Part of getting older is...

Currents + | -


...knowing what to do when the pharmacies are closed...

Utter Despair Comix

Above: 'Utter Despair #1' animated GIF by Jessica Williams from a character she drew in 7th grade


I'm a senior. I get to go to the diner and show my card and get a ten-percent discount. I have to show the card, as I am really only a child and look the part; but my culture keeps track of these kinds of things, and insists that if I remember the Nazis (who can forget, already?) and the advent of television (not to mention the words to most Beatles songs) then I MUST be an old bat. A geezette. Daisy-fodder.

Age has done wonders for my attitude, though.

I really could care less about other's opinions of me. Not that I think for a minute that I'm important enough to evoke opinions in others.

Not now.

Utter Despair Comix

Above: 'Utter Despair #2', animated GIF by Jessica Williams from a character she drew in 7th grade

When you're 'young', the galaxies spin around you like gnats around watermelon rinds. It seemed to me as if every time I picked up a paper or a magazine, there I was, either written about or caught on Polaroid with drool seeping out of my mouth (jazz photographers LOVE to assassinate female artist's self-esteem by waiting for the drool to appear and then catching it in descent, freezing that magic moment in time forever); now it seems as if I might as well sell real estate or be an English teacher or, well, do something sane with my life. But I don't care enough.

The actor Anthony Hopkins said it best:

'I just don't give a damn anymore.'

It's not important to me if the jazz world (whatever dimension that world might exist in) knows me at all.

It's kind of weirdly important to me that nobody in that world DOES know me.

I would actually rather be totally unknown to everyone... a surprise to all.

The old girl that looks like she's thirty fifty sixty and lives next-door can play the hell out of the piano.

Surprise! Nobody knew she was there, and, even when told, the rumors were persistently and effectively denied.

She was not there, is not present now, nor was she ever there, or, as far as we can discern, was she ever anywhere at all. And all of a sudden it's Sunday afternoon and we hear this music coming from her house and (surprise!) she exists.

But only for a moment. And it's so fleeting and chimerical that one can be pretty sure that it didn't happen at all, that she's not really there, again! Whew!

As the guy said when he saw me playing thirty years ago in Philly; 'damn, it's just some chick. I thought it was McCoy or somebody good!'

And now you might think 'she's bitter'... but I'm not at all. I like being me so much that I'd rather keep me all to myself.

It's fun to be famous, and rich sometimes too. Afterwards, when it wears off, it's nice to just get to know oneself without the music to hide behind. No more articles in JazzTimes (this is in itself a blessed nonevent); no more spittle photos, no more (almost there now!) requests for interviews during which one is expected to recite the same 'alibi' over and over.

Women are expected to have 'alibis' for being creative.

After nearly four decades of interviews, you'd think someone would just keep a file handy, sort of a rap-sheet or something. When it's interview time, you just refer them to a central database and they pull your prints and c-file.

I've started to economize, and feel that it's best for everyone if I just sort of fade away gracefully, with only an occasional spasm of orgiastic rage, directed at specific deserving targets chosen for maximum anecdotal effect, the reaction to which is usually (predictably) 'God, she's a total bitch!'... and this lets me know that I am doing my job.

Betty Carter and Abbey Lincoln received equivalent fusillades of high praise for their efforts, and they have my undying admiration.

Last time I saw Abbey, she looked about fourteen and sounded like an angel. And she was really BEAUTIFUL to me, to everyone around her. I'm sure she still gets called a 'bitch' for being so effective at her life-job. I hope she enjoys the accolades as much as I do, and takes them just as seriously!

If Susannah McCorkle would've waited one more day before jumping out of that window, she could've joined us for the big laugh.

Listen: don't jump out of windows. It does nothing to make one's detractors miserable. The best revenge we have is success and longevity and laughter and the pleasure of each other's company! No more jumping out of windows.

No dying allowed!

Oh, Susannah...

Depression can really be paralyzing, life-threatening. So call a friend and let 'em have it. What is this stuff about not wanting to be a 'bummer'??? Bum away! What are friends for if not to share pain with? What are we anyway? Automatons? Simulacrums? Nanobots? Life is hard, period.


Part of getting older is knowing what to do when the pharmacies are closed.

This is why we used to have friends, why we used to get together and make pasta or knishes and talk all night long.

This is why I am so glad to be an active non-participant in the ennui that is the jazz life.

Competition is the great mind-killer. Cooperation is the way of life I pursue. There really is a meaning to the word 'sustainable', and life is not sustainable without love and friendship and common sense.

Don't get the idea that you own any of this stuff you've got, or that what Downbeat Magazine writes about you is true, or that being hip and cool is the key to existence, or that this is a contest.

Life is NOT a contest. Not a beauty contest or a personality contest or a spelling contest. Life is about being who you are and (as Agent 86 says to Agent 99) LOVING IT!

Jazz poodles say 'wow, this player is FAST'... yes, and they said that about Doc Holiday just before his head exploded, an event triggered by someone else being slightly FASTER.


The jazz poodles also say that 'chicks don't swing'.

Twenty years ago, that still got me so mad I'd actually waste time writing a letter to the editor of some idiotic fanzine that considered Harry 'Sweets' Edison a 'one-note wonder' and ignored the work of Erroll Garner because he was a 'crowd-pleaser'.

I guess what I really want to see is a world in which women are respected and free.

America is the place to be, and it's better in many ways than it was; I just don't like to hear the word 'chicks', and I don't believe that there are too many pursuits that women can't excel at.

And I remember Betty Freidan and Germaine Greer and Phyllis Chessler.

There is a feminism (and a liberalism) that is unsullied by spin doctors and CNN propagandists, that lives in the hearts and minds of 'older' women.

It can NOT be destroyed by news profiteers and 'compassionate conservatives' (read 'reactionaries').

It is based on the value of the feminine in this and all cultures, a value that is very similar to common sense.

It means we think before we act; we cooperate (not compete); we create (not destroy); we submit to our environment (not seek dominion over it); it means we don't live lives of senseless acquisition, of selfish greed.

It means we give, and we love, and we take care of each other, and we tell each other stories and share each other's pain. And we laugh with each other till our sides hurt!

It means we get older and are proud of our age; we get wiser and know that our wisdom is about being at peace, not about being smarter or better or knowing more stuff.

It means we RESPECT each other for our INDIVIDUALITY and seek to protect life and serve it.

For me, over the past several years, it has meant giving up my suicidal way of 'life'; smoking was killing me and those around me. Alcohol was poisoning my very existence.

Toxic people were infecting my self-esteem, and toxic musicians were treating my music (and theirs) with hostility and disrespect.

All done, all over.

Good riddance to bad luggage.


It's better to keep your life CLEAN; that means keeping the music out of the dirt, too. The music is not separate from me.

So loving the self means loving the WHOLE self, loving your whole life.

As for greed, and competition, and domination, and petty opinions by 'experts', and overstuffed carpetbaggers that sit in judgment over our lives and our gifts and label us 'liberals' or 'radicals' or 'misfits'...

As for any jazz musicians who think that they are 'famous' (God, what an incredible leap for a mind to make!) and think that playing an instrument really really fast makes them a MUSICIAN (!)...

Get stuffed! Save up and get a LIFE!

I'll be at the diner, getting my senior discount, or maybe having too much fun in my life to even notice these folks exist!


Just in Bern (Switzerland). Played the Bern Jazz Festival. Played a 12-minute set.

Went 6000 miles to play a 12-minute set.

Ten pianists (Randy Weston, Ray Bryant, Junior Mance, myself and others.)

I am more than a 12-minute experience; it takes me at least 15 minutes to say hello properly and find the soft pedal.

Am I the only one that thinks this '100 Gold Fingers Tour' idea is a crock?

It gives new meaning to the term 'dog and pony show'. -JW 5.25.02


I admire cab drivers, particularly New York cab drivers. They're like the Marines that get to go back to that planet with Ripley in 'Aliens'... they try to do their job, and get to meet and do battle with strange and sometimes lethal life-forms.

They get to try to communicate with the many Americans who never learned to speak English.

Good luck!


When I rest up from the last fifty-plus years, I'm probably going to write a lot more. I might have something interesting to say to somebody.

Right now I just need to rest up. Sometimes you just need a few years of sleep.

I also think that's it's a myth that we all have jobs to do, all of the time.

I think it's perfectly OK to do nothing at all.


I think It's more important to be a musician than to be a pianist.

I think maybe Miles felt the same way.

He sure was a musician. Trumpet player? He was GREAT! But he was a SUBLIME musician!

He made music when he woke up in the morning.

He made music when he sneezed.

That's a musician!


When that old altruistic spirit moves me, I go down to the local nursing home and play piano for the inmates. Most of them are definitely there against their will. They have that caged look.

The attendants (read: guards) and the old folks (read: cons) are participating in a cotillion macabre, a transparent but functional dance where everybody gets something.

The staff gets a minimal wage and a chance to assuage their guilt at having been such royal pains-in-the-butt to their parents when they were children. Now they have surrogate parents (the prisoners) who have to put up with the staff reenacting their childhoods.

They're still acting like royal pains-in-the-butt.

The inmates get to watch all of this silliness.

I get to play for them and go into my alpha-state. They follow me (they're halfway there on their own, anyway; life does that to you after awhile) and we're all just there nodding off as my music plays itself through me.

We all get to nod off together. Even some of the guards.

The piano is broken. The sustain pedal won't stop sustaining. This causes more cacophony than 'The Rites of Spring' and 'Hey Jude' performed simultaneously in an airplane hangar. I borrow a nice lady's scarf and damp the strings with it. It helps a little. I put a wooden box on top of the scarf. That helps even more.

I forget to give her scarf back to her.

I sure hope she remembers to retrieve it... the staff might think she's drifting away, putting articles of her clothing inside the piano, not to mention the wooden box.

It could make things tougher for her.