Musings at 30,000 feet

It’s that time of year again. Capital Jazz is the siren song and I, as a music lover and a music photographer, cannot resist it. It’s a trip that I look forward to every year and after a particularly difficult year – actually, a difficult two years – my soul and nerves alike can use the healing. 

I think it’s very fair to say, and I’m sure I speak for many, when I say that we should thank whoever invented inflight Internet. It’s a thing of beauty. :) but you knew that already.

But that aside… good grief, this year truly took the wind out of me. 

I will never speak ill of my job on account that I am almost certain that at least one person in management is reading this blog. And that’s fine. I curate my content for that and other reasons. But for those of you who do not know me, I work in tax accounting. And it is by no means an easy job. I think of it as a numeric jigsaw puzzle; a Sudoku work of sorts that involves making logical order of numbers, expenses, laws, deductions… it’s no different, as I see, from a basic game of mahjong. But the stress levels are incredible. My job has gone through a merger, and so far it works, I won’t deny it. But as it were, that added to the stress. And for those who are unfamiliar with tax deadlines, it doesn’t just end on April 15. 

 And it was stressful. And unfortunately, when I get stressed, I stop sleeping, first thing. Then my short-term memory starts Togo. Then my digestion is out the window. And a prolonged stretch of this generally adds up to, for lack of better words, “I’m a fucking nervous wreck”. 

The stress, to be fair to my job, started last year. Not a story I’m willing to hash here because more than one person is affected by it. Then I lost my grandma and one of my best friends, back to back, in close succession; a hit I never recovered from. I was a mess coming into the current year, and between tax season, people being people, and then losing another relative and one more friend unexpectedly…. yeah. My nerves are shot to hell and next week. 

Despite this, obviously, I am still doing what needs to be done, if only on account that no other option exists.  No one but me will live my life, and no one should have to take my responsibilities. That’s just not how I roll. Some may call it strength, but I call it resilience, if any such a thing applies to it. I just know this: I can’t afford to fall apart. 

And yes, I am doing NaNoWriMo again. National Novel writing Month, in case you wondered. 
Last year, I wondered just how the hell I was going to get through it, when I had just lost Bruce Nazarian. He was my greatest cheerleader in this crazy endeavor, as well as all my other crazy endeavors. But in no small part channeling the loss into inspiration, I pulled off my tenth win. Ten for ten, a decade of writing a manuscript in a month – or continuing a prior, as I did in 2014 and will do again this year – a challenge to both discipline and creativity. And I have claimed the goal of 50,000+ words within 30 days or less, and am endeavoring to do it again. 

I’ve made a commitment to my writing, even if the bulk of my creative life is my photography. I’ve wanted to be an author since I was 6. It’s a mission that, for all intents and purposes, I’ve accomplished. Ultimately, writing is the best focus exercise. It forces a chaotic mind (especially one as chaotic as my own) to focus and organize a pattern of character and events into a believable storyline. Whether or not it will ever get published or read has never been the point, though I do have five manuscripts published and more in the can. The fact is, I’ve participated in this challenge as a way to discipline and focus myself when my natural inclination, like it as not, is more along the lines of winging it. 

But I never call it quits. Not unless I have to, and writing is the one thing that, for my own benefit, I need to stay with. 

So onward. I’m already upward – 32,000 feet upward at this moment, in fact. 


Posted in The Usual | Leave a comment

One year

A year ago, I woke up to a voicemail and a text.

The voicemail was from my close friend, who said, “You’re going to wake up to some terrible news.”

The text asked me if it was true that Bruce Nazarian passed away.

Not that I’ve put myself back together from having lost my grandmother just some scant three weeks before, but that news was what broke me.

And it’s been a very difficult year. Putting myself back together has been first priority, and these are some of the days where I feel I’ve not quite succeeded at it.

My grandmother was 95 years old. While painful, her death was not unexpected, and it was something of a miracle that she had held on as long as she had. We had more than a few close calls with her at the last years, but it was something that my mom and I have seen coming. And if that’s the case, you have time to brace for it, to steel yourself – not that it’s less painful, but there is something to be said for forewarning. It’s easier to accept with a forewarning.

With Bruce… there was no warning. Just woke up to this news, and it cost me more strength than I could muster at the time to go into work that day.

The irony of losing someone whom I thought of and regarded as a father figure and finding out on my actual father’s birthday is not lost on me. At all.

The one thing I did learn from this is that there’s some losses that you just don’t “get over”. Those are the losses that you just learn to live around. The reminders crop up everywhere; you skirt around and try to ignore them, because you know too well that you risk falling apart at them. You catch yourself on about to dial that number. And you especially miss just being able to talk to that person about anything.

There have been more hits, but that’s the one that I haven’t recovered from. Not all hits heal. Not all bruises fade.

This one is likely such a one.

But – as before, the only choice I really have is to keep going, and that’s precisely what I’ve been doing.


Posted in The Usual | 3 Comments

Let’s not forget

The importance of these things called boundaries.

You may have heard me say this before, and if you’re unlucky, you may have experienced this on yourself: I’m not a person known to be forgiving. In fact, one of my go-to sayings is that I don’t forgive as a habit, and forget exactly nothing.

Here’s the thing: every religion espouses forgiveness as a virtue. Every philosopher I know of has preached at least one course on forgiveness as a necessity.

Two words:


No, no, no, and no. They are wrong. They are all 100% wrong, and I will explain to you why.

Forgiveness is not a virtue. Forgiveness actually is allowing a person who has wronged you to think that they can do it again. If not to you, then certainly to somebody else. Forgiveness means allowing people to see that they can do whatever they want to you and know that they will get away with it. Why? Because they know you to be forgiving. This is an easy way to take advantage of someone’s nature.

I have no idea why people equate not forgiving someone with holding a grudge. That’s not correct. When you refuse to forgive someone, it does not at all equate to holding a grudge. There’s a huge, massive difference between a lack of forgiveness and a grudge. Oh, everyone holds grudges to one degree or another. That’s just what human nature is. But forgiveness is something that’s a human invention, and it’s greatly foolish to equate an absence of forgiveness with a grudge. It’s entirely possible to never forgive someone and never think of them again.

What not forgiving actually does is set a boundary for yourself and sets a standard for the treatment you do and/or don’t accept.

I bet y’all didn’t think about that, did you?

You didn’t consider that refusing to forgive someone is part and parcel of drawing boundaries, and is an essential part of boundaries overall?

You didn’t think that refusing to forgive someone who wronged you actually sends a message that you’re not to be wronged, or messed with?

You didn’t possibly consider that people who do badly by others are very likely to do it again, and there’s nothing at all wrong with cutting them out of your life and holding to it?

Then I suggest you begin to re-evaluate exactly what you were taught about boundaries, respect, consideration, and quality of people.

Never assume that just because someone is refusing to be “forgiving” that they’re selfish, bitter, grudgey, vengeful, etc. You don’t know what their reasons are for not forgiving someone. You don’t know what led them to the point where they said no and stuck by that no. You simply do not know what their situation is, but please don’t get sanctimonious on them. Your faith is yours – and their circumstances are such that they do not agree with you. It isn’t your place to question why someone’s forgiveness tether had snapped, but you do need to know that those tethers do not grow back.

I, for one, don’t forgive because I know, through repeated experience, that if I do forgive someone, they generally go right back to the same behavior that had them needing forgiveness in the first place. I’ve had one experience too many with giving people second chances for them to blow up in my face later to go down the same path again.

As I always say: when you step on a rake, the handle will always fly up and smack you in the head. So why would you ever step on the same rake twice?

My boundaries are more important than someone’s need for forgiveness, or their feelings, or their sense of validation. Sorry but not at all sorry. I don’t give a damn whom I offend or piss off by cutting them or someone they’re affiliated with out of my life. Why? Because in my life, my boundaries are hugely damned important, and there’s no person on the face of the earth who’s immune from that. You can be the Queen of England, and I would still cut you off without a backwards glance if I find that you bring chaos to the table.

Leave the “forgive and forget” at the door. I don’t forgive. I never forget. And I am a staunch believer that karma always comes full circle.


Posted in The Usual

In Memoriam: Ken Levinson


If you’re in contemporary jazz, then you probably heard of Ken Levinson before. You probably knew him on Facebook, or if you travel, you hung out with him and his wonderful wife, Robin, at many a show.

What you don’t know is that Ken Levinson was one of the people thanks to whom contemporary jazz had stayed alive. Ken created the Smooth Jazz Spot FB groups, which became the place for advertising jazz shows. This is where so many new artists came to show us all what they could do. In 2010, when the radio stations were collapsing left and right, Ken was the one who took it to the social media networks, and kept an entire genre breathing.

A true unsung hero to us all. A friend to many. A voice of reason and of peace in many ways. Someone calm and steady, someone with a long-range view of things, someone who knew what to do, how to go about it, and enjoyed everything he set himself out to do.

To this day I remember 2011 – Oasis Jazz Awards went under, and both he and Bruce Nazarian got on the phones, mobilized everyone, and salvaged the event within 24 hours. Smaller scale, of course, but the artists who were there already had a gig, had an audience – and those two were to thank for it.

I met Ken and his wonderful wife, Robin, later that year. Dave Koz show in Atlantic City.

And again, in Ft. Lauderdale, 2012? I think? before I sailed off on CapJazz that year.

To all of us, to many, many of us, he was The Smooth Man.

Guys, I ask you this: donate to the family at this link:

Please. For our Ken.




Posted in The Usual

So the ‘deferment’ is over.

So today, I mark a milestone: I paid off the last piece of my student loans. The yoke is off my back, the mountain is off my shoulders – insert whatever metaphor you feel is appropriate for the occasion.

Let me make this clear: I did not do this alone. I did have financial help in paying it off. And I know my peers are not so lucky.

And for all the relief I feel at getting this particular burden off my shoulders, for all the spike that I can expect of my credit score once the bureaus process that this gigantic part of my financial life is, finally, paid in full – for all that relief, I feel like I’ve been cheated in the long run. I don’t regret my education, and never will, but if I have to ask if it was worth the 65K of debt I graduated with? No. It wasn’t. I shudder to consider the total amount paid back if I include the interest, but it’s still lower than the payment plan I have been assigned on graduation. I may’ve paid back a small fortune, but I also saved.

Overall, though, my feelings are mixed.

All my life, everyone older than myself always told me: get a good education, get a good job, and that’s the only way you’ll survive. I’ve been told, repeatedly, that Being A Professional is the only way to ensure any and all sorts of financial future for myself. I’ve been told that hard work gets me anywhere I want. I’ve been told that college is The Only Way to do this.

Right now, knowing that the hard financial road has been traveled and is at an end, I frankly feel that this is complete bunk. I feel like this narrative is a lie when applied to this generation. It’s just not feasible to push this on those of us who 1. don’t come from money, even a lower-ish tier of money, and 2. who have to shell out more than what they can afford just so they can come near having a bite at the apple, or 3. those of us who are better off working with our hands. Because really, that’s what it all boils down to in everything these guidance counselors and Well-Meaning Wilmas say: go to college or you’re worthless. Never mind that jobs don’t come from the sky and there’s not enough of them to go around, and there is always a need for manual labor, which is now looked down upon because…it’s not college.

While I’m all for education, and I’ll always be pro-college – especially pro-tuition free community college for everyone, because it does teach a person to see the world a little bit differently – I am definitely against people treating manual or vocational labor as “less than”.

I think that a lot of my peers, myself included, would’ve done a lot better if some of us were trained at a vocational school, taught to build and create and fix things. It would’ve ensured work for life – because really, we will always need plumbers and carpenters and builders – and it would’ve done so with next to no debt upon graduation. Thirteen years ago, when I was graduating high school, working for 30K a year could’ve still afforded one to live alone, even here in NYC, and right now, even the concept of living alone is becoming somewhat of a joke. In fact, I still wonder at times whether or not I should’ve just applied for the MTA and learned how to operate a train – if only because it would’ve cost me less in the long run in terms of loans, and who knows? I may have been a homeowner by now too.

When the previous generation went to college [I’m somewhere between Gen X and millennial, so by prior generation, I mean Baby Boomers], tuition didn’t go past about $4,000 per year, and even working as a waiter in a restaurant would afford one a house. And houses did not cost an arm, a leg, and an offspring back then, of that I’m sure.

Of course, this is no longer the case.

Tuition when I went to college, in 2003, was $19,000+ per year, and I got lucky because my school froze tuition rates if the student managed to graduate within 5 years. I did it in 4, because that was expected of me, my tuition stayed the same, I got scholarships where I could and loans where I couldn’t, of course, and I got the requisite 30K a year starter salary with my first job after graduation, only to discover that this pays diddly-squat in terms of bills. I could barely cover student loan minimums, and rent? LOL. That’s funny… yeah, except for the part where it totally isn’t funny when you can barely put food into your stomach because of loan payments. Yes, I lived at home – I couldn’t afford to live solo. And unless the RE bubble in NY bursts harder than the last time, I am coming to terms with the fact that I probably won’t live alone until I’m in my forties at least – if ever.

And right now, nine years after I walked across the stage and got my diploma, where am I, exactly? I paid out what could’ve been a mortgage, and for what? The past nine years, I’ve been aware only too keenly that I’ve been screwed on a financial level, and the bamboozle continues, because my alma mater’s undergraduate tuition rates have only continued to spike, and it seems like no one, apart from those of us who have gone through it, sees anything wrong with colleges and lenders reaping profits on the backs of an entire generation.

Because seriously: my alma mater’s current undergrad rate is over 40K a year right now. Tell me: who can afford that?! Do you still think there’s no problem with higher ed in this country? Do you still think that “oh, just go to college and get a job” is a viable piece of advice to pass on?”

Because 40K times 5 years is $200K of total tuition… and about half of that is the graduating debtload that the class of 2020 may look forward to.

I also feel horrible for the fact that people had to help me pay this back. Granted, they’re the same people who insisted I go to college to begin with, but nonetheless: how is it fair to them, too? How is it fair for the families of the students, families who want their kids to do well in life, to also be saddled with their debts? Because guess what: while they were my cosigners, it was also their obligation to pay back. And I’m certainly, 100%, not okay with it. Their insistence may’ve pushed me into the debtload, and one may argue that it’s only fair they share it, but not to me. If I’m the one setting out into the workforce, then it’s my obligation first.

“Don’t go to college if you can’t handle the debt!” people say. Really? And this is said in the same breath as “Go to college or else you’ll never find a decent job!” Pick one, people. Which is it? Do we go to college and get the so-called “better jobs” (which don’t really exist) or do we have to deal with your nitpicky bitching when we go into trade? Pick one. Or better yet, shut your mouths and do something about the fact that tuition is now more per year than a luxury vehicle and the financial stability that you enjoyed in the 60s-80s is gone.

Do you remember Bush’s finance reform laws in 2005? Here’s a little something they’ve done: they transformed student loans into a qualified debt. The loans now precede mortgages in terms of what’s on your credit report. The garnishment restrictions on student loans have been lifted, so that loan lenders can now garnish social security of senior cosigners, garnish wages earned of both the borrower AND cosigner – not tax refunds, because fortunately, it’s a different authority, and loan lenders don’t intersect with the Internal Revenue Service. Qualified debts are not covered in bankruptcy laws either; part of the tightening up of bankruptcy laws was to exclude student loans from being subject to cancellation or chargeoff in the event of bankruptcy.

So you know what all of that means? You are stuck with student loans until paid off.

If not for the fact that tuition at state colleges is now upwards of $15,000 per year, not counting room and board expenses, and if not for the fact that costs of living have hiked and salaries have not at all kept pace with inflation, then this particular regulation might bother me slightly less than what it bothers me now, and it bothers me a great deal that this is the case for millions of my peers. Even right now, with my loans paid off, I still keenly recall a talk I had with a mortgage broker, who told me plainly that unless my student loans are out of the picture, I can forget about a mortgage. So basically, until my student loans were finished, I was consigned to living like a college student still: hand to mouth. And again: I am one of the lucky ones. Because my debtload was, if I were to think about it, 1/2 of what some of the people in my graduating class had.

And still – nine years. Nine years of living in a sort of suspended animation. I cannot say in words just how grateful I am for my current job. I mean it. I seriously was losing hope for what my future would turn out to be before I got that job.

The way that my peers live is not even qualified to be called living. I can’t even call it survival, honestly. I don’t care what you believe the current generation lives like, but from my own experience, there’s nothing to take pride in when you’re watching the education that everyone told you to get eat up all of your take-home income. I’m not even talking about medical expenses right now. If you’re living at home, you save a few bucks, but what opportunity is there to build a living, build a life, when one lives at home and is barely making ends meet as it is? There’s no dignity in it, and don’t laugh: if you were in our shoes, you’d say the same thing. Like it as not, there’s a certain dignity in living on your own, in at least making ends meet on your own, and managing your own life. Where’s the dignity in hand-to-mouth for X years that it takes one to pay off debt?

If our parents’ generation has been trying to give us the comforts that it had claimed for itself in the wake of the Baby Boom era, it failed in doing so as a collective whole. Instead, there is a quagmire that has been created by the thirst for profit without consideration for the future ahead, or for the lives of the people who are supposedly to inherit that future. Tuition costs spiraled out of control, cost of living spiked, salaries remained largely static, and as such, the current generation is crippled with debt and survival is impossible unless you’re making six figures a year – and those jobs are not plentiful, no matter what people want to believe. How is that anywhere even close to the standard of the generation previous thereto? The prior generation could buy a house with minimal financial detriment and get a decent education without it completely killing their financial future for a decade. Us? Not so much. Tech advancement is great, but it’s not financial security.

“Get an education!” “Stop being lazy and get a job!” “You kids just want to play around on your phones all day!” You name it, I’ve heard it. All of it is old, old, old, and none of it is reconciling with the very real and VERY difficult road that my generation, and the generation about to enter the workfore, faces daily.

In reality, “we kids” are legal adults, and we want the same exact thing that our parents enjoyed when they were our age: reasonable costs of living, job security, and financial security for the future, and I frankly don’t think it’s asking too much.

It’s only right now that I can look forward to some sort of financial security, but I’m nine years behind in setting that up. It certainly feels like the opening scene to my sci-fi series, when a warrior walks through a post-war battlefield and sees the people slowly coming out to inspect the damage: I’m coming out from the crippling debt that I’ve been saddled with and inspecting the world around me to see what I can do now. It’s like stepping into bright sunshine after a prolonged period of darkness: takes a second to adjust.

But it is nonetheless comforting to know that this time, the future is actually here, and not something I think about late at night. It’s still a feeling, though, as though I’ve climbed out of the proverbial tunnel, and only now have discovered that the light is not, in fact, an oncoming train’s headlamp.

Think of the Langston Hughes poem, “A Dream Deferred”. My peers and I have a life deferred – a life deferred by however long it took us to pay off our loans. So what happens now? That is my question.



Posted in The Usual

Here we go. Again.

Let me first open this post with this:

I didn’t post about the AZ fest collapse last year on advice of many people, two of them my attorneys. We all decided to err on the side of caution, and considering that my blog has generated quite a bit of traffic with the Maxwell cruise story, I didn’t want to take more risk than necessary. This is where it was a liability issue, and as such, I had to keep mum.

Whether or not people got their money back, I am not sure. I know those who claimed with the bank all got theirs. But I do not know it was all of them.


And for the time being, things were Nice and Quiet. At least as quiet as being behind the scenes of a music genre can be.


So you can imagine my reaction when I got a forwarded email back in March. I am pasting the text below, just so y’all can get an idea.


[All spelling in original context. Name of sender of email hidden]

From: ******* ******
Subject: San Diego Music Festival Opportunity
Date: March 29, 2016 at 5:25:06 PM PDT
To: Undisclosed recipients: ;
Hi hope its a great weekend for you. Please reach me back with any questions I think someone will snatch this up quick. I’d love it to be you.
RTE productions is seeking a savey business person who likes having fun, making money, enjoys music, and is down for being a part of the solution in America and helping all children’s be resolved to succeed at school and life.  Which these festival help support through their alignment with. YouthHealth USA’s Choose2BPositive Movement that is on a path that is striving to reverse the under achievement trends in America. We goal to lift all of us especially children to Choose2BPositive  by supply for free the tools and mentoring needed to change lives for the better across America with the volunteer support of an army of senior citizens and others…
THIS INVESTMENT FROM YOU WOULD ALLOW RTE PRODUCTIONS TO PUT THE REMAING DEPOSITS DOWN ON REST OF ARTEST. THEY ALREADY HAVE CHARLE WILSON, ERIC BENET, BLACK STEET, OTHETS AND THE VENUE verifiably LOCKED DOWN. ONCE they deposit on rest of artest they can start to sale tickets. Announcements will go out next week. They need to deposit on MARY J BLIGE etc THIS IS NOT NEW AND THESE EVENTS ARE WINNERS FOR LAST 5 YEARS. Google “san diego jazz festival 2015” and at top UNDER SERCH click image verses web and see the exitement and crowds. This is fun and a money maker. This is being built and run by all who ran it before exept original owner. PLEASE NOTE THEY moved date from May to June. As a result Georges Tribute to Marvin Gaye which he wants to do as depicted will be moved to next year. And you can be a part of that.
YOU will be pay back starting after 1st week out of the ON SALE ticket sales at 50% of each sale. Once principle paid in full your 20% interest equal to $40,000.00 profit will be paid from sales of tickets to before event.  Thats huge but they are not done they will also pay you an additional 10% of net profit of event about 10days after the festival as a finacial partner benefit which if the event clears $800k you will receivd an additional  $80,000.00 dollars. Wait there is more just because its first time to show gratetude they want to give you 5% on next two events net profit so thats $40,000 × 2 equal to anothther $80,000 potentially or more. That makes for double your investment and thats not all if you can use a vendor both its yours free backstage Vip and a suite. And if you like exposure via marketing with the 40 media outets covering event all for free.  These events have a 5 year proven track record they can give you last years actual ticket recept info. The events do a net $750,000 to a $1,200,000 net each Festival. This is a golden egg.
The husband and wife original owners fell out with each other and to hurt each other dropped their Golden Egg forgetting about staff. So I encouraged the staff to unite and pick it up since they were the back bone and make it even better they did and its supper exciting. Two other festivals are shaping up too. They just have room for one Finacial partner and that prompts me to reach out to you. SO YOU CAN HAVE A GOLDEN EGG :)
This is a fun win win win opportunity. Call me asap.

Where do I even begin? I mean, truly. I can’t even be my normally sarcastic self about this. I just cannot.

A little more research on the company surfaces a familiar face, too. Not like I had to dig very deep.

Still, I didn’t think much of that email. It was worth a few giggles, though, if only for the terrible spelling. But…it gets better, as things like this often do.

You can, of course, imagine the surprise I got when I got the link to this:

Are. You. SERIOUS.

First of all, who’s the fool who gave them money to sponsor this? If I were to get an email like the one above, I’d toss it right into the recycle bin without a second thought.

Second of all, check this little refund policy:

That’s nice, but considering the two major events that went under in a very ugly fashion last year, I cannot possibly tell you just how many alarm bells this raises. There are still people who hadn’t gotten their money back from the previous fiascos that have taken place within the past year. So now there’s no recourse? Buy tix now and if the show doesn’t go on, then sorry but not sorry?

Yeah, see, I don’t think I like that. After I’ve spoken to one person too many who is still waiting on money back from other events, I would not ever buy a ticket unless there was a guaranteed 100% refund policy, in addition to event insurance.

And frankly, what did we reach if we have to buy insurance for a music event ticket?!



Posted in The Usual


SJC has in fact pulled out a second sailing for 2018.

You know what? Good! Yes, I am in fact glad to see it. Because this means that there is, in fact, sufficient demand and if enough people on waitlist have put down their deposits – which they did – then the production is doing better than I originally gave it credit for.

And I’m glad to hear that.

HOWEVER. My original post, and my original point, still stand: the SJC production definitely, 100% needs to add new artists.

There are more than enough new artists to spice up the sailing lineup. It’s long, long, long past time to introduce new artists to an audience that, obviously, doesn’t know of them, if they keep voting in the same people time in and time out. There is no genre on music that can sustain itself with the same artists: it doesn’t work. Even classical music, which typically does not have a younger-age following, has an influx of younger musicians. These younger musicians, in turn, pull in their peers for the show.

Jazz needs to survive, and because it’s a genre that thrives on originality, on improvisation, on off-the-wall wild creativity, having the same lineups year in a year out does. not. work.

And the SJC, while not the only jazz cruise on the water, is probably the longest-running smooth/contemp jazz cruise production on the water. And frankly, I expect better from it than just the same people day in and day out.

So come on, SJC. Unroll the rest of ’em.


Posted in The Usual