Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Monday, September 29, 2008
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
I spent a long weekend in Seattle to celebrate my friend, Greg’s, wedding to a wonderful lady, Han. Greg and I played together in a band very briefly in college and I lived across the hall from him for a year. I was one of a handful of college friends and was so honored to be there. They moved to Seattle very recently to begin a new adventure together in a city that is foreign to them both. I must say that the personal attention to detail during every point of the wedding was so subtle and elegant that it must have taken a mountain of work on both Greg and Han’s parts. Truly, the entire weekend was perfect. And they’re one of those incredibly rare perfect couples.
Having never been married and having most of my friends be unmarried, weddings are a bit of a mystery to me. I am always amazed, and truthfully in awe, of two people committing to one another forever in front of a crowd of people they know. I’m reminded about the advice that if you really want to do something, make sure to tell everyone you know you’re going to do it. It creates a level of accountability that you can’t establish otherwise.
I noticed something at Greg and Han’s wedding that I don’t believe I’ve ever seen to such a degree at a wedding before, and it gave me great hope for the future of marriage. Greg has a coolness about him, a sophistication. He moves and operates his life with an admirable relaxed gracefulness. And he always has. At the reception, I saw how perfectly Han’s cool factor matched and complimented Greg’s. How well they fit together naturally, not because either of them was changing the other but because they really are two halves joining with great ease. And while people say a relationship is work, it doesn’t seem to be for them. It just is.
Greg and Han gave me a great gift by asking me to share this very special experience with them in Seattle over the weekend, and they gave me an insight that is precious. I was able to bare witness to two people who were able to sift through many personalities in this world to find another, equal spirit whose mere presence makes life easier, simpler, and happier. For Greg and Han, I was able to see many, many years of being together, her sway matching his. Taking someone into your life and keeping them in your life shouldn’t be an arduous, tedious task - ever. I’m convinced now, many thanks to Greg and Han, that two people fusing their lives together can, and I believe must, be something of a magical moment, like creating music, like art. It really should be as essential and as easy as breathing.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
I gave up my horn about 10 years ago because truth be told I wasn't even mediocre, and even if I practiced for hours a day I'd never be great. I want to be a lot things, but I have no intention of getting in the habit of spending my time being mediocre. I love jazz, but I couldn't play it. I just don't have that ability. My creativity is in my writing.
So for years now I have socked away all of the academic knowledge I built up around the music. (I studied it for a year in college and played in a few different bands.) People ask me if I miss playing, and truth be told I don't. I never even think about it. Playing music doesn't hold any kind of magic for me, but I still very much enjoy listening to it, and really what I enjoy is the history, all of the stories that come along with musicians. And there are plenty of stories to go around.
My brother is a trumpet player and because he is 6 years older than me, I learned about Wynton Marsalis and the Marsalis family at a very young age. When I saw that Wynton would be at my local Barnes and Noble I decided to go hear some of his stories. He was so engaging and charming that I bought his book on sight, which I never do at author readings. And once I started reading Moving to High Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life, I couldn't put it down. (And it helps that his co-author is the brilliant and well-spoken historian, Geoffrey Ward.)
For me the genius of this book is not to tell you about all the drugs that musicians have done, or all the women they've had or how down and out and poor they were. It talks about what the music has to teach us about living other aspects of our lives. How we treat each other. It teaches us about acceptance and nurturing and compassion. Wynton lays out the value is studying jazz not to be great, but to realize a certain aspect of humanity that comes through generosity. Its is a living, breathing thing that connects the generations. It allows us to learn from generations of people who were long gone before we were every a twinkle in our parents' eyes.
Wynton goes on to talk about how we all hear something different in the music. He talks about arrogance and greed and the darker sides of our personalities that the music uncovers. But mostly he talks about how musicians with disparate styles can come together, should come together, to create something wholly different than they could ever make on their own. Nobody gets through this world alone in the same way that no jazz musician builds a career alone. Jazz is a way of capturing what it means to be out and about in this world. It's a way of sharing that experience with others whom we will never meet but for whom our music could be a beacon of freedom if we are strong enough to tell our own stories, look them in the eye, and harvest the very best of what they have to teach us.
Wynton's thoughts on community come at a particularly poignant time. Throughout the book I thought a lot of about the state of our world. How scary all these moving parts are - the economy, our national security, our political systems, health care, education. There is a lot to be afraid, maybe even more to be afraid of than at any other time in our history. What jazz, and musicians like Wynton teach us, is that the only way we can be safe is to let go of that fear with the confidence that those around us will support us. Their harmonies will carry us through. And if all else fails at least the swingin' will give us enough encouragement to keep our chins up and the rest of us moving forward with grace.
Monday, September 15, 2008
Slate.com, the witty if conceited and sometimes down-right nasty, has launched a new site to cater to the Facebook set interested in keeping up with the business news of the day, provided its packaged up in their language. The Big Money is a bit short on slick design, though the content is intriguing. They’re covering all the major topics like the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the purchase of Merrill Lynch by Bank of America, with some other interesting, timely, and generation X- and Y-targeted info like a socially responsible investing guide.
Viewed side by side with publications such as The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, The Big Money clearly goes after breadth over depth, though if they’re trying to attract younger generations this is the path of least resistance – give them a surface understanding and allow them to dig in deeper where they deem necessary and interesting. Don’t overwhelm them because they’ll tune you out, and give them just enough information to be conversant around the office about today’s top stories. The goal is to raise their awareness of the financial shifts happening today that are sure to have huge impacts on their lives for decades to come.
The Big Money is a publication that has clearly done its homework, knows its customer, and knows who they are, and more importantly who they aren’t. No brand can, or should, be all things to all people. The Big Money seeks to turn this latest economic downturn into a learning opportunity for very young adults that will build their lifelong interest in their financial well-being. If that's the case, then mission accomplished.
Friday, September 12, 2008
Thursday, September 11, 2008
I work out at the gym in my office building. It's nothing glamorous but it has what I need: a precor machine, easy to use weight machines, a rower, and clean bright rooms for classes. It also has a view that reminds me every day of the preciousness of life: it overlooks the 9/11 site. Today crowds of people will be flocking to the site to pay homage to the people who spent their final moments on that site, people who are sorely missed by their families, friends, and by our city. It is a sobering reminder that every day, EVERY day, counts.
I am now in the midst of reading Wynton Marsalis's latest book, Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life. I picked it up initially because I met him at Barnes & Noble during a session he was doing across from Lincoln Center, because my brother adores him, and because I was a mediocre saxophone player many moons ago.The book is incredible, and I'll write a proper post reviewing it as soon as I'm finish reading it. I mention it here because it's going to tie nicely into my thoughts on 9/11, right after I mention one more recent occurrence.
My dear friend, Dan, whom I write about often and spend a good deal of time with, is the publicist for Feinstein's at the Regency on Park and 61st. He took me to see Michael Feinstein's Christmas show in December and on Tuesday he invited my friend, Monika, and I to see Ashford & Simpson. I can't remember the last time I had so much fun at a show. They play with such joy and love. I'm still humming Solid and Ain't No Mountain High Enough. I was dancing, shouting, clapping. I was living that music and I felt so connected to every person in that audience even though I didn't know anyone save for Dan, Monika, and Dan's co-worker, Danielle. We were all together, celebrating life.
After the show let out, I walked west to catch my bus home. It was a long walk and I waited a while for the bus so I had a decent amount of time to revel in my happiness. And I finally understood the premise of Wynton Marsalis's book in a way I hadn't understood before seeing Ashford & Simpson. I understood those feelings of gratefulness I get when I'm on the rowing machine and looking at that sad, expansive space where the Towers stood majestically watching over us for so many years. It's that feeling of just being happy "to be".
The only job we have in this world, and I mean the ONLY job, is to experience joy and express it every day for as long as we have the privilege to be citizens of this world. Any art, but music in particular, is a thread to connect all of us because we all hear the same notes but they mean different things to all of us. It allows us to be the same, be different, be individuals, be a group, all together across many generations. We don't need to know a language, wear certain clothes, or be raised a certain way to enjoy it. It's an equal opportunity companion.
It's in our best interest to share joy because as we share it, there's more for us to have. Ashford & Simpson and Wynton Marsalis personify that principle and have reaped the benefits of its implementation. So sing, paint, play the trumpet, go to a show, write, love your job, garden, volunteer, run, swim, tell jokes, have a boogie break in your apartment. Spend time with interesting, fascinating, diverse people, and let them into your life in a profound way. And recognize how infinitely lucky we are to be alive at all. Just being able to walk around on this Earth and take it all in is an amazing gift.