In Memoriam: Grandma (3/15/1920 – 9/11/15)

I’ve had this post prepared for a while. I’ve known my grandmother was dying for nigh on six years now, and knew – correctly, mind you – that it would hit me like a punch in the gut. I wanted to write this ahead of time, so as to take some time to think about how I remember her, and what I want remember.

It’s not an easy fact to absorb. She was my last surviving grandparent, my mother’s mother, wife to my beloved Grandpa. I can’t tell you what I feel, really, because I’m having trouble identifying it myself. It’s not pain, but everything feels stopped; numb, almost. Most of all, I feel relief that she’s no longer suffering, and maybe, in whatever place that she believes souls go to after death, she is herself again as she wanted to be.

I’ve been watching her go slowly. I knew that it was coming when I started noticing her forget simple things. She would often confuse me and Mom, which is fairly normal, considering how alike she and I look. But when it had become to the point where it took her about a half-hour to realize the difference, I had to start bracing myself. It got especially worse after she moved.

She moved to Far Rockaway, into subsidized housing, a couple of years after Grandpa died, and it was a slow downhill from here. It took me a while to come to grips with the fact that she was showing Alzheimer’s symptoms. It took me even longer to realize, especially after she could no longer walk without a walker – and I’m referring to someone who was very active into her early 80s, cane or no cane – that she was on her way out.

She passed in the wee hours of this morning, at the nursing home where she has been for the past few years. In the past five years, she remembered me exactly once. I woke up this mornng at, what I later found out, was her exact time of death.

I’ll tell you a little bit about her. Her story is interesting, and definitely not all roses. Nor are any of our grandparents’ stories, really.

Continue reading “In Memoriam: Grandma (3/15/1920 – 9/11/15)”

For Jeff. For Us.

Now I’m home. It’s a new year, and I’m waking up and thinking that if this is the way the year started, then it’s twice as important to make it count.

It’s still difficult to believe. Still tough to absorb that Jeff is gone, that the sound of his guitar is now limited to Youtube videos, CDs, radio stations – whichever ones are left – and our own memories. I will miss that smile. I’ll miss the conversation after a gig.

But it’s a strong reminder to us that tomorrow is not a promise. That our friends aren’t always going to be there with us. It’s a reminder to take care of our own, to always tell them you love them, to always see that show, make that trip work, to just be there – because there may not be a next time.

There is a show at BB King’s. It was originally planned as a fundraiser, and it still remains as such, but now it’s a tribute show as well. And I ask you, especially my readers from the opposite coast, to please board a flight for this show. I know how expensive travel is, but if you are a jazz fan, if you were a friend of Jeff’s, I think it’s hugely important that you are there for this show. It is for the family, and for Jeff himself. This is to make sure that his family will not be bankrupted by Jeff’s medical expenses, and to pay homage to one of the finest musicians jazz had to offer.

Tickets are here: http://www.bbkingblues.com/bio.php?id=4955

It’s an all-star lineup.

But most importantly, it’s for Jeff. And for us. This is for us to remember a great person and musician, and to remember that tomorrow is not always promised, and that we owe it to ourselves – and to Jeff too – to keep going, keep listening, and thrive. It’s important to live – really live – and to drink in the small moments.

We love you, Jeff. We miss you.

I’ll see you guys at the gig.

K.G.

In Memoriam: Jeff Golub

This is not the way anyone in the Jazz world thought that the New Year would begin.

I’m sitting here in Tucson Int’l Airport and it’s taking me a lot of strength to keep it together. I knew he was bad off, I knew it was terminal, but no way could anyone have imagined that it would have been this soon.

Jammin’ In Jamaica, 2009… This guy gets up and absolutely shreds it on guitar, and while I knew who he was, I didn’t expect to hear snarling power blues of that caliber at a jazz event. And the next day, at a Q&A, he runs in late in blue flannel pajamas, in an exuberant “I’m here!!!” gesture, and it’s not possible to look at him without a smile. And that was Jeff Golub. The guy who could bring any guitar fan to their knees, and make you laugh in the next second.

Really, there is no one like Jeff, no one with his style, his smile, and his very New Yorker sense of humor. You listen to Avenue Blue and there’s no mistaking his sound. You’ll remember it until the last, you will always know it there on in. Contemporary jazz with oldschool blues, and anything but smooth. Jeff is grit, pure grit.

The last time I saw him was Smooth Jazz for Scholars 2013. One of his last shows. He was already without sight for a while, but he mastered Braille and he could still play with the best of them. But I hugged him and it felt vastly different from Jamaica. He had lost weight to an alarming degree. My friend Kelly and I stayed with him through breakfast, got him back to his room, and all I could think of was, what was happening to our Jeff?

He’s family. All of us contemporary jazz folks are family. The photogs, radio people, artists – we are all a huge, close-knit family. Jeff is One Of Our Own. This is a loss that we will continue to feel on the Jazz cruises, at the festivals, at the events where he was a staple, when we go and see our mutual friends… This is a void that we will continue to feel when we hear Boom Boom on the radio or in shuffle mode on the music players. This is a pain that we will continue to feel for a while to come.

Like so many, I’m glad for having met him, for having photographed him, for having enjoyed his energy in live show, for having known him. I’m glad to have gotten a glimpse into his spirit from both his music and watching him take his condition head-on. May we all have the courage that Jeff showed us.

Rest well, dear friend. We love you. We miss you. Say hi to George Duke and Ricky Lawson for us at the big jam session up in the sky.

Kat G.

In Memoriam: Robin Williams

Even typing out the title to this post, it feels foreign. Unreal, almost.

But it is true.

Cause of death looks to be a suicide, if news sources are to be believed, and considering that this is Robin Williams – our Robin Williams, of Mrs. Doubtfire, of the Dead Poets Society, of the voice of Genie in Aladdin; someone who has been part and parcel of our household entertainment collection, to where we can say that we have grown up with him – it hits so, so very close to home.

We have lost many talented people already, and it saddens me to have our Robin be among those whom we lost. Philip Seymour Hoffman was another. The line stretches long, but ah, this truly highlights that we, the people, whether we are famous or not, whether we work in the public eye or not, have become experts at playing the greatest role of all: the role of “everything is okay”.

Robin Williams, who had inspired so many, who had given so many smiles throughout his career, has grown to be a master at that particular role. I cannot imagine that those around him knew what was truly in his mind, or if they did, they were at a loss as to how to approach it. To everyone around him – certainly to those of us watching from afar – he certainly seemed the happy-go-lucky Robin Williams. There was nothing about him that could’ve suggested that anything was awry.

Ah, depression, you wily beast… No one sees you coming, either, do they? Not the people watching, and certainly not those whom you sneak up on.

I wrote once before about likening depression to a coat. Think about it. Think about depression as a very heavy coat that has a mind of its own and its sole purpose is to confine you. It’s a coat that slinks up onto you and buttons itself up tight. It confines your movements until you struggle to so much as get up. You can think of nothing but the world outside the coat, because it’s interfering with your line of sight. You know you can remove this coat, but it’s so heavy that you struggle to so much as move a hand towards the buttons. It’s hard for you to breathe wearing this coat, but it won’t get removed on its own and you know it. And you can’t take it off and put it back on at will – the coat won’t let you take it off without a struggle, and you know that you will never want to wear it again. The coat confines your mind too, until you think only within the spectrum that it allows you to think in, confining you to just the inside of your head.

And no one else, unless they too had worn this coat, will ever know what it’s like to wear it. “Can you just…not be depressed?” they ask. It’s like “Can you just…not wear the coat?” But in truth, you can’t. You never can ‘just not wear it.’ Especially when you didn’t ask to wear it in the first place.

And your body never forgets the coat. Even when you do succeed in ripping it off, and it falls with a dull thunk into a corner, you remember what it was like to carry that weight on you everywhere. You never forget it. You never forget how it feels. And you always have that little smidge of fear in the back of your mind, what if one day you wake up and the coat is back on you?

That’s probably how Robin Williams felt.

But he was a public figure too. He couldn’t let people see his struggles, because he didn’t want to run the risk of exposing that side of himself, the side that is most vulnerable. He was a public figure. He couldn’t let people see what was wrong, because in this culture of ours, people were much more likely to make a voyeuristic experience of his struggle rather than just reaching out and saying, “Talk to me. I’ll listen” and leading him away from the prying eyes, shutting the door on the cameras, and turning off the phone calls from the agents and studios. It’s harsh, but that’s what our culture has become.

After we lost Philip Seymour Hoffman, L’Wren Scott, MJ, and so many more amazing talents, and now that we lost Robin, I can’t help but think:

The spotlight truly is the loneliest place for any human being to be.

We can talk about the risks of suicide all we want. They are all very valid. But know that public individuals are used to playing a part for the people watching, and they have mastered the art of making sure people know nothing about what’s under the surface. They will do everything in their power to hide their struggles, and they will do it well. You won’t know – perhaps you may get a hint or two if you know the person well enough, a word said, a something that’s out of the ordinary, which will make you wonder whether everything is okay. But you will not know for sure unless they tell you.

You can do everything that the prevention hotlines recommend. And I would encourage it, because something is better than nothing at all. But the most important thing that you can do, which you may already know, is simply listen to the person. Don’t try to rationalize what they’re telling you. Don’t try to interpret. Don’t respond. Just listen. Just listen to what they have to say, because no matter how little sense it may make to you, to them it is valid. They just need to know that there’s someone, anyone on the other side of the confines of their own head.

*long sigh*

This isn’t an easy pill to swallow. Having had my own stretch of time with the coat and knowing entirely too well what he must have been going through, I can’t help but ask, was anyone listening? Did anyone close to him take a look at his eyes, just to see whether or not his smile ever actually reached them? The signs of depression and/or suicide risk are not always obvious; you have to know what the person is really like in order to peg if anything’s off base.

Maybe someone did see… Maybe no one did. We’ll never know. But what we do know is that one of the bright lights of the world has gone out. And I really wish that we could roll a collective 5 or 8 for him to come back to us, but such is life.

We miss you, Robin. Thank you for your smiles, and here’s to making those smiles last for generations to follow.

And to my friends – not like I need to say this publicly – thank you for being there for me, and know that I am always there for you in turn. You all know how to find me.

K.G.

In Memoriam: Ricky Lawson

There have been originally premature reports on Facebook. But now…it’s true. Ricky Lawson has, in fact, passed away, after a period of time on life support following an aneurysm.

RadioFacts article linked here. Confirmation also received previously from people close to the family.

What can I say about Ricky that you’ve not already known? His work with the Yellowjackets? Whitney Houston? The Funk Brothers? The Pointer Sisters? His resume speaks for itself, certainly, but if you’ve known Ricky, or met him all of once, you’d always remember that smile. It was infectious. He was warm, open, and had the gift of making anyone at ease. You forget his resume and think of him as a member of your family.

He was family to a lot of us. And he always took time with new musicians and projects. You may have seen him as part of the Groove Messengers over the summer, with Will Donato and JJ Sansaverino.

I can only say that I wish I had seen him more often. But that’s part and parcel about being on opposite coasts. His energy and smile will be missed by all. But he remains with us, and lives on with his music and in people whom he had inspired along the way.

In Memoriam, friend. The jam session in the sky just got a lot groovier with you there.  It’s a bittersweet Christmas Eve today.

K.G.

PS: In light of the premature reports on FB last week, I would also like to ask this of my readers: please wait until there’s a verified source before posting a memoriam. All the premature reports have put a lot of people through the emotional meat grinder, and I cannot even think about what this has done to his family. Please wait until there’s an obituary, or someone who has been in the hospital with the person has confirmed. Originally, I have put up a Facebook memoriam myself last week, and that’s on me. I should’ve known better than to do so without verification.

Let’s all hug our friends a little closer this Christmas, and my sole resolution for the coming year is thus: to see as much of my music family as I possibly can. This has been a tough year for loss, and we’ve lost too many dynamic, talented, amazing people already. I will certainly hug my music family a little closer at each gig I shoot…

In Memoriam: Carol Ray

I got the news yesterday, and only now my brain has managed to engage long enough to process this.

If you have seen Nick Colionne perform, chances are Carol Ray was one of the people you met at the meet-and-greets. She was his manager, close friend, mentor. To us jazz fans, she was a great friend, and to those of us getting into the behind-the-scenes work of the music world, she was an inspiration.

She was a fighter down to her core, and I was looking forward to maybe seeing her at Smooth Jazz for Scholars with Nick, or somewhere else on the road…The jazz world had lost one of their best and brightest behind-the-scenes stars yesterday. She is loved and missed by everyone who met her, in person, online, on the phone…

I’m glad to have met her. I’m glad to have worked with her. I’m glad that, on the Capital Jazz Supercruise last year, she told me very firmly to never, ever be shy about making sure my work gets its dues. Few people are as tough and as astute as Carol, and she was one in a million indeed.

My heart goes out to Carol’s family, and to Nick. I’m so very sorry for your loss.

In Memoriam, dear friend. Shine on.

In Memoriam: George Duke

George DukeGeorge Duke, the incomparable jazz/funk legend, passed away yesterday.

The first time I met him was the 2010 Capital Jazz cruise, and the number-one thing I will always think of is that he was always smiling. Always. But man, let him loose on that stage and he will, without fail, blow you away.

He’d always joke that his music is a “gumbo” and he was exactly right. It’s a little bit of everything: jazz, funk, R&B, Brazilian bossa nova – mixed and shaken up. His is the sort of music that stands out simply because it’s full of the same smiling, happy energy that he always carried in person.

This photo is from the 2012 cruise. I’m happy to have seen him after that, at the Blue Note with Stanley Clarke.

In Memoriam, friend. Thanks for the laughs, the amazing music, and the lunch hour chats on the Carnival ships. Thanks for the smiles. I’ll see you at the big jam session in the sky one of those days.

K.G.

On Newtown, CT.

72 hours.

That’s what it took for me, and for a lot of other people to find a voice and discuss, or at least make an adequate attempt to discuss, what had taken place in Newtown, CT on Friday.

Even now, no words seem to encompass this tragedy, which was completely senseless and avoidable, on all accounts. Sadly, and enragingly, this has already been politicized. Half of the country wants to prevent this from ever happening again, while the other half is more concerned with their own guns. This is amazing, and not in a good way. It’s absolutely astounding that, in the wake of the news that someone would shoot up an elementary school, the thought of “don’t take my guns away” would even cross people’s brains.

Callous? Ridiculous? Completely devoid of humanity? Whatever epithet you can come up with that describes that pro-gun-toting BS, use it. Myself, I am mourning the fact that we as a people, as a country devolved to such an extent that a tragedy would be almost instantly used for politicking.

The gun control laws have been an elephant in the room long enough. Let’s talk about this.

For starters, the much-maligned Second Amendment:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Please pay close attention to the phrasing, especially the first four words. A well regulated militia. What part of this, I ask you, tells you that the Second Amendment gives the right to bear arms to civilians? With the phrasing of this law, the implication is that the right to keep and bear arms is applicable to only the people who are part of said well-regulated militia, and who are acting in the security of the country. In other words, it applies only to the Armed Forces, and if you have to stretch, police. Civilians are not in the equation here, legally, and for a good reason. There’s also reason there are gun permits and control laws, but they are not enforced, and that reason is the same as prior, and is really very simple: not everyone should own a weapon.

That’s only a haunch of the proverbial elephant in the room, and that is something that the NRA and the gun-toting brigade don’t seem to understand. Not everyone should own a weapon. Not everyone has the responsibility, the psychological stability, the common sense, the levelheadedness, or the knowledge to make for a responsible weapon owner. Per one person who keeps a small handgun in a safe for protection and has no reason to ever remove it from its safe, there are at least three people who will keep an assault rifle in their house, claim it’s for the same reason, and have no rational or common-sense explanation whatsoever as to what kind of danger they perceive themselves to be in that they own an assault rifle that, let’s face it, doesn’t belong outside the Army.

What is wrong with this picture? Plenty, and there’s far too much behind this to dismantle. So let’s begin.

Let’s start with the fear-mongering. It’s gone far enough. Let’s start by stopping the culture of sensationalizing and dissecting infinitisemally every little tiny quibbling detail of the news reported and just stick to reporting facts. What happened to journalism? What happened to real, implication-free, non-yellowed journalism? Has that become completely extinct while I wasn’t looking? Because really, every last piece of information that comes over mass media has an overwhelming flavor of you should be afraid for your life! when in reality, the “threat” is imaginary at best, and overblown any way you spin it. We are capable of independent thought – yes, even the yokels who may not seem that way at first – and we should be given the very basic luxury of interpreting the facts for ourselves. Yes, media saturation is one of the reasons behind gun violence, or has the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona, a result of overblown and oversaturated rhetoric, taught us nothing?

But this is the easy discussion. We can always talk about guns. We can always talk about the media being a roiling pot of fear, misinformation, and loathing. That’s the easy discussion.

We can’t talk about mental illness.

We need to.

This is the real elephant in the room. This is the hard discussion to have. And it’s the hardest one.

Read this. It’s necessary.

The shooter had a mild form of autism. Guess what’s going to happen next in the media. If you can’t, I’ll spell it out for you: after this, every single autistic person, child or adult, will be demonized as some violent homicidal maniac who’s a menace to everyone around them. Every single person with a mental illness – a genuine mental illness – will now have the label of “potential killer” slapped on them. Is it the case? Of course not. But will the general public be aware of it? No. Who will suffer as a result of their lack of awareness? Everyone.

Mental illnesses get misdiagnosed and mistreated on a regular basis. As a result, people who have them end up with a far more compromised mens rea than they have naturally. All this in the interest of slapping a band-aid in the form of a pill on the real problem, and that problem is that people do not really know how to adequately treat mental illness. It doesn’t help that not enough of  a priority is put onto researching mental illness to begin with. This and worse happens with autism, and as a result, what happens, again? No one benefits. Not the autistic people. Not their families. The only people benefiting in this unfortunate equation are the pill-pushers and the manufacturers of the medicines.

All blended in with the media frenzy about fear and loathing, and the added bonus of people screaming about their so-called imaginary “patriotic freedom” to carry an AK-47 as they see fit – to defend themselves from what, they don’t know and I won’t be the one to ask – and the responsible gun owners staying very silent to dissociate themselves from the AK brigade, blithely unaware that they’re the ones misrepresented by them too, and you get a perfect storm that brings absolutely nothing good for the social perception of anyone who’s not “normal” (an objective concept at best). Fear whips people into a frenzy, and I can assure you one thing without hesitation: nothing that people do out of fear is done with a sound mind and in sound judgment.

People have already come out and said that if one of the teachers had a gun on her, then this could’ve been avoided. Reality check time: she did own a gun. That was the gun that her son had taken to kill her and her husband, and everyone else.

Some people are even coming out and saying that assault rifles need to be in schools. Okay, and that solves what, exactly? And let’s add that this was an elementary school. Children were victims. CHILDREN. Children who get curious, and who are bound to try and play with an assault rifle because of the way it looks. The inevitable result of that – I cannot use a polite term to frame that suggestion – is more deaths.

More guns do not solve the issue. It’s pure and simple math. What did I say back in the election season? Math does not lie. It does not take sides. If you have 2x = 10a as a base setup, 4x = 20a. Simple math.

Mental illness needs to be discussed. Mental illness, which takes many shapes and forms, rarely if ever diagnosed properly, treated very inefficiently most of the time, is the real elephant in the room. As a tragedy unfolds, and as twenty-seven families have to now face Christmas without their kids and loved ones, we as a country are mourning with them.

We are also staring down a choice. This choice is how we continue from here. Do we:

1. Make an effort to actually learn about something that affects a chunk of our population that keeps growing, and work to prevent these tragedies before they begin? Yes, mental illness affects an ever-growing segment of the US population. And by and large, few mentally ill individuals ever become violent. But if they had been treated, this could have been avoided.

2. Keep on our current path and wring our hands, collectively, saying that we have to do something?

Because let’s be realistic: we’ve done all our hand-wringing with the Colorado shootings. With Virginia Tech. Time to stop with the hand-wringing and start on a real, non-knee-jerk, non-stereotypical, non-biased conversation about mental illness. About what constitutes responsible gun control. About when to turn off the television because bad news saturates. And most importantly, about real, honest, realistic responsibility and prevention.

Because we, as a people and as a country, need to actually be people. Screw ideology, screw your personal beliefs for a minute, and just look at the big picture. It’s grown to be quite ugly, and it got that way when realistic discussion gave way to the quagmire of politicking and media sensationalism. We can make things work, but to do that, we actually need to keep the jerking knees under control and discuss. Even the tough stuff. Especially the tough stuff.

In Memoriam: the victims of the Newtown, CT shooting. Requiescat in pace.

K.G.

In Memoriam: Dave Brubeck.

Just a day short of his 92nd birthday.

You may remember my writeup of the time that I had gone to the Blue Note to see him play live. It was not the first time, but until age blurs the details, I will remember that when Dave Brubeck talked, the entire club went absolutely quiet. The bartenders stopped mixing, the guests would stay frozen, all to hear him speak, and tell of the Dwight Eisenhower-endorsed trip to Poland to perform. Think about it. He had traveled the world before some of our parents were a concept in the universe. He was a WWII vet, which is something few people remember. And he was a delight onstage, no matter the age of the audience. People’s grandchildren had been at the Note that night, and I’m certain that they too will remember the energy that he and the band had brought to the stage.

I’ll always remember him smiling. Always making a jest at his own age. But no matter what, he’d play note-perfect and with as much verve and cheer as though the clock had been set back forty years.

He had left everyone with an indelible memory, and he had left the world his music. And his music has inspired and will continue to inspire thousands to foray into the meanders of what we know as jazz.

In Memoriam to a consummate entertainer, and an icon of jazz then and now. You, Joe Morello, and Paul Desmond will be playing the iconic tune at the big jam session in the sky now.

K.G.

In Memoriam: Etta James

The blues legend, born Jamesetta Hawkins, had passed away yesterday at the age of 73. You may remember her cover of At Last, which was originally written in 1941.

A lot of Etta’s music speaks to the heart. Hers is a voice that you can sink into and let it soothe away whatever’s on your mind. It’s not a voice we hear often nowadays.

I wrote a short story as a tribute. I am posting it for free here. Eventually, if I write enough of them, I will compile an anthology.

Requiescat in pace, Ms. James. Say hi to the Rat Pack for us at the grand jam session in the sky.

Continue reading “In Memoriam: Etta James”