Taylor Ho Bynum

*Photo by Peter Gannushkin

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ABT Diaries 1

Day 1 – 9/10: 5.2 miles, New Haven CT to New Haven CT
OK, does that even count? On 2 hours of sleep, 5 miles can feel like a hundred. I had a fantastic time playing with Bob Ostertag, Sylvie Courvoirsier and Jim Black up at the Guelph Festival Thursday night, but the travel home was tough. (Though the plane rides gave me a chance to do some good reading. I finished Umberto Eco’s Baudolino, a great book and, with its tales of fabulist journeys, an appropriate one for the moment; and I started Bob’s book Creative Life, which, two chapters in, is one of the most articulate, thoughtful, and perceptive commentaries on life as an artist, an activist, and a creative human being that I’ve yet come across.)

So after an afternoon nap, I took my first epic journey a couple miles from my home all the way into downtown New Haven, a little over two miles. The members of my new sextet all arrived around 6pm as we set up the stage (though Daniel at FH12 was disappointed we decided against hanging the bike against the back wall…it would have looked very cool indeed, but even the small chance of it crashing down upon the drummer seemed too big a risk to take!). I’m incredibly excited about this group: with Tomas Fujiwara on drums and Mary Halvorson on guitar holding over from the last iteration, my Boston comrades Bill Lowe on bass trombone/tuba and Jim Hobbs on alto saxophone bringing their gorgeous sounds to the mix, and on this night the wonderful bassist Ben Wolfe filling in for the also wonderful (though totally different!) Ken Filiano. I was lucky enough to receive a Chamber Music America/Doris Duke Charitable Foundation New Jazz Works grant this year, which allowed me to create a new extended piece for the band, called Apparent Distance. We premiered it in Boston and New York in August, then took it to the Saalfelden Festival in Austria a couple weeks ago, so by now the musicians are getting really deep into the music. It is so much fun to be making music with all these guys; I’ve logged hundreds and hundreds of gigs with them all, they’re some of my favorite musicians on the planet, and to bring them all together in one group is a profound thrill. And a special shout out to Ben; this stuff is probably outside his usual zone (he’s the man for some heavy straight-ahead gigs: the Marsalis bros, Harry Connick, etc) but he came in and just nailed the music.

Day 2 – 9/11: 28.4 miles, New Haven CT to Middletown CT
My first “real” day on the road. In my usual organized fashion, I finished packing about 5 minutes after I was supposed to leave. I was proud to fit everything into my two little side panniers: my pocket cornet, a couple changes of clothes, toiletries, a little portable recorder, some snacks and emergency repair equipment, and the assorted paraphernalia of daily life. Of course, even though I packed light, my first realization once I hit the road was I should have trained with more weight! You definitely feel those extra pounds, especially going uphill. But I’ve gotten used to it pretty quickly.

The gig at Wesleyan was great. Always funny to go back to one’s alma mater; particularly with Mary (who is also a Wesleyan alum, though we never overlapped), and Tomas (who, even though never a student there, was in all my bands in our college days so played almost as many gigs there as me). It was the first trio gig we’ve played in a while, and it felt great to revisit all that material. And our special guest, my old friend and teacher Jay Hoggard, joined us for the second half of the set and played his ass off. Partly because of the context, and partly a coincidence of the set, the music this night had a lot of references to mentors; we played pieces dedicated to Bill Lowe, Anthony Braxton, and Bill Dixon, and of course Jay’s participation was an embodiment of that kind of teacher to mentor to colleague evolution that is so essential in this music. I’ve been so lucky to have these kind of relationships, and if it seems like I bring it up a lot, it relates to something Bill Dixon once said. “Why do we always celebrate these people when they’ve died? Why don’t we celebrate them while they’re still with us!” I hope Bill heard us singing his praises while he was still here, and I will keep singing for all the other masters till I’m hoarse. (Though with all this talk of mentors, I must say, playing with Mary and Tomas reminds me it’s also pretty nice to have some kick-ass peers.)

And afterwards, there was a lovely little reception at a local bike store, Middletown’s Pedal Power. In between coveting all the snazzy machines they had on the walls, I had a lot of chats with folks new to this kind of music, either attracted by the biking component or just the general word of mouth, which is really one of the points of the whole trip, so I’m glad to see that seeming to work. (On that topic, I had an interesting interview with John Dankosky of CT public radio’s Where We Live, you can hear it here.)

Day 3 – 9/12: 55.8 miles, Middletown CT to Hartford CT to Springfield MA
Today was my first long day on the road, and the only day with an afternoon concert splitting up the ride. The show, a trio with Stephen Haynes on brass and Tyshawn Sorey on percussion at Hartford’s Real Art Ways, was a blast. We were in an incredibly reverberant space, but everyone played with sensitivity and it became a defining element to the music. It was also fun, after a couple nights of leading bands through complex compositions, to let loose and just freely improvise, especially with such extraordinary players.

Unfortunately, the dreamy weather of the past week transitioned overnight to chilly and cloudy, but it definitely beats 95 degrees and humid or pouring rain, so I shouldn’t complain. The afternoon trip was a little tough; no disrespect to the fine cities of Hartford or Springfield, but the route in between is not the most scenic of the trip. (One nice thing about leaving CT for MA…no more “Linda for Senator” lawn signs. Not to get political, but that shit is scary. I love my adopted home state, but if our senators are Lieberman and that wrestling woman…that is just embarassing.) And jumping back on my bike for thirty miles after two intense sets of improvised music is not the easiest thing in the world, I’m glad this is the only time I do that. But I’m now happily ensconced at a Sheraton in Springfield (looking forward to hitting the sauna tomorrow am), then diving into Teatro’s V!da’s theatrical extravaganza Rumors of a New Day, masterminded by the poet and playwright Magdelena Gomez. More on that next time, now to bed.

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