Day 12 – 9/8, 1:00pm, McMinnville OR
I’m rarely biking at night on this trip, only on the way back to wherever I’m staying after gigs. But nighttime rides can be special – last night it was just about a full moon as I wound my way through deserted residential streets in Portland, with the downtown skyline off to my right. A properly poetic close to a very satisfying sojourn.
I arrived the day before, an uneventful ride after the technical and cartographic complexities of the previous day. I paid a visit to one of Portland’s many hip bike shops and picked up some new tires, the flats a sign that the weight I’m carrying already wore my rear tire out. Hopefully these snazzy new ones will live up to their reputation. (And their cost – 80 bucks each! That’s more than I spend on tires for my car.)
When I was just out of college, I worked at the Center for the Arts at Northeastern in Boston, helping start and run an interdisciplinary arts festival and summer education program for teenagers called Artstuff. We brought in some amazing performers – Urban Bush Women, Danny Hoch, some of my musical heroes and mentors like Bill Lowe, Fred Ho, and Warren Smith, and master local practitioners in capoeira, African dance and drumming, martial arts, and other forms. The artists would develop and present new work, while teaching (free) workshops to high school kids that I’d recruited from local schools. It was a pretty amazing program – both the art created by the professionals and the creativity shown by the young people, many of whom were really exceptional burgeoning artists themselves. It was quite a formative experience for me, where I developed a lot of my chops as an organizer, an educator, a grantwriter, even as a performer.
My boss was a great guy named Del Lewis, a theater professor who was the director of the CFA; Artstuff was his brainchild. Although he was 35 years older and had decades more experience than me, he treated me like a colleague and a friend, and gave me real agency and responsibility from the get-go. Sadly, the university never really committed to the program, despite the quality of the artists we brought in and the transformative impact on the kids, so after 3 or 4 years, as the funding got tight, Artstuff evaporated.
Anyway, long story long, I was delighted to get an email out of the blue from Del, who’s now retired from teaching, living in Portland, and snatching up every good acting gig in sight. We hadn’t seen each other in over ten years, but he just happened to see a promo post about the gig and the bike project. It was fantastic to reconnect and catch up. And whatever my mixed feelings about the relationship between academic institutions and the creative arts (Northeastern’s tepid embrace of Artstuff an early example for me), I am deeply inspired (and a little envious) of friends like Del, or Anthony Braxton or Wadada Leo Smith or many others, who are taking more creative opportunities than ever after retirement from academia. (So yeah, I guess I’m saying I want a teaching gig so I can retire from it – you got a problem with that?)
After lunch with Del, it was time to jump in with the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble. Big thanks to Douglas Detrick (an old running buddy from the Festival of New Trumpet Music) and Portland’s Creative Music Guild for making it happen. An excellent group of musicians, who with limited rehearsal time (one difficult byproduct of the construct of this tour) brought the spirit to the compositions, strong solos and ensemble playing, dealing with the various twists and turns of my charts with enthusiasm and grace. I was also honored that all three of the Portland composers who contributed new music found some inspiration in the bike tour concept. Each piece took it in an individualistic and creative direction, resulting in an excellent night of music. I’m such a sucker for big bands; there’s a certain kind of collective power you get with a dozen or more people exploring composition and improvisation together, diving into the creative stew en masse. It is intoxicating and irreplaceable, no matter how badass small groups can be. (That’s also how Braxton got me hooked on opera. For that matter, that’s probably how Artstuff got me into the whole organizing/production tip to begin with.)
So I got an early start out of Portland this morning. Bike City indeed – I stayed at the aptly named “Friendly Bike Guest House” last night, then joined the commuter rush across town this morning. It felt like I was in Amsterdam or Shanghai or something, as packs of cyclists converged at each stop light and street corner.
The next 8 days are my hardest run of the tour, about 100 miles a day until I hit the Bay Area. But I’m excited to get to the coast, besides the scenic splendor, navigation will get a lot easier, I just have to keep the ocean on my right. I’ve stocked up on a smorgasbord of energy snacks at an organic grocery here in the appealing little town of McMinnville (including a power bar made out of lamb, that should be interesting). I have a motel in Lincoln City tonight, then four hard core days of camping and biking till I get to Arcata. And good news there – Gregg Moore, the wonderful tubaist and host of the house concert I’m playing, recruited a couple more players, including the fantastic violinist Jenny Scheinman, who I’ve admired but never met or played with before. So the hard riding will have some sweet musical payoff – I’ll try to remember that when I start getting loopy on the long rides coming up.