Taylor Ho Bynum

*Photo by Peter Gannushkin

Bike Tour

Day 23 – 9/19, 6:45pm, San Francisco CA

I’m coming to the end of my mid-tour Bay Area respite, so time to jump back on both my horses – the diary and the bike. Yesterday was my one full day off for the whole five week experience with no gig and no serious riding, and it was just delicious doing nothing. I got some great bodywork untwisting all my exhausted sinews, and ate a home-grilled buffalo meat dinner with my uncle and aunt. Also it was my one time this month on a mode of transport other than my two wheels, as I took the ferry from Oakland to SF; you can still only bike across half of the Bay Bridge.

So my main activity since my last entry: becoming a movie star. Here’s the trailer.

It was both a great personal pleasure and relief to have Chris along for those 3 plus days, and I know he’s going to put together a really good film. It was a little surreal though, being shadowed on the road by his rented VW Bug, or arriving at the campground with the cameras rolling. It was like playing the part of what I’ve been doing, but in filming it, it becomes not quite real. As Chris said, all documentary film is in some way fiction – no matter how verité the cinema, the very presence of the camera changes the reality of the situation. Many folks had suggested the idea of filming the trip, and I was initially resistant, it seemed to carry too many internal hypocrisies: filming a solitary journey, or a “carbon neutral” bike tour accompanied by a film crew in a van. But as I wrote earlier, purity is impossible, and perhaps unnecessary, and I’m really happy with the compromise we found. Having Chris capture an excerpt of the journey will give him the footage he needs to tell the story (along with what I grab with my handlebar mounted mini-cam and some live concert shots), but the vast majority of the trip remains untouched by the complicated factor of digital documentation.

One other compromise I made last week – jettisoning some of my baggage into the support vehicle for those three days. Part of me wanted to carry all the weight all the way, but you try convincing your aching body it must drag along an extra 40 pounds when a friend is driving a car in the same direction. I figured three days out of thirty was an acceptable amount of luxury, though the keen-eyed will catch the saddle bags evaporating from my bike over the course of Chris’s movie.

Even with the supportive company and without the weight, it was still some heavy riding, almost 350 miles in the four days from Arcata to Berkeley, after the 450 miles in five days from Portland. The most intense stretch of the trip, almost too much, but I’m glad I did it. Just like in music, pushing oneself well past the comfort zone increases one’s capabilities, and makes the difficult feel doable. The last hundred miles into Calistoga, over the big hills dividing Napa Valley from the coast, were hard, but not as hard as that day through Crescent City. My body was hurting, but my confidence was up and I knew I could survive; just like trying to play a third set in one night with Braxton or Cecil Taylor or such.

So after that big push, I’ve had a soft landing in the Bay. I’ve been staying with dear friends and family, and the comfort of a home-cooked meal and relaxed conversation after week on the road cannot be overstated. (Check out the sidewalk chalk welcome Pete and Anna’s hugely talented family laid out for me in Calistoga!)

And a string of great shows here – a wonderfully creative and responsive improvising orchestra in Berkeley, a smoking forray into Braxton’s 70s quartet music in Oakland, then in a few minutes tonight, a duet with the fantastic pianist Myra Melford. (Special shout out to Bay Area MVP Lisa Mezzacappa, who played her ass off on the first two concerts and curated the third.) Along with being remiss with my diary, I’ve been behind in my soundcloud posts, so you can catch up on some of the musical moments now: Arcata, Berkeley and Oakland.

Speaking of Braxton’s 70s quartet music, I want to send my profound respects and eternal admiration out to the memory of Kenny Wheeler, who passed away yesterday at age 84. Working on those Braxton charts the last couple of weeks, Kenny has been on my mind every day; his extraordinary virtuosity and creativity forever setting the brass standard for that repertoire. And his own music has long held a place in my pantheon, from the balanced perfection of Gnu High (one of the all-time great trumpet/piano/bass/drum quartet recordings) to the haunting exquisite improvising chamber music of Angel Song. Kenny was a hero to me and many more, and the coincidence of his passing while James and I were struggling through the music he and Anthony danced with 40 years ago leaves me a little shaken. At the very least, I hope our loving efforts sent him some good vibes in his transition. Kenny Wheeler forever.

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