I really should be taking a nap right now with this precious free hour in the middle of the afternoon, but I am not. Actually, I’m somewhere between sleepwalking and exploding with energy, and believe it or not, the idea that I’m going to have 27 months to take in this new place and experience still has not quite set in for me. So instead of recharging my own battery, here I sit, using up the last juice on my computer, kicking off the next chapter of Live From Tomorrow...
After a two-year application process to the Peace Corps—no, it is not supposed to take that long, and yes, the delays were mostly my fault—I actually found myself with a real live plane ticket to leave, confirmation number and all! You may be thinking that this is the part where I start describing what the flight attendants smelled like, how the lady on the plane kept elbowing me, how the tarmac radiated heat as I stepped off the A320, or how I already miss guacamole. But honestly, I’ve been in the country for only a few hours, and I feel like I haven’t even blinked yet, much less slept. So, before I get all caught up in the now, I want to reflect on my last days back home in California.
If you’ve been following my blog, or crossed paths with me in the analog universe, then you might agree that I am the Luckiest Man Alive™. My final days in the States were no exception. In mid-June I had the opportunity to join a group of soccer coaches from around the world at an NSCAA Coaching Academy. Back in 2009 I attended a similar Academy to earn my first national coaching license. This time around I was aiming to upgrade my credentials to an Advanced National Diploma. The weeklong 50-hour course held at San Francisco State University definitely kicked my butt, especially the waking up at the crack of whatever happens at 6:00 am (sorry, I’m not that familiar with that time of day). You may ask why I didn’t fork over the extra $100 to take the course in-residence, which would have eliminated the 2-3 hours of daily commuting across the Bay Bridge. My answer is quite simple: I managed to graduate from San Francisco State in ’06 without spending a single night on campus—and I’m not about to start crashing there now... just wouldn’t feel right. So I rose early, made it to breakfast (most of the week), worked hard all day, studied and prepared all evening, and left it all on the field (as my old coaches used to say). While it was certainly a blessing to study under, and be evaluated by world class coaches, I was even more appreciative of everything I learned from all of the other candidates who powered through the week with me.
After my final exam, I headed straight to the Collins’ house to celebrate Father’s Day and my brother Jaime’s birthday. Certain unnamed individuals insisted that it was my going away party, but we all know the true reason why everyone showed up... the cooking!
At the end of the month I headed for La Honda for the most important week of my year—JazzCamp West. If I tried to describe, explain, or advocate what this time, place, and family means to me, this blog would go too soft, too fast, and I’d lose all the roughnecks in my readership. So instead of trying to bottle that JazzCamp Feeling in a blog, let’s just have a little show-and-tell moment.
Composed by Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn
(performed & arranged by Drew Williams, July 2011)
What you just listened to (please don’t proceed until you do listen) is a recording of my Open Mic performance, with support from some of my new and old favorite musicians. Bill Douglass (one of the upright bass faculty members) jumped at the chance to play anything from Duke Ellington’s Far East Suite. In fact at one point, we found ourselves serenading each other over lunchtime turkey sandwiches while Johnny Hodges’s magic on “Isfahan” floated out across YMCA campgrounds. In truth, it is possible that nobody noticed, but that’s OK because we didn’t notice them back. But back to the actual performance. Aside from being a fun challenge to arrange and perform the song, there were three things about the experience that made me feel just plain good. First, I literally had that song stuck in my head since the early 90’s, when Gil Heyser handed me his Far East Suite CD at St. Paul’s and told me to do my homework (thank you sir, and sorry I never gave it back). Like a lot of “my” music, it was just something that I needed to get off my chest. Second, we got to reunite the backbone of my old band, Diga Tio. I met Reese “Bang-a-rang” Bullen and Jesse “Tasty Chops” Engel at Camp almost ten years ago before we actually started gigging together, but we hadn’t performed or even shed together since 2007. To round out the band we added a 5-person percussion section, including a cachixi, shekere, claws, an egg, and a bucket drum.
When we emerged from the woods, caked in California Redwood Forest dust, we made our way back to the East Bay to unload a couple of trucks filled with equipment... but you know we had to take the scenic route via beautiful Pescadero Beach.
As always, the days after JazzCamp brought me some serious love withdrawal. Fortunately, the folks from down in the Grotto (if you don’t know where that is, then don’t worry about it) organized a JazzCamp Decompression Concert and Jam session in Oakland, featuring performances by Berel Alexander, Gillian Harwin, and Jason Ewald.
The cherry on top of my final days was our 4th of July / going-away / my nephew Gabriel’s first birthday celebration. In the words of Napoleon Bonaparte III, a picture is worth a thousand words...