Here's My Story
I was raised on Art Street--there's a good start in life.
My folks were loving and unusual people. My older brother Andy was a neighborhood rockstar and my hero. There was always music in our house because Dad owned a couple of bars in downtown San Diego and he was always testing out new 45s to see which ones would end up in his jukeboxes. So Andy I and got our fill of Marty Robbins, Ray Stevens, Ray Charles and then later The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Kinks, Herman's Hermits and everything else that was happening at the time.
I started piano lessons at nine years old; Andy was already drumming in a rock band and I was learning drums from him as well. As it turned out, I developed a knack for picking up a new instrument and sounding better than horrible pretty quickly, eventually learning guitar, bass, vibes and of course piano and drums. My teacher, the lovably ancient Mrs. Foote (who would sit in my lessons with her Pekingese tucked under her arm while she wept loudly at how "beee-uuutifuly" I was playing) was less encouraging about my original compositions which began to emerge. (To all the parents out there--if your kid starts composing at nine, give her some room to develop those skills. She can always go back to practicing the Bach and Beethoven later.)
Frustrated, I quit taking piano lessons and started to practice on my own for hours every day. My first band experiences, though, were as a drummer. There were lots of rehearsals with groups like Bass Four, The Shylords, Kong and other '60s garage bands. I was a rocker for certain, although I did listen to Ahmad Jamal's beautiful version of "Poinsettia" over and over to try to figure out what was going on.
One day when I was probably 12, a young kid came up to me and asked if I wanted to sub for his jazz band's drummer. He twisted my arm by promising a payday of $5 or $10 for the gig, and the next thing I knew I was sitting in a rehearsal with four supremely talented young players: Nathan East on acoustic bass, Carl Evans Jr on piano, Hollis Gentry lll on sax and Casper Glenn on sax. It was the first time in my life that I'd even been the only white guy in the room, but I remember choosing not to feel intimidated. In fact, the vibe was so friendly and the laughter came so easily during setup that I had completely forgotten to panic about the fact that i knew NOTHING about jazz until Hollis--a handsome kid of about 14 with the poise and voice of an adult--called out the first tune (The Creator, by Pharoah Sanders). When I asked what I should play, Hollis grinned and said cooly "This is jazz, man--just play what you feel."
He didn't know it, but that comment probably jumpstarted my puberty and changed my musical life forever. We became a unit that served as the core group of the award-winning Crawford High School Stage Band, the Crawford Pep band and off-campus music groups like The Chapparells and Solid State. Jazz became the music of my heart, even though I never abandoned any of the other styles. They just slid over to the side and waited for their chance.
After focusing on the drums for most of my early teens, I was eager to explore my piano-based compositions which were heavily influenced by Randy Newman and Rupert Holmes as well as the progressive rock of ELP, Frank Zappa and then Mahavishnu Orchestra and early Weather Report. Luckily for me, I wandered into the Crawford Choir room at lunch time (where I would normally compose instead of hanging out in the quad) and I heard someone playing piano in more or less my own jazz-rock style. To my shock, it was Keith Milne, a senior and athletic star on campus. I'd always figured him as a total square, but within minutes we were sitting side by side and composing the first of several wonderful melodies which were later brought to life by our excellent band The Twinkies, which also featured Cory Homnick and Paul Sundfor on sax, clarinet and flute; John Marotti on trumpet and flute; Mike Rios on bass; John Frawley on guitar and Gary Irvine on drums. Keith and I alternated on Hammond B3 and piano, and we built a nice reputation for ourselves in the San Diego area, appearing several times at SDSU's The Back Door, a folk club.
All along, I'd been volunteering my time at the San Diego branch of Synanon, an innovative drug rehab program that was blossoming into an intentional community where ex-addicts lived side by side with 'squares' like myself. I learned how to communicate effectively and to be empathetic with people from radically different walks of life. it was brilliant, eye-opening stuff and I still try to do it today.
In Synanon, I met lots of incredible musicians but none so important to me as Frank Rehak (frankrehak.com), a trombone legend who had played with Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and others, even though his terrible heroin addiction kept him from achieving fame outside of the music world. He took an interest in me and my music, and when I decided to move into Synanon full-time with the plan to teach music in their kibbutz-style school, he laid out a 40 hour weekly music program for my own education, along with pianist and wicked Zen master Al Bauman.
I could not have had a more exciting or fulfilling couple of decades. Frank and I became great friends, and through him I met David Scott, Doug Hurt, Ken Elias, Wendell Stamps, and other amazing musicians who held down a chair from time to time in the 'house' band known as The Sounds of Synanon. We played jazz festivals and college concerts as well as doing recruiting tours in prisons and juvenile camps where the audience was exposed to the success stories of the guys in the band, mostly ex-addicts themselves. I learned to how be a radio personality from the legendary Dan Sorkin; I learned sales and creative marketing through our in-house business that came to be known as AdGap (Advertising Gifts and Premiums). I also fell in love a few times, with my longest relationship being the special union between Glenda Alice Garrett and myself.
We survived the eventual death of the community, plugging onward with other ex-residents who were part of AdGap which became a standalone integrated marketing company. For over a decade, Glenda and I traveled to work with clients around the country but most often with our friends at Abbott Laboratories who time after time risked ridicule and embarrassment by choosing our promotional campaigns over those of competitors who were far more qualified on paper. But as it turned out, our common sense and irreverent brand of marketing did the job for them and we succeeded beyond our wildest dreams--thanks in part to our talented colleagues, our wonderful assistants Sande Millstein and Judy Malcolm, and our fearless leadership team of Brooks Carder and Macyl Burke, and our ultra-creative colleagues like Leon Levy and Glenn Franz.
We were successful and fortunate beyond belief to be able to retire in 2001. Returning to San Diego to spend time with my mom after my dad had died, we set up life in the hills of Escondido and it was good...but something was missing. I had a marvelous trio--JAZZOOO, with Duncan Moore and Ken Dow--but those moments onstage and in the studio weren't really enough to keep a couple of ex-revolutionaries like Glenda and me excited.
We found what we were looking for when we went to central Mexico to visit an old friend from our community, Mayer Shacter. We discovered San Miguel de Allende, an arts-oriented colonial town in the middle of the country. Amazing musicians, artists, writers and other creative types had all made the decision to live 8 hours from the beach, 90 minutes from an airport, and light years away from the kind of convenience we had taken for granted our entire lives as residents of the US. We bought a house and built our new lives in Mexico, producing fundraising concerts, parties, contributing to college funds for under-priviledged kids, teaching, building a dream house and studio. And we also battled breast cancer, which brought us back to the US for a full nine months of treatment. Thanks to the tender loving care of our Synanon friends, along with the profound professional wisdom of our dear friend Jaime Aguet--we conquered that challenge. But a couple of years later, our marriage ended. We both found true love again, but sadly Glenda's cancer returned with a vengeance and she passed away in January of 2015.
Life goes on, if we're lucky. Today I am back in San Miguel de Allende and facing each day as the first day of the rest of my life. Up till lockdown, I produced concerts, played gigs, taught a little and composed and recorded new music at a pretty healthy clip. My 2019 release is called HYMN FOR HER and it's dedicated to all of the amazing women who have shaped and guided me with their feminine energy and love throughout my life. My 2020 release is START WITH WATER.
Now that the pandemic is essentially behind us, things on the gigging scene have started up again. There's my new group called MO' RITMO which blows me away. I'm less prolific as a composer right now but I like what comes out so I have no complaints. I'm in love again, my house is filled with animals (four dogs and four cats) and my health is good. Let's see what happens next.