Magnolia Jazz, Weddings, Parties… How About Me?

25 Interesting Things You May Not Know About Me.

These are 25 interesting things (in no particular order) I often think
about, like “What’s this and why?” and “What’s next?”. I’m afraid my
list is pretty wordy. Sorry about that. I wish I could write more

If something I say here catches your attention, please tell me.  I’d like
to know more about you, too.

1. Once this fact was impressive. When I was born, my
parents lived in southern California, and I’m told I was born in the
same room (Cedars of Lebanon Hospital) where Bing Crosby’s twin sons
were born. What? Who’s Bing Crosby? Oh…

2. Parents. No wonder I love music, I grew up in a
musical household. My father was a physician, with his office in our
home, so we kids had to be real quiet during office hours. My mother
was a housewife, my father’s office receptionist, and a pretty good
pianist — playing Chopin was her favorite. My father loved his family,
his work, and music & dancing, so for years we all played music,
attended concerts and musical shows, and gathered around the TV
whenever a Fred Astaire movie was on.

3. Role model. Other than my parents, I can’t recall any
outstanding role model when I grew up, but it certainly was no GI Joe
macho super hero action figure. Sure I’m sometimes bold and decisive
these days, but I’m usually cautious and thoughtful.

4. Siblings. I’m the oldest of four kids. My brother,
Arthur, is a pediatrician in a Kaiser Hospital in LA, and in his off
hours he’s a country music song-writer and performer — to my ears,
like Harry Chapin meets Johnny Cash. My two sisters also live in
California — Barbara (a former middle school teacher) is an amateur
quilter and Kay (a former lab technician) is an amateur orchid-grower.

5. Garden. Funny thing about a musician — his creation
is here for one glorious moment and then it’s gone forever. Like a chef
preparing a meal. Like a florist preparing an arrangement. Not like the
creation of a photographer, an architect, or a gardener. Maybe that
contrast is why I enjoy my garden so much. It grows slowly, but it’s
always there. I can see the effect of everything I do, slowly but
surely, and nourishing it takes all my patience.

6. Live music. Like comparing a bass guitar with a bass
violin, live music and recorded music are close, but different. The
notes may be identical for both, but the music isn’t the same. Each is
good, though. Live music is precious because it’s fleeting, but both
can be beautiful, inspiring, and rousing — whatever it takes to help
people enjoy whatever they’re doing. This is what I love to do with the
music I create, and this is a wonderful way to make a living.

7. Reading. I’ve always loved reading. I consider a book
as a conversation with the author. Whether writing fact or fiction, he
has something to tell me, and I always learn something new. Sometimes I
“speed-read” (run my finger down the center of a page in a second,
glimpse a few words on either side of my finger, and gather the sense
of the story.) Other times I chew on a single page for hours. Do you
have both kinds of conversations, too?

8. Marriage. This August, Bunch (my wife) and I will be
married 35 years. In 1974, we met in a commune I was starting in Menlo
Park, her then boyfriend was out of town for a while, she and I fell in
love, and six weeks later we drove to a scenic spot outside the Bay
Area and got married. No fancy reception — just two witnesses and us.

9. Public school. Music has always been my passion. They
tell me I was born singing, and I began playing instruments with violin
in the 3rd grade, switching to trumpet the next year, and French horn
five years later. Thank God for that old public school music program,
or today I’d probably have an honest job!

10. College. I attended college preparing for a career in
medicine. Fate and I eventually disapproved the plan, and after
graduating I continued studying nutrition and physiology five more
years. “Enough”, I said, and left academia for teaching science in
junior & senior high schools. Took me three years to burn out!

11. Teaching. I came to Stanford’s Graduate School of Education
to learn from the world’s best how education OUGHT to be conducted. It
took me another five years to learn I’d rather make a living as a
musician than as something like a public school superintendent. Five
years — I must have been in the slow group!

12. Cooking. I’ve been working and socializing with caterers
for over 30 years, and I’m still learning to admire good food presented
well. I enjoy cooking, but have a limited repertoire. My favorite is
Jambalaya, that great New Orleans specialty. One of my sisters recently
observed that I prefer cooking and eating things that contain lots of
chopped-up ingredients. Dunno why, but she’s right!

13. Old friends. My high school class is having a big reunion
this fall (all 89 of us, I think), and I’m making preparations to
attend (a quick trip back to Long Island). Now I’ve found another
practical use for social networking programs like Facebook and websites
like It’s a blast from the past to re-connect with all
those people I used to see 5 days/week for up to 12 years.

14. History. One of my enduring hobbies is reading about
history and trying to keep an open mind. I’m afraid I don’t sympathize
with the “Great Man” theory many historians like. They trace historical
progress through a series of significant individuals, each doing great
things at the right time, in the right place. Instead, I think the REAL
story of history is our day-to-day persistence, fighting to go on. It’s
miraculous that humankind has endured so long, despite the long chain
of ego-maniacs who briefly float to the top, occasionally to benefit
the human community but usually to “make their mark”, which then
triggers another crisis. Man, you gotta be an optimist to stay alive!

15. Humor. Oooops, sorry about that. I better lighten up. Well,
I enjoy playing with words. I don’t know what you call it, but I
frequently ask questions like, “Well, before we resume, shouldn’t we
sume first”?

16. Fame. Hi, fans of “A Prairie Home Companion”: I once met
Garrison Keillor. In the early 1990s I’d occasionally travel and
concertize with Butch Thompson, an absolutely marvelous old-style
pianist like Fats Waller and Jelly Roll Morton. We’d perform at
community concerts throughout the mid-west, and once (on Halloween
1992, I think), we performed on the well-known PBS radio program. I
remember being introduced to Mr Keillor, so he could figure out how to
pronounce my name, and that was that. Ah, fame! At least he announced
my name coast-to-coast.

17. Technology. I’m CONSTANTLY amazed by technology’s advances,
and how quickly we adapt to them. Until about 15 years ago, most people
walked around here without a phone in their pocket, yet managed to do
whatever they needed to make life worthwhile. Nowadays, who among us
would consider giving up our cellphone? You?

18. Work. Several times in my life I’ve actually held a steady
job. The most recent lasted from March 1979 to January 1980. To buy my
house in July 1979, I needed to show the bank (who gave the mortgage)
that I had a good, reliable income. That’s where Western Electric came
in. They hired me to push a pencil and to blueprint where Pacific Bell
workers should install new equipment in their central offices. Compared
to playing music and entertaining people at parties, this was
mind-numbing work, but I held on to that steady paycheck as long as I

19. Blogging. I love to daydream about our future, and I think
blogging has astonishing potential. Each of us (with only a desktop
computer, or a cellphone, and a little imagination) has the power to
keep a diary online, broadcast it worldwide in an instant, and dialogue
online with others about THEIR broadcasts. Look at mine.
So far, the early consequences of blogging are enormous — think about
nearly universal personal communication and the widespread transmission
of our ideas, how human society is bound more tightly now, and how
political institutions are changing worldwide. Progress is moving fast,
it never stops, and these consequences are only the beginning…

20. Communication. On a similar note, back in the early 1980’s,
I remember a year or two that saw the release of the Macintosh (with
it’s Graphical User Interface and WYSIWYG), PageMaker 1.0 (I think it
was the first real page-layout application), and the LaserWriter
printer. From today’s perspective, that was a watershed moment in
written communication. Call me Quasimodo, but I have a hunch that
growth in today’s smart cellphone (and its future incarnations),
wireless transmission, and all the social networking applications on
the internet will have a far greater impact! This is just hardware and
software, folks, but look where we’re taking it.

21. Mentors. I think mentors and models are great resources for
helping us meet worthwhile ambitions. We ALL need plenty of good ones,
to set examples and to give advice. Andy Norblin, my regular guitarist,
studied the recordings of Howard Roberts, a fabulous studio guitarist
of the 1960’s and 70’s. Gary Milliken, my regular clarinetist, can
probably play note-for-note everything he ever heard played by Paul
Desmond, who won fame with Dave Brubeck’s quartet. And in my youth I
memorized melodies and solos recorded by Bix Beiderbecke and Louis
Armstrong, two early jazz pioneers. We all do it — it’s how we learn
“the rules”, before we can proceed to personalize them. We all need
people to help us learn what we want to know. Today I’m intent on
learning about marketing and blogging, and two of my best models are my
friends Andy Ebon and Stacie Tamaki. Visit my blog
and see their influence. I continually learn from them, as well as from
dozens of my blogging colleagues. Thanks, everyone — you know who you

22. Minnesota. My brother-in-law, Steve Plasencia, is the track
coach at the University of Minnesota. A two-time Olympian (Seoul 1988,
Barcelona 1992), he’s an outstanding runner (8th in 10K at the 1987
World Games) and a great coach (the Golden Gophers are doing fine this
year). Every summer since 1998 his cross-country team goes on a 7-day
intensive training camp in Minnesota’s north woods (Nevis, MN, near
Park Rapids, just to pinpoint it for you). Bunch (my wife, a former
project manager, and the family cooking expert) goes along to prepare
3-healthy-meals-a-day for about 22 hungry athletes. Whenever I can, I
fly up for a few days to relax and peel potatoes for the
“carbo-loading” runners.

23. California. I love mild weather, hate the cold. I moved to
California in 1973, after living 8 years in and around upstate New
York. Imagine shoveling snow out of your driveway five months a year.
Imagine seeing no sunshine for weeks at a time every winter. It made
people crazy. When I left, I packed everything I owned into my car and
drove non-stop to the San Francisco Bay Area. Took me about 60 hours.

24. Silence. I think silence can be golden. The way “white
space” on a page calls attention to the words or pictures, silence in
music or a conversation provides focus and emphasis. I always hear
musicians talk about knowing what sounds to leave out, striving for
grace, beauty, and meaning. The same is true for a wonderful
conversation. You’ll know it when you hear it. Or don’t.

25. Thinking. You know, selecting 25 interesting things about
me has been a lot more challenging than I expected (maybe because I’m
pretty dull after all, or maybe there are just too many gems to choose
from). Nevertheless, I’m glad I took the time to come up with this
list, and I recommend you do the same. Pause and reflect — Socrates,
who said “The unexamined life is not worth living”, would be proud of


April 8, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment