Saturday, May 09, 2009

Gathering and Dispersing Energy

Recently I've had the good fortune to work on a number of website projects for some of my favorite musicians and artists.

This has always been a significant focus of my work and pretty much my favorite thing to do. It also happens to be work that does not come along frequently or predictably enough, but perhaps that's in the nature of working as an artist with artists... there is always a bit of flux.

My favorite site of late is the one I recently completed for bassist and composer James Singleton at

I don't think that James actually knows it, but I've been a big fan of his for the better part of 30 years. It was somewhere in the late 70's (right about the time I first moved to the Bay Area from Arizona to study for my "first career" as something of a clergy person). Much of the force that drove me in my "second career" engineering, producing, and promoting musical projects (and the musical element of non-musical projects) was influenced by the kind of things I was hearing from this amazing collection of free-ranging musicians from New Orleans. At the time I was renewing the love of jazz with which I had inititally been infected by the crazy old trombone player (featured performer with Kay Kyser's band) who served as my high school band (and jazz band) teacher. Finding the music of Astral Project at this time served to return me to those musical roots I had drifted away from and prepared me for the wide ranging awakening to the various dynamic intricasies of modern jazz that I was pretty much completely ignorant of. At that point in time, all I knew was that this was something that grabbed me, took control of my awareness and let me go longing for more.

I pretty much feel the same way now.

When James called me during the period when we both were trying to find a way to survive in the semi-apocalyptic environment of post-Katrina New Orleans, I jumped at the chance to work on his website.

On the evening following the afternoon when we first met (in the tiny bar of Snug Harbor on Frenchmen Street) I shot video of a terrific small trio performance at d.b.a. (which I still have to relocate and edit... film at 11, as they say) and found myself emotionally bathing in the deep thumping bass lines juxtaposed to the pattering pound of James technique. James Singleton does not play the bass in a manner akin to that of anyone else I have ever seen or heard. James plays the whole instrument with his whole being. The result is a phenomenon that I have found it hard to explain until recently reading how James describes it himself as... "gathering and disbursing energy..."

There is really no better way to describe the experience (it would seem to be a shared experience between musicians and audience) than that phrase. Unfortunately, on this particular night at Snug, the energy being disbursed by James and the band was conflicting with the energy being disbursed by a couple of bully frat boys who had more interest in being loud mouthed assholes disbursing their own chaotic energy. When I was punched from behind by one of these cretins during a break in the set, I decided to call it a night and instead of spinning around and whacking the guy over the head with a pint glass, or stepping into the street and calling to the cop just down the sidewalk, I walked away, went home and wrote a poem about the experience. I can only attribute this atypical moment of sanity and creativity to the inspiration I received from that energy being gathered and disbursed so close to me in such a tiny space by James Singleton and friends.

Unfortunately, the inspiration of that evening didn't adequately break through to my consciousness in creating James' website. Rather quickly I discovered that I was completely without any kind of design ideas that I felt even came close to expressing what I felt needed to be expressed. What this led to was a complete creative stall and a long time in which James must have become convinced he was never going to see a website, at least not one created by me. The up side of this webber's block was that I spent large amounts of time listening to James' music over and over again, searching for a link into the material.

During all this time, James was ridiculously patient with me and when I finally got to working on the new designs he was helpful, attentive, understanding and gracious. In short, he was everything anyone ever wants in a client and more than one typically expects from a performer who one has followed from a distance over a long period of time.

For the time being, even though various circumstances prevent me from enjoying the humid night air of Frenchmen Street as the thumps, bumps, twitters and groans of James' music (and that of his various collaborators) wafts on the balmy breeze, I still have the opportunity to work on his site (this afternoon I just updated his schedule listings) and to drink in the music that I have come to know like a good friend.

I am grateful for the opportunity to explore it even a little bit. I also am grateful for James, his intelligence, his humor, his spirit, his music, and his friendship.