Tag Archives: jazz

A pandemic diary: Being here

May 17, 2020

Saturday I attended an online meeting of the Atlanta Writers Club, an organization that predates the last pandemic and is rolling with the punches during this one. Sadly, another much-loved Atlanta event has gone dark: a monthly jam session for singers, including my wife. A bandstand plus a roomful of vocalists and fans is beyond social distancing, and Zoom can’t fill the void. My wife misses working with fine local musicians; I miss hearing her sing the jazz standards we both love. No one else ever dedicated “My Funny Valentine” to me.

Even without the jam, we had a perfect spring day, the kind that’s becoming rare as climate change pushes winter closer to summer. The mercury topped out at around 80 degrees with no humidity and scarcely a cloud in sight. The breeze filled the living room with the sweet, lush fragrance of honeysuckles, which Fats Waller immortalized in “Honeysuckle Rose,” and are like nothing else, anywhere.

It was a day to sit back, savor what we still have, and rest our souls for tomorrow. I’m not the spiritual type but I gotta tell ya, boychik, Ram Dass was onto something when he said, “Be here now.” Where else can I go? Take care, be here, and be safe.

When the ordinary is plenty

Long before the pandemic, those of us who live with chronic conditions knew that normalcy is precious. It’s easy to take for granted, yet fragile – and once lost, it can be very, very hard to get back. I’ve had to learn that lesson all over again, but also rediscovered another truth: There’s always hope.

My problems are hearing loss and tinnitus: ringing and other sounds in the ears. This means I have to be careful around loud noise, like the racing movie “Ford v Ferrari,” which I was eager to see last fall. In the theater, I turned my hearing aids down as far as possible, counting on their built-in limiters to protect my ears.

The movie sounded fine, if muffled. But for no apparent reason, the TV seemed harsh and distorted later that afternoon. My worry turned to panic when I turned on my favorite jazz station. Bird’s horn, Ella Fitzgerald’s voice, Pat Metheny’s guitar, all the music I treasure, had suddenly become so shrill that I couldn’t bear to listen.

My audiologist told me the limiters would’ve worked for most people. But since I already had nerve damage, the roar of engines blasting through the sound system aggravated my tinnitus and triggered this new effect. It was like living inside a blown speaker. It changed almost every sound in my universe: my wife’s voice, her piano, the air-conditioner, water running in the sink, even the birds. Huey Lewis is going through something similar, which has gotten so bad that he can’t sing any more.

I was depressed because I’d brought this on myself and terrified it would last forever. Of course, the stress compounded the problem, which caused more stress, followed by more distortion. I knew it would happen. I just had a hard time keeping my fears in check, especially when the pandemic touched off its own anxiety.

All I could do was keep living my life and have faith that I’d get better, as I did the last time my tinnitus flared up, and eventually did this time. As I write, I’m listening to WWOZ in New Orleans, one of the best radio stations on Earth, and am savoring every note. I wear earplugs around power tools and machinery and generally avoid loud noise like the coronavirus (i.e., like the plague). I’ll definitely be wearing my plugs when we have concerts again. (I’ll probably have to sit in the back too, but I’m a little old for the mosh pit anyway.)

If you have hearing issues, please be smarter than I was. Whoever you are, take care and be safe. Normal is just fine. Be cool. Dig it.

Un visiteur grincheux dans le grand pas si facile, or A grumpy visitor in the big not-so-easy

My wife and I just returned from a jazz education conference in the city where jazz was born, the one that greets the suckers tourists with the slogan “Laissez les bon temps rouler!” or “let the good times roll.” However, after a few days in the conference hotel, les bon temps became le mauvais moment* instead. Here’s the scoop.

  1. After driving for two days, we unpack a little, lie down to rest — and find that our bed is like cement. The front desk offers us another room, but we have to trek around to find a decent bed, then repack and schlepp our stuff. When we try to take a shower in room number two, we have…
  2. No hot water! The desk claims, “the engineers are working on the boiler,” which was probably built when Louis Armstrong was a baby and definitely should’ve been patched up before.
  3. There’s no place to hang hand towels, and we can’t reach them without bending down and riling up our backs. Worse, the shower lacks a grab bar for anyone who’s a little unsteady. Note to hotel: not all guests are young and physically flawless.
  4. We grab some chips and get slapped with an outrageous markup, even by New Orleans standards: jacked up from $4.69 to $8.99. Did I mention that the people at the conference are jazz musicians, educators, and students, none of whom have extra cash?
  5. We lie down for the night and have – wait for it – No heat either! Which we need, because despite the sweltering summers, NOLA gets chilly in winter. We pile on some blankets and try to sleep, but…
  6. In the room right above ours, two young sax players are blowing, in both senses of the word. It takes two calls to the desk before security can quiet them down.
  7. Still no hot water or air next morning. Desk says “noon” for a fix. Guess what?
  8. The lobby and common areas are drenched in some noxious freshener / scent / perfume. Just because it’s New Orleans doesn’t mean it should smell like a cheap cathouse, though of course that’s the best kind. (NOT that I have any firsthand knowledge of such a place. Truly. Really! Just a bit of literary license here. Okay??)

In the end, the hotel owned up to the problems and gave us a free night, which we greatly appreciated. Also, the buffet had world-class bread pudding and grits. (And we found the best king cake in town right up the street.)

I’m not as touchy as I sound. I just don’t like having to struggle with the details of life, especially when it puts the damper on something I love, like music. Forget the bon temps: from now on, my personal slogan is, “Go Ahead and Complain. It Might Be Good for You.”

*A bad time (which you probably figured out).

The armies of life

It’s nearly Labor Day and the dragonflies are back, zipping over the deck against a bright blue sky. Somewhere south in the Gulf of Mexico is a storm that might (1) give us some rain and wind, (2) miss us altogether, or (3) come ashore as a full-on hurricane that would send us running for the hills.

This kind of uncertainty isn’t fun, but it’s a pretty good metaphor for the life my wife and I have been leading for months now. Fifteen years after moving from Washington, DC to Atlanta, we decided to move again: to sell our house in the Atlanta burbs, buy a smaller one in Birmingham, Alabama, my wife’s hometown, and divide our time between there and the Florida panhandle where we are now.

Sounds like a snap, right? Seniors embracing change like youngsters, living life to the fullest,  being mobile and flexible, and all those other well-known ‘Murican buzzwords (sorry, I mean “values”).

Let me be very clear: I’m not complaining. I know we’re lucky we can manage this financially, and a lot of people would love to have our problems. But this much change takes effort, will, creative thinking, optimism, and plenty of energy, both physical and emotional. And we’re 15 years older than last time. It’s tough.

We started by clearing out our house and giving away many things we’d no longer need. Then we staged the house for sale, making it look like a model home where no one actually lived. I missed my big, comfy recliner in the den, which we turned into a Potemkin dining room. Then we moved out – which, due to mistakes and neglect by the people we hired to assist us, turned into a horrible last-minute scramble. We felt like we were being evicted from our longtime, much-loved home.

Next came the trying process of searching in a different city for a house that retains the good qualities of the old one – location, location, location, trees in the yard, and a living room suited for music. We found a place but are far from settled.

The new home and new city are good things. They’re things we wanted. Why does it all feel so hard, like perpetual PTSD?

A phrase keeps running through my mind, from Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” his elegy for Lincoln: “The living remain’d and suffer’d, the mother suffer’d, And the wife and the child and the musing comrade suffer’d, And the armies that remain’d suffer’d.”

I don’t know how much weight we’ve lifted, how many miles we’ve driven, or how many hotels we’ve slept in, usually badly. It’s not over. I still sometimes think I just can’t do this for one more day. It’s still tough.

What’s kept us going and will get us through to the end is each other. If you have any sense, you don’t go swimming in the ocean alone or head into the desert without loads of water, so you don’t attempt something physically and psychically earthshaking without a strong partner.

For 16 years and counting, we’ve been together until death do us part. Backaches, U-Haul trucks, hot and cold running contractors, and Matterhorns of boxes will not us part. Our possessions are scattered across three states, and our emotions at any given time are less predictable than that storm, but our hearts are still as one.

There’ll be a house with music and friends again. It’s not even officially ours yet but it already has love.

Maybe it IS only resting…

Even if you’re not a jazz fan like me, this video is worth watching. You’d never guess that Pat Martino, the guitarist in the tan jacket, long ago underwent surgery for a severe brain aneurysm and came out with no memory of his guitar or his career. He had to learn his instrument all over again, but he regained his standing as one of the finest jazz guitarists of his generation. I saw him play before and after the aneurysm, and he’s better than ever. So why am I in panic and palpitation over my sudden loss of memory and knowledge…on a computer?

One of the messages you never want to see on your office laptop in the middle of a busy day: ‘ERR! ERROR +5! RUN RECOVER!” (You also don’t want the IT person on the phone to say, “That is just so weird” as one did to me after a previous snafu.)  The tech took one look and confirmed that I was dealing with an ex-hard drive. I’ll get a new one with all the right software, but it looks like more than a decade’s worth of files have joined the choir invisible.

Okay, I know a lot of you RTFM* types are saying, “Ever hear of backup, pilgrim?” YES. I backed up or clouded some things (and I’m using my divine right as an Editor to use “cloud” as a verb. Deal with it). The problem is that after 11+ years of work at the same place, and with limited backup space available, figuring out what to protect becomes an exercise in triage, and triage takes time I ain’t usually got (Editor’s prerogative again).

So what have I lost forever? Obsolete application forms for jobs I didn’t get; dozens upon dozens of first, second, third, fourth, ninteenth drafts of various documents that were long since put to bed; personnel records I can snag off the intranet anytime; and three years worth of unPhotoshopped, deer-in-the-headlights pictures of people who no longer work for us or have plants growing out of their heads. I’m sure I’ll eventually go looking for something of relative importance and be up ye proverbial creek.  But most of the non-recoverables were things I hadn’t touched in weeks, months, or…years. In short: OLD JUNK

Yes, I’ll be more vigilant about backing up. But as another great jazzman, Mose Allison, wrote, “If you live, your time will come,” which applies to hard drives as well as humans. It’s not just that you can’t take it with you, you can’t KEEP it with you anymore. So be here now and don’t bury yourself in the crawl space waiting for the next asteroid. First, though I have to go look for the first draft of that last message about how the sequester would never happen.

*Read the frickin’ manual