, and because we ALL need to be on the right side against racism…there is no grey area here.

When my parents moved to the Catskills to teach public school music in 1960, there was a petition in the school district against them living there. My dad had recently completed his Master’s Degree in Music Education at University of Missouri, and my mom had been a well-respected music teacher in both Oklahoma and Missouri. Sadly, some things never change – it doesn’t matter how many degrees you have, how many awards you’ve won, or how professional you are – there are people who will still live in fear of you because you’re a NIGGER (the word in the English language that I despise the most…and the word that you NEVER forget when someone calls you one).

I hope that this post makes people think….it’s very easy to turn a deaf ear and say “not my problem”…..welcome to reality – this IS everybody’s problem.

By the way, tune into “America’s Got Talent” tonight to watch Archie Williams…he’s an African-American singer from Baton Rouge, who was incarcerated for 37 YEARS for a crime he did not commit. Go get ‘em, Arch!

Ebony, Ivory, living in perfect harmony?

the long and winding road.

These five words are the perfect metaphor of my life, as they describe the different facets of my life.

I love to drive, and some days I live to drive. I don’t need a specific destination…all I need is a sunny day, great music to listen to, and a full tank of gas. Where most people would say Paris or London is their dream vacation, my dream vacation is to drive across the country. I want to watch the sunset as I drive through the Midwest, then head through the Rockies and work my way to the West Coast, then drive the Pacific Coast Highway from end to end down to Santa Monica. I’d also love to drive Route 66 from LA to Chicago, drive up to Wisconsin to Green Bay, then head home down through the Ohio Valley. To take in the sights and sounds of Americana this way would be a dream come true!

In 2004, I went on vacation to Arizona, and put nearly 1700 miles on the rental car in 4 days, driving as far south as the Mexican border, and up north to the Grand Canyon. Interstate 17 from Phoenix to Flagstaff is an incredibly beautiful drive. This experience is what made me fall in love with the Southwest – it’s spacious and wide open, and with every day and every highway, there could be a new adventure.

Arizona – one of my favorite states in which to drive.
(Sorry, Maryland.)

These five words describe the last 11 years of my life. There have been some amazing highs and some incredible lows. When I stop and think about losing my mom, while simultaneously trying to sell her house and deal with my own bitter divorce, there’s no question that this was one of the toughest times in my life. Never in a million years would I have thought that the next chapter of my life would include getting married again to the love of my life, let alone getting married in front of America on a Thursday morning!

These five words describe my friendships. When my best friend Pat Cerello passed away in February of 2011, not only did I lose a best friend, I lost the one person who truly understood me both personally and musically. It was like losing a brother, as we were so alike in so many ways. My friendships have definitely evolved since Pat’s passing – I’ve recently ended some longtime friendships that had more than run their course, and I’ve made some new friendships that I truly value, as these people have accepted me unconditionally, and there’s a genuine and mutual level of respect. The saying is that you can count your true friends on one hand….I couldn’t agree more, as I have five friends who not only know everything about my life story, but they are also friends that I would take a bullet for. Of these five people, four of them are friends that I’ve met within the last eight years.

I started to get the idea for this blog post during my recent trip to the hospital…my initial thoughts of “How did I end up in the ER?” morphed into “How did I get through the last 30 years of my life?”, as it made me think about my career (definitely a long and winding road!) and the people and experiences I’ve had along the way. And you know what? I’m still here, and I’m moving forward.

Because the road is long, with many a winding turn.

father of the minute.

Being a dad is hard enough. Being a dad to a 13-year-old daughter who blames you for divorcing her mom without understanding the entire situation? That’s a completely different level of difficulty.

My daughter Lauryn and I are not seeing eye to eye right now. Adding the COVID social distancing definitely has not helped, but I’m trying to show my daughter just how much I love her. Over the last few weeks, I’ve made three trips up to Lancaster to try and communicate with her – she knows about all three visits, and this past Saturday I actually got to see her for 15 whole seconds. She opened the front door, saw it was me, and closed it again.

In the past, I used to beat myself up for being a “horrible dad” because I wasn’t in Lauryn’s life every day (and my ex using that to negatively alter Lauryn’s perception). But during this time I called every night, leaving a voicemail more often than not, and driving up either every weekend or every other weekend, so that she didn’t have to live out of a suitcase. We had a big disagreement almost two years ago, because she doesn’t yet understand or see the big picture, and her loyalty is to her mom right now.

After she saw me and closed the door on Saturday, it would’ve been very easy for me to “shut down” and start blaming myself for everything. For some (good) reason, this didn’t happen – I was focused on two things….first of all, I couldn’t believe how much taller Lauryn was since I’d last seen her! It was shocking to see her so grown up. The other thing which instantly crossed my mind was that she knew that I again made the effort to communicate with her, and that I considered that a HUGE WIN, because my actions spoke much louder than my words.

Trying to reconnect, minute by minute.

I continue to send her quick little letters in the mail every week, and I’ll continue to drive up and knock on the door, whether she answers the door or not. That’s why I consider myself the “Father of the Minute”, because I’m still trying to find quick and simple ways for her to know just how much I will ALWAYS love her. My goal is to go from a minute to an hour, an hour to a day, and just keep building from there.

There are a lot of things that Lauryn will need to figure out on her own, as unfortunately, the people around her are telling her what she wants to hear, and not what she needs to know. If I push too hard right now, that will only create more distance between us. That’s why this entire process is a marathon and not a sprint. Lauryn and I will find our way back to each other, as she’ll know that I’ll always be there for her.

We’ll get there….one minute at a time.

8 things for which i’m thankful. 5/17/2020

1. The nearly 500 miles I drove in the convertible this weekend, enjoying great music, sunshine, sunsets and fresh air.

2. The genuine conversations that are taking place, because all of our lives are so different these days.

3. Smoothie King’s drive-thru window service in York, PA.

Enjoying a gorgeous weekend, one mile at a time.

4. SVU marathons on both Saturday and Sunday.

5. The unconditional love that I have for my daughter in both good times and bad times.

6. The combined smell of freshly cut grass and lilacs.

7. The musical brilliance of Bill Charlap.

8. Laughter so strong that it makes your ribs hurt!

random thoughts while lying on the couch.

You know how sometimes somebody will put an idea in your head that inspires you? That happened to me tonight. In full disclosure, my pain meds have put me in a happy place, and it’s also a place where I feel most creative.

I’m laying here listening to Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage”, and Freddie Hubbard’s trumpet solo is mesmerizing…I’ll never be a trumpet player of his caliber, but to hear such creativity and precision blows my mind.

I’ve heard a lot of conversations about the fear of flying right now because of COVID it makes me chuckle a little bit and think about my mom’s reason for not flying, which I could never argue with her…she said when it was her time to go, it was her time to go, but she said she’d be damned if she’d be on the plane when it was the pilots time to go….one of the many one-liners that I miss from Katy Stowe…

There are some days where I can write lyrics with ease, and there are days when I can write music with ease….I just wish these would both fall on the same day, as I have songs and lyrics that don’t match, and it drives me batshit crazy…

I’ve been giving a lot of thought about doing another internet radio show…I LOVED doing the Have Groove, Will Travel show, but the format and logistics (and softwatre) were very frustrating. It was very inspiring to share music that deserved airplay that was never received, and it was fun to share stories about the songs and artists, including having some of the artists calling in….if anyone has any ideas or suggestions (or wants to co-host) please let me know….

It’s nice to sometimes express thoughts on the couch, without paying $150 to do so at the therapist’s office.

The question I have for all my friends tonight is this – what inspires you? We can all talk about our material stuff, but when you strip all of that stuff away, what’s the thing that inspires us the most? This has weighed heavily on my mind these past few weeks, as we’re seeing people losing loved ones, and finding new ways to get through each day. Inspiration fosters positivity, and in some cases, incredible creativity.

I realized just how much I miss live concerts right now – I love going to see someone perform, and then being inspired to listen to their albums the next day, because I hear them differently…I live for that! I love that feeling when you see the connection that person has with their audience, and how it brings everyone together….we really need that right now. I know that when I do go back to playing gigs, it will be with this mindset, because it’s a different way to connect with people that will hopefully be well received.

You know that feeling when you connect with a long lost friend, or you connect with a new friend with whom you have a lot in common? How AWESOME is that feeling? Good friends are like watching soap operas….you might be away from each other for a long time, but when you reconnect you’re instantly caught up. I also love connecting with new friends who I have a lot of commonalities, because I have new friends who I know 100 times better than some friends I’ve had for years! And it just flows…more often than not, these become the friends I have for life.

I needed to write tonight, and I’m thankful that a wonderful friend asked me if I’d be blogging, as that TRULY inspired me (thanks, Rachele!)…are my thoughts as little random and scattered? Heck yeah! We all think and communicate differently…when I’m “scatterbrained”, that’s when my creativity is in overdrive. My words can’t keep up with my thoughts, and I love when that happens. I am an introverted extrovert – sometimes it happens in a room full of people where my mind goes into full-on creative mode, and I get quiet or perceived as disinterested. That’s when I’m in the zone, and it’s almost impossible to multitask (carry on a conversation) while my thoughts become incredibly creative (and sometimes random beyond words!)….I have another friend Holly who is an extroverted introvert, and we’re starting to pick each other brains as to what makes us tick. (And yes, this inspires and challenges my creative mind in a very unique way).

I remember being in grade school, and teachers would say that I wasn’t paying attention. I specifically remember getting in trouble in 5th grade for “zoning out” during class, because in my head I was trying to figure out the horn parts on Earth Wind & Fire’s song “In The Stone”….how do you even try to explain that as a 10-year-old? I ALWAYS have a song in my head, and this definitely attributes to my ADHD. For fun, I’ll be listening to one song, while singing a completely different song in my head, to ensure that I learn both songs. This makes no sense whatsoever, but it totally works for me (for the record, while listening to Herbie, I was listening to Quincy Jones “Ai No Corrida” in my head….don’t ask me why.)

Wow, this was a fun brain dump! I haven’t just let my thoughts flow like this for quite a while….for anyone who thinks this is to random, try reading this out loud while listening to a book on tape….you might just surprise yourself! 😂

excuse me, do you validate?

One thing I’ve learned during this Corona pandemic….I’ve enjoyed spending time by myself. This doesn’t mean that I don’t love being home with Jenn – it means I’ve learned to appreciate the value in spending time by myself each day, even if it’s just a few minutes.

In the past, my alone time was usually triggered by something negative, like an argument or a bad experience. More often than not, it was triggered by the fear of missing out. This fear was triggered by validation. This would be followed by “snow globing” (seeing things rationally becomes the equivalent of shaking a snow globe and then trying to see through it) and self doubt. This pandemic has forced us all to not just be socially distant, but it has cut us off in some ways from the people we hold near and dear, and from who we find validation.

Enjoying my sunny surroundings.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in my den, between setting up shop to telework, and listening to music every day. It’s from here that I realized that a lot of the validation that I receive is from work and from playing gigs. Having both of these environments put on the shelf indefinitely has been challenging, but it has also been very rewarding. I’ve enjoyed the quiet – I’ve been able to think more clearly, and have felt much calmer on a day to day basis. A lot of time is spent writing – writing lyrics, writing to friends to say hello, and the occasional blog post. From this, I’ve found self-validation. The challenges of project completion and creativity have been invigorating! Although I know I’ll have gigs at some point, I don’t miss them right now. I’ve found healthy alternatives on the weekends, like watching classic movies and taking in the sights and sounds that are around me every day that I’ve taken for granted. In this, I’ve found comfort and not loneliness. In the silence, it feels much healthier to focus on the positives instead of dwelling on the negatives.

Validation – it truly comes from within.

mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be bass players.

The electric bass….the instrument from which I found my identity and my passion for music.

I still remember the specific moments that made me want to be a bass player, and they all took place in 9th and 10th grade. I was a freshman in high school in September 1983 when I met Jonathan Sanborn for the first time. He and my brother were seniors, and Jon took me under his wing. He was hanging out at school listening to Marcus Miller’s “Suddenly” album. This was the first time I listened to the electric bass as a lead instrument, and it was when I also realized that I had heard Marcus on music that I was already listening to, like Luther Vandross, Grover Washington Jr. and Roberta Flack. His bass had such a pure sound, and I loved how he played slap bass with such an amazing groove. Although i wouldn’t truly start to learn the bass for another year and a half, I found music that I could totally wrap my brain around that truly resonated with me.

My second moment was when I stayed up way past my bedtime to watch Late Night with David Letterman. Paul Shaffer and the World’s Most Dangerous Band knocked me on my ass! This was the band that had Hiram Bullock on guitar, Steve Jordan on drums and Will Lee on bass. I had never heard a band that had this sound, and Will’s bass playing blew my mind, as he could play any style of music, and he always sounded flawless. An added bonus was that these guys weren’t just cool……they were super fucking cool, and I wanted to be just like them in any way that I could. It was worth going to school half awake from staying up so late, because I was getting such an awesome education in music four nights a week.

In 10th grade, we had a new student in our high school who moved to Upstate New York from Jacksonville Florida. He was a senior, and he was the new bass player for our high school jazz band. His name was Sean Tarleton, and the two of us hit it off immediately, as we were both low brass players. Sean introduced me to the bass playing of Jaco Pastorius, and Jaco’s bass playing was like nothing I’d EVER heard before. To me, there are musicians who revolutionized their instrument, like Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis. Jaco turned the whole style of bass playing upside down, making the fretless bass a lead instrument, and using harmonics as an amazing way of playing full chords. (His cover of Charlie Parker’s “Donna Lee” – holy shit!!) It was this same year that we formed a band and won our high school talent show….that night was the first real taste of playing for a huge audience, and it was something I knew I wanted to do again and again.

In the summer of 1985, I started to play electric bass….learning to play was challenging, exciting and enlightening! (And yes, as a 16-year-old playing a guitar, impressing girls was definitely a major factor.) My weekends were about hanging out with my band mates and listening to all types of music. This was when I feel like my horizons were truly broadened, as it was my love of hearing the bass that turned me on to cats like Stanley Clarke, John Entwhistle, and Geddy Lee. I also spent a lot of time going through my dad’s jazz albums, and started listening to upright bassists like Ron Carter and Jimmy Cobb. I think back on this time in my life, and I’m truly thankful that I had these experiences at a such an impressionable age.

When I die, I’m taking this with me.
#allaboutthatbass

Although I majored in voice in college, I still spent a great deal of time listening to a variety of music – this is when I did a deep dive into the music of Frank Zappa, John Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix, while still listening to Marcus, Jaco, Will, and this “new wave” bass player in the band Level 42 named Mark King. I was the lead singer for an eight-piece horn band, and I still finagled my way into playing bass on a couple of tunes. (And we won the Battle of the Bands at Ithaca College!) It still blows my mind that this was 30 years ago, as these gigs are still fresh in my mind, as if they happened yesterday.

I realized that I was never going to be a virtuoso bass player, and my carpal tunnel syndrome (and eventual surgery) took a great deal of strength and dexterity out of my left hand. I still play, but it’s more Rock and R&B, where I can focus more on playing “in the pocket” instead of playing solos. I’m very fortunate to work with Andy Alonso and Dave Sheaffer, two incredibly talented bass players with the Cruise Control Band. I love doing gigs with either one of these guys, because even though I’m singing and playing horn, I’m still listening to what they’re throwing down, and it’s very inspiring to listen to their magnificent musicianship.

There’s a t-shirt that says “World’s Most Okayest Bass Player”….that would suit me to a T! I know my limitations when playing, but I love to listen to bass playing in ALL types of music. It was the bass that opened my eyes (and ears) to a world of music that I never would have known about. I still listen to music at least one hour a day, and more often than not, it’s jazz, rock or R&B. And I’m still “all about that bass”, and I’m sure my mom was happy I grew up this way!

8 things for which i’m thankful. (especially after yesterday)

That the phrase “tomorrow is another day” does have special meaning, and that it’s more than just a cliche.

People who respond with genuine support (“I feel that way too sometimes”) to remind me that my feelings are heard and understood.

Random dreams that challenge me to piece them together the next day.

The 32 ounce Passion Fruit Margarita/Daquiri from Guapo’s in Shirlington, which probably contributed to my random dreams last night.

That today is World Gardening Naked Day, and even though I’m not the greatest gardener, I will spend an incredible amount of time naked in the backyard today (having a hot tub is a bonus).

Ready to face a new day….and to enjoy being in the backyard.

That I will walk at least 10 miles today, and that no longer feels daunting to me mentally or physically.

The music and humor (the inspiration for the song “First Day Of May”) of James Taylor.

Determination.

now what?

Today was an incredibly fucked-up day. I had a work situation this week that escalated, and then it started to spiral out of control, and I felt like I was starting to go “down the emotional rabbit hole” because of it.

Although this situation will not turn out badly, I now find myself questioning my abilities as a manager and as a leader. I now feel like I missed the opportunity of what I was supposed to do with my career, and that I’ve just “gotten by” for the last 30 years.

I never wanted to be a music teacher. I knew that for sure after my first year at Ithaca as a music education major. I used to have this dream of being a backup singer for Roberta Flack or Stevie Wonder, but I felt like I was never where I needed to be (geographically or musically) for that to happen. I’m thankful for the education I received, but I still feel like I never figured out or felt like I knew what I wanted to do for my career.

I stumbled into customer service and retail management – it wasn’t my lifelong dream by any stretch of the imagination, and although I worked with some incredibly nice people, my years at JCPenney were pretty much the worst years of my life. (And yes, I’m hoping that COVID puts JCP out of business permanently….assholes. But I digress.) It was easy to do customer service because I have an outgoing personality. It paid the bills, but I never felt satisfied.

Some days it’s much easier than others.

I’ve been fortunate to work for some incredible companies – Prudential, Vanguard and Nutricia, just to name a few….I felt like I interacted well and was a good manager, but it just didn’t resonate with me, and I left because I felt like I hit the wall. So after today’s incident, I’m feeling like I’m hitting the wall again.

I like what I do (and right now I’m blessed to have a job), but I can’t help feeling like I missed my calling. What’s more frustrating is that I don’t know what that calling was supposed to be. It’s easy to say music, but doing what? I could totally see myself working as a late-night jazz DJ for NPR, but there is no path to that (not to mention it’s probably a shitty paycheck).

Tomorrow is another day, and I hope that I’ll wake up with a better perspective and outlook than the one I have right now. And maybe I’ll figure out just what the hell I should be doing with my career to feel like I’m not just getting by.

Perhaps my ship hasn’t sailed after all…..now what?