Being Grateful

I was listening to a friend speak about his angst, unhappiness, depression, and inability to simply feel good. Now I may be contradicting myself here, as so far I’ve really been championing the view of illness, chemistry and medicine vs. mind over matter. But after listening to this friend go on (and on and on…) about his extreme dissatisfaction with life; all I could say was, “show some gratitude…”

I’m not really a religious person. I hate the use of the word ‘spiritual’ – but for lack of a better word I guess it describes me. I was raised a Christian, but as I entered adulthood, learned a little history, science, and diversified my social circle; the bounds of modern Christian thinking left me with some very huge and irresolvable question marks. For the purposes of public explanation; what I do believe in is an intelligence greater than humanity. That’s about all I want to say publicly.

Sometimes I just have to say Thank You. When life sucks; Thank You. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You.

Thank You for this moment. Thank You for the people that love me. Thank You for a job where I can make a difference. Thank You for my wife. Thank You for my children. Thank You for life even if it is hard and painful sometimes. Thank You for the mean people that teach me compassion. Thank You for the sick people who teach me about health. Thank you for the people who keep me in line. Thank You for the opportunity to know it all, good and bad.

Thank You.

(moon shot by me 7/10/2005)

A Mind of It’s Own?

I recently splurged on the purchase of a sleek, black, 80GB Apple iPod Video. I was never an Apple person. It was IBM and Intel for me from the start which meant not so much an allegiance, but an arranged marriage of sorts to Microsoft.

Now Microsoft has been the main key to my livelihood for the past ten years or so when I began a profession supporting the Intel platform and Windows networking. It has been a relatively good living and for that I am grateful. I’ll never own a Mac and I even run traditionally Mac applications like Adobe Photoshop on the PC.

So much for my personal history of Apple vs. Microsoft. This isn’t where I meant to go with this story.I love music – all kinds of music. If you’ve seen my website you know that music was my main raison d’etre for over twenty years of my life.

I’ve fallen in love with a device smaller than a deck of cards that currently holds nearly a MONTH’s worth of continuous, back to back music and its not even half full. My favorite feature, and one I am fascinated with is the shuffle mode. Press shuffle mode and the burden of deciding what to listen to is lifted from your hands. The iPod decides the songs in supposedly random order mixing your classical and your country with your techno and your jazz.

I love this feature. It is a constant guessing game of exactly what, out of over 7000 songs is going to come next. It is an education in over 300 years of music history and styles in the palm of my hand.Yet, I suspect there is even more than meets the eye.

The cold, digital brain of my little black machine seems to be favoring certain artists and songs over others. I have fed no ratings nor preference data per song – which is another iPod feature. Of course I do have my preferences; but so does my iPod. I find the same artists coming up again and again, and while I have the entire Steeley Dan library on board it almost never plays – and when it does it seems to always be  ‘Reelin’ In the Years ‘.

How is it with over 7000 songs that this random device can be so seemingly subjective? I believe it has a mind of i’s own. It has morphed into a true artificial intelligence. Perhaps a tool of of evil media demons seeking to amass a new generation of clones with homogeneous, Big Mac cultural sensibilities.

Perhaps subliminal messages are being delivered through our ear buds with messages of Orwellian type mind control; in an even more dastardly plot to rule the world.

I guess I’ll take the chance that it is really the cute shiny black music box that it appears to be. Subliminal suggestions or not; I love my little iPod. It gets me through my morning commute and puts me to bed at night.

Courage?

What is courage?

I think for me the first image that comes to mind is that of the brave fire fighter running into the burning building; or perhaps the soldier, medic or policeman running into the fray to save a life or battle some unknown demon all in a day’s work.

When I was a kid one of my heros was one of my mother’s boyfriends. He had been a Green Beret and jumped out of airplanes in WWII and Korea. He had been taken prisoner by the Germans and the North Koreans both. He’d escaped numerous times, had his feet broken and the tar kicked out of him multiple times. Somehow he survived all of that. He told me once the key word was courage. Courage. I think he wrote it on a picture he gave me. A picture of him receiving the Silver Star.

I’ve thought about that off and on all my life. I never knew quite exactly what he meant. What was I supposed to be courageous about? I wasn’t being beaten or having limbs broken or trying to save mine and my friend’s asses as machine guns and mortars exploded around us.

My courageous friend was also a raging alcoholic and smoked about four packs of Marlboro Reds a day. His pretty young wife had divorced him and taken six kids with her. I was present one evening when he fought with her on the phone. One night he ripped the phone right off the wall.

It wasn’t long before he left. The Alaska Oil Pipeline was being built and skilled labor was in high demand. My friend was a welder; a pipefitter and paid very well for it. He’d often call my mother late at night from Alaska. Way up north. Prudhoe Bay. He’d tell stories of bar fights. Once he said he beat the hell out of four guys who tried to jump him coming out of the local bar on pay day.

I’d always look forward to his visits home. He never stayed long. Sometimes he brought gifts. A t-shirt, a pair of boots. Sometimes he’d arrive in the middle of the night. I’d know he had come from the smell of cigarettes and old spice wafting up the stairs.

I was too young to really question adult behavior. I just accepted things as they were. My friend was larger than life and probably everything a lot of boys would wish for in a hero. Yet I always wondered about the keyword being courage because somehow that phrase always seemed slightly empty. The keyword is courage. Half the story.

There was one time we were going to go to the movies. What a thrill. My great friend, the war hero who jumped out of airplanes and beat up muggers in Alaska was taking me to the movies.

We got to the theater and he took off. I watched the movie alone. When the movie was over I waited for my friend but he had gone. I called my Mother and she picked me up. I must have just happened to have a dime in my pocket.

My friend had gone to the local bar. He was a celebrity of sorts. The town war hero. The guys who didn’t admire him were afraid of him or perhaps both.

I didn’t understand what alcoholism was at that age. What I DID understand was that my friend needed that company every night. He needed those people. He needed that stimulation. He needed whatever it was that he got from the local bar every night; he needed it to survive.

In reality he was a broken man. In reality he could barely cope.

Somehow courage never quite sank in with me; Not as the ‘key’ word; And not the most important of virtues in life.

On Believing

I don’t know why bad things happen to good people.

I don’t know why or how two armies can go to war and both do so in the name of God.

I don’t know why those men flew those planes into those buildings one September day; but supposedly did it in the name of God.

I don’t know how any religious group can trumpet their moral religious values and then even more fervently pass JUDGMENT on their fellow men.

I don’t know how any spiritual leader could ever encourage hate or dissention. (no matter what the ends and means happen to be)

I don’t know how an omnipotent and merciful God could allow the second by second tragedies and horror that are continuously inflicted on humanity – by their fellow men. War. Genocide. Oppression. Lies. Hate.

I don’t know how a loving God can permit a natural disaster to devestate millions of lives.

Yet I look up to the sky on a crisp rural night. I peer into the deep space with my telescope and marvel at the glow of objects whose light left its source long before anything resembling a human yet existed – or when dinosaurs still roamed our planet. I look at the stars, each one something like our own – the Sun. There are billions all around us. Then there is empty space and then there are billions more upon billions more. All of these suns. All of these worlds. Out there. Where did it all come from? The farther out we look, the farther back in time we go. Technology has brought us to the very edge of our creation. It seems certain that all matter in the Universe came from one infinitesimally small point of infinite or nearly infinite mass called the Singularity that exploded with a force unimaginably huge. From the great heat and pressure were eventually formed the basic elements, the molecules that make up everything we are and know. About 14 Billion years ago it all began.

So what happened before that? What made the singularity?

How did our beautiful planet, with its single moon to stabilize its orbit, and its breathable atmosphere come to being? How did it happen to be just close enough to the Sun and have just the right combination of electromagnetic fields and atmospheric conditions to make it so habitable to so many creatures?

How did LIFE come to being? How did those creatures get here? I can wrap my little brain around gravity and pressure and heat and chemistry – but the creation of life?

What about our ability to be aware of ourselves and aware of others and contemplate our origins? What about our ability to quantify our thoughts and feelings into language?

I put my headphones in my ears and they are connected to a device that can process millions of numbers per second. A device that can reproduce sound from a digital source – composed of ones and zeros.

I listen to Mozart and Beethoven. I listen to Art Tatum and John Coltrane. I listen to James Taylor and Willie Nelson. Something happens. I re-live their creations note by note. I marvel at the structure of composition. The poetry speaks to my heart; that they too felt the way I feel. Just human. I look at my beautiful children. I put my arms around my beautiful Wife.

Where does love come from?

Where did WE come from?

So many questions… ugly questions… beautiful questions… but I still believe… more than ever… I still believe there’s something greater than just us, sitting on our planet, in an ongoing battle for survival of the fittest. I believe in the hope for a better humanity.

Maybe there’s a creator… or maybe science will show us some new way we are connected to each other…

(photo of the Whirlpool Galaxy, M51 by Charley Socci 2001)

Cruise Ship Gigs and an Egyptian Incident

The first steady music gig I got out of school was as the saxophone/flute/clarinetist on a cruise ship. The ship sailed out of LA on three and four day cruises down to Mexico, Catalina, and San Diego. My friend from school Alex, a really fine pianist, got me on the gig through an agent who worked for the cruise line company in Miami. They flew me out to LA and I spent a night in a hotel before meeting up with the ship in San Pedro the next day. I shared a very, very small cabin with no windows with another friend of mine from school, Jim. Jim was also the drummer. The evening before our first hit playing together was surreal. I had never been aboard a craft that large – nor seen anything like it ever before. I had never even been in a true luxury hotel or a casino resort before, which is essentially what cruise ships are – big floating luxury resort casino hotels. I stood out on the top deck as the ship made its way to the ocean from the dock. It was a warm August evening. I was alone and a long way from home.

The band was five pieces, trumpet, sax, piano, bass, and drums. We played lounge music and dance music. We also played the books that the various entertainers – jugglers, magicians, singers, and comedians brought for their acts. Things were really difficult on that first run. There was a mixture of alcoholism, resentments, and general unhappiness among much of the band that my gig came down to a sheer matter of having the tenacity to stick it out and not come home. Eventually the problem personnel in the band got changed out and the new band was a lot of fun to work with. I stayed for three months until I went home. The agent wanted me to stay through Christmas but I didn’t want to do it. I was always proud of myself for sticking it out through that rough time. It was extremely dark for a while; but got so much better. I didn’t do my second cruise ship until about seven and a half years later when I went out on the world cruise. That was a much bigger ship than the previous one. I replaced another saxophonist who couldn’t do the gig any more. My friend Alex also did the gig for most of the time I was on it. Musically the gig was about the same, but we added a trombone. The drummer, a woman named Cindy, was the bandleader. Mostly the gig was very laid back. The cruise went through the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, India, Africa and into the Med before ending in the UK which was where I flew home to the States. Both of the ships I worked on were managed by Norwegians. There was a definite rank and pecking order of people who worked on the ship. There was an officer’s dining room and an officer’s bar. We were part of the Entertainment Department and we ate either in a dining room for mid-level crew, or we ate in the main mess hall with all the other non-officers. It really wasn’t that big a deal. But if you are sensitive to that kind of thing – it could be a big problem because there were always subtle reminders of rank.

Crew life for me in both cases was pretty good. Sharing a living space is never the optimal situation but we made it work. I was very young on my first ship gig, and since the cruises were only three and four day cruises we got a lot of young passengers who really wanted to let loose. Crew areas were off limits to passengers, but certain crew members could frequent the passenger areas as long as they didn’t cause any problems – and as long as they paid their bar tabs. Crew were also not allowed in the passenger cabins. *Those rules were broken on occasion* There was also a crew bar where crew could drink very cheaply and many did. On my second ship I was already a father and I really missed home. It was also a much older and wealthier crowd as they were the only ones who could afford to pay to be on a world cruise – which was tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on how long you stayed and what type of accommodations. I had a friend named Brian and we used to hang out in the crew gym in the afternoons and hang out over a few beers in the evening. Cruising in the South Pacific was beautiful. Most days I would get up late, go up on deck and just hang out in the sun and breeze. Then I would go workout, have lunch and take a nap! Then there was usually an afternoon rehearsal for something, time for dinner, and then we would play four sets at night. After our sets we’d go to the crew bar for cheap beers or hang out in someone else’s cabin before hauling off to bed. I missed my kids terribly the entire time I was gone. These gigs are great for young people who don’t mind being away or other people who can fit into the lifestyle. There were one or two married couples who worked on board. I can’t imagine a marital spat under those circumstances though. Musically its artistic death. There isn’t much chance to be creative, and you can’t simply hop the train or get in your car and go somewhere to get away from it all. You are stuck there. You never get to go home from work.

As an aside, shortly after this photo was taken, I was sitting on a tour bus with one of the dealers from the ship casino. It was just she and I on the bus and this young Egyptian peddler, perhaps 14, came to us trying to sell us some kind of souvenirs. My dealer friend wasn’t interested, nor was I but he wouldn’t leave us alone. Finally he flipped us off and turned away. Something about this hard sell/flipping off routine hit me at some primal level and I leapt off the bus and chased the kid for a dozen yards before getting back on the bus. Soon an entire cadre of local gift shop merchants surrounded the tour bus and I was sure we’d made the next day’s headlines at Al-Jazeera. They brought the kid back to the bus, called me to the door and then slapped him several times across the face as an apology – of sorts – I guess. I felt bad for kid being humiliated like that. I felt like I overreacted and should’ve just let the whole thing slide.

(Photo of me at the Pyramids in Giza 1996)

Around the World

I saw this cool thing this afternoon while surfing Flickr. You check off all the countries you’ve ever been to and it generates this map. There is one for U.S. States as well; but I’ve been to all of them except Utah and Nevada and it would’ve looked like I might be *gasp* *wheeze* *cough* Republican the way the map is colored red on blue…

Back in 1996, which seems like yesterday, I was hired to play the woodwind book in a band aboard a very luxurious cruise ship. We made all these ports of call.

The Camera

     

I’ve had a long affair with cameras and making images. My first was a plastic Kodak camera that took 126 cartridge film which had a square format and I don’t even think they make it any more.

When I was 11 the interest really took hold of me and I bought a Minolta Hi-Matic F which got me in to 35mm. I took tons of images on tri-x and plus-x and submitted them to Boy’s Life magazine for critique. The photography editor wrote me back and told me what was good about them and very gently what was not.

What I lacked in the Minolta range finder I sought to find in an SLR. I lusted for a new Nikon F2. What I got was a Minolta SRT-101 with a 50mm f/1.7. Suddenly I was really able to see depth-of-field and compose close-ups much easier than before. The feeling of composing and shooting thorough-the-lens is something that has always felt right to me.

In junior high I built a basic black and white darkroom and started processing my own film and prints. I accomplished this on my own; though my own reading of how-to. I was also able to pick up a Nikon FM around that time with an f/1.8 I think. Of course I wanted the f/1.4 but couldn’t afford it.

That camera got stolen and then for the next twenty-plus years I used an Olympus OM-1.

 When I left the music business and started doing well in the computer business I purchased a Leica M6 and a few lenses. The sharpness and contrast were really stunning. I wanted more so I went to a Mamiya 7 and then to 4×5 and 8×10.

The thing with the Leica was the ‘look’ of the image, the ease of handling, the build quality and the optics. But I just really missed that feeling of seeing through the viewfinder. The same was true of the Mamiya 7. I picked up a 645 SLR but it just didn’t feel secure to me off the tripod. What I’m saying is I really needed a hand-holdable SLR.

During the time of all my gear-hopping; digital photo technology was racing past milestone after milestone. I sold almost all my other gear and bought a Canon EOS 20-D and several lenses. I’ve been incredibly happy with it.

 I still shoot 4×5 sometimes – but I don’t print larger than maybe 16×20 inches – and at that size its hard to see the difference sometimes… At least when you compare a tripod mounted, cable released, mirror locked digital print with the 4×5 (mount, cable assumed) One can shoot multiple frames to get over exposure latitude issues in digital. Photoshop is an amazing tool Its also so much easier to set up and tear down gear, or change configurations and filters that I hardly ever shoot anything except digital any more.

My motivation to shoot comes and goes. Its usually a matter of opportunity. I don’t like shooting images I know other people are shooting. So first I have to feel like bringing my gear with me and then I have to see something that inspires me to shoot. Then again I’m constantly surprised by how clever some of the shots are on sites like Flickr of even the most mundane objects. You can view some of my own photos on flickr here.

(the photo above is me, at age 11 taking a self-portrait with my Hi-Matic F)

My Father

I’ve been thinking about my Father’s death more often lately. I really haven’t written much or talked much about it. It has taken me a while to process and accept it. He died last October (2005) from a brain tumor.

Due to my parent’s divorce when I was seven, I only saw him about once a month on average and less often as I got older. Due to my age and the lack of time spent with him I never forged a very close and intimate relationship with my Dad.

It wasn’t really until I got married in 2004 that I began to have a closer relationship with him. My wife and my Dad’s other half, Sally, really got along well. As the rapport between my wife Kristin and Sally grew, we began to spend more time visiting them – and I began to feel my Father’s presence much more strongly than ever before. Then a year later he got sick and died.

Its taken me a very long time to process it. Its only recently that I find myself frequently stopping to think about him; to look at his picture and realize that he is really gone. There is a real hole there. There are so many things I wish I could say to him and talk to him about… Things I know only he could understand. Things about being a man. Things about being a husband. Things about being human and growing old…

My Father was a simple man. He was not an intellectual or high-powered executive. But He was one of the most gentle people I have ever known. Everyone liked him and he liked people. He was always so proud to introduce me to his friends when I would visit. I remember him telling me one day when I was very young, “Never feel anyone is beneath you - Never think you are better than anyone”. A powerful lesson from a very humble man. I always remembered that and have tried to live by it all my life.

I really miss him.

About Neil Young

I just got done watching Prairie Wind, the new Neil Young concert movie. I really enjoyed it. Sadly, I didn’t really listen to Neil Young or many other rock genre musicians until I was in my thirties.

A few years back; an aquaintance of mine, Eric, from high school passed away somewhere out on the west coast. I found out about it when his parents called me and asked me to put something together and provide music for his memorial service.

Eric and I met in junior high but were never close friends. We both played the saxophone but Eric later turned to the guitar and I remember him singing and playing Neil Young songs when we were in high school.

I asked about what they had in mind. They said Eric liked Neil Young a lot and maybe I could do that… Neil Young on the saxophone… I agreed but wanted help.

I happened to be working with a band called Sugar Daddy at the time, and Sugar Daddy himself, Grant, was a Neil Young fan. I was able to convince Mr. Daddy to come play guitar and sing Neil Young at my friend’s funeral while I noodled soprano saxophone lines around the melody.

It was a nerve wracking thing for me. The phrase “put something together…” always leaves me in a panic. This was also a funeral service… I felt a strong pressure to do exactly just the right thing…

We chose two songs, I believe one was Needle and the Damage Done, and the other I don’t remember.

We played our songs. We played them well. There didn’t seem to be a huge reaction either way. People cried. Some were silent.

Eric’s father gave me some money and thanked me. The pastor thanked me. There seemed to be something a little strange in the way he looked at me… I gave the money to Sugar Daddy.

The next day I was in the local convenience store when one of Eric’s friends saw me. I’d known Eric was in with a certain crowd but I didn’t know how far he’d taken certain types of experimenation. The friend told me Eric had died of an overdose.

I’ve never been sure how to feel about it. Beloved son dies in a tragic heroin overdose and I come in and play “Needle and the Damage Done” at his funeral.

I didn’t know the cause of death. Would I have made the same choice had I known? Did it bring more pain to his survivors? Was it a terrible mistake?

Its been years but I still wonder.

I GOT THE JOB!!!

I haven’t written about it, partly out of superstition, but I’ve been waiting over the past 10+ days to hear back from a potential employer regarding a possible job offer. Today they called and offered me the position and I’m absolutely thrilled.

I’ve been out of the workforce for a while. Family illnesses, my Father’s death, and some personal crises are to blame. I’ve also been carefully looking for the RIGHT job, which has less to do with salary than it does with the right business and environment. I’ve hoped to find something with either a non-profit charitable organization or a corporate business who’s product is related to the arts.

My new position is with a very large nonprofit humanitarian organization based here in NYC. The company works to provide social services and relief all over the world. I’ll be a network administrator and in charge of managing the network and servers, both local and remote, and doing all the other things IT folks usually do in concert with the Technology Manager, domestic and international support people.

Picking Up The Alto Again

Today I picked up my alto again. I won’t say how long its been. I more or less turned my back on music in the late 90’s. It wasn’t a difficult decision at the time. I had two young children with my partner, was still living at home with my mother, and was driving taxi and limousine to survive. I took every gig that came along. I played a lot of weddings. I played in lots of bars.

As my twenties – can I call it my delayed adolescence? – came to end I realized the importance of things like health insurance, benefits and a steady salary. I felt incomplete as a man that I couldn’t provide any of those things for myself or my children. I was tired of playing Brickhouse and Mustang Sally. My best year financially in music I spent half the year on cruise ships, and the other half teaching and driving taxi/limousine — with no benefits and not a whole lot of money to show for it — especially those months away from home — I was getting bitter. One thing that wasn’t so bad was teaching. I had some really great kids that I taught — some I still hear from on occasion.

An alto playing acquaintance of mine was doing well in the technology field as a consultant and a trumpet playing friend of mine had begun a one year course at a local vocational tech school in computers — he suggested I check it out. So, I entered the computer school the next quarter. I got hired by a company before I graduated. The market was really hot back then for IT. As my career in technology progressed, the saxophone took a back seat.

At the moment I have time on my hands. The saxophone has been calling my name – taunting me to revisit sounds and moods and people and places I haven’t heard, or felt, or seen in years. So many ghosts. So many possibilities never realized…

First Manhattan Bike Ride of the Season

I went out for my first NYC bike ride of the season. I can’t store my bike in the hall or the basement; so it has to be parked inside my apartment – my 365 square foot piece of New York City heaven. My wife Kristin bought a wall mount bike rack that is now mounted above my desk. Fortunately the bike is fairly new and fairly light – so lifting it on and off the wall isn’t too big a task. The hardest part is maneuvering the thing out my door, past the dog’s piddle pads without stabbing myself in the gut with the handlebars…

It was a perfect day, around 70 and sunny with a nice little 10 mph breeze from the north. (precisely due north as I’d discover on my ride back home). I came down 181 Street from our building; over the footbridge next to the famous collapsed retaining wall of May 2005, and down the steep winding path into Ft. Washington Park. From Ft Washington Park you can follow the bike path and Greenway (with a few minor detours) all the way down to Battery Park without having to contend with much auto traffic. There is a little detour around the 130’s to just past the Fairway around 125th but there usually isn’t much traffic. Just watch the lights and be extra aware of what’s around you – like delivery trucks, opening doors, etc… And it does get a little crowded with pedestrians around the Intrepid and the cruise ship terminals.

I rode down just past Chamber’s Street today and then turned around and rode home.

It was on the ride home that I realized just how out of shape I am… That wind from the north felt more like a gale and I had to ride straight into it for all of the twelve or so miles home. I’m six feet tall and over 250lbs – not exactly aerodynamic. Of course I neglected to eat anything, or drink anything except four cups of coffee this morning. About two or three miles into the ride home I wanted to puke and all I could think about was scoring a very large bottle of Poland Spring. Winter definitely took its toll.

Now I just can’t wait to do it all over again.

An Afternoon at the Fort Tryon Dog Run

Today was my first opportunity to get out of the house and welcome spring which has finally arrived in New York. Kristin and I took our two dogs, Thelma and Louise – two Jack Russell/Chihauhau mixes, up to Fort Tryon park which is about a 20 minute up-hill walk. The girls (that’s Thelma and Louise) just love it.

While we were there I got to meet a young autistic boy named Jose who was there with his aunt and his sister. My own brother was born with Downs Syndrome and was taken care of by my Mother at home for his entire life. So I usually have a natural affinity when I meet people with such special needs. Jose was facinated by my camera and kept trying to pull it from my hands. He first approached us and first grabbed Kristin’s hands and put them to his chest. Then he came over to me and was putting his arms around by back. I knew his aunt was thinking “oh my God, how are these people going to react…” and I knew this from my own vast experince as a care-taker for my brother. I just smiled and said “What’s your name?” and assured his Aunt that it was all quite ok. After he reached for the camera several times (he kept going for the lens) I turned it around and showed him how to look through and then I snapped the picture which I showed to him. I’ve been so down in the dumps lately just wrapped up in my own problems and feeling like I don’t have anything to offer anybody. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be able to make Jose and his Aunt comfortable and perhaps show Jose some kindness and understanding too.

Remembering Jackie McLean

Jackie McLean died March 31, 2006. He was 74.

I met Jackie in 1982 when I was 16 years old. I was seriously into being a jazz saxophonist by that time and it was a friend of mine from high school who brought me to a concert of Jackie’s students at the Hartt School.

I still remember that concert which featured Sue Terry and a bunch of Jackie’s other students but mostly I remember Sue; and Jackie shepherding his flock. I knew immediately that this was where I wanted to be.

I started listening to Jackie’s music around that time. One of the first albums was Swing, Swang, Swingin’ and his solo on “I Remember You”. The other one was Demon’s Dance with Woody Shaw and Jackie’s burning solo on “Floogeh”. The music touched my soul. There began my obsession with Jackie McLean.

I wrote him a letter that was half fan mail and half inquiry about his jazz degree program and he wrote me back. I still have that letter in a scrap book. He had this really off beat way he folded the letter into the envelope – I remember folding my letters exactly the same way for many years to come. I know that’s weird – but you see Jackie was THAT cool. All his students wanted to do almost everything just like him.

On his invitation I went up to Hartt and met with him, several albums in hand (New Wine In Old Bottles was one) for him to autograph, which he did graciously. One album he signed “To Charley – I’m Betting On Him Being One of the Best One Day” Imagine me – a 16 year old boy in the presence of one of the LEGENDS – a man who KNEW Bird and had recorded with Miles, Monk, Mingus and Art Blakey and he said that to me, in writing! Few people I’ve met in life have shown more grace than that.

After talking with him for a while that day he invited me to his home for a lesson. I began going to his house in Hartford for lessons about twice a month. I’d call Dollie (Jackie’s Wife) on the phone and ask for “Mr. McLean” (I must’ve sounded like a telemarketer). If he wasn’t busy with the Collective or practicing he’d come to the phone and we’d schedule another lesson. I’d go to Jackie’s house on Saturday mornings. He’d show me scales, patterns, ways to play long tones, and turn me on to recordings of Bird and Trane. We’d trade choruses to Jamey Abersold play-a-long recordings. He showed me how to play Giant Steps. A famous quote from Jackie, “It took me six MONTHS to learn Giant Steps… and I was in jail!”. When the lesson was over, he’d tell me to go home and memorize everything he had shown me and then call him back. I always did and within a week or two or three I was calling on the phone to make a date for more.

I remember the Saturday Penelope died – A lovely sweet dog whom Jackie adored. I remember Jackie placing a flower with her when they came to take her little body away.

I’ll never forget the day a student in one of Jackie’s history classes made a rather insulting and very disrespectful remark that I can’t or won’t remember. What I will NEVER forget is the look on Jackie’s face. His entire ESSENCE changed, like a master actor his posture changed, he cocked his head and he leaned on the podium pulling his lips back so you could see his teeth. His eyes shot pure penetrating rays of death in this kid’s direction. It was FRIGHTENING. A bitter chill filled the room. I don’t think he actually needed to say anything – The kid left without any additional drama. Jackie Mclean, for all his grace and patience, was not one to be messed with.

I remember the time Jackie took me out to lunch at a restaurant in Hartford’s North End. His intention was to introduce me to the whitefish sandwich. It was the best meal I ever had. I remember the first time I went with him to the Artists Collective in Hartford. We pulled up and parked along Clark Street where the old home of the Collective used to be. I got out of the car and it was the first time I’d heard West African style drumming. The entire building shook with energy. The sound filled the entire block. It was amazing.

IÂ remember Jackie’s little red Honda car. I remember when he bought the buff colored Caddy. Jackie told me how he and Rene had driven up to Cape Cod and taken the new car through it’s paces on the way.

I remember one time Jackie went to Japan for Blue Note and brought me back a Sake cup (because my name is spelled Socci). “Its a Sake cup for Charley Sock-ee”. Despite the creative pronunciation of my name I cherish my sake cup.

I remember when Sonny Rollins came and did a concert in Hartford at the Lincoln Theater, and Jackie took me and a handful of other students back stage. Jackie introduced me (at that point speechless) to Sonny. Sonny said (in his inimitable Marvin the Martian-like speaking voice) – “CHARLIE – that’s a very special name [as in Charlie Parker], do you know that?”. I still have the program Sonny autographed, writing “1968” instead of “1986” for the date. I always wondered if there were any kind of odd significance to the error.

Jackie was much more than a teacher or jazz legend to me. He had a profoundly powerful influence on me as a human being during my late teens and my years at Hartt. He was someone I am more than proud to have known. I will never forget Jackie McLean.