For anyone doing what I do the odds of a really successful tour are low. So much can go wrong, and you can come home feeling like a whipped dog. This six day run, with a recording at Fantasy, felt like a great success for a variety of reasons.
First, the rhythm section of Kermit Driscoll and Brian Blade was a treat to savor night after night. Kermit was in heaven, as these two would finish each other’s phrases, always surprising, yet ever-supportive. In an email to Kermit as we were traveling, Bill Frisell described Brian as an “angel sent down to help us all.” I wholeheartedly agree. I don’t think I ever met someone this talented who is as focused, positive, and humble. Some people appear to have an inextinguishable light beam inside them, and in rare instances it shines on AND off-stage. Brian is like that, at least from my brief intersection with him.
The front-line of Cuong Vu and Paul Hanson delivered stronger impact than expected. First the tones of these two instruments blended beautifully, better than I imagined, and their contrast was satisfying in back to back solos. I knew Paul had monstrous chops, but Cuong really surprised me. I guess I didn’t know him that well, but very quickly I saw that he not only has ridiculous technique and stamina, and a gorgeous tone, but also powerfully compositional ideas, and a sonic and stylistic range that knows no limits. Paul meanwhile brought looks of amazement to people’s faces, as he did things with a bassoon no one could believe. Again, Frisell said after hearing him that “He freaked me out- I couldn’t believe he was actually doing what I was hearing.”
The West Coast, where I lived and toured years ago, was great fun to return to. Arcata is some sort of time-warped shangri-la, totally bohemian, kids smoking weed at 8 in the morning by the coffee shop, lovely grey-haired hippies showering the band with heartfelt enthusiasm. It really does feel like the edge of the world, esp. after a visit to the giant redwoods nearby that are exquisitely humbling in their majesty.
Portland, at what is essentially a rock club, was packed to the rafters, and I think what worked so well was that it was not just a jazz audience. Hey, I never wanted to play just for jazzheads. I want folkies and rock n rollers and classical composers there as much and more as Coltrane devotees. It was nice to dedicate Paul Motian’s piece “Johnny Broken Wing” to Jim Pepper, who was from Portland, and recorded that piece solo in the 80’s.
Meanwhile it was not all paradise. I was sicker than I’d ever been on a tour from day one, so exhausted I could not even bring myself to drink the beer backstage! Hanson was sick too, and then Kermit got sick. Of course Kermit is still in recovery from heart surgery so this was a rather dire situation. He somehow toughed it out, playing GREAT every night. My hat is off to this long-suffering, hard-working bassist. Of course I was rarely satisfied with my own playing, but I guess that goes without saying.
A high point for me was sitting in the hotel room in Seattle, working out vocal harmonies with Brian, as he played a groove with his hands on his chest- a wonderfully intimate moment with a deep-feeling, funny, sensitive gentleman.
Other treats- Peet’s coffee, the ocean off Half Moon Bay, a visit with my old composition teacher Allaudin Mathieu. More on all this later.