Wynton’s Blog

Into Spokane

We leave Banff at 3:45am and come back to the U.S. Rolling hills speckled and blanketed in evergreens as we pass through northwestern Idaho into Washington. The northwest is crisp and alive with hospitable people possessing the hard-edged realism of nature. We still remember a great gig in Orcas Islands years ago that had tenor saxophonist Todd Williams wanting to move there. Frank gives a seminar on hawks, eagles and buzzards. "You see, hawks and falcons don't fly over thermals. That's a buzzard." Highway 90 west. We pass a Steinway piano gallery on the left, then immediately right, a fisherman's fly shop. A mile or so down the road, we find what seems to be the world largest junkyard…reminds me of when my daddy and I put up a too high basketball hoop in our yard years ago. We got the pipe from a junkyard and the cement and hoop from Sears. It was 10 feet 4 inches, but we were still proud of it.

Keith, a high school trumpeter, sits in on our sound check. He plays a couple of well constructed solos and brings a great attitude. He's probably going to the University of Washington next year. Marcus and Ryan and I tell him we've been playing together for 16 years. He is 17. Hearing him and feeling his love for our instrument and for jazz music inspires us.

Two hours later, our audience is very lively and interactive. We love it. When people shout and cosign and participate, we are encouraged. That's jazz. It's what our music invites you to do. Carlos is playing all kinds of bass tonight – making up beautiful lines and inventing interesting vamps and counter grooves, listening and interacting with soloists even when they can't hear him, negotiating the time with Ali (all night they look at each other and ‘yay or nay’ decisions to put the beat in a certain place, to play in two or four, to groove or swing, to push or relax the time, to play at a balanced volume), and keeping the energy positive and flowing. Someone knows what 'Crepuscule' means. She wins the prize. (Even though we don't yet know what it is).

After the gig, I luckily catch the New York Philharmonic playing the hell out of Berlioz's ‘Symphonie Fantastique’ on TV. Now it's 5 in the morning and we are driving to Eugene. 7 and 8 hour drives day after day wear you down, but so do a series of 1 hour plane rides. It takes hours to move a big band around, so the plane travel will consume roughly the same time.

Now I like to write about what is inspiring to me, what I like. But let me tell you, this is not a vacation. The road kicks you in your ass. In the 90's we toured constantly with the septet and the orchestra. Some members of cats' families would think we were out 'travelling' and partying—we always encouraged them to come out here. One tour is all it takes. When they would be sleeping all day in public spaces, struggling with the constantly changing conditions while being victimized by the various unexpected mess-ups that cost you the two hours of normalcy you need to achieve any type of equilibrium, we would laugh and say, "Dee road, dee road! Fun!" They understood. The only thing resembling vacation is the gig. "Put together thirty years and we can talk about it." That's what Elvin Jones told me about 15 years ago.

Well…all is dark and quiet. Let me go before I begin to dislike my angle on this seat. We got 6 hours to go…


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