Viewing: PNW Life - View all posts
Destination: Oakland CA
Distance: 306 miles
Lovely day yesterday traveling with my best girl through Washington and Oregon to California.
We enjoyed the rain, listened to murder mystery audiobooks, and made excellent time on I-5, considering all the pit stops for puppy walks and pie!
Today (3/15) we ease on down the road to the San Francisco Bay Area.
Destination: Yreka CA
Distance: 413 miles
Scout and I are hitting the road today for California, Arizona, and New Mexico.
The first leg of our journey will take us all the way from Centralia, Washington to Yreka, California.
$5 per gallon for gas is no joke!
Heartfelt thanks and a "free" music download for all our generous tour support contributors!
Recommit to OMAD, black coffee, and portion control.
Plant new salad vegetables in the garden.
Walk every day before the evening meal.
Curtail alcohol consumption.
Prioritize memory work.
Perform mostly songs from the new album.
Expand melodic range in both directions.
Arrange Joni Mitchell material for Holly.
Write songs for top Indiegogo backers.
Study Nelson Riddle's orchestration.
Practice Beleza duo repertoire.
Arrange for album design, distribution, promotion, and marketing.
Maintain tourbus with regular servicing, repairs, and upgrades.
Apply for touring, residency, and commissioning grants.
Schedule tours and album release events.
Purchase a backup horn.
Reduce debt by 25%.
Make an emergency response plan.
Write a blog post every week.
Invest in home security.
Make time for friends.
Well my friends, it may take several years before we can return to pre-pandemic levels of activity. But little-by-little we’re getting back to business, ever grateful for the clients, customers, friends and fans who sustain us. This year we:
staged 81 concerts and events
welcomed 75 generous album backers
published 50 memoir blog posts
gave 23 private lessons
conducted 19 workshops
collected 12 vintage treasures
recorded 10 songs
headlined 9 festivals
bottled 8 jars of homemade hot sauce
completed 7 new compositions
played 5 live stream shows
traversed 4 western states
received 3 doses of DollyVax
hosted 2 brilliant visiting artists
rescued 1 precious puppy
and consumed 2197 hours of television (sigh).
Here’s to a happier, healthier, and more productive 2022.
Onward and upward!
“Remember, you’re not alone.
You’re part of an international
brotherhood of artists and musicians.
We’re all in this together.”
I aspire to be a Citizen of the World.
A world citizen is a xenophile whose identity transcends geography. Rather than swearing allegiance to a particular nation, ethnicity, or religion, the world citizen treats everyone with equal respect, and derives his rights and responsibilities from membership in the human race at large. He endeavors to be a man for all people.
I aspire to be a Citizen of the World.
Art Farmer was such a man. At the height of his success, as his Jazztet was winning American popularity polls, Art relocated to Vienna, Austria, then commenced to tour internationally for decades. His extensive discography includes dozens of collaborations with musicians all over the world. Near the end of his storied life and career, he was awarded both the NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship, the highest honor our nation bestows upon a jazz musician, and the prestigious Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art, First Class.
World Citizen Art Farmer received the highest honors in both America and Austria
Art had been an adventurer ever since he was a teen, when he and twin brother Addison set out for Los Angeles in search of their destinies. But even after many productive decades in the music business, Art never lost his humility or curiosity. He knew that his chosen career of traveling musician granted admission to the global creative class, an identity he cherished as the foundation of his enlightened worldview.
“Remember, you’re not alone,” Farmer told a room full of aspiring jazz students at Stanford University. “You’re part of an international brotherhood of artists and musicians. We’re all in this together.”
Art Farmer’s philosophy resonated deeply with me, perhaps even more than his brilliant, lyrical music. He was “beyond category,” a true Citizen of the World, and I was inspired to live by his example.
In the years since my mentor’s passing, I’ve been fortunate to enjoy many opportunities for international travel with family, friends and fellow musicians. Occasionally I experienced little more than a hotel and concert hall, but whenever time would allow, I made sure to get out, see the sights, and break bread with the locals. I’ve watched the sunrise in Tuscany, climbed the cliffs of Santorini, serenaded penguins in Patagonia, viewed fireworks over Bangkok, and listened to evening prayers echo through the streets of Jakarta. I’ve visited an artist in Kyoto, a tea master in Uji, a winemaker in Alsace and a chocolatier in Brussels. I’ve met so many fascinating people in my travels, several of whom have become lifelong friends.
I’m grateful to the bandleaders who invited me to be part of their international adventures, notably Suzan Lesna, Keiko Osamu, and especially Amina Figarova, with whom I recorded two albums and performed in a dozen different countries on tour. For several years in the late nineties and early aughts, Amina and her husband Bart generously hosted me at their home in the Netherlands each fall, an annual residency that enriched my life beyond measure. I love and admire them both as artists, friends, and world citizens.
It was my privilege to record two albums with Amina for Munich Records
Although I never became a pilot (holding out for a jetpack, I suppose), I never missed an opportunity to fly, and the long international flights were often most luxurious. Singapore Airlines provided big leather chairs, soft lighting, and an array of Asian delicacies. British Airways offered formal tea and cakes; Japan Airlines served sake and sushi. Virgin Airlines had spa treatments and sleeping pods. And KLM, my favorite, boasted a gorgeous cohort of leggy blonde stewardesses, whose fitted blue uniforms and winning smiles harkened back to the Golden Age of Air Travel.
The airports, however, were chaotic, unpleasant places. Everyone was on high alert after 9/11. Departure meant grappling with the recently formed TSA, whose agents relished their nascent power like freshly minted mall cops. Arrival meant trying to appear inconspicuous under the gaze of scowling soldiers, in full riot gear, with machine guns.
We learned to allow an extra hour or two for security screening, during which agents would empty our bags, disassemble our instruments, pat us down and shout commands over the hum of x-ray scanners. “Empty your pockets! Take off your belt and shoes! No liquids!” On one occasion I was pulled out of line, strip-searched down to my socks, and interrogated. “What is this?” barked the agent, holding up my tiny bottle of valve oil. “And exactly what sort of name is Dmitri?” he demanded suspiciously, squinting at the random assortment of stamps in my passport.
But it wasn’t always so bad. One of my favorite airport memories was arriving in Baku, Azerbaijan for the 2002 Caspian Sea Jazz Festival. I’d been working with Amina for several years, and was thrilled to see her ancestral homeland for the first time. I wanted to find out what sort of Silk Road Shangri-La could produce such a regal, charismatic bandleader. I nicknamed Amina “The Diva,” and often teased her about her aristocratic lineage and manner, but I didn’t fully appreciate where she was coming from until that day.
We arrived in Baku exhausted, to long lines of weary, grey-faced travelers. Prepared for a long wait at customs, we took our place at the back of the crowd. Suddenly a dapper gentleman in a dark suit appeared beside us. He smiled warmly, greeted us by name, placed our passports in his breast pocket, and handed Amina a giant bouquet of flowers, kissing her on both cheeks. The distinguished official then ushered us briskly through the crowd, past customs, down a private corridor and straight outside, where a ceremonial honor guard stood waiting at attention beside a row of shiny black town cars. “Apparently Amina is kind of a big deal around here,” I muttered to no-one in particular.
I was right. The whole band was wined, dined, and treated like royalty. There were welcome gifts, guided tours, shopping excursions to the Taza Bazaar, and even a special banquet in Amina’s honor. We feasted on grilled lamb, champagne and caviar, serenaded by a traditional darbuka ensemble complete with belly dancer, who danced with all of us after dinner. The evening concluded with an astonishingly long series of celebratory cognac and vodka toasts to Amina, her family, and the band. It was a glorious evening.
the whole band was wined, dined, and treated like royalty
The festival itself was a triumph of concerts, workshops, jam sessions and creative collaboration. I’ll never forget the delightfully surreal evening we spent at the Caravan Jazz Club, where we performed the funk classic “Pass the Peas” with an international superband of Sax ’N Hop (Germany), Toots Thielemans (Belgium), our quintet (Azerbaijan, Belgium, Netherlands, USA), and half a dozen hungry young horn players.
But the great highlight was our concert at the historic Respublika Palace theater. We played our hearts out, and the band never sounded better. Amina’s modern jazz compositions, especially the ones inspired by traditional Azeri folksongs, were a huge hit with the hometown crowd. The audience cheered wildly.
the highlight was our concert at the historic Respublika Palace theater
20 years later, I still aspire to be a Citizen of the World, but no longer wish to to travel so far, or so often. Touring is a young man’s game, and my jet-setter days best be behind me.
My new dream is a little more down-to-earth. I’m now in the market for a small camper van with a bed in the back, a simple “tour bus” in which my dog Scout and I can ramble around the western states together.
We’ll take our time, travel the back roads, see the sights, and break bread with the locals.
And who knows? I might even play a gig or two.
“One day, you’ll make peace with your demons,
and the chaos in your heart will settle flat.
And maybe for the first time in your life,
life will smile right back at you and
welcome you home.”
—Robert M. Drake
“We don't see things as they are,
we see them as we are.”
When Daddy Bill passed away last December, just before my 55th birthday, I felt something change in me.
Way down deep, beneath the ocean of love and gratitude for all that he was, below the waves of grief, loss and mourning, there was a feeling of release. Not relief, mind you, but release, as if by saying goodbye to this world, my father was giving me permission to let go of certain unrealistic expectations about my own place in it.
Before he died, I never fully appreciated the extent to which my professional ambitions were tethered to the desire to earn my father’s approval. Ironic, since he never pressured me in any way, and was always encouraging, no matter what. He believed in me. He loved my music and supported my life choices without reservation.
Daddy Bill has always been in my corner. His approval was a given. But because I admired him so and wanted to make him proud, I worked harder than I might have, and whenever I achieved anything, no matter how small, I couldn’t wait to tell him about it.
Daddy Bill has always been in my corner
Even during his last years, as Parkinson’s and dementia assailed his body and mind, we remained close. I visited him in Tucson every few months, and called him every Sunday. Because of his condition, we could only talk about small things: the weather, the news, what he had for breakfast. And though he was often confused or forgetful, he always remembered to tell me that he loved me, and would end every conversation with the same benediction: “you just keep playing that horn.”
I miss my father terribly, but paradoxically, I also feel his presence. I’m not a religious person, and I have no belief in an afterlife. I don’t pray to God, communicate with the ancestors or converse with my father’s ghost. But I do hear the “still small voice” of my own conscience, and it just so happens to speak with a comfortingly familiar, decidedly paternal, southern drawl.
Lately that voice has been telling me to make peace with my demons. We all have our demons, right? I have three, and they have tortured me for as long as I can remember. Their names are Grandiosity, Imposter Syndrome, and Polarized Thinking.
In the past I’ve tried to fight my demons without success. To make peace would require a new strategy: that I stop fighting, and instead try to understand them and where they’re coming from. Think of it as Cognitive Distortion Diplomacy.
my three demons have tortured me for as long as I can remember
Grandiosity is the biggest and loudest of my demons. He infects me with toxic superiority and an exaggerated sense of my own importance. He robs me of rational thought and empathy, and fills me with bogus, superstitious beliefs: that I’m special, that I’m chosen, that I’m destined for greatness, and that the universe magically conspires to assist me at every turn. Grandiosity distorts my positive aspirations and work ethic, transforming them into an unearned and ugly feeling of entitlement.
Imposter Syndrome is Grandiosity’s evil twin sister. Whenever Grandiosity sleeps, she awakes, to drain my delusional overconfidence and replace it with extreme self-doubt. Imposter Syndrome perniciously whispers that I’m an untalented fraud, that my entire career has been nothing but a long con, and that any past accomplishments and accolades are meaningless. Imposter Syndrome says “You’re not special at all. You’re the worst thing a person can be: you’re ordinary.”
Of the three, however, Polarized Thinking may be the most dangerous demon of all. He provides the fuel that sustains the others. He inflicts an absurd all-or-nothing worldview of black and white extremes, in which I’m either destined for success or doomed to failure. Polarized Thinking says there can be no in-between, no shades of gray. If Grandiosity is born of the hope that I’m special, and Imposter Syndrome is the fear that I’m not, Polarized Thinking is the erroneous belief that these are the only two options.
If I’m ever to let go of unrealistic expectations, and come home to the life that I truly want, then making peace with these demons is paramount. I may never be able to silence them entirely, but If I can just see them for the maladaptive, habitual, self-sabotaging ways of thinking that they are, perhaps I can diminish their destructive power and re-integrate them into a more realistic sense of self.
In other words, I must learn to perceive things clearly as they are, unclouded by hope and fear. I must become like Manjushri, the bodhisattva of keen awareness, whose flaming sword represents the transcendent wisdom which cuts through duality and delusion.
Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of keen awareness
Who knows what the future will hold? None of us control the narrative of our lives, not really. But to the extent that one can shape a life story, I now aspire to a smaller, simpler, more sustainable one.
I will “keep playing that horn” for at least a few more years. But while my love of music is undiminished, any ambitious desires to prove myself or make my mark have waned considerably. The truth is, there is no longer anything to prove. Not to my father, not to myself, not to anyone.
Look at it this way: my dream was to become a professional jazz artist, to travel, make records, and share my music.
As it turns out, I did precisely that, and I've enjoyed it for nearly 40 years.
Maybe now it’s time to dream a new dream. Why not?
Whatever the new dream turns out to be, I'm sure Daddy Bill would approve.
“Adulthood and what they call maturity is
the slow acceptance of what you will never be.”
“Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die.”
As of today, about 71 million Americans have been fully vaccinated, representing 22 percent of the total US population. As the shots-in-arms number rises, so do our spirits. Restrictions on travel and events have already begun to relax. Folks are starting to get back out there.
Progress is slower globally. According to UNICEF, 130 countries have yet to administer a single dose, leaving 2.5 billion people out of luck in the worldwide vaccination effort. Doses remain scarce in many countries, despite resource-sharing programs like COVAX. Same storm, different boats.
Meanwhile, new COVID-19 variants continue to emerge. The experts are now saying that coronavirus will never be totally eradicated. It has already spread too far and is changing too fast. The primary goal of public health efforts is now to make the virus manageable, like seasonal flu. We may need to get a coronavirus shot every year.
So hope in the air, but so is trepidation. We now consider the road ahead.
I received my first dose of the Moderna vaccine last month, and am scheduled for shot number two this weekend. With cautious optimism, I decided to dip my toe in the water, and agreed to play a couple of socially-distanced jazz festival gigs and teach at an adult jazz camp next month.
Did I make the right call in accepting these jobs? The decision seemed reasonable at the time, but as May approaches, I can feel my blood pressure going up.
I'm nervous! Covid cases continue to rise, and hospitalizations have plateaued even as vaccinations increase. This thing is far from over. But health concerns are only a part of my ambivalence.
This year in lockdown has taught me a great deal about myself as an artist and as a man. To put it simply, I’m not entirely sure that I even want to return to public life.
When I was a young man, I believed that I was part of a sacred continuum. I regarded my musical heroes as ancestors, and felt that it was my responsibility to take up their mantle and follow their example. I fully expected that one day I would join them, in the grand succession, on Olympus.
As I got older, I began to think about my legacy. I had no protégé, no students, and no children, yet I saved every concert program and news clipping. I imagined that these items would be valuable to future historians, biographers, and curators of retrospective exhibitions about my life and career. I even lugged my memorabilia around in a giant footlocker, which I called The Dmitri Museum without a trace of irony.
The Dmitri Museum
When I hit midlife, after I'd been making a living in music for awhile, I began to realize that my career held no great significance. I’m neither a virtuoso nor an innovator. I can play, but my simple songs and modest independent recordings are not likely to be remembered by history.
After some soul-searching I made peace with the demotion and embraced the more realistic role of blue collar bandleader. I'd lost interest in collecting museum exhibits anyway, so I scanned a few items, tossed the rest, and focused all my energies on filling the schedule.
“If I’m not going to be important,” I thought, “I can at least be busy.” Over the next decades my bands and I spent over two hundred nights a year on the road, playing thousands of shows for small audiences in intimate venues. I took pride in our success, but I also felt like the dog that caught the car ... now what?
Then came the big Pandemic Pause Button, and with it the chance to stop, think, and ask the big questions. Am I happy? Why did I choose this life? What other paths might I have taken? Should I stay the course, or find a new way?
The first few weeks of the shutdown were especially challenging. My ego was attached to my manufactured identity as one of the hardest working, busiest cats around, and that had been taken away. I felt defanged and emasculated. But as weeks turned into months, I began to let all that go. Gradually I settled into a new rhythm.
The pace of life during lockdown slowed to a stroll, my preferred tempo in all things. Each day was perfectly balanced: a little writing, a little teaching, a lot of relaxing. I puttered around the house, played my horn, wrestled with the dog, and took naps. I spent time outdoors, walking, gardening and fishing. I enjoyed home-cooked meals with Sassy and heart-to-heart talks with faraway friends.
We also watched tons of movies. One that I found particularly inspiring was Harry Dean Stanton’s final picture Lucky, in which a 90-year-old man comes to terms with his own mortality in a small desert town.
Harry Dean Stanton in Lucky (2017)
Lucky finds enlightenment in the minutia of life. “He has a routine,” observes film critic Matt Zoller Seitz, “and like many older people, it gives shape to his days.” Yes, indeed.
Like Lucky, I’m a non-religious seeker, and ritual is important to me as I prepare for my own senescence. This year provided an unexpected, welcome preview of what daily life will be like when I retire. I was surprised to learn that I love this simple life, and that even without music and travel, I’m still me.
This year of Liminal Time was a gift from the universe, an opportunity to reevaluate foundational assumptions. For example, as a child I was taught to see myself as a winner, and that idea was reinforced every time I excelled in school, work, music, life. But how can you be a winner if you never try things outside your comfort zone? How can you be a winner if you never attempt something at which you might lose?
All my life I’ve parsed the world into two absurd, Randian categories: “things that matter” (where I win), and “things that are a foolish waste of time” (where I never lose, because I refuse to participate). I now see that what I believed to be discernment was actually a childish defense mechanism against the inevitable shame of failure.
This cartoonish worldview served me for awhile as a useful delusion. It gave me strength during times of adversity. But it also deprived me of valuable life experience and depleted my capacity for empathy. It hindered my ability to make friends, because whenever I dismissed something as foolish, I would be equally dismissive of those who enjoyed or excelled at that thing.
Art Farmer was 100% correct when he told me that I don’t take enough chances. Art also said that there is really no such thing as losing. “There’s only winning or learning.” What he didn’t say, but I now believe, is that of the two, learning is best.
Art Farmer was 100% correct when he told me that I don’t take enough chances.
Looking ahead, I’m not sure what my new normal will look like, but I hope to fashion a more balanced lifestyle, one with less busyness and more curiosity.
I do still have some ambition in the tank. I'll surely write more music, play more concerts, and record at least one more album before I call it quits. But I also feel the need to make space in my life for frivolous hobbies, silly games, small talk, chance encounters with strangers, taking chances, and exploring new interests.
I’d like to spend fewer nights on the road. It’s time to begin my transition from “touring musician” to “northwest composer” and eventually “eccentric old guy at the diner.”
The fact is, I may have no choice in the matter. Competition for post-pandemic work will be intense. Many venues, including several of my longtime clients, have gone out of business during this crisis. Others are now booking bands at unrealistically low wages. Most won’t return to live music at all until capacity restrictions are lifted. #SaveOurStages
But if this year has taught me anything, it’s that work for work's sake is overrated. Been there, done that.
The new goal is a smaller, simpler, more sustainable life.
One shaped by ritual and routine, punctuated by moments of discovery and wonder.
That’s the life for me.
“I enjoyed the time out! I loved the fact that nobody had to achieve anything.
And the light at the end of the tunnel is stressing me out.”
After a full year of hunkering down and hiding out, I must admit to feeling anxious about the prospect of getting back out there again. My auto-diagnosis: 10% agoraphobe, 10% germaphobe, 30% introvert, 50% rational, reasonably cautious person.
Several fellow creatives have told me that they, too, feel somewhat ambivalent about returning to their old lives.
“To tell you the truth, I needed the break,” my friend Hans confessed over Zoom. “I was feeling burnt out for about five years before this thing hit.”
Another colleague confided, “I’ve always been a homebody. Now I have permission! I hear folks talking about Covid Cabin Fever and how they can’t wait to go to a party or a bar. Is it weird that I don’t feel that way, like ... at all?”
I don’t think it’s weird. We’re not all wired the same. Some of us feel imprisoned and can’t wait to bust out. Others find comfort in what Red in Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption called “the poison peace of institutional life.”
Personally, I miss touring and performing, but not the relentless hamster-wheel hustle required to maintain that lifestyle. Moreover, now that I’ve experienced a year of living simply, I’m finding it difficult to remember why I ever felt it was so damned important to be busy all the time.
I miss touring and performing, but not the relentless hamster-wheel hustle required to maintain that lifestyle.
When I hear reports of how social distancing is taking a toll on people’s emotional and mental health, I empathize. According to scientists at the University of Virginia, “human beings aren’t wired for social isolation. When people experience chronic social disconnection, they are subject to psychological distress, physical discomfort, and an increased risk of illness and death.”
In-person social interaction seems to be especially important for children, whose brains are still developing. Socialization helps young people create a sense of self and learn what others expect from them. I really feel for all those high school and college students who are missing out on precious daily face-to-face interaction with peers, not to mention the group rituals that mark developmental milestones, such as the prom and graduation.
I also feel for their parents. My friends with teenage kids have taken a crash course in the importance of socialization this year. They’ve learned first hand the extent to which their children’s happiness and well-being depends upon the physiological stress-buffering provided by “hanging out with friends.”
Then there are those single adults, living alone, who’ve experienced profound feelings of sadness during the solitude of this past year. I feel for them, too, especially the older folks who just want to hug their grandchildren.
I’m no stranger to loneliness, but leave it to me, the Pandemic People-Person, to experience better mental health and a stronger sense of community during this topsy turvy time. Truly, I have never felt such a sincere social connection to my friends and family, as during this year of sheltering in place!
Dig: before the pandemic, my life was rife with obligatory interactions. Pitching prospects, calling on clients, managing musicians, mingling with the crowd. Hustle. Hang. Repeat. Ad infinitum.
A career in the performing arts is essentially a never-ending cycle of event planning. If you’ve ever helped plan a wedding, you know how communication-intensive this kind of work can be. A single event may require dozens of phone calls, emails and discussions.
Now imagine producing over 200 events a year! Is it any wonder that on my nights off I craved only solitary peace and quiet? Is it any wonder that, other than a weekly phone call to my faraway father, I rarely spent time, socially, with anyone?
Is it any wonder that on my nights off I craved only solitary peace and quiet?
It’s not that I'm antisocial. I love my friends and family. I miss them when we’re apart. But I've always been an introvert, and prior to this pandemic, I simply did not have the alone time required to sort through all the stimulation of my world and my life.
But during the shutdown? I’ve been downright gregarious!
Refreshed and recharged, I’ve transformed into a Social Media Butterfly — reaching out, checking in, taking a genuine interest in the lives of others.
Refreshed and recharged, I've transformed into a Social Media Butterfly.
With plenty of time on my hands, I’m now using my phone socially, too. Every day I call a different person, just to say hello. Amazing! This is something I would never have made time for in the past.
This year, through the miracle of technology, I’ve been able to reconnect with distant family, enjoy several heart-to-heart cyber-talks, and even engage in a few “virtual happy hours” with dear friends. I joined group chats, checked out some concerts, participated in podcasts, and even attended a live stream wedding! I've never been more grateful for the healing, community-building power of the internet.
I've never been more grateful for the healing, community-building power of the internet.
And now, when I stroll with my dog in our little town, we will often stop to chat, socially-distanced, with the neighbors. I used to despise “small talk” as a waste of time, but you should hear me now, remembering names and remarking on the weather and whatnot.
Dare I say it? I’ve never been more social than during this time of social isolation.
One year ago this week, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic and we began sheltering in place.
I took the warnings seriously, even though staying home meant figuring out how to pay the bills while simultaneously transitioning from touring performer to online music teacher (aka “building the plane as you fly it”). Planning for the worst while hoping for the best, I also took the opportunity to update my will and put my affairs in order. I resolved to hunker down and wait this thing out until it’s safe to get out there again.
As you may remember, when this shutdown first began we were told to be patient, because “it could take several weeks before things return to normal.” Those weeks turned into months. Now it’s been a full year.
Yesterday I received my first dose of the Moderna (aka Dolly Parton) vaccine. Hooray! Over 10% of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated so far. According to the CDC, we should all continue to observe safety protocols until we reach about 80%, at which point we’re likely to achieve herd immunity.
Why is this man smizing? After a full year of sheltering in place, he just received his first dose of Dolly Vax
So we’re now in a kind of arms race — a shots-in-arms race, if you will — against the dual forces of vaccine hesitancy and the evolving COVID-19 variants. The idea is to get most of the populace immunized before the virus mutates so much that the available vaccines become ineffective.
Unfortunately, some states have already jumped the gun, prematurely abolishing mask-wearing laws. Scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson observes that such actions are “like designating a peeing section of the swimming pool.”
Here in Lewis County, Washington, it’s fashionable to resist any attempts to suspend individual freedoms in the interest of public health. In other words, folks around these parts don’t take kindly to the government telling us what we can and cannot do.
But even here, people seem to be getting the message. Our pop-up drive-thru vaccination site at the Lewis County Fairgrounds is proving to be very popular. I even noticed, in the long line of vehicles waiting for the vaccine, several campaign bumper stickers for our disgraced former president, who received his own immunization in secret after calling the pandemic a hoax. Sigh.
Although many protested against state-mandated health measures,
Lewis County residents are now lining-up for vaccination
In the future, after this deadly pandemic is well behind us, those of us who were fortunate enough to survive may find it difficult to remember all the troubles we collectively endured over this past year. Beyond the considerable health and safety concerns, the coronavirus era has also been an unprecedented time of economic hardship, social unrest, political instability, ecological imbalance and existential crisis.
So much struggle and sacrifice, fear and frustration, grief and loss. We worry about our sick friends, and we mourn those who died during the shutdown, including non-Covid deaths like that of my father, who succumbed to Parkinson’s while in hospice, just before Christmas, 1500 miles away.
It’s been a long, hard year. Yet even as we reflect on its ravages, and at the risk of seeming insensitive to the suffering of others, we must acknowledge that some positive things have also transpired.
For example, my immediate family and I have enjoyed better health during this global pandemic than before it began. Ironic,
You see, chronic low-grade illness is an occupational hazard for the touring musician. Jet-lagged and sleep-deprived, we ply our trade among the great unwashed, exposing ourselves to all manner of viruses and infections on the road.
It’s always something. You get food poisoning at a roadside diner. That night you go to work anyway, because what can you do? A fellow musician gives you a hug, and afterward you notice she has the sniffles. On the flight home, everybody is coughing and sneezing. Each day is another chance to catch a bug and pass it along to someone else.
But it turns out, when you remove travel and social interaction from the equation, good health returns. In fact, during this year at home, no-one at my house was even mildly sick. Not once! Apparently, staying home not only limits your chances of exposure to coronavirus, it also provides a bulwark against the flu, upset stomach, sore throat, even the common cold.
Home-cooked meals heal body and soul, especially when you harvest fresh vegetables from the garden
I’ve even lost weight! During this lockdown, I’ve been able to eat right, exercise, get plenty of rest and practice good sleep hygiene, all with a consistency that I found impossible to maintain when traveling.
Dare I say it? This health crisis has been good for my health.
THE HUNKER BUNKER REPORT
Part 2 — FISCAL HEALTH
the smell of the rain
the sound of the train
my dog by the fire
As a boy in rural Tennessee, Billy Matheny slept in an attic bedroom, the slanted ceiling only a few inches above his bed. The Matheny house had a tin roof that sang when it rained, and the sound of raindrops would serenade young Billy to sleep. So Billy treasured the rain. And when he grew up, he passed that treasure along to his own son like a beloved family heirloom.
The rainstorms in Georgia were magnificent.
At the first thunderclap, Daddy Bill would throw open all the doors and windows of our little apartment, so we could enjoy the breeze and wait for the rain. If I close my eyes, I can still see him, puffing his pipe in that wingback chair, his legs crossed casually, unlaced hushpuppies hanging off the ends of his narrow naked feet.
Sometimes there would be soft music playing on the turntable -- James Taylor perhaps, or Miles Davis -- but usually we would just sit and listen to the rain as it came down out of the clouds, into the pines, and onto the red clay just outside our open door.
I remember hearing the peaceful, percussive patter of raindrops on the kudzu, accompanied by the low rumble of distant thunder. The aroma of Daddy Bill’s cherry blend tobacco. The fresh scent of damp earth. A sensory symphony of sounds and smells.
As the storm grew more intense, Daddy Bill would cheer the crescendo, appreciating nature’s performance.
Then he’d look over at me with twinkly eyes and say, “Welp, it’s really coming down out there, Little Bub. Let’s go for a walk.”
And just like that we would venture out into the storm, splashing along the sidewalk together. No umbrellas. No slickers or galoshes. Just the two of us, man and boy, in our street clothes, soaking wet and laughing. The neighbors must have thought we were out of our minds.
Dad and I moved from Georgia to Arizona in the summer of 1977, just in time for monsoon season.
The Arizona heat was exactly as advertised -- damn near unbearable -- but those dramatic summer storms were something else. They cleansed the land, revitalized flora and fauna, and replenished our spirits.
We knew that rain-walking would be a bad idea in the Sonoran Desert around Tucson. The topography is flat, vegetation is sparse and low to the ground, and lightning routinely strikes anything vertical.
No matter. We were thrilled to appreciate the monsoons from the safety of our screened-in patio -- an exhilarating, fully immersive experience.
The rain would pour down all at once in a heavy torrent, punctuated by brilliant flashes of crackling electricity that filled the sky, turning the saguaro cacti into stark silhouettes. The river beds filled up and overflowed their banks, flooding the roadways. Sheets of rainwater pelted our windows relentlessly. Peals of thunder rattled the adobe walls.
It was glorious.
Over the years, no matter where I happened to live or travel, the rain has remained a loyal friend.
At Interlochen I would sit on the dock and watch raindrops dance on the surface of Green Lake. In San Francisco, where I lived for 20 years, it wasn't uncommon for the entire month of January to be wet. Even in Boston’s Back Bay, where winter weather vexed my college years, thunder showers were a rare gift. I would sit at the Trident Bookstore Cafe, writing letters, drinking coffee and daydreaming as stormy skies benevolently baptized the red bricks of Newbury Street.
Rainy weather has been my welcome companion on the road, throughout the Americas, and around the world. Whether gentle or tumultuous, her arrival always feels like a personal message of support from the universe, assuring me that everything is going to be just fine.
Here in Washington State, where I now live with my girlfriend Sassy and our dog Scout, I have fully embraced my birthright as an avowed pluviophile! We receive about 73 inches of rainfall annually -- nearly twice the national average -- yet folks here seldom carry an umbrella. In the Pacific Northwest, rain is simply a fact of life.
Now when I go storm-strolling with Scout, the neighbors don’t even bat an eye. They just wave to us as we splash along happily from puddle to puddle.
Last month, we lost my father to Parkinson’s Disease. I miss him terribly, but I also feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for everything he was and will remain, in memory. Among his many life lessons, Daddy Bill taught me to love the rain.
Shortly before he died, I received a surprise early birthday gift from Sass: my very own tin Rain Roof, professionally installed, affixed to the awning over my bedroom window.
Such a thoughtful gift. What a tribute! What a solace!
No one knows what the future may bring, but at least for tonight, all will be well.
Tonight the rain will come, and she will sing us a lullaby.
Tomorrow is a new day.
Drink water. Eat vegetables. Take naps. Pace yourself.
Cleaner fasts, more colorful feasts, smaller portions.
Spend more time outdoors: walking, riding, fishing.
Expand vegetable garden with new crops.
Get vaccinated as soon as possible.
Prepare arrangements for Cascadia studio album.
Compose Legacy suite showcasing Dad’s poetry.
Add Patsy Cline material to DMG repertoire.
Schedule fourth quarter touring engagements.
Apply for touring and commissioning grants.
Launch Cascadia crowdfunding campaign.
Recruit five more private students.
Collect missing issues of Silver Age Green Lantern.
Launch a new 30-day challenge each month.
Publish a memoir blog post every week.
Invest in home security.
Slept over 300 nights in my own bed
Added 196 new friends and subscribers
Enjoyed 180 homegrown garden salads
Gave 122 private lessons online
Sold 92 books and household items
Directed 33 distance learning workshops
Received 27 grants and contributions
Collected 17 vintage comics by mail
Staged 13 performances (pre-lockdown)
Wrote 10 new arrangements for jazz sextet
Played 7 solo live-stream shows
Created 6 new multimedia presentations
Played 3 big band concerts (pre-lockdown)
Produced 2 virtual arts education festivals
Survived 1 surreal, bottle episode of a year!
HINDSIGHT IS 2020
>Sigh< What a year.
Anxiety, uncertainty, sadness, frustration.
Isolation. Loneliness. Loss. Grief.
Hyper-vigilance. News-bingeing. Doom-scrolling. Self-medicating.
Economic instability. Racial unrest. Joblessness, homelessness, food insecurity.
Explosions. Invasions. Protests. Riots. Wildfires. Floods. Hurricanes. Murder hornets! Nazis!
Police brutality. Political corruption. Voter suppression. Rampant stupidity.
And all this during a deadly global pandemic.
After such a year as this, can one possibly feel hopeful? Or grateful?
For years I’ve made a modest living as a bandleader, traveling thousands of miles, playing hundreds of shows, employing dozens of musicians annually. And back in February, this was shaping up to be our most productive year yet! We had three different touring programs in the works, 217 confirmed gigs on the books, and plans for several exciting new creative collaborations.
Then suddenly everything was canceled, and 2020 became a year like no other.
For a horn player, the prospect of an invisible, airborne respiratory disease is deeply troubling.
Some of my musical heroes were among the first killed by Covid. And many of those who recovered continue to suffer lingering symptoms of fatigue, mental fogginess and difficulty breathing.
My conclusion: even if Covid-19 doesn’t take my life, it could very well take away my livelihood.
I dared not risk contracting or spreading the virus. I put my affairs in order, updated my will, circled the wagons and canceled all non-essential activities. Sassy and I resolved to stay home, mask up, hunker down, and wait for the vaccine. We traveled nowhere, not even to the bedside of my father in hospice. That was especially difficult. But we were in lockdown.
Keeping safe from Covid, however, was far from our only concern.
Unlike my colleagues with day jobs, I was a full-time musician in 2020 BC (Before Covid).
I had no salaried teaching position, no private students. I made my living almost entirely from performances on tour.
When all our gigs were canceled, my family suddenly found itself with no income.
How the hell were we supposed to pay our bills?!
I thought of Art Farmer, my late, great mentor, whose wisdom has never steered me wrong.
Art successfully reinvented himself many times over the course of his storied career. Among his invaluable life lessons, he taught that change is inevitable, and the key to survival is adaptability.
“Eventually you learn,” he once told me, “to recognize change as the herald of opportunity.”
Art died before the new millennium. He certainly could never have predicted what would happen to the performing arts in 2020 … but isn’t that the point?
When the unthinkable happens, and all seems lost, new possibilities emerge.
With that in mind, I reached out to a few trusted colleagues for advice.
We came up with this strategy:
• ask longterm clients to consider postponements rather than cancellations
• where possible, convert to an internet-based, home business model
• prioritize incremental income from streaming, royalties and residuals
• develop a range of new online digital products and services
• leverage social media for advertising and virtual event promotion
• sell digital downloads and custom commissions of new work
• learn how to live-stream and begin playing “karaoke-style” solo shows
• apply for every available pandemic relief grant and assistance program
• cultivate a virtual network of individual patrons and supporters
• build a virtual tip jar and begin soliciting individual contributions
• launch a teaching studio and begin offering private lessons online
• create distance learning curricula for music educators
• present online workshops for college and high school music students
• join with fellow artist/educators to produce a virtual arts festival
• save money, cut costs, downsize, and sell off unwanted items
• learn to do routine minor repairs on my instrument at home
• plant a vegetable garden and begin growing our own food
I’m delighted to report that we accomplished all these things and more.
And with a little help from our friends, we managed to survive this turbulent year, optimism intact.
Presently, as we prepare for the holidays at home, we’re filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude.
We’re so grateful, for so many things.
So grateful for my father, for everything that he was, and will remain, in memory. Grateful for his long, adventure-filled life. Grateful for his caregivers at Sedona Garden and Harmony Hospice. Grateful for his companion Nedra, and for everyone who visited, called, and loved him. Grateful that I was able to spend so much time with him over the years. Ever grateful for him, always.
Grateful for our health! We promise never again to take it for granted.
Grateful for Sassy and Scout, for our little house, and the simple life we share. Grateful for home-cooked meals by the fire, and for the soothing sound of the rain on my new rainroof, an early birthday gift from Sass. Grateful to have a home at all, especially now, as so many are facing eviction.
Grateful to all the essential workers, first responders, health care professionals, vaccine developers, farmers, truckers, delivery people and grocers who labored tirelessly on our behalf this year.
Grateful for technology! As difficult as this quarantine has been, imagine how much worse it was for folks during the previous pandemic 100 years ago. At least we are able to stay in touch with one another! Grateful for many virtual heart-to-hearts via email, text and videophone! Grateful for Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, and social media.
Grateful, too, for the things I learned during this solitary period of self-discovery. I found out, for example, that my work doesn’t define me. It turns out that I don’t actually need to perform to be happy. Grateful for this unexpected, but welcome, preview of my own future, and the opportunity to know what it will feel like when I finally get off the road and retire. I learned that the simple rituals of this rural life -- walking, reading, gardening, watching movies, listening to music, talking with a friend, playing with the dog, ruminating, puttering around the house -- these will be enough for me. How comforting!
Grateful to everyone who voted in the recent election, despite the many attempts to disenfranchise voters. Grateful for the courageous poll workers, election officials, cyber-security experts and legal professionals who stood up against craven efforts to undermine the democratic process.
Grateful, also, for all the brave investigative journalists, fact-checkers, whistleblowers, anti-racists, anti-fascists and compassionate activists who stand up, speak truth to power, and call out deplorable behavior. Grateful for decency.
Grateful for family and friends, including several important people from my past with whom I reconnected this year. So grateful to have them in my life. Most of all, I’m astonished by all the good people who generously offered us help, even when we were reluctant to ask.
You kept our lights on and our creative fires burning.
You made sure that we never lost hope.
So grateful for Adam, Amy, Andrea, Andy, Annabelle, Annette, Aragon High School, Arrivederci Wine & Jazz, Bill, BJ, BMI, Barbara, Benjamin, Beth, Bill, Bloomfield Hills High School, Bob & Sue, Brandon, Bruce, California Jazz Conservatory, Carlos, Caruccio’s, ChiChi & Kent, Chris, Clairdee, Curtis, Dan, Danielle, David, Debbie, Derek & Michelle, Destiny, Dick, Donna, Dorothy Jean, Earshot Jazz, Eastern Oregon University, Eric, Evan, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Flo, Fudgie, Geraldine, Grays Harbor College, Greg, Hillsdale High School, Hope College, Jack, Janice, Jazz Foundation of America, Jazz In AZ, Jazz Night School, Jeff, Jenny, Jerry, Jo, John, Jordan, Joseph, Josie Anne, Joyce, JP, Judith, Judy, Kander, Karen & Bob, Keith, Kelso High School, Kent, Kurt, La Grande High School, Larissa, Louise, Lower Columbia College, Lydia, Lynne, Mabey, Manieri Foundation, Marge, Mark, Mary, Mesa Community College, Michael, Michelle, Mike, Mt. Hood Community College, MusiCares, Nedra, Nine Mile Falls School District, Noal, Noir City Festival, Ott & Hunter Winery, Paradise Valley Country Club, Patti & George, Peaches & Rocket, Phyllis, Randy, Rick, RK, Rob, Ron, Ruben, Sam, Sandi, San Mateo Union High School District, Sassy, Scottsdale Unified School District, Seasons Performance Hall, Seattle JazzED, Sequoia Union High School District, Shanna, Shelley, Sheri & Julian, StageIt, Sue, Sumner-Bonney Lake School District, Susan, Swingin’ Sounds, Terry, Teutonic Wine Company, Tom, Triple Door, Vespers In The Valley, Western Washington University, West Valley College, Wind Rose Cellars, and Wilson.
From the bottom of our hearts, thank you. We endeavor to be worthy, and pledge to "pay it forward" whenever and however we can.
From our Quaranteam to yours: we appreciate you. Please stay safe, stay healthy, and remember that you’re not alone.
We’re all in this together!
Happy New Year!
jazz + film
Thank you for sharing these memorable milestones.
Here's to more musical adventures ahead.
Happy New Year! ~Dmitri
don't try so hard
enjoy the outdoors
save 10% from each job
take care of home and family
support Dad and his caregivers
mine great melodies from all genres
sleep in my own bed whenever possible
exploit all opportunities to write new music
walk Scout every day, no matter the weather
practice intermittent fasting and portion control
scale back on touring and increase northwest jobs
take full advantage of health care while it’s available
schedule consecutive rejuvenation days every month
begin transition from touring artist to local composer
Photo by Holly Pyle
May 7, 2017
Fortress of Sassitude