Joy was in the house with Donny McCaslin

And I think the spirit of David Bowie was there too. Saturday night’s (April 1, 2017) scintillating performance at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall demonstrated that Donny McCaslin has developed into a world-class, big league band leader, composer, and sax player. I saw McCaslin perform in early 2016 at the Village Vanguard, shortly after David Bowie’s death, and the events of the past year seem to have transformed McCaslin from an angry young(ish) man into a joyful, seasoned artist who is streaming his creative gifts into the world.

Last night McCaslin opened with a discordant, in your face composition from his earlier repertoire of published music, and then the quartet took a leap into two new (as yet un-named) numbers that McCaslin wrote specifically for the performance at Zankel Hall. The band members were beaming, and so was I, as I heard the driving rhythm section (bassist Jonathan Maron and drummer Zach Danziger) provide counter-point to an astonishing fusion of McCaslin’s sax and keyboard wizard Jason Lindner’s never-before-heard arrangement of electronic noise. The sounds were so unexpected and new, a feeling of wonder filled the hall and penetrated into the minds and bodies of the audience like a magic dust, floating down, pinging off the earbones, and ringing bells of awakening in every cell of the collective body. This music was exciting! A fresh invocation of joyful wonder, and the band was fully enjoying the revelation as well, with smiles on their faces throughout the performance. They felt the rapture, and made us feel it too.

As you may know, McCaslin and Lindner played on David Bowie’s final musical gift to the world, Black Star, released two days before his death in Jan. 2016. Clearly some audience members were Bowie fans, and McCaslin did not disappoint. The band played “Lazarus,” bringing tears of remembrance and sorrow as we heard the song, perhaps for the first time, without the vocal track of Bowie’s achingly familiar, distinctive, age- and wisdom-tinged voice.

The song begins with the (now silent) vocals, “Look up here, I’m in heaven…” and expresses humor, Bowie’s love of New York, and further musings on the afterlife… “By the time I got to New York I was living like a king. Then I used up all my money, I was looking for your ass. This way or no way, you know I’ll be free. Just like that bluebird, now ain’t that just like me. Oh I’ll be free…”

This missing element struck home the loss to the world of our dear David Bowie, and perhaps by making the loss so real, helped to bring a year of deep mourning to a close. I am moved beyond words at Bowie’s generosity to write this music as his continuing creative contribution to the world, and help us prepare and come to terms with his death, and perhaps our own.

McCaslin generously shared an anecdote about accepting a Grammy award for Blackstar on Bowie’s behalf (the album garnered five in total), together with Lindner, at the ceremony in February. McCaslin outfitted himself for the awards ceremony at Agnes B. in Soho, a designer who had often created clothes for Bowie, and even designed wardrobes for Bowie tours. McCaslin had selected a black Euro-fit suit with a reverse-logo Blackstar t-shirt—very hipster and ringing that note of musical triumph of Bowie’s final work. McCaslin confided with the audience that this was the very suit he was wearing for our performance, and shared that Gail Ann Dorsey, Bowie’s long-time bass player, also gets some of her fantastic clothes at Agnes B. Check out the hard-core punk meets Buddhism dark green dress she wore during Bowie’s Oct. 2, 1999 performance on Saturday Night Live! I noticed that Lindner was also paying subtle homage to Bowie vis-à-vis tiny astronauts floating on the dark background of his socks, and silver denim high-tops.

The group played another shrieking, body-armor penetrating track from McCaslin’s 3rd and most recent CD, Beyond Now (released in Oct. 2016). And then another homage to Bowie, “Warzsawa,” a song he’d written with Brian Eno on 1977’s  Low, Bowie’s first album in his Berlin trilogy.

McCaslin has a  growing body of original music to draw on in his live performances, but his new work takes us to another level entirely. McCaslin’s generosity of spirit shines through this new creative font of joy, and he demonstrates it doubly with making space in the evening’s program for two Bowie songs. There was enough time and space for it all, and by drawing Bowie’s early and final work into the melange of his own oeuvre, McCaslin showed how these two streams are intertwined and that Bowie’s gifted soul continues to impact the world in the next generation of musicians and audiences—if the young man head-banging in the row in front of me was any indication!

It was an all-ages crowd, with older audience members sharing memories of seeing Bowie at Madison Square Garden in the 1990s, and a young child talking in the balcony, penetrating the silent spaces between Maron’s acid bass notes in his introduction to a song of further keyboard magic. McCaslin riffed on the child’s play, repeating the words “Uh-Oh” that floated down from the balcony and generating a ripple of laughter and repetition through the crowd. Then Lindner struck, with waves upon waves of overlapping repeating sequences of electronica notes, joined by tinkling ivories reminiscent of Bob Geldof’s “I don’t like Mondays.”

They received a standing ovation, and played an encore of two more pieces of splendor. Joy was in the house.

As you may have noticed, I had a lot of fun dressing in homage to Bowie.

Save

Save

Save

I ran the New York Marathon!

with-saoriHooray! With your support, I finished the New York Marathon yesterday, with a time of 5:06:19. This was definitely a race of a lifetime, and wonderful in so many ways. It was a glorious fall day, with bright sunny skies and the perfect temperature for running in the David Bowie powder blue suit from the Life on Mars video. Not too hot, not too cold. I was awe-struck and inspired, looking ahead at the thousands of runners on the road before me, displaying a rainbow of colours in their sports gear. What a glorious sight!

And then there were the crowds lining the road. I was in the fourth wave, which started at 11:00 a.m., though it was actually 11:19 by the time I crossed the start line, due to the thousands of runners ahead of me. So by this time in the day, the crowds may have thinned a little. But there were people all along the way, the entire 26.2 miles, and often crowded on both sides of the road, up to four people deep, cheering on the runners continuously with greetings, signs, and noisemakers. There were also musical bands of every genre all along the route, adding vibrancy and energizing the runners. And then there was the city of New York itself, all five beautiful boroughs. It was such a thrill to set foot on each one, with its own unique flavor and character, beginning with Staten Island and moving through Brooklyn, including historic Williamsburg where Hasidic Jews dressed in traditional garb went about their business, then into Queens, and Manhattan, up to the Bronx, and then back into Manhattan to finish at Central Park. I felt tremendous joy, excitement, and love for the city, with its satisfying, soul-pleasing mixture of old and new architecture. This is what inspired me to run the race in the beginning—a desire to see the city from this vantage point, roads cleared, running on an endorphin high. And now that I am planning to move to New York, it was especially symbolic to trod on every borough, and pledge myself to the city.

The physical aspect of the race was much different than I expected, though. In my training, I used the mantra “effortless and injury free,” from the book Chirunning by Danny Dreyer. And I did return to this refrain over and over again during the race. But I guess injury free and pain free are two different things! Due to a snafu in the transportation, thousands of us were delayed in the hall at the Staten Island Ferry terminal on the way to the race, crammed together like sardines, hardly able to move for over an hour. I was carrying a very heavy wool coat—my throw-away coat to wear while waiting outdoors in the cold—and my checked bag with warm clothing to put on at the finish. It turned out I didn’t need either of these things, as there was very little time once I got to the start, and I had to actually dash for half a mile or so to get my bag to the bag check before it closed. Yikes! There was no time to warm up or stretch. So this meant that by the time the race started, I was already in pain, feeling a weird strain in my quads and a familiar old pain in my right knee.

But I just figured, “What the hell, this is the price for doing something extraordinary.” I decided to focus on all the positive aspects of the race, and do the best I could to relieve the pain with the Chirunning focuses, some Motrin I had taped to my bib (a great tip from Danny!), and later, a Tylenol from one of the medical tents along the way. Starting out in pain that way, I didn’t know if I’d be able to make it, but it was the thought of my 47 donors, and my pledge to Harlem United, that made me try. So I really have you to thank!

I also reminded myself of my wish to run in tribute to David Bowie, and contemplated my admiration of his work and my sadness at his death during the few quiet times for reflection that occurred during the run. These quiet times were a nice change of pace from the crowd-lined streets, and occurred while running over the bridges. I have heard people moaning about those bridges, but they were a piece of cake to me after training in the mountains of North Vancouver. Easy peasy! A time to sail along, passing hundreds of runners on both the uphill and downhill stretches. I often put my music on for a few minutes during these sections, and thought about why I was running the race. (Of course one thought that popped up from time to time during the five hours of the race was that it was a very stupid thing to be doing!!)

Six friends had planned ahead of time to cheer me on, and had told me which section of the race they planned to be on. This was a tremendous support, and really helped me to feel a part of the city and a community of great people. Julie in Brooklyn had a sign that said Karen, but I don’t know if she saw me because she didn’t know I was running as David! But I saw her, and the sign. Once I crossed the Queensboro bridge from Queens into Manhattan, Sally and Bill were standing by the road on First Avenue, and I was so happy to see them. A block or two further on was my friend Mike. I put on my best Jersey accent to say “See you laytah for dinna!” And then another few dozen blocks up the avenue, I got a hug from DB. This was such a wide, graceful boulevard, with beautiful old brick buildings and masonry; I got a hit again of the wonder “I am really in New York! This is New York!” Once I’d gone through the Bronx and headed back down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, my fantastic hairdresser Saori (who gave me the Bowie haircut to begin with, and is standing with me in the photo above) was there with her husband, and gave me another wonderful hug. It was very special to me to have these friends turn up to cheer me on.

The interaction with the crowds was the most unexpected aspect of the race, and truly magical. Dozens of times I heard people calling out “It’s David Bowie,” cheering to see the Ziggy Stardust reincarnation on the streets of New York. These were clearly Bowie fans who were happy to remember Bowie and his music. At one music station, I heard “Dancing in the Street,” a Mick Jagger and David Bowie collaboration, so I really played it up, dancing as I went past the crowd. They loved it, and I noticed I wasn’t in pain when I was dancing. So from then on, I danced almost every time I passed a band, whether it was country, rock, marching band, reggae, or heavy metal! I do have a fondness for the metal years of the late eighties, and really got into the headbanging, though it made me feel dizzy, probably due to low blood sugar, and also winded me more than any other form of dancing. Those times of dancing and celebrating the joy of the day and the race really stand out as highlights of the day for me. Meeting people’s eyes, sharing the excitement, connecting through high five trains, where a dozen people would be lined up ready to slap hands as I went past—and all the signs they made, expressing encouragement, humor, and empowerment. “If Trump can run, so can you!”

Politics was definitely in the air… Another surprise was that the people who didn’t recognize the Bowie reference thought I was running dressed as Hillary Clinton! Lots of people shouted out “The Pant Suit!!” due to a recent YouTube video of Hillary supporters dressed in pant suits and singing in Union Square. So they thought I was showing support for Hillary. An unexpected boon of being the only runner in my wave wearing a suit!

The race was so much fun, with lots of short conversations with other runners from all over the world. And whenever I was feeling low energy or too much pain, the crowd was there to help me along. So I must say, “New Yorkers are awesome!!” And after the first 10 miles or so, I started shouting this out to the crowd. “You guys are awesome! Queens is awesome! The Bronx is awesome!” (With their super-friendly police officers and fire fighters all along the way as well, welcoming us to each new borough.) “You guys are awesome! Thanks for coming out! Woohoo!” It got to be a habit, and I shouted almost continuously for the last two hours of the race. I can hardly speak today, and I can’t speak in the high register (the Woohoo register) at all.

The final stretch was through Central Park, and then along Central Park South and up into the park again for the final .2 miles. Central Park South was packed with spectators, and the last little bit leading up to it was downhill, so I really put on the speed at this point, running the last mile as my fastest of the race. I was definitely in an altered state of looniness, and I waved and shouted to the crowd, and they cheered me on as if I was a real celebrity. It was one of the most surreal and wonderful moments of my life. Who was that pant suited woman/Ziggy Stardust man? As I passed the finish line the announcer said “And it appears we have David Bowie with us today.” This makes me cry as I remember it. If only it were true.

In the corralled area after the finish, I met another woman who had run in tribute to David Bowie and to her brother who died this year as well. We mourned together as we limped along, clinging to our medals. I went home on a subway packed like sardines (again) with runners, had a quick shower, and then met some friends for a celebration dinner at a hidden Italian restaurant on my block. The perfect end to a perfect day.

This morning I had the task of packing up for the return to Vancouver, and schlepping three very heavy suitcases down four flights of stairs. I could barely walk when I got out of bed, and I simply could not support my weight on the steps using my right leg, so I had to do an elderly shuffle, left foot step, right foot on same step, left foot step, right foot on same step, etc., all the way down. Four trips! But it all worked out, and I have a new respect for people who get around and deal with arthritis or other types of pain when they walk.
The final glory of the race was seeing a bunch of people at La Guardia airport proudly wearing their medals. I followed suit, taking mine out of my carry-on bag and displaying the mark of completion to the world. What a trip! I still can’t quite believe it really happened. I did it! We did it!

Thank you all for your tremendous support. I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about the race—I’ve certainly enjoyed reliving it as I shared some of the details with you. As a final note, people running for charities in the New York Marathon raised over 19 MILLION DOLLARS! That really deserves a big Woohoo, but you’re going to have to do it for me. Let me hear you, now. All together. Woohoo!

Save

Running in New York Marathon to raise funds for Harlem United

2008 HalfThis is so exciting! I will be running in the New York Marathon on November 6, 2016 to raise money for Harlem United. My goal is to raise $3,000 for this fantastic organization that helps Harlem community members by providing access to health care, resources, and education about AIDS and HIV. They provide quality HIV prevention, housing, and care services in a safe and nurturing environment to unite Harlem’s diverse communities and address the needs of all people living with and threatened by HIV/AIDS.

I’m asking all my friends, family, and colleagues to help support the amazing work that Harlem United does, and cheer me on in my dream of running the New York Marathon.

If you can help, please visit my donor page. You can sponsor me by:

  • Mile ($26 for the 26.2 miles of the marathon)
  • Kilometre ($42 for the 42 kilometres of the race)
  • Meal ($100 to buy a group lunch for LGBT youth at risk for contracting HIV)
  • Or pick your own amount!

Here is an inspirational video on YouTube about the impact Harlem United has made in helping people who had no hope.

Visit my donor page often for photos and updates on my race training progress.

I’ve been wanting to run in the New York Marathon for 20 years, since I first began running in 1996. It’s the largest marathon in the world (yikes!) and goes through all five boroughs of New York City. This will be my first full marathon, though I’ve run ten half marathons. I’m thrilled to finally run this race and to raise money for Harlem United. This is a celebration of my new life in New York and I am putting down roots by contributing to the well-being of my community there.

Copper Light

Copper light 1

When I come back to Vancouver after time in New York I go into comparison mode for a while, looking to see whether the things I love in New York are here too. And I am always delighted when I find out this is true. There are just as many blue-haired people on the streets of Vancouver, only they walk slower!

This series has a sculptural example I found in Vancouver that reminds me of fantastical structures I’ve seen in New York.

Copper Light

Location: East Village, Vancouver – Tacofino Commissary

Some of the best tacos in town!

Springtime in New York

Financial Distric Ferry TerminalYesterday was the first day of spring, and it snowed in New York. I went for a run as glorious flakes skirled and floated through the air, stage-lit by the lights along the Hudson River walk. It’s a nice hour-long run from my place in the village along the Hudson to the Financial District Ferry Terminal and back.

Tennis players on the Hudson River courtsI passed tennis players on my way to the ferry terminal, enjoying the gentle snowfall, and caught a glimpse of One World, nestled between the legs of two other high rises.

One World TowerNew Yorkers still call this the World Trade Center.

ESBOn the way back, I could see the Empire State Building in the distance, over 70 blocks away (the lit tower in the center of the photo). I love seeing these two landmarks as I go about the city. They are orientation touchstones, helping people find their way, much like a striking tree or cliff formation would have guided our ancestors.

Christmas Eve in the West Village

My street at Christmas

on the hudson river, people take selfies and groupies against the fading bright layers of sunset

a muscled black man in combat gray t-shirt, jeans, leather boots, and earbuds sits down on a bench facing the river, singing in falsetto

I do a double-take as I run by

a french-speaking family of 7 or 8 spans the entire walkway

I pause a beat for a gap and slip through

a police boat flashes blue and red lights on the jersey shore

down river, lady liberty shines pale green across the water

I do an extra leg along the river, strong and free

I can run forever and don’t want to ever stop

but friends and dinner at EN japanese are on the menu, so I cross west street at eleventh when the white walker beckons

a young man in a black suit, white shirt, sits on a stool at the corner of perry and bleecker, playing mournful cello

he smiles when I run by

four twenty-somethings dressed holiday festive fill the sidewalk, one of the women carrying pink lilies, on their way to a dinner party

I swerve into the street to pass

I bet a lot of people live in sixth floor walk-ups

don’t you think some people own the top two floors?

no way!

on the next corner, a giant black SUV idles at the curb

a diminutive black man holds open the door for a very large black man

I wonder if he’s a famous rapper

I smile at the driver in complicity about the glory of being near this man

he doesn’t get it

at seventh ave and greenwich the light is with me but sirens are coming my way, a block uptown

I dash across flying on endorphins and more glory

jayrunning across greenwich, two guys on bikes run the light at charles and I slow and change my angle to let them pass in front of me

we rule the night

kids

coins jingling in his paper cup, the grizzled black man who sits on an over-turned bucket next to the magazine stand at sixth avenue and west ninth street sings

and heaven and nature sing

and heaven and nature sing

and hea-ven and he-e-ven and nature sing

the sirens rise

Warhol in the Forest

Warhol in the Forest
An homage to Val & Garry’s forest art installation and to Mr. Warhol, with thanks to Marlena for the use of her limited edition Campbell’s Soup collection

This is a treasure map for Val and Garry, to help them find the 28 pieces of gold hidden in the Starshine Forest.

1-beam
Beaming at Andy in the heavens
2-greetings
Stone cairn
3-wildlife cam with camo
Wildlife cam in camo
4-by ford
Hanging out in the creek [Hint: by ford]
5-scenic outlook
Scenic outlook
6-Inukshuk in headlights
Caught in the headlights
7-burnt fence
Burnt rustle fence
On the barbie
9-poo pipe
On the poo pipe!
10-boot geometry
Boot geometry
11-the end of the road
At the end of the road [Hint: go for the gravel]
12-corner post
Corner post
13-Killarney St
The sign is clear
14-3 in the corner
Three in the corner
Cattle chute
16-under the vol-cone-oh
Under the vol-cone-ah
17-wood stove
Cooking dinner
18-triangle rock
Triangle rock in the forest
19-between a cow and a cowboy
Between a cow and a cowboy
20-tripod
Tripod at the center of the universe
21-medicine wheel
Medicine wheel – eat your broccoli, it’s good for you
22-the person by the road
The person by the road
23-sitting by the dock of the bay
Sitting by the dock of the bay

24-rock hill hint-sw corner
Rock hill [Hint: SW corner]
Boulder hill with triangle rock [Hint: S of thinking post]

26-ideas raining down at the thinking post
Ideas raining down at the thinking post
27-at the end of the fence
The end of the [fence] line
28-sitting on a stump
Sitting on a stump

Love for Sale

Nostalgia - Shadow Play art for sale
Nostalgia – the crowd favourite at the exhibit. Psyche was a close second.

When I contemplated taking the step of offering my artwork for sale online, Ella Fitzgerald’s version of Love for Sale came into my mind. Hence this post’s title. However, the two are not so far apart, as creating art is an expression of my heart that has a component of love in it, whatever else might be part of the stew.

Now that I’ve had my first exhibit, the next logical step seems to be to offer my work for sale to a broader audience. So it’s official. If you saw the video and liked the creative inspiration that arose from my photo series Shadow Play, I invite you to send me some money and make one or more of these images your own.

Since the series is about playing with an image and seeing its different moods, most people found it hard to pick just one that they liked the best. So I am going to offer variable pricing based on the number of pieces you select:

  • One shadow play: $99
  • Bliss: $59*
  • Two shadow plays: $149
  • Three shadows playing: $219
  • Five: $359
  • All 14 shadows: $879

You will receive the artwork printed on glossy photo stock, 8.5×11.

To expedite shipping, I will mail the pieces unframed and ready for mounting. I’ve adjusted the prices accordingly. I suggest using a 10×13 frame, but you can do whatever you like with the piece once it’s in your hands!

Contact me if you’d like to put my shadows on your wall.

P.S. The grand-daddy print, 7 ft x 9 ft, ink on canvas, is $1,900.

* Because everyone deserves bliss!

Shadow Play, ink on canvas, 7' x 9'
This grand-daddy version of the image is the original uncropped version. There are details at the left and right sides that I cropped for the miniature series. Jon is not included!

Shadow Play art opening

Shadow Play, ink on canvas, 7' x 9'As many of you know, I had my first art exhibit at the Havana Art Gallery, 1212 Commercial Drive in Vancouver, August 6 to 19, 2015.

The opening was on Sunday night (August 9), and it was a really fun event with family and friends choosing which piece they liked the best. I made a video showing their choices, and something strange happened–they started morphing into the picture!

If you like it, please give it a thumbs up. The video takes the art project to the next step of its expression, from applying the concept to a single image to applying it to dozens of faces. I think it’s pretty cool! (Of course the music helps!) A big shout out to Miguel Wisintainer for the remix of Gary Numan’s “You Are in My Vision.”

My love affair with New York

New York MinutesI have started a new project, inspired by the sounds of New York. Check out this playlist of audio meditations on YouTube. Each meditation is more or less a New York minute. It all started when I was drawn into Washington Square Park by the sound of a piano playing. How could this be? A piano in the park? Friends have since told me there is also a piano in Vancouver’s Stanley Park, and in fact there are pianos all over the city, including on the corner of Hastings and Penticton, which I visit at least two or three times a week to go to London Drugs and other businesses in the area. I guess I am usually wrapped up in my own world and don’t notice what is going on around me! But I digress…

Washington Square ParkI went into the park and sat down on a bench to listen to a person playing an upright piano. I wondered how the piano got there. I wondered about the person playing it. As I sat there, a drummer started off in the distance, playing the drummer’s proverbial different tune. Soon after, a third busker began playing saxophone behind me. Each instrument was playing its own tune, creating a discordant harmony. The vocals soon joined in, in the form of the quintessential New York soprano, a siren. And thus the New York minute sound project was born.

I will be adding sounds to the playlist every week, so check back often to hear new corners of the New York soundscape. Remember, this is about what you hear, not what you see. Some of the visuals are going to be a bit freaky, let me warn you! But I hope you feel the love in this love affair, and maybe you will fall in love (again).