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JOURNAL

March 27, 2009

It's 6:40AM. I've been up for an hour. Called home, Practiced Giant Steps. Yesterday, I was reminded by Sharlene Waller from my Bass BootCamp staff to get some rest, sleep in. I meant to, but I was up until about 2AM.

I'm wired. I'm mentally preparing for Bass BootCamp - thinking about classes, my teaching, my playing in those classes. I'm also thinking about my Stevie Wonder tribute concert: the music, the television broadcast, soundcheck/rehearsal, the musicians, the guest list, and so on.
OK. To be honest, I'm not just thinking, I am worrying. Mercifully, amid the worry, one thought that keeps popping in head is "Remember Rule #6".

The remembrance of Rule #6, smooths out the wrinkles in my forehead. It makes my breathing a little less labored and shallow. Rule #6 makes me smile.

What's Rule #6? It's one of my favorites. Apply it liberally to your own forehead when you're anxious or angry. It also brings instant relief from the pain of self-pity or the nausea of self-aggrandizement.

Rule # 6 is "Don't take yourself so seriously". It really works.

Have a nice day.

GV


October, 2007

I saw a typical fall scene last Sunday - two teenagers tossing around a football. It reminded me so much of those fall days I experienced as a kid. I'd get so excited about a game I may have just seen with one of my heros of the grid iron, that I'd have to get outside and play football. We city kids would imagine we were those legendary players - quarterbacks possessing super hero throwing arms and wide receivers blessed with dazzling speed.

I was such a receiver.

"Go long", somebody would say, and I would dash - my arms pumping, looking over my shoulder as the football would soar over a telephone wire and into my capable outstretched hands. There is no crowd in any stadium today that can match the roar I heard from my imaginary fans. Unfortunately for me, this was before the days of inventive end zone celebrations. I would have been good in the endzone.

Of course things are different now in pro football. There is so much celebration. Back in the day, teams celebrated championships. These days, players celebrate everything. They celebrate first downs, they celebrate tackles - pretty soon there will be dance moves for successful time outs.

Watching these neighborhood football players last Sunday, I was reminded how just how different things are now. For sure, these two young men were leisurely passing a football back and forth, as kids have done for decades. Through World Wars, the Great Depression, Vietnam, Watergate, and the fall of the World Trade Center, simple things - like tossing a football - have served as reminder that life in America can return to normal.

I have to say, watching observing these two teens challenged my sense of "normal". Picture this. The quarterback was throwing while scooting along on a skateboard and the receiver was chatting on his cell phone. They went back and forth like that - playing together, but each one doing his own thing at the same time. Multi-tasking.

How liberating.

I am now absolutely convinced there is no turning back from the Age of Multitasking. It is no longer acceptable to just devote your attention to one thing. Doing more than one thing at a time is a basic requirement for modern life. People watch TV while having dinner, read while riding exercise bikes, surf the internet while on a phone call and, even text while driving.

Who am I kidding? I hear a voice saying, "judge not, lest ye be judged".

OK. I admit it - I am a recovering multi-tasker myself. Last night my wife caught me answering emails from my desktop and my Blackberry at the same time - while watching the evening news.

"What are you doing?", she said with more than a hint of disapproval.

"I don't know", I answered. I was wearing such a blank expression, I'm sure she was satisfied that I really didn't know what I was doing.

This morning, after careful reflection, I realize what I was doing. I was trying to keep up. This is the challenge of modern life - trying to keep up.

We want it all. Ok. Maybe it's me. I want it all. I am like the skateboarding quarterback. I want to scoot AND throw.

Don't make me choose.

February 4, 2007

I just finished playing on the All Star Smooth Jazz Cruise, hosted by Brian Culbertson. It was an amazing 7 days of music, sun and fun. In between concerts, jam sessions autograph sessions, and interviews, I got the chance to enjoy Montego Bay (Jamaica) the Cayman Islands and Cozumel, (Mexico).

Here's a tip: If you rent a moped in Cozumel, make sure you practice when to use the throttle and when to use the hand brakes. A friend of saxophonist Pamela Williams, throttled when he meant to brake. This was not good. This friend ran into Pam and her manager who were stopped on their mopeds.

October 2, 2006

The two women on the train station platform are speaking rapid fire Italian this morning. I can't catch a word of it, but it's a nice reminder that I'm in Europe, at least for a few more hours. I'm in Lugano, Switzerland, a beautiful city on a lake. Here the greeting of the day is "buon giorno" and not "guten morgen", as it is in the German speaking part of Switzerland. I've got to keep that straight.

My daughter, T.J. asked me, "how do they understand what you're saying?"

Great question! The truth is I have an affinity for languages - a musician's ear for hearing and repeating. I know a few useful phrases that I can use in French, Italian, German and Spanish. The other unfortunate fact is that I've been very lazy about seriously learning languages.

Talent isn't enough.

The answer then, T.J., is that I rely heavily on the graciousness of strangers for answers to my questions.

"Is this the way to the train station?", I ask the gentleman approaching me.

He doesn't get it at first and I am too out of breath from walking up a steep winding hill from my hotel to dig for the Italian word for "train". I do remember how to begin, though. It's "dove" (pronounced doe-vay), for "where". Quite a handy conversation starter, since traveling in a foreign country means being lost most of the time.

I try again, this time with a physical enactment of a train.

"Is this the way (I am pointing) to the... (here I pantomime the universal gesture for a moving railroad car, my arms bent at 90 degrees pumping in a circular motion)...train?"

The Swiss stranger smiles and repies, "Yes, the train. This way, yes". The look on his face suggests he is relieved I am only asking about the location of the railway station and not inviting him to a fist fight.

Gestures can be misinterpreted, after all.

I'm on the train now and settling in for a three hour ride to Zurich. I am determined to relax but not sleep. I am not carefree enough to dare missing my stop. At home, if I miss an Amtrak train stop, I could end up in Wilmington, Delaware. Here, missing my stop means ending up in Stuttgart.

Higher stakes.

If ever you get lost in Germany, by the way, you would ask, "Wo ist...?". This is prounouced 'voe ist'. After that, the pantomimed motion for "train" or "restaurant" or "bathroom", is completely up to you.


July 24, 2006
Leaving the hotel here in Pasadena, we hit a wall of heat. There is no way you should be this hot at 7:30 in the evening unless you're minding the brick oven in a pizzeria.

Earlier, onstage at the Old Pasadena Jazz Festival, it was a even warmer. We played at high noon - one hundred and five degrees Farenheit. By the time my band and I left the stage, I had lost five pounds in jazz sweat.

What is jazz sweat?

It's very different than sweat of any other genre. First of all, you have to let it flow down your face as though you barely notice. After all you're so absorbed in music making, things like a soaked shirt and sweat in your eyes don't matter.

You're a jazz musician and you're cool on the inside. Jazz sweat is the sweat you don't wipe.

Then again, there's Louis Armstrong.

By the way, the Old Pasadena festival is a great one. Great audience, promoter, production staff and setting. It's a nice mix of subgenres of contemporary jazz. I was especially looking forward to hearing one of my favorite singers, Maysa, who was on the bill.

Unfortunately, the heat had gotten the best of me. Besides, my band and I had to take a red eye flight back to the balmy Philadelphia climate, where I believe the heat finally dropped down below ninety degrees.

Do I sound like I'm complaining? Actually, I'm whining. There is a difference, you know.

October 25
Three news stories caught my eye today.

First, the passing of Rosa Parks. I learned something interesting. Her 1955 refusal to relinquish her seat on a Montgomery bus was not her first act of civil disobediance. In 1943, Rosa Parks was kicked off a bus for not observing the strict Jim Crow law that kept tired working white people from sitting next to tired working black people on buses.

That day, in 1943, Rosa walked home. Eight years later she had had enough and her actions would jump start a civil rights movement that would change this country forever.

Eight years later. Guess what? It was the same bus driver!

Destiny.

I've been wondering, "Why that day, Mrs. Parks, when you knew you would be arrested?"

On my car radio, today, I heard Rosa's answer, in her own sugary drawl, more befitting a Southern socialite than seamstress, "I wanted to see what rights I had as a human being and as a citizen of Montgomery, Alabama."

The second interesting news item was the retirement of Alan Greenspan as Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank and the selection of his successor. I find it fascinating how Greenspan's every utterance was dissected by Wall Street.

What power!

He didn't shrink from the attention either. Greenspan came up with some hum dingers for economists to ponder.

Try this for size: Greenspan cautioned investors against "irrational exuberance".

That's style.

I like that phrase. As a musician, my life is the epitome of "irrational exuberance". I vow to take my temperature each day just to make sure I am irrationally exuberant.

The final news item is about somethng called "Blackberry Thumb". It is a repetitive motion affliction caused by overuse of the thumbs in typing on Blackberrys, Treos and other handheld devices.

This doesn't affect me. My thumbs are strong and my Blackberry is not a problem for me.

Ouch. I'm signing off now. Goodbye.

October 24
You can't stay in Catalina forever. I came home where I belong. I had a lot of preparation to do. As host of a soon-to-be-seen television show called Music Lab, I had to get background information on my guests.

This sounds like one of my self-deprecating jokes but it isn't. I host a show for INHD, an in-demand high definition network. They only broadcast content that's shot in high definition. You haven't lived until you've seen broadcasts in high def. Everything is so clear. Nose hairs, for example, are stunningly realistic.

The point of Music Lab is to present intimate interviews with important music makers. The easiest way to understand the concept is to think of Behind The Actors Studio - without the interviewer asking, "what's your favorite swear word".

The format for the show is: the guest performs a short piece, we talk a little, we play together, talk some more, play some more and so on. There is very little crying and no arguing.

Sorry.

The appealing thing for me as host, is not in coaxing tears or profanity out of my guests, but rather in gaining insight into how people like Joe Sample or Michael McDonald or Bela Fleck deal with the challenge of being a creative person in this world. As a creative person myself, I'm very interested in this subject.

By the way, when I refer to "the challenge of being a creative person in this world", I am not implying that there are forces in this world that are enemies of creativity. Only a paranoid person would suggest something so sinister. But, if there IS a vast anti-creativity conspiracy out there, I would not be shocked.

Watch your back.

Anyway, when I returned from Catalina, I had to prepare for the following:

Interview Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson - who turned out to be both quite brilliant and mischievous;

Jam convincingly with Charlie Watts of The Rolling Stones - I yelled with delight when it struck me that the guy on the drums playing "Satisfaction" was really Charlie Watts and that "Satisfaction" was the very first bass line I ever learned;

Also I had to practice the deliciously tricky tune, "Spain", so that I could play it with Chick Corea. After we finished playing he jumped to his feet and with a big grin, shook my hand saying, "you came prepared!".

Homework is a good thing.

What insights did I gather from these great artists?

1) When I asked Ian Anderson about his musical education, he replied that he has never taken a lesson. Ian is known as the musician who introduced the flute into rock. He was the first and the last rock flautist. I think I know why. Have you ever tried to play the flute? I tried it once. It made me as light headed as a Santa Monica cheerleader. To play the flute without instruction is some kind of magic trick.

2) Charlie Watts likes to play jazz. He swings with pure joy and "satisfaction".

I know, that was cheesy.

3) Chick Corea thinks of the piano as an orchestra. To demonstrate this conceptual approach, he played the piano as though it was a string, woodwind and percussion section.

Personally, I think of the bass as an AK47 assault rifle. But, I live in a big city.

I'll keep you posted on when Music Lab will start airing. In the meantime, check out Studio Jams on BET Jazz. It's produced by Tom Emmi, the producer of Music Lab.

Visit www.studiojams.com

October 10
Upon hearing my recent activities a friend, "at least you shouldn't be bored".

What he meant was that mine is a varied life of doing this and that to make a living. No two days are the same, hence - excitement!

I would appear ungrateful to disagree, so I won't. Better yet, I'm going to list all the "this and that" I've been up to so I can better appreciate the variety.

Item: performed Catalina Jazz Trax Festival with new all-star project, The Triad Tour featuring Michael Paulo on saxophone and Steve Oliver on guitar and vocals.

Result: Eight standing ovations! No exaggeration. Frankly, it was an embarrassingly enthusiastic response.

Where do you go from there?

Answer: Nowhere. I stayed in Catalina to play with Pieces of a Dream the next day.

Item: Performed with Pieces of a Dream at Catalina Jazz Trax Festival.

Result: Despite playing different music and wearing a different shirt, people recognized me as being the same bass player as the day before. Very astute.

By the way: Congratulations to Art Good for 20 years of presenting music his way. You can check out Arts radio show online at www.jazztrax.com. You can also hear some of the performances from the festival.

Don't bother with the standing ovation, I won't be able to see it.

More info about my varied bass life coming soon!

October 5
The flight attendant has just encouraged us to "sit back and relax" on this flight from Las Vegas to Ontario, California. If you've heard my latest CD or seen my live show lately, you've heard me encourage my audience to do the same thing - "just sit back and relax". You might suspect I borrowed the phrase from the airline industry. Not so. I am an artist and therefore truly original.

In any case, on this leg of my trip I am actually quite relaxed. That wasn't the case on the flight from Philadelphia to Las Vegas. I had the misfortune of sitting in the row in front of "Disgruntled Traveling Couple" or DTC, for short.

They were disgruntled because they had missed a connecting flight into PHL airport by five minutes - the airline hadn't held the plane for them. Thus, DTC (Traveling Disgruntled Couple, have you forgotten already?) was forced to spend part of their vacation in terminal C.

How do I know all this? DTC told everyone within striking distance their tale of misery and distress. When they ran out of passengers to entertain with the account of how bad the airline was, they called friends and relatives to include them in the fun, too.

Meanwhile, I started thinking I should say something witty like, "Are you two going to whine all the way to Las Vegas?". I don't think that would have gone over too well, though I did have a right to ask.

When did we start taking flawless air travel for granted? Roxanne and I watched a People's Court segment in which the plaintiff was suing an airline for the cost of her entire trip because they lost her luggage and when it was recovered there was damage to some of her clothing. Apparently, some water had gotten into a suitcase and dye from one of the garments had bled onto other clothes, clothes she was going to wear to a wedding. Oh, and she was the matron of honor.

Before you become too sympathetic, keep in mind she was suing for the entire cost of the airline ticket because her clothes had been ruined. Now, I realize wearing tie-dyed clothing to a wedding is not the most fashionable choice, but was her trip really "ruined"? By the way, even though she took the trip, she didn't show up for her matron of honor assignment at the wedding.

I'm telling you, as air travelers we are downright spoiled. Have you ever seen the old footage of early airplane flights? When those rickety planes got off the ground and stayed airborne for a few tentative minutes it was a cause for celebration. We have no idea how miraculous it is to get from say, New York to San Francisco in the same day. If you had attempted this journey in 1849, because you wanted to get into get into a new career like gold mining, you would have had more serious things to consider than your luggage.

There was no air travel, your most likely mode of transportation would have been train, or for families on a budget - covered wagon.

The preparation for a journey by covered wagon would go like this:

"Do you have the map, honey?"

Your spouse might ask

"Yep."

"Do you think we packed enough food? You know rest stops haven't been invented yet."

"Yep."

"You kids make sure you go to the bathroom before we leave - we're not going to be stopping at every tree we pass.

Honey, don't forget to pack the chalkboard for the kids, you know the Game Boy is decades away."

"Got it. Oh boy, almost forgot the buffalo repellent. Alright, let's get this wagon on the freeway before rush hour."

"Honey. There are no freeways.

Hey, let's stop and buy a Cherokee phrase book on the way out of town. You never know when we might have to talk our way out of a tight situation - or ask for directions."

"Directions?"

"Yes, Mr. I-Know-Where-I'm Going. Please don't have us riding around in circles in the desert because you're too darn stubborn to ask for directions."

"Don't worry. I went to Map Quest."

"Honey..."

"I know - you don't like Map Quest. Just trust me. Ok?"

"You know I trust you. After all, you're my cowboy."

"Yep. The Brooklyn Cowboy and don't you forget it, my little squaw."

Ok. Maybe I went too far with the "little squaw" part, but you get the idea. Travel in the old days was no picnic. Let's keep this in mind when we're tempted to berate a flight attendant about the air conditioning, pretzels, lack of blankets or late departure.

By the way, saxophonist Michael Paulo told me a great story about a disgruntled traveler. Her flight was cancelled, therby making her late for a meeting. She was beside herself with anger over the inconvenience. Meanwhile, a couple of hundred other passengers, including Michael Paulo, were experiencing the same inconvenience.

Nonetheless, the DTP (Disgruntled Traveling Person) took the flight cancellation personally. She told the airline customer service rep, "This is unacceptable. I am an important person and I have to make a presentation at a very important meeting."

Michael couldn't help himself. He leaned over and cheerfully reassured the woman, "If you're that important, they'll wait for you."

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