Ten Years Gone

At 10:47 PM, Pacific Time, ten years ago today, John took his last breath. His passing was peaceful and I was grateful that he was able to depart on his own terms, at home, comfortably in bed, and in my arms. When he left the house a few hours later, it also seemed to be on his own terms. The folks who came to get him had placed him on a gurney, wrapped in a very lovely quilt. When they got him to the font door and had to go down a few steps, they chose to up-end the gurney such at he appeared to be standing as it rolled down the walkway. Watching from behind, I imagined him walking tall as if heading off on another road trip. He is still out there on the road, and I continue to talk to him every day….

Happy Birthday John

Today my darling would be 108 years young. It has been 8 years since he died and I continue to miss him, and to talk to him, each and every day. This picture was taken one day before John’s 97th birthday. I sure hope I will look as good when I reach my 90s.

John and Devra Levy, 2009.

What would John be feeling if he were here today? Like most of us, he would be grateful to those on the front lines, saddened by the massive loss of lives (of both friends and those unknown), and enraged by the ineptitude of national government that has made this crisis so much worse than it had to be.

What would we be doing? Probably “relaxin’ on the axis of the wheel of life” and listening to Nancy Wilson’s Lush Life recording or Joe Williams’ Here’s to Life. Maybe we’d have rice and beans or catfish for dinner. If we weren’t on lock-down, we’d go to the fish market and pick up a basket of Maryland crabs so John could cook seafood gumbo for tomorrow’s Easter Sunday dinner.

Darling, you were the light of my life and you are still my guiding light: yesterday, today, forever…

Candlelight and Roses for my love.

Is it worth it?

“Today’s solutions become tomorrow’s problems” said Sam Greengard last week at the American Society of Journalists and Authors conference. He was talking about how cool technological gadgets and ‘apps’ have left us drowning in gigabytes of data. Tagging is one of today’s solutions and applying tags to email messages and files not only allows you to categorize them without having to move them into various folders, but it also allows you to assign more than one tag to each item. Wondering if I really have time to re-read and tag tens of thousands of emails and files led me to more basic questions: Do I need to do it? What do I have to gain? Trying to harness, arrange and tame our data troves seems an illusive goal and takes way too much effort. And that, in turn, led me to an even more interesting consideration: What might I lose by doing it, besides the most obvious time suck?

Coincidentally, while thinking about this I was embroiled in the parallel endeavor of straightening up an office, arranging and taming the piles of envelopes, papers, bills, receipts, cards and letters, articles, books, stick-it notes, photos….

Whether the labeling and filing is physical or electronic, once done one can quickly and efficiently find what one is looking for and that is the ultimate pay-off, right? Time is money; waste not, want not. Hmmmm…..maybe not. By arriving so immediately at the destination, what is lost is the journey itself. It may take longer, possibly even create a detour, but if one has to sift through piles, or open multiple electronic documents to see what is inside, serendipity might strike, yielding an answer or solution not previously considered, or uncovering something about which you had forgotten. Even if what you find is not relevant to the impetus of the search, accidental rediscoveries might open up a whole new avenue of thought…or just make you smile.

Kampai, my darling

Yesterday I had visit from prolific record producer Kiyoshi Itoh and his associate Takeo Suzuki. Because of their longtime business association with John, I have known both of these gentlemen for decades. During the 1980s-90s, when Kiyoshi produced many of Nancy Wilson’s recordings, we saw them often here in Los Angeles, in New York, and also in Tokyo. 

Even though we had not seen Kiyoshi in many years, he kept in occasional touch and he spoke to John by phone this past December. Kiyoshi’s travel plans had him coming to Los Angeles in April and he made a date with John to come and visit him then, right around his 100th birthday. I put it on our calendar, even though John didn’t expect to be here and said so, but John was very happy just to have spoken with Kiyoshi and to have felt his heart’s intent. That meant more to him than the possible visit. 

A few weeks ago Suzuki told me that Kiyoshi still had me on his calendar and wanted to come to the house, or perhaps the cemetery.  I had to explain that John gave his body to science and that there is no cemetery plot to visit. A drive to our house in Altadena from the west side of town near the airport would take at least an hour, and probably much more. Definitely would be worth any hassle to see John, but with him gone…. 

“Are you sure?”, I asked Suzuki. “It’s a long round-trip and I know Kiyoshi has just this one afternoon in town. Please make sure he knows that I would not be offended if he needs to change his plans.”

“We will be there at 3 PM.”

Knowing what the traffic would be like, I actually felt bad for them and considered refusing so they would not have to make the trip, but some part of me understood that for them this was an action of deep cultural import. Most cultures speak of paying respects, but here in America (maybe even more so in Hollywood) it can be more a matter of lip-service. This is why John was adamant about not having a funeral or memorial concert mounted in his name. He hated to see people show up at such events and speak of their love and admiration for the departed when they had not been there for the person while still alive. “If you are going to pay tribute or give thanks, do it while they can hear you,” John would say. But John also had great respect for other cultures, and I think he would have felt, as I do, that the Japanese desire to show their respect is deeply rooted and more honest, particularly regarding elders. 

To be sure, I consulted with my friend Chie Imaizumi and she confirmed that for me to refuse would have been rude. I was still a bit nervous so I invited her to be here as well. I wanted everything to be just right.  I was also thinking that she is a fabulous composer/arranger and I could hear John saying ‘it will be good for them to meet.’  With “I’ll Be A Song” ( Nancy Wilson produced by Kiyoshi, seated, and arranged by Masahiko Satoh, standing) playing softly in the background,  I prepared some green tea with green tea cookies, and awaited their arrival.

Through the window I watched Kiyoshi and Suzuki park and pull from the back seat a huge floral arrangement. I had just the spot for it on John’s desk next to his portrait. They entered and put the vase on the desk, then clasped their hands prayerfully and bowed to John. Then we exchanged hugs and sat down to chat for a bit. I told them about John’s last months and how peacefully he made his transition. 

In years past, following meetings on our offices or hours in the studio, we often went out with Kiyoshi to eat shabu-shabu in restaurants on one coast or the other. John was especially fond of this meal where you cook your own thinly sliced beef and vegetables in a pot of hot broth then dip in goma-dare (sesame) or ponzu sauces. When John and I found an authentic Japanese restaurant here in Pasadena specializing in it, we became regulars, going once a week for many years. With only one day in town, Kiyoshi and Suzuki were not free for dinner, but after they left, Chie and I went there and toasted John. 

Kampai, my darling.

Coincidental Timing?

For my listening pleasure today while in the HBOT tube, I chose The Bill Holman Band Live. Big band studio recordings are nice, but the live recordings get the listener a little closer to that indescribable experience of being there, up close, with a 16-piece swinging ensemble. There really are no words to sufficiently convey THAT feeling, so if you’ve never experienced it, please seek out an opportunity at your soonest convenience.

This disc, recorded back in Sept of 2004 in Los Angeles, includes several excellent Holman originals starting with Woodrow, dedicated to Woody Herman. But it was the second tune that surprised me — A Day In The Life by John Lennon and Paul McCartney — and provided coincidental timing #1: immediately my thoughts turned to this past Sunday’s post by Marc Myers at Jazzwax where he discussed how a group’s tune choices can invite or alienate audiences. Marc suggests that including some recognizable selections is one of the things that can help bring audiences into the fold. To me, that sense of recognition not only can make a listener feel ‘in the know’ and ‘at home’, but also aids in educating ears, helping one to hear where an improvisor is going and then allowing one to feel the elation of the return when the music comes back from an improvisatory run that might have one well out onto a limb.

Coincidental timing #2 came with the last selection on the disc, another Holman original titled Zoot ‘n’ Al. Bill Crow reported that the Water Gap gig dedicated to the tunes from the Zoot and Al songbook (see last post) went beautifully and he reminded he me that on November 13, at the U of Pennsylvania in East Stroudsburg, where the Al Cohn Collection resides, they’re having a Zoot Fest, celebrating Louise Sims’ gift of Zoot’s memorabilia to the collection. Bill writes:

They’ll be concentrating on the jazz loft music at Dave Young’s place (821 6th Ave) where Zoot, Al, Jim, Jim Raney, Brookmeyer, etc. etc. played frequently, and where W. Eugene Smith took photographs and recorded a lot of the music.  After a morning presentation by Sam Stephenson regarding his Jazz Loft Project and a panel of some of the loft denizens, the afternoon will feature music by Phil Woods, Bob Dorough, Ronnie Free, Lew Tabackin, Bill Goodwin, me, the COTA Festival Orchestra, and “surprise guests.

I don’t believe in coincidence. You just have to open your ears and listen to the universe. Jazz is but one of may excellent ways to connect.

a little nudge

Just received a note from long-time friend Bill Crow, fabulous bassist and excellent writer and jazz raconteur (From Birdland to Broadway and Jazz Anecdotes: Second Time Around).

He asks:

… did you abandon your blog? I miss your comments. Hope it is because you’re doing something that’s too interesting too leave time for Devradowrite.

I keep making elaborate plans to re-launch this blog and life keeps getting in my way. The interesting diversion has been the re-focusing of my Luther Henderson biography and I am now back on track there and in high-gear. I will be describing the re-focus aspect, along with the challenges of biography and of writing about music, in some upcoming blog posts.

For those who want to know, the not-so-interesting diversions have been health-related (see Diver Devra and HBOT, just below).

There are certain tenets to maintaining a successful blog, and primary among them is consistency. When I first began, back in 2005, I posted every weekday, and sometimes more. I don’t know if I will be able to keep up with myself, but it is clear now that I will just have to plunge back in and do the best I can. So, thanks for the nudge, Bill.

If you ever have a chance to hear Bill play live, grab it. Tonight, anyone near enough to Delaware Water Gap, PA should head for the Deer Head Inn where Bill, along with Bob Keller, Lew DelGatto, Jesse Green and Tom Whaley, will be playing tunes from the Al Cohn & Zoot Sims songbook.

Diver Devra and HBOT

Many of you are aware that I beat tongue cancer with heavy radiation and chemo back in 1996. The radiation burned out my salivary glands and the lack thereof over these years has led to dental decay with which even the dentist cannot keep up. The upshot is that I have had more root-canals than I can count and 6 more teeth were pulled in August (2 had been pulled in 2008).

The extractions weren’t so bad (done in hospital, under anesthesia) but my ability to heal from oral surgery is compromised due to the radiation I absorbed during the cancer war — it killed more than just the salivary glands — the diagnosis is osteoradionecrosis (dead bones). Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment (HBOT) is the prescription, 2-hours a day, five days a week, starting two weeks before surgery and continuing after for as long as it takes for the ‘wounds’ close up. This little image is not me, but it is the actual chamber you’ll find me in from 7-9 AM, M-F for awhile.

You can’t take anything into the chamber with you, no books, nada. There’s no room to move around, but you can listen to music or watch a dvd through a porthole. My preference is to lie down and listen to music. But sometimes I am not given the lie-down option and have to sit in the back compartment (pictured). In chamber I seem to fare best listening to instrumentals rather than vocals, and orchestral rather than small ensemble, though I did spend two days listening to solo piano from the Live at Maybeck Hall series. Recent listening includes Jim Hall’s Textures and By Arrangement, Bob Brookmeyer’s Get Well Soon, and Quincy Jones’ Big Band Complete 1960 European Concerts.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy works by “force-feeding” pure oxygen to the bloodstream, tissues and cells. Treatments make me feel like DiverDevra (do you remember Diver Dan on TV?) – you are placed in a submarine-like compartment which is then pressurized. The earth’s atmosphere normally exerts approximately 15 pounds per square inch of pressure at sea level. That pressure is defined as one atmosphere absolute (abbreviated as 1 ATA). The chamber gets pressurized to 2 ATA, and by elevating the atmospheric pressure and increasing oxygen intake, oxygen is transferred through the membrane of the red blood cells at a much greater, more effective rate to saturate the bloodstream, tissue and cells.

The hoped-for end result is that the gum tissue will grow to fill in the gaps and cover all exposed bone. But until the bone is buried, you’ll find me popping antibiotics and diving.

Relay for Life

There are so many fundraisers for worthy causes that I hesitate to ask, but they say it can’t hurt to ask. For the first time I have decided to participate in the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life, the society’s nationwide signature event. As most of you know, I am a cancer survivor. I was diagnosed in 1996 with a stage-four carcinoma in the base of my tongue. Some doctors didn’t think much of my chances, but other doctors bet on aggressive treatment and with their help, and the support of family and friends, I beat the odds. I believe that research can ultimately eradicate this pernicious disease, but its going to take more time and more effort, and that costs money.

I am on a relay team from Altadena (The Soroptimist Strutters) and we will take turns walking the track at Loma Alta Park on May 15th-16th. If you are able to support the cause and help the world fight cancer, you can make a contribution to the American Cancer Society. I will be collecting checks for the Relay for Life right up to the event or you can donate online by clicking here.

I would be glad to walk in honor or in memory of someone you know who has been touched by cancer. If you send me that persons name with your donation I will make sure that the person is included by name in the Luminaria Ceremony when candles are lit and we celebrate their lives.
UPDATE: Good news/bad news — the Altadena Relay has been rescheduled for August and moved to Farnsworth Park. Only bad news cause I was already psyched and ready to go, but it’s good news as it gives me a longer lead time to collect contributions.

Thank you to my wonderful friends & contributors

I started the ball rolling with a donation in the name of two friends; Jan Strayer and Josie Tison. I will continue to update this list as donations come in. Among those who I will be remembering are Kate Sullivan. Also in my thoughts is Jesse Fife waging his cancer war in Pittsburgh.

5/14/2010: Current tally is $575

Greg & Sue
Renee Govanucci
Sue Jennings
Tison Lacy
J E Nelson
Arlene Richards
Maria Schneider
Jan Strayer
Karen & Scott Twomey

Celebrating BB

Bob Brookmeyer has been in the news a lot of late. It shouldn’t take an 80th birthday to precipitate this avalanche of applause — his artistry and tremendous output throughout the decades should be cause enough — but such is the nature of arts coverage in America so I am thrilled that he has garnered a spotlight.

Thanks to Doug Ramsey’s Rifftides for reminding me and for posting a video I had not seen, AND for pointing me to Spirit Music: Bob Brookmeyer at 80, an appreciation that includes a brief account of the Eastman celebration on Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society blog plus several delectable downloadable audio clips and other links.

My personal memories of Bob go back a ways. “Trombone and guitar duets? Your kidding, right?” So said the little kid that I was in the 1960s when dad said he and Bob Brookmeyer were going to play a duo gig at Hopper’s, a now long-defunct restaurant/jazz club just a couple of blocks away from our apartment. Filial love aside, I was mesmerized and have been an ardent follower of all-things-BB ever since. By my teen years I was addicted to his arrangements for the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra.

In 1999 a recording of Brookmeyer & Hall 1979 duo performance at the North Sea Jazz Festival was released on CD and I got to write the liner notes.

And here are just a few more BB links worth noting:

  • Jazz Trombonist Bob Brookmeyer on His Career, Influences, and Outlook on Music at ArtistHouse Music.
  • Bob Brookmeyer at Trombone Page of the World.
  • Bob Brookmeyer to blow out some candles (with his trombone) at Jazz @ Rochester blog.
  • Bob Brookmeyer and Some of His Friends on Night Lights (a weekly one-hour radio program of classic jazz hosted by David Brent Johnson and produced by WFIU Public Radio).