Well, kind of. The news item is actually about the grand opening of the Milwaukee Fortress, a huge, historic building in downtown Milwaukee that has been renovated into apartments and commercial space. Our quartet played for the grand opening and appears at the end of the clip. Fun gig.
The Stoughton Opera House is a historic theater that hosts many well known touring musicians. Local musicians are also booked for a lesser known Music Appreciation series each spring and fall, but because these are at 3pm on Monday afternoons I haven’t had the chance to perform there …. until now. On October 1st I retired from medicine and on October 22nd Big Circle performed at the Stoughton Opera House. The audience enjoyed our music and we enjoyed playing there! It was fantastic and just the kind of thing I hope to do more of in my retirement.
I’m a bit younger than many retiring docs and it causes some eyebrows to go up when I say I’m retired. Just to clarify: I didn’t retire from medicine as much as I retired to music. My job was still very gratifying but life is limited and the end can come at any time. I wanted to fully pursue music before it was too late.
Has the transition been difficult? Not really. The hardest part is coming to grips with slowly losing hard earned knowledge. For years, I worked to maintain and augment my knowledge base and letting that go makes me uneasy. Initially, I had many dreams where I was in the ER or clinic fumbling around not knowing what I was doing. Thankfully, I haven’t had one of those dreams in a while now.
Lastly, what’s retirement like? Lots of practicing by myself, rehearsing with bands, performances, and composing new music. I’m making progress but there still isn’t nearly enough time to accomplish all my goals. There might even be more to potentially learn and absorb in music than medicine. Really. Much like medicine, I’ll never know everything or be done learning. For someone that enjoys learning, that’s the beauty of it.
I want to tell you about my new arm. I’ll try to make it brief.
One day when I was 19 I decided to show my friend how well my car fishtailed. My 1971 Chevy Nova was a lot of fun to drive. It was candy apple green with fancy wheels, fat tires, plenty of muscle, and air shocks that made patching out and fishtailing easy. As we came down a hill at high speed, I made a hard left at the intersection. The rear end swung to the right, I cranked the wheel the other way and the rear swung to the left. And then…. it kept swinging, all the way around into a backward skid. A car in a backward skid can not be steered and we rammed into a parked car.
My friend was fine, but my car was wrecked and so was my left arm. It must have been crunched between the door and steering wheel; the forearm was snapped in half and dangled limply as though I had another elbow midway down the forearm.
Metal plates were inserted to bring the bones back together and it healed and served me well until I was around thirty. Then it started bothering with certain weightlifting movements. I worked around it. After a while it bothered with other movements. I worked around those. About 10 years ago, just as I was really getting serious about music, it started bothering when I played the sax. I could not find a way to work around that and it’s bothered me ever since. Exercises, therapy, rehab – none of them gave lasting benefits.
As the years went by my arm progressed to hurting all over and numbness in the fingers. Pain was present most of the time. Finally I had to think about getting the plates out. Once the bones heal the plates are no longer needed but orthopedic surgeons don’t remove them unless they have to – things can go wrong. As a musician I can’t have something go wrong. What if a nerve is severed and my hand doesn’t work right anymore? One surgeon said the plates were put in so long ago he might not have the proper tools to remove them, “but don’t worry, we’ll get them out of there.” Scary!
Ten weeks ago I bit the bullet and Dr Salyapongse removed the plates. I hoped removing the plates would help and didn’t expect everything to be fixed, but it is. No pain AT ALL! I can do any kind of workout, and best of all, there is no pain playing the sax. I’m being careful not to overdo it, but its hard, it’s so nice to be able to work on technique.
In hindsight, I should have had this done long ago. I don’t dwell on that, though, I just think about how good my arm feels, like its completely new. Now I’m ready to really move my music forward. Thank you, Dr Salyapongse!
Did you know Sequoya Library on Madison’s west side has a jazz program every Sunday (except during the summer)? This little publicized program has been around for about 2 years and is slowly gaining traction among jazz fans. Our quartet has played there twice and both times we had an appreciative audience of 30-40 people.
The program is 1:30-3:30pm every Sunday and is free. A different group plays every Sunday and it is a great chance to sample what Madison’s jazz scene has to offer.
Two weeks is a long time to not practice my saxophone – the longest stretch I’ve had in years. It takes a lot to pull me away, like a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Alaska. I just returned on Saturday and played a few tunes at the Madison Jazz Jam today, a little rusty but better than expected.
Once I get readjusted to darkness (central Alaska won’t be dark again until July 28), I plan to hit it hard and be ready for my next gigs in 2 weeks.
Here are a few photos of Alaska:
Friday night we played at UW Memorial Union Terrace for their “Behind the Beat” jazz series. The Union Terrace is Madison’s most popular summer music venue and this photo captures part of the magic: Lake Mendota is 50 feet or less behind the stage. Not in full view is the covered, recently upgraded stage outfitted with the latest in sound and light technology (and a crew of students eager to help and run the sound). In front of us is a sprawling multi-level patio that can accommodate several thousand people.
When we began at 5pm it was cloudy, a pleasant 68 degrees and people were starting to filter in at the end of their workday. We began with “Autumn Leaves” (it was Sept 23 after all), and proceeded to play a mix of jazz standards and originals. The show went well – we were relaxed and inspired by our surroundings. Two hours later we wrapped it up with Horace Silver’s, “The Jody Grind” to a large and appreciative audience. It was a beautiful night.
This is an interesting picture. Doug and I are wearing short sleeves and it’s the middle of summer, but doesn’t it look like winter outside? Even the trees look like they are flocked with snow.
The pic was taken by my friends when Doug and I filled in at Lilianas Restaurant recently. Our home base is definitely Delaney’s but we play other venues, too: weddings, private parties, retail shops, retirement homes, and anywhere people are interested in live jazz. When a larger sound is needed my quartet performs. For example, this month Doug and I played twice at Delaney’s, and my quartet played two weddings and a private function.
Add in the jam sessions I host for Madison Jazz Jam, and the redecorating we’re doing in our house, and July was a busy month. We are painting and putting in new carpeting in two rooms. Quite a project. Right now our living room is filled with all the junk from those rooms. In the end it will be worth it though, because one of the rooms will be my new music room. When you practice 3 hours a day and spend many additional hours either writing music or listening to music it’s important to have a decent space.
I know, that sounds like a lot of time on music! That’s how it is, though, ask any professional musician. Most people don’t realize the time and commitment needed to play music at a high level. It never ends either. There’s always more to work on, and that is part of the attraction – music never gets old or boring.
“What a waste it is to lose one’s mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is.”
– Former Vice President Dan Quayle
It’s been an up and down ride for me recently. The music is going great but I hope I’m not losing my mind.
Last night I pulled up to Delaney’s and had to park on the street, the parking lot was packed. I unloaded, started setting up, and dang, my laptop wouldn’t open. It wouldn’t recognize my password! It was standing room only and I had fakebooks in the car, but decided to use it as a test – how many tunes could I remember? Over the past year I’ve prioritized memorizing tunes and it paid off; I played the entire 3 hour gig from memory. Can you tell I feel good about that?
So, it seems my mind is working well ….. or maybe not. As I’m telling this story to my wife after the gig I suddenly realize why the password failed: I was using a password from one of my other computers. Hmmm, you’d think I would’ve figured that out.
A potentially much worse situation occurred a few weeks ago when Doug and I played at Fairhaven Senior Living in Whitewater, Wi. After a beautiful hour long drive on a sunny afternoon we starting setting up. I opened my case and oh my god, no reeds. I forgot my reeds! This has never happened before, hmmm, how’s this going to work? No reed, no sound, can it get any worse?
Fortunately, Brian, the activities director is a calm, quick thinking fellow. He made several calls and after talking with Liz, a band director at a nearby grade school, a reed was found. A short ride later I had the reed in hand and it worked quite well. After that I knew it could only get better. Doug and I played well, the audience liked us, and we’ve been invited back. Thanks, Brian and Liz!
Of course, now I have a stash of backup reeds in my gig bag just in case. They are joined by a backup mouthpiece, neckstrap, and a whole host of goodies to temporarily fix a broken sax. Only one thing is missing – a backup brain.
Some good news and bad news…
The bad news is Doug Brown won’t be performing with me in December at Delaney’s. He’ll be busy rehearsing and performing as the Fiddler in CTM’s production of “A Christmas Carol.” Doug returns in January.
The good news is Doug White is filling in on piano during his absence. Doug White performed at Nadia’s Restaurant on State St for many years and is currently in the house band rotation for Madison Jazz Jam. He is a talented musician familiar with many standards and we’ve been having a blast jamming together. A piano-sax duo has a different sound and I think you’ll like it. I hope to see you there.
Every year I host a plant sale to benefit Madison Jazz Jam, a nonprofit that runs an all-ages jam session. It’s a major time commitment collecting plants from neighbors and friends, digging out plants and labeling, and running the sale. I like dealing with plants and people and we raise a fair amount of cash for the jam so it’s worth it. I also benefit from the leftovers. I donate most to my friend’s plant sale for Midvale PTA and the Healthy Lawn team, but a few choice leftovers make it into my garden. This was one of them and it is spectacular! I’d give you the name but I only know it is some kind of giant daylily.
My wife Mary took this picture near dusk with her phone camera. Despite the dwindling light the flower seems to capture and radiate light. I love it!