Capital Jazz XI Cruise is Coming Together

And I have to ask you guys: bear with them.

Just today, I saw the announcement: India.Arie, Will Downing, and Jeffrey Osborne are on board.

YES. Already I’m happy. Will Downing’s voice is one pure buttery dream of a baritone, and he has a great lyrical style. I’ve been a massive India.Arie fan ever since she released Video, and cannot wait to have my camera live and ready for that particular show. Jeffrey O is a crowd-pleaser, always has been.

But here’s why else I’m happy: this means the back-end stuff of the cruise is coming together.

I won’t remind people of what happened last year. But here’s what I will say: they are doing exactly what we said, back then, we wanted them to do. Bear with them and let them.

We said, as one collective fanbase: Do not let last year repeat itself. And I said, on this very blog: nine good years, vs. one questionable one. Stats are in their favor. They will make things work.

And that’s precisely what’s happening here.

Last year, when we all got the apology email, there was a mention that Capital Jazz will have its own reservation system, so that the mess last year wouldn’t repeat. We knew then it was going to take work, because 1. system has to be created, and 2. made compatible with Norwegian’s system, and 3. tested. As one of the commenters on this blog mentioned last year, the systems have to be tested prior to launch, and this is where i”m in the firmest agreement. A huge part of last year’s to-do was because Norwegian was unprepared for the demand of the charter attendees. Now they will be prepared.

I also said back then: CapJazz rolls with the punches and tries to set things right.

And this is precisely what they’re doing.

I’m a cautious optimist, but I also am aware of my own slight bias coming from my longtime love of the production. Nonetheless, the point stands: they’re doing precisely what we have asked them to do. They’re doing precisely what we expected them to do in terms of setting things right. And they’re doing exactly that.

I’m definitely not a patient person, but so far, this is a start. And already, if India.Arie is on board, I will enjoy the cruise no matter what.
(Okay, the mojito bar and oysters help!)


Some thoughts on this year

I don’t think I even need to do much talking about 2016 except for thank fuck it’s over and done.

On one hand, I’ve seen a lot of people arguing how it’s really not that relevant anyway and it’s not changing anything – I beg to differ. It’s all about the mindset, and while I don’t buy into the “think up your own reality” a la Rhonda Byrne and The Secret, I am very much a supporter of the thought that at least 1/2 of the possibility of success depends on the attitude a person has in approaching the goal. And hope counts for a lot!! of things.

You can’t expect humans to not be human. Hope, cycle, ritual, and motivation are all very human things. So seriously, can you just please STFU about how “it won’t make a difference because calendar and whatever”? Seriously. STFU. It may not matter to you, but to a lot more people, it does.

My friend Andrew brought up a question: What’s worse, false hope or no hope at all? The answer is thus: having no hope is infinitely worse because it drains the person to a hollow shell. False hope, however false it is, is still a motivator. No hope has the polar opposite effect.

Motivation is something we are going to need.

In 2016, we lost a lot of our favorite cultural icons. Carrie Fisher, whom we knew best as Princess Leia, and her mom, Debbie Reynolds, whom every child who has ever seen Charlotte’s Web will recognize by voice, died within a day of one another. And Prince. David Bowie. And Alan Rickman, our beloved Alan Rickman. And on and on… and it was a deeply wounding experience. Like it as not, we will always mourn our icons, because they helped us learn more about ourselves as people and about the world through their art. But they have left us, and left us with…

…well, having to face a President Donald Trump.

These words were typed with the worst contempt I can feel towards a person. This election has been a prime illustration of the child being put in charge of the nursery. The metaphor is even more apt if you consider that his Twitter tirades all show the basic manners and maturity of a toddler; if you think any part of what he’s doing is “presidential”, then I question your own maturity. Sorry and not sorry.

Unless Congress’s Hail Mary attempt today pays off, we’re looking at having this lousy excuse for a human being sworn in on January 20th, and ladies and gents, that motivation I was talking about? This is where we are going to need it. Because unless we are ready for a long and exhaustive battle, there’s no telling just what sort of damage we are going to have to undo down the line.

Already, they’re talking about repealing the ACA and in the same breath, defunding PP (more on that later). Already also, the coal miners who now have insurance thanks to ACA for their pre-existing black lung are now waking up and realizing that hey, the “Obamacare” they were brainwashed to hate is actually something they benefit from! They’re all going to be kicked off their insurance! So now they’re all gung-ho against it because it never once occurred to them that the ACA that they benefit from and Obamacare are the same damn law.

Mitch McConnell deserves a new title: chief hypocrite. After years of proudly blocking every Supreme Court nominee that Pres. Obama put up for approval, he actually turned around and said that the American people wouldn’t stand for such obstruction as the Democrats blocking the GOP nominees. I guess McConnell has no idea where hypocrisy or irony are in the dictionary, never mind being completely unaware that his picture is next to both as an example.

Yes, it’s a false hope that Trump will be ousted, even though constitutionally, there’s ample grounds for his impeachment  already. But it’s hope enough to motivate everyone to fight back against this bullshit excuse of an “administration”.

What amuses me, and by “amuse” I mean “dishearten”, is the talk about the how the Dems and the liberals need to be more “understanding”. Wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong some more. The liberals already understand the rural white America. It’s rural white America that insists on clinging to the middle of the 20th Century when the world at large is well past ready to dive into the 21st.  We know what motivates them to feel as they do – they do not want to even stop to think about changing where they are. Their rules and laws are rigid to the point of where there are more than a few similarities with cult mentality.

The “coastal elites”, or basically, anyone who either got out of the rural white America or left the mentality of rural white America, already see and understand it. What we are seeing is an entire swathe of the country not seeing the forest through the trees. They don’t embrace any change even though that change just might give them what they really need: employment, education, independence. If it means they cling to their glory days, people are prepared to bury their heads and play the ostrich, grossly unaware – or unwilling to acknowledge – that their arses are still exposed, and in a much better position for reality to kick it.

The real problem, honestly, is education – or better yet, lack thereof, and lack of people being taught to think critically. This is what we get when we encourage children to pick on the nerdy kids at recess – and to note, not punishing them does count as encouragement. This is the direct result of people using intelligence as an insult, or as a demerit. I’ve heard, often, the question of “Why do I have to learn algebra if I’m never going to use it?” – because it teaches you to think, if you actually pay attention to the material. There’s a reason it’s taught in schools since the dawn of math education, and if one is just not able to grasp the material, or the concept behind the material, how’s it the fault of the material itself? Algebra, like critical thinking, didn’t do anything to the person who’s unable to grasp either of the two.

After a certain point, the understanding and the compassion just plain run out, and we all collectively say, “You made the bed, now go lie down in it”. That’s more or less where I am right now. That’s where a lot of us are right now in regards to politics and in regards to everyone who’s voted for this guy and is slowly waking up to the reality that they’ve gotten conned. You’ve done it – and you’ve done it to yourselves. You’ve shot yourself with the foot, and only now are realizing that you’ve packed buckshot in that instead of a measly little nine-mil. The problem is, you’re taking the rest of the people around you as you go crashing to the floor, and that right there I have a problem with. If you make a decision, etc. – that’s fine. What’s not fine is when your choices have an effect on the innocent bystanders. And unlike whatever you believe, no, you don’t get to escape the “I told you so” when your choices backfire on you after people warned you it would. Action = consequence.

Just right now, as I’m writing this post, guess who’s really paying for the Mexican wall: the US taxpayer. The rich still get a tax cut. The rest of us pay up, regardless of whether or not we can afford to. And we all knew it was going to go that way – but who listened to us?

As we’re heading into this year, I can’t say it’s going to be all rosy. We entered this year just relieved that the Grim Reaper put the scythe away for a moment. But now that the mourning reprieve is over, we have to stand up, square our shoulders, tip up our chins, and go to battle. This isn’t the time to get complacent.

Personally speaking – I am glad for the new year to be here, because it gives me the opportunity to take a deep breath, reassess, and prioritize. And there’s ample room for new adventures, which means that I can, once again, consider a trip outside the country. Mallorca is calling. Maybe Algarve – for the jazz festivals. Hell, maybe even Rio de Janeiro because why. the. hell. not.

It’s a personal thing for me; there’s a saying I’ve grown up with that I’ve shared here a few times: how you start a year is how you’ll live it. I started it with music and telling the previous year to firmly fuck itself with a double NY Salute. I’d like to think that, if not as great as some recent years have been (prior to 2015-16), I would at least have a half decent turn at this one.

At least I may grow some basil this summer. Tasty bruschetta.


Time does funny things

When you spend a certain amount of time trying to not deal with something, it will present itself to you in a repackaged format so that you can learn the same lesson. And might I add? The lesson gets worse every time you try to dodge learning it.

But time also does a lot of things as far as perspective is concerned, and that’s the direction in which I want to steer this blog post.

Brace yourselves for this: this will get personal. And it is in one part for my own cathartic purposes to put this down, but in another, I am writing this to also right a fair few wrongs that I have done. Because I know how easy it is to find info, I feel that if I have to own my misdeeds, I may as well do so outright. I have no problem with admitting when I was in the wrong.

Read on, if you dare, and if you’re not comfortable finding all this stuff out, I understand.

Continue reading “Time does funny things”

A quick follow-up to prior.

I’m sure my fellow CapJazzers received the letter from the production in their production.

My assessment?

Well done, Capital Jazz!

I truly mean it, well done.

They acknowledged what happened, they formulated a solution, and offered a goodwill credit in an effort to make things right. And it may not seem like much, but consider this: the amount of the goodwill credit is equal to almost the full amount of one person’s port taxes/charges/fees. That? Adds up.

This is excellent crisis management, and gets points for both promptness and content.

Bear in mind, please, that this could’ve gone very differently. But – the most important thing, at least to me, is that they have taken what happened and learned from it. This is what a good production does. This is what happens when someone wants their customers to be happy, who knows when something has gone wrong and takes the time to acknowledge and learn from what’s gone wrong and then tries to make it right.

This is exactly what I like to see from a production.

And this is, again, why I am a loyal patron of Capital Jazz.


CapJazz X: The Day After

First of all, CapJazz knows about this post, and I fully expect to hear feedback from the people there about it.

Second, I had an absolutely nightmarish experience flying home, wherein a flight that’s 2.5 hours on a good day turned into nearly seven, and between not sleeping at all on the last night of the cruise (very choppy waters) and flight issues, I’m sure you can imagine my temperament. So far, I’ve taken a mental health morning – sushi and sake, mani-pedi – to get myself back into gear. I think this is the second night in the past week that I got halfway decent sleep, and I don’t think there’s enough wine in the world to banish that experience from memory.

Now, here’s the nitty-gritty.

I won’t repeat the complaints that people had on board CapJazz this year. I do agree with them, and I will say they were valid. But I have another outlook on it and will dissect a few things here, and how correct I am or am not – y’all tell me.

But here’s the thing: I think CapJazz’s only error in this case was contracting with Norwegian for this year’s (and next year’s) sailing. The frustrations with the reservations, the itinerary changes – that’s much, much more on Norwegian than it’ll ever be on Cap.

Allow me to explain why I think as such.

First things first – this is not Norwegian’s first go at a charter cruise. Sixthman is on Norwegian and while I’m not too into the sort of events that Sixthman has to offer, this does tell you that the cruise line has experience with the process.

Second: the format of the ship is just not conducive to the scale of the production. For those not familiar with the history of the cruise, at Carnival, there’s one enormous theater that can seat close to two thousand people. The theater on the Norwegian ship is 1/3 the size, and the premise of it is multiple shows to accommodate everyone. Not just the early/late as we did before, but more shows. Think 3-5 shows instead of just the two.

I’m sure that on the pre-cruise – it’s standard for charters to pre-cruise to see how the logistics would work out – the cruise line was singing the praises to the skies of streamlining and offering more variety, etc.

The problem with Norwegian is that they were just simply not prepared for the demand.

Here’s the thing. Because Norwegian thrives on variety, you’re going to have multiple venues and a lot of it is “reservation required”. Just like on Carnival, you’d book a spa appointment or a steakhouse meal in advance, similar applies to the Norwegian shows. You have all these fancy screens at every stairwell where you book your stuff. You can book it through your stateroom TV as well. Or a pretty handy app.

Except – demand. You have 3,500+ people trying to book at the same time.

The booking system crashed.

The app wasn’t working.

Nor were the TVs. Everywhere you go, you got “Denied” “Denied” “Denied”.

And of course, they didn’t tell us that the dinner-and-show venues had to be booked elsewhere altogether. People were in line for hours and still ended up getting locked out.

Norwegian just. simply. was. not. ready for this.

CapJazz, in retrospect, may not have known about the restaurant-reservation tables for dinner seating. And of course, when asking questions, one finger pointed at the other.

But honestly, no. It was Norwegian. They just weren’t prepared for the demand that CapJazz brought with it. Sixthman Productions has a smaller, more traditionally designed fleet pledged for its shows, but Cap has a lot more attendees and requires a lot more from its ships. Norwegian probably thought, “Oh, it’s jazz, it’s just like Sixthman, so we can X and Y and have done” – except no. It’s not just like Sixthman. And it is jazz – but the party style of jazz

As a result, tempers frayed, and it showed. Believe me when I say I was just as vociferous as most other people. The balcony cabin I decided to splurge on and book was a saving grace; I am so, so glad that I put out the extra money to have that (tiny) balcony. Sitting outside in the daytime listening to the waves was truly essential to my sanity, especially after the last two years.

In retrospect, looking at the shows I’ve earmarked and the shows I’ve actually attended, I missed a grand total of no more than three shows.

Honestly? That’s no worse than the previous sailings.  In the grand scheme of things, frustrations aside, this turned out to still be the cruise production I have grown to love over the years.

But the reservation thing is for the birds.
In this pic is what I call my “adventure bundle”. These are the keycards from all the cruises I have been on so far. The X on the white card in the back is from the Celebrity Century ship, the All Star cruise by Haven Entertainment, and the only card that’s not from CapJazz. And I was wrong: I said on the ship that the 2016 sailing was my sixth. It’s actually my seventh.

So. Six great years with Cap on Carnival versus one iffy year on Norwegian? Guess what: the stats are still in Cap’s favor. And here’s the other thing: I have yet to ever hear of Capital Jazz Productions not setting things right.

Those of you who have been in attendance with Cap from 2010-2012 probably remember that they used to have the midnight jams in the back lounge. That changed to the theater. Why? Demand and complaint! Ken Ford was put into the back lounge, and the effect was similar. There was a traffic jam on every staircase around the lounge. Again: lessons learned. Bottom line: complaint does work, and I know Cap sets it right.

I don’t work for CapJazz, but I do know this: they will set it right for those of us who were there. How, I don’t know. That remains to be seen. They took a hit, and they are taking the punch and rolling with it. But I know they will get right back up and do something for those of us who were there.

I am booked for next year – and staying with it. Issues aside, this is the only week out of a year where I feel like I can be myself and enjoy seeing people I’d ordinarily not see at all.

But – here’s the one thing I’d like to see happen:

I would like next year to be the last time that CapJazz is on Norwegian.

And if it’s possible at all for this year to be the last time we’re on Norwegian, I would love that.

If there is any chance for a parting of the ways for Cap and Norwegian, I’d like to see that, for sure. Norwegian did not deliver, at all, if they were promising an experience of more variety. No, they couldn’t have predicted that the rezzy system would’ve gone splat, but I got the sense that there was a lot of miscommunication between the staff at Norwegian and the Cap staff as to what the boat was capable of providing, and whether or not that fit in with the expectations that CapJazz had for its production.

Moreover, the main feature of the cruise isn’t the variety. We already know the variety is there. We know it in the months preceding when they tease us with the lineup. We get it – and that’s why all of us keep coming back. But the biggest thing that CapJazz attendees love is accessibility. On Carnival, we knew that we’re lining up only to get the first bite at the good seats. But with Norwegian? We didn’t have that sense of security. We were lining up not knowing if we’d even get in.

And again: it’s not Capital Jazz. Have you, in the past, ever heard of Cap not wanting people to see as much as they can see? Personally, no. And come on, let’s be logical: their work is concerts. It’s in their best interest for people to have plenty of access.

So don’t be too harsh on them. Yes, this year could’ve been better. And next year, I’m sure it will be, because now they – and we – know what does and doesn’t work.

But I would certainly like to not come back to Norwegian past 2017 if I can help it. The cabins are tiny, and the beds feel like bricks. For someone with a questionable L5 disc and insomnia? Not a good mix.

And the lighting techs for the venues at Norwegian need a slap upside the head. Seriously: turn off the fucking blue filters!!! I don’t want to have a mess of photos where everyone looks like a smurf. It’s the same in the big theater too. Turn. The blue. Filters. OFF. It’s not too much to ask.

The music is still tops, and despite this, Capital Jazz Supercruise still remains the charter that I will cruise with.


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. 


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.


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.


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.




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.