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MY REFLECTIONS ON MUSIC, LIFE, FOOD AND WHO KNOWS WHAT ELSE . . .

Top 10 Favorite Steely Dan Tracks

Woke up today to the rumor and then news of Walter Becker’s passing. His and Donald Fagen’s work with Steely Dan is on a very short list of my most formative musical influences. When I was 5 and had access to a handful of cassette tapes; Aja was one of them, and I would listen in particular to “Peg” over and over. When I was in high school I got really into their first album (Countdown to Ecstasy) and listened pretty incessantly to a cassette I had from a 90 minute radio “special” on WPLR (basically a cross-section of songs of theirs from throughout the ‘70s). In college I got into Katy Lied and Aja and eventually made one of my first-ever CD purchases of music I already owned, getting the boxed set of their complete recordings from 1972-1980.

It would be a gross oversimplification to say that their mixture of rock and jazz was THE reason they were so important to me, but it’s a big part of it. I love their songwriting AND I love the jazz soloists and hip chord progressions. With apologies to Stevie Wonder, no other artist I had ever heard married these things in such a compelling, organic way and committed to doing so as often as Don and Walt. My own tastes in lyrics tend not to run in the direction of cynical abstraction that marks their lyrics and my own tastes in singing tend not to run in the direction of Fagen’s sometimes-warbled delivery . . . and yet I still love it and find their music to be perfect for what it is, and what it is has been central to my musical consciousness for literally as long as I can remember. They inspired me beyond the music too, proving to me that possessors of their kind of eggheady, dry wit really can have a place in this kind of music, yet another way that they successfully married things that I previously found to be mutually exclusive.

It’ll take me a while to wrap my brain around Walt’s departure, but in the meantime here are some of my favorite Steely Dan tracks. They are arranged in chronological order, with one tune from each of their non-compilation album (which omits the song “FM” – check that one out too). Other personal favorites from these records included as well.

1 ) “Kings” from Can’t Buy A Thrill

One of my favorite Don & Walt lyrics here is paired with a truly great (and weirdly overlooked) rock melody and groove. Guest guitarist Elliot Randall (better known for his iconic soloing on “Reelin’ in the Years”) gets a tasty, gritty solo in on this one, just one of the moments that hints at their jazz predilections.

(other picks: Midnite Cruiser, Reelin’ in the Years, Fire in the Hole)

2 ) “Razor Boy” from Countdown to Esctasy

Talk about jazz predilections, here we have Ray Brown sitting in on bass and Victor Feldman (a regular contributor, particularly on the Aja album) on vibraphone, but the song is also eerily catchy. When I first got the record I mostly was checking out “My Old School” (and “Skunk” Baxter’s wonderful soloing on it) but this one made a serious mark.

(other picks: My Old School, King of the World)

3 ) “East St. Louis Toodle-oo” from Pretzel Logic

This is maybe not my favorite track on the album, so why is it here? This faithful yet quirky Duke Ellington cover (the only cover song in their recorded history) is the track in their catalog that perhaps best shows the depth of their involvement in jazz, clearly far from a superficial affectation. Heresy perhaps, but I listen to this version as often as the 1927 original – I wonder how Bubber Miley feels from above about the guitar-with-talk-box interpretation of his plunger muted trumpet melodies. .

(other picks: Any Major Dude Will Tell You, Pretzel Logic)

4 ) “Doctor Wu” from Katy Lied

If I had to pick one SD song to demonstrate the line they straddled between rock and jazz, it would probably be this one, with mysterious and evocative lyrics, deep and rich chord progressions, and one of the great “jazz artist on a rock record” guest solos ever, courtesy of saxophonist Phil Woods.

(other picks: Any World That I’m Welcome To, Throw Back the Little Ones)

5 )“ The Fez” from The Royal Scam

This track, featuring their only shared writing credit (with Paul Griffin, who provides the great keyboard melody), is funky as hell and features some of the earliest recorded guitar soloing by Walter Becker on a Dan record, and he surely earns his increasingly prominent role as a soloist with his bluesy, lyrical playing.

(other picks: Kid Charlemagne, Haitian Divorce)

6 )  “Peg” from Aja

There are so many great and iconic moments on this album, but “Peg” is just one of the small handful of songs (like Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and the Beatles’ “With a Little Help from my Friends”) that’s so etched into my consciousness that it’s basically part of my DNA now. No matter what I’m doing, this song gets my shoulders moving and makes me smile, so infectious are the groove and the core riffs, not to mention Michael McDonald’s background vocals.

(other picks: Aja, Home at Last)

7 ) “Babylon Sisters” from Gaucho

This is one of the best slow-yet-funky grooves in modern pop music, if you ask me. Much of that can be credited to the drumming of Bernard Purdie, but this slinky song and great arrangement have a lot to do with it as well.

(other picks: Time Out of Mind)

8 ) “Book of Liars” from Alive in America

(other picks: Aja, Bodhisattva)

This live album is in one sense the perfect point of re-entry to phase II of SD, their era as a popular and superlatively tight touring unit. Most of the tunes on this record are Dan classics, with the exception of this reworking of Becker’s first studio album, which provides us with not only a new listen to a truly great song but also a chance to hear him sing.

9 ) “West of Hollywood” from Two Against Nature

For a time, jazz saxophonist Chris Potter was a touring member of Steely Dan and this track could be viewed almost as a two-movement suite: the song itself and then the utterly epic extended tenor saxophone solo at the end.

10 ) “Pixeleen” from Everything Must Go

This funky and lyrically insightful tune co-features the vocals of Carolyn Leonhart, one of the key members of their modern-day band (and regular performer of some of Don and Walt’s lesser-known material, such as “Book of Liars” above).

Top 10 Favorite Joanne Brackeen Tracks

I am so excited that JoAnne Brackeen is coming to Hartford, CT for the Paul Brown Monday Night Jazz festival, which I believe marks the first time in 15 years she has played in the Nutmeg State as a bandleader. Fresh off the news that she has been selected as a 2018 NEA Jazz Master, she is still a powerhouse at 78. She is also one of my biggest influences in music and someone who deserves far more attention (not that she herself is apt to complain).

In the fall semesters of 1993 and 1994, fairly early in my six years of studies with Kenny Barron, he brought JoAnne to Rutgers to teach a handful of lessons while he was on the road. Seven in total, not that I’m keeping track. Okay, maybe I am, because they were profoundly life-changing encounters. I wasn’t a particularly precocious or mature student at that time, but I was somehow smart enough to know that this was an opportunity to dig in and learn something about her conception. Most of that work together was spent with me learning her compositions, which are at the same time extremely challenging and extremely natural and intuitive. That is, on paper, the changes in time signature and rhythm and tonality are quite difficult, but as soon as I heard her play these tunes they made perfect sense and it was clear that the complexities weren’t hyper-intellectualized components added to trip up musicians. Quite the contrary, it was as if I was seeing the next logical step after Ornette Coleman, a composer working within the jazz realm of chord changes and song forms and notated composition, yet working with unfettered creativity that was still far from random. The tunes breathed and ebbed and flowed and moved when it made organic sense. My ideas about how to create were changed and there was no turning back. Some of my own recorded compositions are naked tributes to her writing style (such as “T-Time” from the Playdate album and “Gorpy” from Turtle Steps), but even the tunes that don’t obviously sound like her often bear that stamp more subtly.

Oh yeah, and then there was the piano playing. Holy cow what a powerful and visionary pianist she was and is. In addition to her wonderful material, it was really illuminating to hear her play standards and to hear what she had to say on my own burgeoning compositions. Along the way I became a drooling fan, collecting most of her records (I’m a couple short of having the “full catalogue,” but pretty close). Her recent recorded work is scant (making her upcoming appearance here all the more exciting) and while there are some of her 1970s albums that are available digitally, I’m frustrated by how much of her great output from the 1980s and ‘90s is difficult to find (unless you come to my crib for a listening party). I’ve made my attempts to introduce younger musicians to her music (including arranging/assigning her tunes for the Wesleyan University Jazz Ensemble, from “Can This McBee” early in my work there to “Egyptian Dune Dance” this past semester). The tracks here are a small handful of my favorites, presented in chronological order.

1 ) “What the World Needs Now is Peace and Love” from Jazz Messengers ‘70 (by Art Blakey), 1970

From a statistical/historical standpoint, this record stands out in that JoAnne was the first female Jazz Messenger. From a musical standpoint, she plays her butt off and this is the first chance to really hear her dig in, after multiple funky albums by vibraphonist Freddie McCoy in which she is dutifully playing in the rhythm section without being out front. This incarnation of Blakey’s band also features Carlos Garnett (who contributed this tune), Bill Hardman, and Jan Arnet.

2 ) “Nefertiti” from Snooze (a.k.a. Six Ate), 1975

This trio outing with Stan Getz bandmate Billy Hart on drums and frequent Brackeen collaborator Cecil McBee on bass is her first record as a bandleader. There are several wonderful original compositions here, but I selected this Wayne Shorter tune a) to provide a bit of context for her playing on a tune you may have heard before, b) to display her particularly authoritative playing on work by modern innovators of her generation (she’s also done great versions of tunes by Chick Corea and McCoy Tyner, for example), and c) because I LOVE the way she plays this tune and her version was the direct inspiration for my own recording of it from my What It Is album.

3 ) “Infant Eyes” from Moments In Time (by Stan Getz), 1976

There is a goldmine of mid-70s live material featuring JoAnne and Billy Hart playing with Stan Getz. This track, recorded at the Keystone Korner in San Francisco (appropriately enough run by fellow 2018 NEA Jazz Master Todd Barkan), is another Wayne Shorter tune, and it features JoAnne’s gorgeous ballad playing both as a soloist and accompanist.

4 ) “Beagle’s Boogie” from Ancient Dynasty, 1980

JoAnne has a particular way with writing funky groove tunes in odd and/or shifting time signatures that still feel danceable as long as you don’t demand symmetry in your dancing, and this is one of my favorites. She also has a particular way with writing stuff that sounds great for tenor saxophone, with Michael Brecker, Branford Marsalis, and Chris Potter among those who’ve recorded on her albums. This record (and track) feature the great Joe Henderson, laying in nicely on this asymmetrical groove laid down by JoAnne and her frequent collaborators Eddie Gomez on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums.

5 ) “Enchance” from Special Identity, 1981

Here are Eddie Gomez and Jack DeJohnette yet again, on the second of three great trio albums recorded over a dozen years’ time with JoAnne. Several of my favorite JoAnne originals are on this album, but I’m selecting this utterly gorgeous waltz that lends itself well to both lyricism and fire, of which she not surprisingly delivers both on this recording.

6 )  “Heidi-B” from Sweet Return (by Freddie Hubbard), 1983

My first time hearing JoAnne play or write was on this album, which I found at the Rutgers library upon learning I would be working with her. She sounds great on the whole album, but the tune that she wrote is predictably the one that really blew my mind and introduced me to some of her compositional and pianistic language. Lew Tabackin on tenor and flute, old pal Eddie Gomez on bass, and Roy Haynes on drums round out the quintet. As you seek out/fall in love with this tune, note that sometimes I’ve seen this spelled “Hedi-B,” and on other versions with JoAnne as bandleader it’s “Haiti-B.”

7 ) “Dr. Chu Chow” from Live at Maybeck Recital Hall, 1989

I adore JoAnne’s solo piano playing, from her first solo record Mythical Magic in 1978 to 1999’s Popsicle Illusion, her most recent album as leader. This song (one of those I learned while studying with her) is a portrait of a Qigong master about whom she told me early in our work together as I was experiencing severe wrist problems. I will never forget how nurturing and flat-out informative she was in sharing wisdom about wellness at a time when I was getting desperate. And this tune is wonderful too.

8 ) “Picasso” from Turnaround, 1992

Probably the most difficult of the JoAnne tunes I learned in our work together, this song epitomizes the “tricky yet totally sensible” ethos I’ve described. To hear Donald Harrison, Cecil McBee, Marvin “Smitty” Smith, and JoAnne utterly destroy this tune (in a live performance at the sadly now-defunct NYC club Sweet Basil). All the quirks in the tune totally belong and give it an edge worthy of Pablo himself.

9 ) “Manhattan Style” from Brasil from the Inside (by Trio da Paz), 1992

Here JoAnne joins the powerful Brazilian trio, augmented as well on this track by Claudio Roditi. Her affection for Brazilian music can be heard on recordings as far back as the work with Stan Getz (including a live album with Joao Gilberto) and she manages to assimilate the rhythmic nuances while still retaining her own sound.

10 ) “Another Look” from A New Beginning (by Makanda Ken McIntyre), 1999

This slow swing tune, featuring Makanda on flute, is from one of her most recent sessions, save for a nice T.K. Blue record from the following year. She locks in with drummer Charli Persip and plays with impeccable taste and groove, still getting a bit gnarly as things develop.

EDS Awareness 2017: Reflections of a Partner to Someone with EDS

Guest post by Kate Ten Eyck

I have been married to Noah for nineteen years. When we got married, I knew very little about Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and he looked and acted perfectly “normal.” At that point, the internet was in its infancy, and virtually nobody I knew had ever even heard of it. I knew that Noah’s skin was fragile, that his joints were hyper-flexible and could dislocate easily, but what did that really mean? I also had to be careful physically around him, lest I accidentally dislocate his shoulder by falling asleep with my head resting on it. Early on, that actually happened, and I adapted to having a level of physical awareness that was new and disconcerting. I knew that Noah and I were soulmates, but my soulmate came with this mysterious condition. I didn’t really know what to make of that fact.

As time went on, Noah developed chronic joint pain. The occasional dislocation or injury could be frustrating, but chronic joint pain is a whole new level of difficulty. It affects one’s mood, energy level, and ability to focus. At that point, both Noah and I started to learn more about his condition. We went to conferences and met others with EDS. I learned that we were fortunate that Noah was doing as well as he was, others with EDS are completely debilitated by joint instability and pain. We started to wonder, what would life look like in five years? Ten years? Twenty? Would Noah still be able to play the piano in his thirties? How could we prepare for a future that seemed suddenly so uncertain?

Being the partner of someone with a disability has brought out the best and worst in me. At my best, I am the kind and patient nurse. At my worst, I am openly frustrated and cross. The point I always come back to when I feel frustrated is that any day I could become ill or have an accident and become the one who needs more care. Yes, because of EDS there are more instances when Noah is injured and needs care, but he takes care of me as well. Even as someone without any chronic physical problems, I still can have a debilitating headache or get sick with the flu. I really try to be kind and patient, it helps me and it helps Noah. Probably because he has experienced it so much himself, when I get injured Noah is incredibly patient and kind towards me.

The very hardest thing is to see Noah in pain or discomfort and know that there isn’t much I can do about it. The next hardest thing is to tell Noah that I am struggling because some aspect of his condition is affecting me. I know he already feels bad that there are activities that I enjoy that he can’t participate in, and he knows that I wish he could. I don’t want to be selfish, and I don’t want him to feel bad. However, I have realized over time that being in denial doesn’t help either one of us. It’s much better for me to say, “it’s hard for me that we can’t take a bike ride together” than to feel that, not express it, and then just act weird. Sometimes if there is something difficult going on like debilitating back pain, the best thing I can do is talk to a good friend or therapist about it. At that moment, leaning on Noah while he is suffering, and telling him about how much his pain and debilitation is affecting me is just wrong. But it’s important to talk to someone about it. Those feelings are there, and unexpressed they could turn into something ugly. Not only do I need to communicate openly with him, but I need to be honest with myself even when the emotions are inconvenient.

Everyone who lives long enough at some point suffers some kind of injury or disability. I feel like Noah and I have had to learn to cope with human frailty at an earlier age than many of our peers. As a result, I’d say we have developed some strong coping mechanisms that help us in all aspects of our lives. Working through adversity together has only strengthened our relationship, and for that I feel incredibly fortunate.

Top 10 Favorite Tracks Featuring Mickey Roker

About 6 months after saying goodbye to Bob Cranshaw, we do the same with his batterymate in Milt Jackson’s group and on literally dozens of other records, the fabulous drummer Granville “Mickey” Roker. I only shared the bandstand with him once (at Ortlieb’s in Philly when I was 20) and wish that I’d understood his contributions better then. I have since dug into many records he’s on and realized how many records I was already listening to then with which I hadn’t made the connection to this unassuming gent. Few have swung as hard, and while he was not the most famous of drummers, the feeling in his beat speaks to me in a unique way. Here are some of my personal favorites from his discography.

1 ) “The Sorcerer” from Speak Like a Child (by Herbie Hancock)

This is simultaneously one of the hardest-swinging and most harmonically hip tracks in jazz piano trio lore, and the incredible propulsion from Mickey and Ron Carter is a huge part of that.

2 ) “Baby Man” from Free Spirits (by Mary Lou Williams)

Playing at a slow tempo with a strong groove is a particularly challenging task for a drummer or anyone else, and this is one of my all-time favorite examples of that, courtesy of Mary Lou, Mickey, and Buster Williams. John Stubblefield’s tune is one of the most hauntingly soulful things I’ve ever heard.

3 ) “Big Bertha” from Sweet Honey Bee (by Duke Pearson)

The subtle hi-hat playing in the opening bass solo by Ron Carter here gives way to a clinic in hard bop medium-up-tempo swinging goodness during the melody and fiery solos by Freddie Hubbard and Joe Henderson (and some tasty piano by Pearson)

4 ) “Goin’ Down South” from San Francisco (by Bobby Hutcherson)

While Mickey was known for his swing feel, this is one of the fattest backbeats I’ve ever heard on a straight-ahead jazz track. Joe Sample’s tune, Bobby’s marimba and Harold Land’s tenor are all buoyed by this amazing groove.

5 ) “Summer in Central Park” from In Pursuit of the 27th Man (by Horace Silver)

The first recording of this classic latter-day (1972) Horace classic also includes some of his hippest piano playing, particularly since it comes at a time when he was largely pigeonholed as a “funky” player. The modern waltz feel that underpins this owes a lot to Mickey and the electric bass of Mr. Cranshaw.

6 ) “Milestones” from Con Alma (by Ray Bryant)

Mickey’s brushwork is fairly underrepresented on this list, but this up-tempo trio romp features him prominently and feels totally relaxed and totally energetic at the same time, without his picking up a stick.

7 ) “Tin Tin Deo” from Happy Time (by Junior Mance)

Here is the tandem of Mickey and Ron again, backing the hard-grooving Junior Mance. I love this whole record, but this performance of a Dizzy Gillespie classic is a particularly tasty example of Mickey’s Latin feel.

8 ) “Three Little Words” from the Standard Sonny Rollins (by Sonny Rollins)

This very short but ridiculously swinging trio track epitomizes the way Sonny’s sound evolved while still retaining the essence of his late 1950s pianoless trio work. The grooving fury of Mickey’s playing is the perfect complement here.

9 ) “Good Morning Heartache” from Sa Va Bella (for Lady Legends) (by Milt Jackson)

It’s hard to choose one track to typify the roughly 30 year relationship between Mickey and Bags (including Mickey’s stint in the Modern Jazz Quartet after Connie Kay’s death) but this one, from their last album together, does a decent job as it goes from achingly lyrical balladry to booty-shaking swing and back.

10 ) “Sunday” from Hank & Frank II (by Hank Jones)

Mickey is one of the “young guys” on this 2009 date, one of his last sessions, swinging hard alongside Hank Jones and Frank Wess.

Do You Realize?

“do you realize that everyone you know someday will die?” – Flaming Lips

This weekend I heard the final mix of the now-released Trot Fox cover recording of “Do You Realize.” This coincided with my Uncle Tom’s 80th birthday celebration in Baltimore. All of this would sound both innocuous and tangential without some context. But there’s context aplenty and my head is spinning (and not just because I got up at 4:15 to catch the plane home from which I’m writing this).

If you already know the context, you can likely skip this paragraph, but Trot Fox is a wonderful band comprised of Claire Randall, Gabe Gordon, Declan O’Connell and Nate Mondschein, all but Declan former students of mine. Gabe and Claire, in addition to being life partners, were both part of the Resonant Motion team from its early stages and Claire also was a member of the Noah Baerman Resonance Ensemble. Was. Because she was murdered in December and now I don’t even feel like I understand verb tense anymore. Completing “The Rock and the Redemption” for release has felt like what I imagine Steve Cropper went through putting “Dock of the Bay” together after Otis Redding’s plane crash.

So about a year ago, with literally minutes remaining in a recording session at Converse Rubber Tracks, Trot Fox recorded this song live in one take. Mind you, I’ll admit that before this my entire awareness of the Flaming Lips consisted of knowing that they’d done a cheeky remake of Sgt Pepper and that when I was in college they did a that stupid but catchy song about the girl who puts Vaseline on her toast.

Fast forward and it’s as if the song is a eulogy-to-self, especially as she sings the above-quoted line at the beginning and end, the band sounds amazing, and in March I had the “privilege” (if anything about this could be viewed as such) of being the resident geezer in a room of her friends, collaborators, and family to record a choral overdub at the end of the song, arranged by two more students-turned-collaborators, Jess Best and Mel Hsu.

And Claire’s singing? It hurts. It hurts because it’s an emotional song. And it hurts because her performance is imbued with such strength and pain. And it hurts because she seems so present in the real-time interaction with the rest of the band, emblematic of how she differed from the archetypal good-singing diva. And it hurts because of Gabe and her family and so many others.

I listened 3 more times on the drive to the airport this morning, which felt necessary even though I nearly missed my exit and then forgot to empty my water bottle going through the TSA line. I hurt and I knew I was alive. And then I wondered, while going through the TSA line the second time, if that’s just masochistic. I mean, if that’s my rubric for knowing I’m alive, maybe I should just try stabbing myself in the forehead with tweezers?

And that’s where Uncle Tom comes in. On a basic level, celebrating his 80th was an occasion of unadulterated joy. And it was indeed joyful, yet the joy was inherently entangled with mortality and all that comes with that. Part of that was his gratitude (reaching a level I’m tempted to portray as wonder) to still be here and to be surrounded by loved ones, aware that subsequent parties are not guaranteed. Part of it was the absence of Margie, his wife and partner for decades (who many of you know as the inspiration behind my “Ripples” composition, album, and philosophy). By his side was Mery, his wonderful wife of just over a year, herself widowed. I spent the evening chatting with them after the party as they (and I) played with my 2 and 4 year old grand-nieces. Though I wasn’t making the connection to Claire consciously as we hung out (indeed it was in a sense a few hours’ “respite” from that), their longevity as humans inherently carries loss. Their departed spouses are imminently present in conversations, in photographs, and in any number of other ways down to the ubiquitous presence of Margie’s ceramics throughout the house. And now adorning the basement are three paintings from my mother’s (his sister’s) youth that Tom has now framed and hung, including one that my mother painted of my grandmother, who lives on in a great-granddaughter named after her. There is joy and there are scars.

I could go on about the cycles of life, but others have done that far more wisely than I could. And ultimately for me and for so many fellow grievers there is the difficult yet mundane reality that we who are still here will (to paraphrase my dear sis Rachel Green) experience grief as a natural consequence of love. I will, of course, continue to process the cognitive dissonance of moving forward while not “moving on” in the months and years to come, but this was a cosmically-timed perspective check. I am the better for having had Claire in my life, and in proportion to that the visceral aspects of listening to this song fill me with both the soul affirmation of love and the pain of loss – a cocktail that is pretty overwhelming but for me beats the heck out of a straight shot of detached avoidance.

If after all of this you feel up to listening to this utterly stunning work of art, I encourage you to download it along with a “purchase price” that will go entirely to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network). Or download it for free and share it. Or just stream it. Or save it for when you have the space for it. Or file it away indefinitely and savor the presence of those still with us while honoring the scars we all carry and the scars that lay before those of us privileged enough to get to stick around a while longer.

Top 10 Favorite Larry Coryell Tracks

Top 10 Favorite Larry Coryell Tracks

I think Larry Coryell (1943-2017) has to be one of the most underrated guitarists in modern music. Aside from his clear historical significance in melding jazz and rock guitar traditions and techniques, the pure artistic brilliance with which he straddled those lines is rather stunning. While nowadays it may be more common for guitarists to be fully fluent in both of those arenas, Coryell broke tremendous ground for all of the youngins. Many rock guitarists lack the rhythmic nuance and harmonic fluency to play jazz authoritatively, and many jazz guitarists sound comparatively wimpy and/or cerebral when they play rock. Larry pulled off both with utter conviction, and I’ve always been particularly enamored of the contexts in which he has been able to do both.

The list is in chronological order and leaves out records I really dig by, among others, Herbie Mann, Jim Pepper (with whom he also played in the early days of the Free Spirits), Sonny Rollins, Leon Thomas, Donald Harrison, Joey DeFrancesco, Paco de Lucia, and Ron Carter.

1 ) “Green Moss” from Nine Flags (by Chico O’Farrill – 1966)

This is not Larry’s first record date (it’s his third, I believe), but his feature on this tune is honestly one of the most fascinating guitar solos I’ve ever heard, somehow channeling Barney Kessel, B.B. King, and Chuck Berry at various points yet still sounding coherent. This one is long out of print, but is on YouTube as of this writing.

2 ) “One, Two, 1-2-3-4” from Duster (by Gary Burton – 1967)

Though finally back in print after years, I can’t for the life of me understand how the Gary Burton Quartet of the late 1960s isn’t better known, especially by the musicians of my generation. The word “groundbreaking” gets thrown around a lot, but these cats really were. All four of the albums they produced (including A Genuine Tong Funeral, which augments the group) are classics and display the incredible interplay between Burton and Coryell. While I love their more lyrical material, if it had to be one song then I’m going with this rave-up, buoyed by the ferocious playing of Steve Swallow and Roy Haynes.

3 ) “Rain” from Tomorrow Never Knows (by Steve Marcus – 1967)

The work Steve Marcus did with his cohorts in the days before “fusion” had a name is both historically important and musically potent. There are other tracks that more prominently feature Larry as a soloist (I suggest “Theresa’s Blues” from Count’s Rock Band), but he does get his turn here on a track that really exemplifies what the middle ground is between 1960s Coltrane and psychedelic-era Beatles.

4 ) “Treats Style” from Lady Coryell (by 1968)

Larry swings hard in a trio with Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones. ‘Nuff said.

5 ) “Rene’s Theme” from Spaces (by 1970)

Thanks to the presence of John McLaughlin, this album features the two towering influences in jazz/rock guitar side by side. So, appropriately enough, I’m picking the acoustic duet, which is lovely and interactive but not without some fireworks as well.

6) “Birdfingers” from Introducing the Eleventh House (1973)

Along with the also recently-departed drummer/composer Alphonse Mouzon, Coryell produced some excellent work with this hard-driving band (on this record also featuring Randy Brecker on trumpet) that is right in the wheelhouse of the 1970s fusion sounds associated with Return to Forever, Billy Cobham, and others.

7 ) “Carolyn ‘Kiki” Mingus” from Me Myself An Eye (by Charles Mingus – 1978)

Heady company here, as Coryell follows Lee Konitz and Michael Brecker as soloists on this gorgeous Jack Walrath arrangement from the first Mingus album produced after Mingus’s own battle with ALS had left him wheelchair-bound and unable to play. Larry toes the line between edginess and sensitivity perfectly.

8 ) “Nefertiti” from Shining Hour (1989)

Beginning in the 1980s, Larry had a long streak of really authoritative straight-ahead jazz records. Kenny Barron and company swing hard while Larry displays his rhythmic ease and harmonic fluency on this tricky Wayne Shorter composition.

9 ) “Sink or Swim” from The Coryells (by the Coryells – 1999)

This whole album (featuring Larry in an acoustic setting alongside his guitar-slinging sons Murali and Julian) is a lot of fun, but I’m particularly fond of this track, which prominently features all three of them as soloists.

10) “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” from Duality (by Kenny Drew, Jr. and Larry Coryell – 2011)

I’ve always admired Larry’s duo playing, and it’s particularly poignant here alongside another great musician we lost recently, pianist Kenny Drew, Jr. – both musicians display not only the chops for which they are well-known but also great versatility and sensitivity of interplay.

Love Is A Constant Struggle

I wrote this song this morning for Kate, called “Love Is a Constant Struggle”
I assure you this is not a bizarro, public way of acknowledging relationship friction, quite the contrary. It relates to a recent lecture I attended at Wesleyan called “Freedom Is A Constant Struggle.”


The lecture was by Ted Shaw, a brilliant civil rights lawyer who was the 5th head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, among other things. I got to spend some time in a small group of faculty and staff talking with him before the lecture as well, and in both cases I was struck by the complete absence of “eureka” moments in the sense of offering some perspective or strategy by which current struggles would seem surmountable. He talked instead about doing the right thing because that is our duty as humans and talked about the work of those who sacrificed so much towards justice. He also talked about the folly of letting down our guard, of thinking we’re over a hump and decreasing our effort and vigilance. He closed his talk with an African proverb – I’m going to butcher it, but the essence was that struggle is a constant in life and it’s up to the Gods to determine outcomes.

This has been in my brain ever since, but today I realized how much love works the same way. There are of course moments of pleasure, but what sustains a relationship is vigilance – striving to be our higher selves even (especially) when things are tough. I am certainly aware (hyper-aware recently) that while my wife is statistically likely to be around for a good while longer, not a day of that projected time is guaranteed. Loving wholeheartedly is not based on the statistical prediction that the investment of being kind and patient is likely to “pay off” in the future. It’s based on doing justice to a blessing in my life, not taking any of it for granted. From that perspective, succumbing to stress (of which I’ve had no shortage the last few months) is not an option. I have my moments, of course, but what the “constant struggle” means to me is that I don’t get days off to just be snarky or neglectful or dismissive. I am obligated to keep struggling through that (and whatever external challenges the world throws at me). I owe it to her, I owe it to everyone who needs reassurance that this sort of commitment is possible, I owe it to everyone who has lost a loved one prematurely and needs me not to compound that by indiscriminately squandering the precious gift I have, I owe it to goodness itself.

All of this is true of romantic relationships and it’s true as well of other kinds. For years I couldn’t wrap my brain around why some of my most tender and heartwarming moments as a parent were often followed by some of the most stressful moments. I see now there was no direct cause and effect, only the reality that adversity is around every corner and we don’t know when it will enter. And I believe to the core of my being that loving wholeheartedly through this constant din of uncertainty is not only possible but utterly essential.

And ultimately love in that sense is the same essence that informs the ongoing pursuit of justice and equity and transformation of Earth to a more compassionate place. This is not to say that being nice to your spouse when you’re cranky is in and of itself a substitute for whatever actual work your conscience dictates that you must do for the planet. But it helps us understand and hopefully reconcile the notion of the constant struggle. It ain’t easy, but it beats the heck out of capitulating to the impulses that can undermine sustenance of our spirit, whether those impulses are in service of a relationship or liberty justice for all.

So this song is for Kate (yes, not the most romantic Valentine’s Day song, but if she didn’t also believe in this she would’ve given me the boot a long time ago), but it’s also for all of you needing a reminder that the need for effort and vigilance are not signs that you’re doing it wrong or that the universe has forsaken you. This is just how life is when we truly care about something or someone, and that’s beautiful too.

The New Administration, Butt Boils, and MLK’s Persistence

I have been attuned to the significance of Martin Luther King Day for my whole adult life. This year feels different, mostly because this occasion comes days before a particularly consequential change in our presidency. So that brings us, of course, to getting gross and painful butt boils.

It’s not a particularly fun topic, but I think now is the time. When I was in college I started having regular problems with painful, infected sores on my butt cheeks, bad enough to make sitting difficult (which is a particularly inconvenient obstacle for someone in music school to study the piano). At a certain point, a campus doctor who knew maybe a little about Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (and who on that occasion was taking on the task of lancing a particularly agonizing boil) suggested that with my fragile tissue, this was perhaps an inevitability of sitting on hard benches, and perhaps I might benefit from using a cushion. So I stole one from my roommate’s couch, and when I remembered to use it started to experience much less of this problem . . . and when I didn’t remember, well, the results were predictable.

So, all of y’all who’ve seen me whip out a cushion when I have to sit virtually anywhere, this is why. And sometimes I don’t do it for any number of reasons. I don’t remember to bring it or I miscalculate the seat surfaces of wherever I’m going or I sit down unexpectedly without thinking much of it or I just determine that it’ll look stupid to do so and don’t want that. And sometimes I get away with it and sometimes I go back down the Road of Boils again.

So this past weekend I was in NYC on behalf of Resonant Motion, presenting at the National Conference for Chamber Music America. Specifically, I was organizing and moderating a panel discussion on Creating and Presenting Socially Conscious Art. It was an extremely important and gratifying experience, followed by some quality time with some inspiring people, one of whom joined me on the subway ride back. I was deep in conversation with him, overwhelmed by my awareness that less than 48 hours later I would be shifting gears to eulogizing my mother at her memorial, totally exhausted physically, carrying a lot of stuff, and emotionally overwhelmed by the awareness that I should have been commiserating with Claire about the whole experience before and after. So I didn’t feel like fishing through my backpack for my cushion and thus sat on the subway without it. When I got back to where I was staying and got ready for bed, I felt that certain irritation in my butt that suggested that I may have opened that unfortunate door (the back door, if you will). So as consciousness faded away, two things not directly butt-related bounced around my consciousness: Martin Luther King, and the upcoming shift in government.

In 2014, as I undertook the CD release tour for my Ripples album, I decided that I would eschew music in the many hours in the car and listen to speeches instead, about 85% of them Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s. For full disclosure, I wasn’t actually looking to glean much from the content, which I had studied in such depth ten years earlier as I prepared the music for my “Soul Force” album, dedicated to his life and work. In this instance I had determined that my capacity to use my music in service of human transformation and social responsibility was being held back by limitations and flaws in my public speaking. As such, I was diving into hours of speeches by Dr. King primarily for the oratory itself. But, of course, I couldn’t help but pay attention to WHAT he was saying.

On that occasion what struck me most was how many of his speeches through the years focused on what in the grander scheme of his life’s work seems like minutiae. Yes, of course he was discussing the broader ideas and mandates of equality and justice, but so much of it was focused on very specific strategies. We mostly think of the Reverend in terms of how comprehensively he brought about change, and in that context it is sobering to hear him talking about a specific initiative in a specific city where he worked with citizens banding together to put pressure on a specific group of local stores to bring about greater opportunity and equity within that community’s economic and social landscape.

I wish I could claim to be sufficiently enlightened that my immediate response was one of inspiration, but actually my first response was that this was kind of depressing. I suppose I was naively looking for “this is how we will change everything!” – after all, who wants to hear a great leader and motivator talking about how they’ve almost figured out how to fix that leaky pipe under the bathroom sink. But I made myself sit with it and, of course, realized that this is what resistance and overcoming look like in real life. Shouting “viva la resistance” from the rooftop is important too, but doing the grunt work day in and day out on a consequential (even if comparatively unglamorous level) is utterly essential to real change. Just like my butt doesn’t care about all the reasons why I didn’t take care of it the other night (and it’s not going to issue a “no boils” edict because of that), the forces of oppression and greed aren’t going to wait for the forces of good to buck up emotionally or calculate a strategy. It’s the persistence in all the small stuff that is largely behind the transformation we celebrate this time every year.

And as we inhabit a time when it seems that there is a new threat every time we turn our heads, we must remember this. It is SO easy to get demoralized by the whole situation and feel as though there is nothing we can do. But each positive step we take is important. For some that will mean organizing protests or lobbying for specific policies. For some it will mean working to support those who are likely to become more vulnerable. For some it will mean simply taking care of themselves so they can recover from other challenges and remain in the game, so to speak. And this is likely to shift for a given individual. But just as using a cushion every day can keep my butt on the piano bench (and thus, if I dare say so, able to make an impact that way), consistent persistence in service of what we know to be right action is in and of itself a contribution to the world. Even if all we can do is keep ourselves strong and healthy and sane while we wait in the wings for the right occasion to stand up, that is in and of itself participation. Even if impact of our persistence is so local in scope that few take notice, we are still part of the greater good. As we march towards a time of challenge and uncertainty, we can also be marching to justice and freedom, remembering that such a march takes many steady steps. And to keep taking steady steps you need (in addition to a healthy butt) to remember what persistence is about.

Joy Will Find a Way (and the Myth of Lukewarm Water)

I believe that joy will find a way in 2017. I really do. I also think there will be pain, some of it residual and bleeding into the New Year and some of it relating to new hurts that still lie before us. So much of the richness of life involves embracing the full scope of experience. Sometimes that means holding joy and suffering in tandem. This, of course, becomes harder to swallow as the suffering reaches the depths of despair, but in a sense that is when it becomes most important to remember. As much as Western binary thinking might challenge this, the existence of one does not negate the other.

There’s a scene I keep going back to from my favorite movie, the mock music documentary “This Is Spinal Tap.” Derek, the bassist in the fictional band is talking about the two visionary bandleaders, expressing that they’re like fire and ice, and he deadpans that he feels his role is to be in between them, kind of like lukewarm water.

I go back to this (I’ll call it DSP, or “Derek Smalls Phenomenon”) because, as funny as I find the quip in the film, it is the opposite of my own experience with the poles of emotion. Maybe it would be easier (or a least easier to explain things) if DSP governed my life, but for me these poles coexist. I started to realize this a few years ago when I realized that I was unable to offer a genuine single-adjective response to the seemingly simple question of “how are you?”

At that time I was doing some deep, dark work in the realm of inner demon-slaying, an exhausting process that left me hyper-aware of painful places inside. And at the same time, I was experiencing moments of real fulfillment in my life. So people would ask me how I was doing and if I was trying to be sincere I would stammer in attempting to fashion a response. By the principles of DSP, the answer would be a very straightforward “okay” and in truth I would generally give that response simply because it was easier. But the more genuine answer would have been “I’m having a really hard time . . . and life is beautiful and inspiring. Lots of fire and lots of ice, very little lukewarm water.”

I’ve been thinking about this as we head into the New Year, with so many around me feeling the pain of experiences that have marred the year that has passed, whether due to politics, loss of heroes, or personal tragedy. Never before 2016 have I heard such widespread sentiment of a calendar year being lousy. Personally, I have great hope, optimism even, that joy will abound in 2017. I do not, however, expect it to push the suffering aside. Indeed, my personal take-away from 2016 is all about the coexistence of fire and ice.

For me the end of 2016 has been gut-wrenching. However, as recently as a couple months ago I would have characterized the year as a wonderful one, if only because of one experience. In April Kate and I legally adopted our two younger daughters, Ariana and Tiana. Though they were 25 and 23 and had been a permanent part of our family for years, I still knew it would be an emotional experience, but I wasn’t fully prepared for HOW emotional it would be. Without getting into the minutiae of that day here (ask me sometime, I’ll gladly tell you all about it), I can say that it changed me.

Specifically, I had a moment walking from the parking lot to the courthouse when I was filled with such gratitude and love that I stopped in the snow to breathe deeply and tell myself “you must never forget how blessed you are that you could experience something this beautiful.” And I have reminded myself of this over and over since then, that redemptive love is not only a beautiful thing to experience but proof that life itself is a blessing.

This is as true now as it was in April . . . and there is some heavy new pain residing beside this joy. I’m learning not to be surprised by the extent to which each is relatively impervious to the other. Some degree of joy might be muted by suffering and some degree of suffering might be healed by joy, but on balance they both remain. So as I spent my last reflective moments in 2016, my grief was still intense, but so was my love and gratitude for my family and more generally to simply have been able to participate in loving interactions, including with those who are no longer here in the physical plane.

The joy can’t erase the pain, and truth be told I personally don’t even wish it could. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no masochist, and just because living with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome has forced me to increase my pain threshold, I hardly enjoy pain. But with EDS, awareness of pain is necessary to be sufficiently attuned to my body – a pain in my hip is what alerts me to the injury or ergonomic misjudgment or whatever issue needs my attention. And so it goes with my heart. My capacity to be a loving, caring person relies on my attunement to what’s actually going on. And if what’s going on is tragic, then attunement will equal suffering. The thing is, for me the suffering of turning away from whatever is going on (and thus inevitably both alienating those also impacted by whatever is going on and failing to nurture my own broken parts) is even less bearable than the suffering of facing it.

But if the joy can’t erase the pain, I do believe it can soothe. In a sense, joy and pain are manifestations of the same energy. If you choose to engage fully and feel deeply, you will invariably experience both to some degree. Living a life that shields you from pain will inherently also shield you from joy, a sacrifice I personally am unwilling to make. I certainly don’t suggest gratuitously inviting pain or suffering into one’s life in a misguided attempt to enhance the experience of joy. Nor am I suggesting that wallowing in suffering is a way to more fully experience life. But the door to joy remains open even amidst pain. Whether the salve it provides is enough to make life bearable is not my place to dictate for anyone else. But I know that amidst every heartbreak I have experienced have been moments of levity and gratitude and love, moments that are in a sense all the more moving because of my awareness of how much I need them. A game of “ice cream store” with my grand-nieces in the hospital cafeteria moments after my mother’s death, or a knowing hug from someone who knew and loved Claire, or delivery of some lasagna when I’m so depleted from it all that I’m virtually paralyzed . . . these things can be enough to remind me that it is not only possible to endure, but totally worth it. Even the adoption last April was so beautiful in part because of how far we had all climbed to get there and how sacred we all knew that to be.

This is why “joy will find a way” (a phrase borrowed from Bruce Cockburn’s song by that title, one of the most beautiful songs about coping with loss that I have heard) still feels potent. And why when I use that phrase here it is not meant to suggest that joy is in some sort of competition with pain, much less one I’m claiming joy will win. But as long as there is one unbroken corner of my heart, joy has its point of entry. The ice of grief may not melt, but the fire of joy can still warm my soul, and as it does I am reminded that I can endure. Whether it is knowing that I will make it through my grief or knowing that I will have the resources to make it through whatever challenges lie ahead, that reassurance can light each step forward, and each step is an affirmation that life goes on.

Love, Loss, and Courage

Well I try to make it go, I try to make it go
But it’s all about the slow ascension
And the mountain feels so high, the mountain feels so high
But is it any match for my intention?

Dear Claire,

I’m not going to lie, I’m having a hard time right now. I know you are extremely busy comforting the countless people who are wrecked by your death (God, it hurts every time I write that), but given your track record of stepping up and helping me out even when you’ve got a lot going on, I thought I’d reach out and see if you can help out with the crisis of faith with which I’m currently wrestling.

“Normally” right now I’d be writing my annual Love Wins-themed blog post to try to find a shred of light or wisdom or encouragement amidst the darkness of the December 14 anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. And you and Gabe would be reaching out and sending love to me and Kate and supporting my public and private remembrance of Ana Grace and the other children as you always do when that date rolls around. Even in grief I’m able to see the irony that as I spent early December bracing myself for the nearly unbearable pain of this annual ritual, I had no idea that the ante of simultaneous pain would be upped in this way or that my nervous system was capable of sustaining that (sort of).

First off, can I tell you how proud of you I am? I am struck by how consistently you were able to offer wisdom into all things Resonant Motion. Which sounds kinda corporate as I read it – really, it means that you were a collaborator in my life’s work ever since I asked you and Gabe to join the RMI team in the early stages back in 2013. Your wisdom went so far beyond your 27 years. I was just thinking about the planning meeting we had for the NY constituents of the Unity Arts Alliance, and how easily and completely you commanded the respect of everyone in a room in which I (15 years your elder) was the next-youngest person there. As your teacher, I saw firsthand the determination and discipline that fomented that wisdom. You could have coasted on talent, but there you were painstakingly learning multiple-chorus Lee Morgan and Clifford Brown solos note for note.

But more than having wisdom in the sense of knowing and articulating information or perspective, you had wisdom in knowing how to be. And a big part of that was your courage. I never saw you shy away from the hard stuff, which manifested in your capacity to fully engage in conversation about difficult subjects. More importantly, you fully engaged in ACTION around difficult subjects. That was in the most literal sense what you were doing right up until the end, and I love you for that more than anything.

You know it’s the reason I treasure your singing so much, too. Many have praised your otherworldly voice, and they’re right. Singing at Bushnell Park with you and Latanya and Mel when Garth couldn’t make the gig gave me a physical sensation that, if it could be bottled, would make us a billion dollars as pharmaceutical magnates. But that’s only one part of why you were a remarkable singer. You were a remarkable singer because your courage allowed you to fully inhabit the most emotionally loaded material with profound grace.

This is why I kept giving you such emotionally loaded material to sing. Amidst the agony when dear Ana Grace and her classmates were murdered, I also agonized over how to express that loss in music without dramatizing it or drawing undue attention to myself. My loophole was making the penultimate track of Ripples a short song based my poem “L’Amour Gagne” (semi-concealing “Love Wins” by changing the language). It needed to be you singing it. I’ve probably listened to you sing it hundreds of times, and I get chills every time.

But those chills actually pale in comparison to what you did with my “The Rock and the Redemption” suite. At the end of the hour-plus of music, there’s this moment. You know the one I’m taking about because I’ve thanked you for it repeatedly (and you of course demurred). I knew that I needed you to sing the culminating verse, the one at the beginning of this letter. I didn’t realize, though, that I’d get weak in the knees every single time I heard you sing the word “ascension.” Those three syllables literally make me think “this is why I make music.” With all due respect to the many other fine singers I know, it could only have been you delivering that.

And I just realized that the last musical sounds we ever created together were at the RMI showcase in Brooklyn this past spring. Appropriately enough, the last tune we did was Franya Berkman’s “Little Ones.” You were singing a song about children who died too early, composed by a wonderful woman who died too early. And you sang it utterly perfectly. I know this, because I forced myself to watch the video today. It was almost unbearable to watch, but it was perfect. What my music will be going forward without you is just one way I’m lost right now, though I recognize that I owe it to you to get found eventually.

I needed to tell you these things now, though I’m thankful that I also did so when you were here. But now I need to talk about the moral conundrum that has been exacerbating my sorrow, anger, and disbelief.

As you know, I spend a lot of my life’s energy encouraging people to live lives governed by peace, love, courage, and generosity, a mandate that deepened when the Marquez-Greene family adopted “Love Wins” as a mantra and I formally committed to making sure my life’s work (for which you were such an important co-conspirator) consciously aligned with that. This commitment is doubly true for my students. It is triply true for the students with whom I become close. It was quadruply true for you. I openly admired and encouraged the proactivity with which you supported people (including your family) through difficult times. We worked together to foment radical love for all.

Preaching that is easy enough when there are universally positive outcomes to be promised (joy! brotherhood! transformation!). But now . . . I know this is not a constructive or even accurate viewpoint, but I’m haunted by the sense that you were martyred for your abundant goodness. I’m crying writing that and I’ve cried every time I’ve thought about it (I know that on earth you never saw me cry, because I pretty much only do so when watching sappy movies).

This is intensified by the post-election climate in which you and I (along with so many others) had already been contemplating the possibility of a reality in which speaking up for love and goodness and caring could become simultaneously more necessary and more risky. Does that mean we should back off or lean in harder? Is a life of selfless adherence to these principles worth the risks that one can avoid by keeping to oneself? Do I have to start appending my beseechments to love one another with potential side effects like a freaking Viagra commercial? Even if I reconcile what happened to you (which, of course, I never will), can I in clear conscience continue to encourage others in the way I have?

Yes, you’re right that these are false binaries and that I’m getting worked up. So I’ll take a pause here to bring the subject of Basha Baerman, my mother, into the conversation.

My mother died peacefully on Friday at age 81, lucid to the end and grateful for having had the opportunity to savor the presence of her family. She would not want an elaborate eulogy here (or, really, any attention at all), so I’ll keep it brief. She was motivated by selfless, unconditional love, particularly for her kids (and eventually grandkids and great grandkids). That was what mattered to her above all. And that was easily the dominant influence she had on my own development. Sure, through her I learned to distinguish Chopin from Mozart in a “blindfold test,” learned to love reading, and learned the verbal and gestural mannerisms that immediately identify me as Jewish even though my spiritual adherence and faith-based education are literally nonexistent. I concluded that the way to be a parent (and, indeed, as a human in the world) is to be governed by love every day, in every decision.

As we’ve discussed, one of the ways I measure the rightness of my actions is by projecting forward to my deathbed. It’s morbid in a way, and it’s also presumptuous (since, as this very conversation so painfully acknowledges, we don’t all get the luxury of that final reflection). But it is an effectively sobering way to anticipate the likelihood of regret and to re-route one’s actions preemptively as necessary. Well, I just spent a good amount of time next to a deathbed, so even before you went away last week, I was reflecting heavily on that.

So from that perspective, I guess the fundamental question is this: in the end, would we want our last reflections (whenever they come) to be of courageously living our principles or of successfully avoiding pain? I’m straining to think of an instance in which I’ve ever heard someone in their golden years express relief that they shied away from emotional involvement and responsibility to a sufficient degree to have enjoyed a long, emotionally detached life. Maybe it’s a thing, but I haven’t ever seen it.

So for some of us, I guess it isn’t really a decision. Sure, there are moment to moment cost/benefit analyses, and sure there are needs to strategically exercise protective boundaries, but in the broader sense the conclusion is self-evident. As far as I’m concerned, love and community and connection are the reasons for living. And yes, if you love, that means you are more engaged with others. Their pain becomes your pain, their risk becomes your risk, and that’s kind of how it goes. You can mitigate it some through being savvy and having healthy boundaries and so on, but on a broad level, what do you do when you hit the crossroads between actively and bravely loving or shrinking back into a definition of love that is inert and sentimental? Courage is in that sense not so much a matter of facing danger as it is a stubborn determination to be undeterred in love, no matter what. You did that. Did I mention that I’m proud of you?

At this point I ask myself this: what would you say to all of these musings and doubts? As I attempt to picture that, I think it would be pretty succinct and would go something like this:

Geez Louise, what are you TALKING about? Golly, if I’m not here to help people, SOMEONE has to do it. Take good care of yourselves . . .  and then get back to work. We have to spread love more intensely than ever.

I think I’m pretty close, right? Well, this is what I/we will do. Love still wins, and it’s still the only thing that does, and we’ll keep on loving, for you, for Ana Grace, for my mom, and especially for everyone left here who needs it. You’ve done a great job of loving boldly and courageously, and one result is there are a whole lot of people who will make sure your family is okay. And we will take care of Gabe, now, 15 years from now, always. I wish so badly that being in it for the long haul didn’t mean going on without you, but I promise that I will, as I can remember you singing with the Wesleyan Jazz Orchestra one of the first times I ever heard you, dust myself off, pick myself up, and start all over again. Dammit, Claire, I’m crying again.

Until we meet again . . .

Love always,
Noah