Commencing Now

On Sunday, July 26th I participated in Goddard College’s commencement exercises on the beautiful Plainfield, Vermont campus.  In my mind’s eye I see in vibrant technicolor the beautiful souls shining through the faces of the faculty, fellow graduates, other students in the program and the alumni present, physically and in spirit via Facebook posts.  The final graduation requirement, fulfilled that weekend, was a presentation to the college community, giving an overview of the research and artistic work over the course of my studies.  I attempted to provide a thumbnail sketch of my portfolio, using this website as my visual and sonic tool for introducing small bits of the work produced.

The cover of my 173 page portfolio document along with its title, (I’ve nicknamed it my magnificent obsession) is shown here.

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In the portfolio’s introduction I included the following parable as metaphor for my spiritual and creative pilgrimage of discovery and becoming as an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary artist within my studies at Goddard College.   This is excerpted from Sacred Rituals, Connecting with Spirit through Labyrinths, Sand Paintings & Other Traditional Arts (Fair Winds, Gloucester MA, 2004) co-authored by Eileen London and Belinda Recio.

“A poverty-stricken rabbi from Cracow had a recurring dream about a treasure buried near abridge in Prague. Because his dream was persistent, he was compelled to travel in search of the treasure. When he arrived at the bridge, he discovered that it was heavily guarded, but having traveled so far, the rabbi lingered in the area waiting for his chance to search for the treasure. After several days, a guard approached him and demanded to know the nature of his business. Discouraged, the rabbi reluctantly revealed his dream and that he was there to search for the treasure. The guard admonished him, but then told him that he, too, had a recurring dream of a treasure, only in his dream, the treasure was buried under the hearth at the house of a poor rabbi in Cracow. The guard assured the rabbi, however, that he wasn’t foolish enough to go hunting for a treasure just because it appeared in a dream. Upon hearing the guard’s tale, the rabbi became exuberant, hurried home, and sure enough, under his hearth, he discovered an immense treasure.”(175)

Authors London and Recio state “The message of this parable reminds us that the sacred we seek is already within our hearts, but sometimes, in order to recognize it, we need to travel away from the familiar. This is the essence of pilgrimage—an inner restlessness that calls us away from home, to search for what the heart holds sacred. …Real or metaphoric, a pilgrimage (historically) had, and still has, the purpose of finding something that holds profound significance to the traveler, culminating in a deepened spiritual state or personal transformation.” (176)

In the weeks ahead, I will include excerpts from my portfolio to illustrate waypoints of my own creative and spiritual pilgrimage throughout my studies in Goddard’s MFA program in Interdisciplinary Arts.

Thank you, Goddard.

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London, Eileen, and Belinda Recio. “Seeking What the Heart Holds Sacred.” Sacred Rituals: Connecting with Spirit through Labyrinths, Sand Paintings & Other Traditional Arts. Gloucester, MA: Fair Winds, 2004. 175-85. Print.

a + b =

This post reflects upon my experiences as a witness this past weekend at the wedding of my daughter Anna to her life partner, and now wife, Bridget.  The officiant at the ceremony was my daughter, Kara, Anna’s elder sister.  Also present and participating was my daughter Eva, as well as Anna’s father, John Volkmann and his wife Kathy, Bridget’s father Jack O’Shea and her brother Brian. A few representative members of quite large extended families on both sides were present as well as a circle of friends and co-workers that have gathered round Anna and Bridget throughout their lives.  All told, perhaps 50 souls bore witness and celebrated this beautiful marriage of these two mature, wise, joyous, accomplished, talented and dedicated women who model all that love is asking of us:  A willingness to be open and touched by the love of another;  a willingness to offer the kind of love that can transform everyone and everything it touches, beginning with the lover;  a willingness to invite and welcome the support of a community in this most powerful of commitments.   Volo Restaurant on Roscoe Ave. in Chicago was the perfect setting for this unique and moving ceremony.

Anna and Bridget devised, with Shay’s willing and open-hearted participation, a variation on the Celtic HandFasting ritual.  In their ceremony, they dedicated themselves to forming a family of love, dedication, patience, forgiveness, and joyous celebration of each other’s unique gifts, held fast in the warm embrace of family.  And so the binding of all six hands was made after the promises made by each member.

In these two photos, the WayMaking Cairn continues its role as my avatar, spiritual symbol of witness and giver of mute testimony.  I offer the words of honor.  The Cairn offers visual remembrance.

The couple is now on their honeymoon.  After their return and the gifts are opened, there will be another post on the extended role of art in all aspects of this beautiful ceremony.

The rings, bearing Celtic symbols of love and promise.

The rings, bearing Celtic symbols of love and promise.

Anna's graphic design of the words she and B agreed were their

Anna’s graphic design of the words she and B agreed were their “keywords” to their lives together.


Flash of Insight Beckons Flash of InsightWhile driving to Vermont to attend commencement at Goddard College, I stopped at a rest stop along I 90.  After driving most of the day, its no longer clear to me whether I was in eastern Ohio or had just crossed into New York.  The late afternoon sun took my attention away from my road-weary body and I brought the Cairn to this site to bear witness to this ephemeral moment in time and space.  Refreshed, I continued on my trip and arrived at Goddard the next day.

Starbuck, Ever the First Mate, Ever Making the Same Decision

The WayMaking Cairn’s recent encounter with a discarded Starbuck’s coffee cup provides the grist for this post.

First, please recall where the name Starbuck originated. A quick search on Starbuck the character takes us to the Cliff Notes website. Remember Cliff Notes?  The redemptive resource for all high school English class procrastinators as they cram the night before the exam?  Cliff Notes has joined the ranks of every academic resource by establishing its own website presence.   Click here to see its full character analysis for First Mate Starbuck in the classic Moby Dick, which I’ve redacted here for brevity’s sake.

“The first mate is the only man aboard the Pequod who resists Ahab’s plan to devote the ship’s mission to hunting and killing the White Whale. …..  But he lacks Ahab’s power. The chief mate argues that the ship’s mission, as prescribed by the owners, is to harvest as much whale oil as possible and return home safely, showing a profit. He feels it is “blasphemous” to be enraged by a dumb object of nature such as a whale, and he realizes that the lives of all aboard are at serious risk….. Ultimately, however, Starbuck acquiesces. He concedes that he is no match for the enormity of the charismatic captain’s spirit. Even though he is certain that Ahab is mad, Starbuck cannot take the action necessary to stop him. At any rate, the first mate obeys orders. As a character, he changes only because he submits to Ahab”

Parallels abound here as we consider the relative weights of the moral choice vs. the expedient choice made by both Starbucks. Consider these observations by Adam Minter in his April 2014 post Why Starbucks Won’t Recycle Your Cup on Bloomberg View.  Minter reports that Starbucks produces over 4 billion disposable cups per year.  Though the company announced in 2008 its goal of instituting recycling at all its company owned stores by 2015, it admitted in 2013 it had only achieved 39% compliance and doubted that it could ever achieve its goal of 100%.  Why?  Its not cost effective to recycle the cup fibers when the plastic inner coating also has to be dealt with.  Unless the company produces much more paper waste to make the plastic removal process profitable, there is no motivation to recycle the cups.

Minter then opens the lens to consider our participation as consumers in perpetuating the use and discard of paper cups.  “Composting keeps the cups out of landfills, but it generates greenhouse gases while destroying the recycling value packed into the cup’s fibers. Reusable cups are a nice idea, but one that consumers simply don’t embrace. In 2008, for example, the company set a goal of serving 25 percent of all beverages in personal, reusable tumblers by 2015; in 2011, it served just 1.9 percent in personal tumblers, and lowered the 2015 goal to 5 percent, despite making available low-cost tumblers (which have their own recycling issues).”

So, Starbucks, like its namesake in Moby Dick, cleaves to the highest totemic values of instant profitability (closing its eyes to the other costs to our world and our health in excessive greenhouse gasses) AND closes its eyes to the blasphemous nature of its own behavior.  But, before we all jump on the bandwagon of finger pointing at the big corporations who make so much money in this array of unsustainable practices, let’s look in the mirror:  we who consume Starbucks or any food item in a disposable cup or container, are also guilty of the same unethical and lazy behavior.

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The Magical Mystery Tires are Waiting ….

WMC Disc Tire Fence 2015.6.12_5544A few weeks ago I was coming home around midnight.  As I drove down the alley toward my garage, I came upon four old tires lying in seemingly random locations across the alley right in front of my garage. I stopped the car, rolled each of the tires, one by one,  to the side,  safely out of traffic’s way on the grassy aisle between my fence and the alley’s asphalt surface.

How those tires could have come to be there in the first place is probably a never-to-be-solved mystery.  Perhaps one of the many scrappers in the area lost them off the top of a too-full truck of found treasures? Was this a deliberate prank of some sort?  A “gift” from someone who heard of the Waymaking Cairn’s ongoing contemplation of our daily trash?

Whatever brought the tires to my alley will probably never be known, but I was presented the next day after an afternoon rain with an opportunity for the WayMaking Cairn to contemplate these tires where they lay since the night before when I moved them out of the way.

The Rubber Manufacturers Association says this about rubber tires: “Properly handled, scrap tires do not present any major environmental problems.

If improperly handled however, scrap tires can be a threat to the environment. Tires exposed to the elements can hold water and be a breeding space for mosquitoes that carry disease. Tire piles can be set on fire through arson or accident. These fires are difficult to put out, and produce heavy smoke and toxic run off to waterways. Tire piles can also harbor other vermin, such as rats and snakes.”

My neighbor Bev, after suggesting I might make wall-mounted planters with the tire, then called the city to take the tires away.

WMC Disc Tire Puddle Tail Light 2015.6.12_5520 WMC Discarded Tire After the Rain 2015.6.12_5521 WMC Disc Tire puddle 2015.6.12_5523 WMC Disc Tire Puddle 2015.6.12_5522


Vermont is beautiful any time of the year.  However, in the winter, there are occasions when the quality of the light on the night snow creates one breathtaking sculptural still life after another.  I could do nothing else but respond to that which called me to be still, behold, and attempt to capture the ineffable quality of the evening scenes. Taken during this week’s residency on the campus of Goddard College.

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Waymaking Cairn – IMBY

IMBY – a play on the acronym NIMBY, which means “not in my backyard.” The phrase came to be associated with community activism that protests the location of a new element within the community which is perceived as a threat to the community.  Sometimes the perceived threat is economic – property values might plummet.  Sometimes the threat is WAYMAKING CAIRNenvironmental – the health of the community is at risk.  In my case, I have been watching my neighbor’s fence slowly decay over the past several years, with many holes like this appearing as the long neglected wood crumbles under the elements of sun, wind, snow, rain and the encroaching morning glory vines and volunteer sumac trees.

WWAYMAKING CAIRNith these images I attempt to let go of my negative thoughts about the ugliness of this fence, and instead notice how beautiful is the composition which the cairn’s presence permits me to see.  I only need look through a lens that is free of judgement.



Today’s entry introduces the Waymaking Cairn, which has become a keystone of a new practice which I began before I knew that this would be a new practice.  A practice that slowly reveals itself to me as I continue the work. The Waymaking Cairn came into being in the presence of the 12 members of the Listening Body workshop facilitated by Heloise Gold on RPI's campus in Troy, New York

First, allow me to introduce you to the cairn, photographed where it first came into being; on a bed of rocks located on the campus of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, July 2014.   I was participating in a three day Listening Body workshop with about 11 other people, engaging in a variety of meditation exercises as facilitated by Heloise Gold.  In retrospect, I believe the meditation opened up my consciousness, allowing me to deeply focus on the rocks on which we sat. As I sat cross-legged in the circle with the others, I began to select rocks within my reach one at a time, placing them around me, contemplating each one’s unique shape, color and striations, feeling the heft and particular outlines of each.

When we broke from the morning session I picked up the four rocks I had found particularly interesting and put them in my camera bag, intending to take them back to my room. My thought was to add them to a growing collection I had at home, which displayed stones from previous travels around the country.  From across the circle David called to me, “Julie, let me give you a stone.”  I was surprised when he began to search the stones at this feet, realizing that he had no stone ready to give me.  Rather, he was looking for the stone that he wanted me to have, allowing his intuition to guide him, in response to his observation of my careful contemplation of the stones durin20140708_3331g our circle time.  He handed me an oblong stone, its base color a deep grey, with irregularly placed white stripes circling the stone, zebra-like.   I was touched by this simple gesture and fascinated by this oddly shaped rock that reminded me of a crooked finger, reminiscent of the fifth finger on my right hand, which has a permanently swollen and crooked knuckle from a long ago injury.

At this point, the stones had not yet been assembled into the cairn.  This happened at the next circle time when we were sitting on the same bed of rocks and  I saw Jane, sitting across from me, assembling a cairn.  Later, she would tell me that she had been inspired to make a cairn after watching Jesus make a cairn.  Jesus was to my immediate left in the circle and so the cairn which he made was out of my sight lines as he was stacking his stones on his left side.  At our next break I retrieved my stones from the camera bag and I began experimenting with my five stones looking to see if they might be stackable.  I quickly discerned that there was only one way that the stones could be stacked and that it would always be a precarious balancing feat. This truth would be the first of many metaphorical understandings of how my existence and the cairn’s existence were intertwined.


The Waymaking Cairn comes into sharper focus as I begin to discern how this is a conjoined art practice and meditative practice.

The Waymaking Cairn comes into sharper focus as I begin to discern how this is a conjoined art practice and meditative practice.

Thus was the cairn born; from an series of simple, unremarkable events that combined to bring about a greater focus and appreciation, a sense of awe and blessing, and a call to continue the journey of discovery in this new art practice. Without any recollection of how or at what moment I was inspired to do so — was it that same day or the next? — the idea came to me to photograph this small cairn in relationship to its surroundings.  The travels of the Waymaking Cairn began; first around the RPI campus, then into the college town of Troy, and onward to the many places we have visited since then.

I have been fascinated by cairns for quite some time.   Coming upon cairns at random places in my travels, I would wonder about who made the cairn. When did s/he make it?  What was his or her reason for making that cairn at that time and place?  After that fleeting sense of connection to the mysterious maker of the cairn in some previous time, I would let go of that train of thought and simply focus on the cairn itself, feeling its call:  be here, now; be still, breathe; attend to this moment of time and focus on being in this place and only this place. Interesting to note is that I have long understood my photography practice to be a meditation, a manifestation of the call to attend to the moment in time and place.  But I had never before felt the need to create a cairn and leave it in any 20130710_3456particular place.  Now I employ the cairn to attest to the meditative act, acting as a visible partner while serving as iconic subject, as a witness in each photographic image. It has taken on the status of my token item.   Hmmm, could this be a new variation on the role of participant observer?  I think so!

20130708_3658 When I realized what a strong hold this new practice had upon me, I began researching cairns appearance in various cultures and geographies through the ages, in the hopes of using the information to better explain to myself and others what this new practice was about and why it was important.

Cairns were often used to mark a place of significance for the person(s) who created the cairn.  Though the Waymaking Cairn is no more than 6 inches tall, some cairns are huge, weighing many tons and would have required numerous people and machinery to put these boulders and stone piles into place. Whatever the size, the cairn as marker seems (to me at least) to be there to alert others to the place as well. Sometimes cairns serve as geographical markers at key crossroads.  Other times historians conjecture that they mark the place where something significant took place.  Maybe it was a birth, a death, a wedding, a peace treaty, a ceremonial marker…. the possibilities are as infinite as are human activities. What all cairns seem to have in common through the ages is that they mark as special a time, a place, an event, a person or persons, a relational event, for example.20130708_3667

I experimented with a few names for this cairn and this project.  I considered calling them listening stones, acknowledging their origin during the Deep Listening conference.  But a cairn is more than the individual stones, it becomes a new entity and now when I see the individual stones, they feel incomplete to me – their true identity is the particularly ordered stack that you now see.   Because this cairn bears witness to a location and moment of attention then moves on, the name WayMaking Cairn seemed best.  Only after naming it did I come across another, similar term: ‘waymarking cairn.’ I still prefer the distinction offered in WayMaking  because it emphasizes for me the sense of life journey.   What I understand and elaborate upon in this practice, which is an awakened life journey, is the act of being fully present to the world in which we live.  I do this by paying special attention to the mundane, often overlooked places and times, as well as those things that more easily can evoke fascination and wonder. I don’t have to know why places, people, objects and events call me to photographically mark that place in my journey, I need only be grateful for the breath of life and the glorious senses that allow me to see, hear, wonder,  bless and even giggle sometimes in the moment of feeling alive and connected to the world around me in these precious moments of encounter.

I will be regularly posting photos of this participant observer WayMaking Cairn bearing witness to the mundane, the extraordinary, the overlooked, the sublime, the ordinary, the unremarked  and miraculous in our travels.  We chronicle the sacred act of attention and connection to life. Oh, yes, and the lovely, regular encounters with whimsy!



 “I hope that you can imagine you have journeyed with me through all the frozen, unreal and unnatural lifestyle things that we had to go through to get to this point so that could end up in Eulipia.”   Opening from Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s written dedication on  RETURN OF THE 5000 LB MAN album and lettered on wall over Café Stritch bar.

“I hope that you can imagine you have journeyed with me through all the frozen, unreal and unnatural lifestyle things that we had to go through to get to this point so that could end up in Eulipia.”
Opening from Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s written dedication on
RETURN OF THE 5000 LB MAN album and lettered on wall over Café Stritch bar.

Late October of 2013 I was in sunny San Jose, California, for a conference sponsored by the Alliance of Artist Communities, an organization that I’ve had membership in for several years.  I was there to do some networking and take my own pulse, as it were, to see if this conference and the work of these artist communities made my heart pick up the beat; whether I  came away with the sense that this was a direction I needed to take personally:   Did I want to become part of an artist community?    Could I find a residency where I could work on my own art practice(s) even as I contributed to making an environment for other artists to do the same?   In  a comic counterpoint to this important mission, I was being relentlessly plagued by the ear worm “Do you know the way to San Jose” and could not seem to shake it until I arrived at the Café Stritch, where a conference luncheon was being hosted.

            Upon entering the club I was  immediately captivated by the ambience of the place and the visually compelling, larger than life photos of great jazz musicians on the walls of the first and second floor of this rejuvenated eatery and music venue.   I learned later that the photos were part of a larger series taken by photographic artist Kathy Sloane, whose work I was not familiar with, but whose subjects were mostly known to me, with the exception of one individual, whose likeness commands the attention of all who enter, either painted on the wall to the left of the entrance, or as the central backdrop photo on the musical stage.

Image taken from Kirk’s album RETURN OF THE 5000 lb. MAN and rendered 10 feet tall on the wall to the immediate left upon entering Café Stritch.

Image taken from Kirk’s album RETURN OF THE 5000 lb. MAN and rendered 10 feet tall on the wall to the immediate left upon entering Café Stritch.

Kathy Sloane's silver gelatin photo of the spiritual force guiding the cafe:  Rahsaan Roland Kirk  immediately beneath his legendary stritch saxophone and top hat.

Kathy Sloane’s photo of the spiritual force guiding the cafe: Rahsaan Roland Kirk immediately beneath his legendary stritch saxophone and top hat.

This conference ultimately gave me an important, unlooked for gift.   Aren’t those the best kinds of gifts;  the unexpected ones that delight even as they arrive unannounced?  I was given the chance to re-connect with a few long-dormant creative forces within me – the jazz vocalist, the photographer, the writer and the happy wanderer.   Remember that song from the 50’s?  I sang it at Girl Scout Camp in the 60’s – its lyrics are included at the end of this piece. It now takes over as the dominant ear worm, wreaking its havoc on my brain   It was in Café Stritch that I experienced again, after what felt like a long psychic drought, a zest for life, and a tantalizing, excitingly vital possible next chapter for myself.  A refreshing change after spending numerous weeks moving lugubriously through the emotional and psychological adjustments involved in transitioning from being a 13-year employee in an arts college to joining the ranks of self-employed.

Three weeks after leaving my day gig  I learned that I would require surgery to remove a portion of my colon and my life was not only turned upside down, but inside out.   Thankfully, all biopsies results indicate there was no cancer, but the pesky polyp was of a size and configuration that the only safe course was to remove it, to avoid the possible outcome of it  becoming cancerous in the years ahead.  Morale of the story dear reader – do NOT stall on getting your routine colonoscopy, as I did.

To say I was dazed and confused after the one-two punch is an understatement.  But one truth became ever more clear:  I had stayed in my position too long, under circumstances that were far too stressful and the rewards of paycheck and influence had long ceased to be adequate compensation. Consequently, I was extremely out of balance and I would take this time and opportunity as gift, to recover, to heal, to find myself without the narrow and limiting definers of my old title and overwhelming responsibility in a politically fraught office and financially challenged institution.  I would give myself the nourishment and attention that I had, for too long, deprived myself, working 50 and 60 hours a week.

I decided to delay the surgery until after this conference  so I could  discern whether there might be a future path for myself while networking  with representatives from residencies all over the United States along with a few from Europe and Asia.   In another article I’ll explore in greater detail the mission of the Alliance, and the span of artist residence communities that make up this very unique organization.

The Alliance hosted the opening night of the conference at Zero, multi-media artists exhibit space in what was once a huge garage with the rounded ceiling far above.   The space resonated loudly with the sounds of hundreds of staff from the various participating residences, artists, and numerous members of the various governing boards as well as presenters of workshops that would take place in the week ahead.  I was pleased to meet up with the always energetic and pragmatically visionary Michael Orlove, the former programming director of the Chicago Office of Cultural Affairs, who had recently taken over at the NEH (National Endowment for the Humanities) as the Director of Artist Residencies.   I also met the charming Mario Garcia Durham, President and CEO of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP). 

The evening was made perfect by what happened as I allowed myself to tune into the solo musician performing for us that evening.   Cado dos Santos was playing to an audience that was far more involved in its conversations with one another, paying scant attention to a performer that I believed deserved better.  And I was tired of trying to make small talk with so many new people.  I moved closer to the speaker nearest me so that I could really hear his voice and guitar work and the effort more than paid for itself.  I was delighted to hear him take standards and re-cast them on his guitar with distinctive latin grooves; sambas, bossas and the like.  His voice, a rich resonant baritone had some gravel to it, due to his smoking habit.  It was not a trained voice, but it was an authentic, charismatic and confident; one that served the lyrics and the music well.   Then he started singing Cole Porter’s “I Get a Kick Out of You,”  over a marvelous samba  which segued to bossa and back again on his guitar.  I was captivated by the new life he breathed into the tune, and couldn’t help singing along, in sheer enjoyment, getting an embodied sense for what it felt like to sing over that type of rhythmical and melodic foundation – so different from the swing styling  I typically employ when singing that song.  Cado (short for Ricardo, dubbed as such by his toddler sister who couldn’t get her mouth around the R’s) noticed that I was singing and must have figured that I knew what I was doing, because as he played the instrumental bridge, he looked over at me to catch my eye, then with eyebrows raised, tilted his head toward the microphone in the mute invitation to join him up there and sing.  I promptly joined him and started singing, my heart full, my face alight, and my body alive and channeling that spectacular surge I experience whenever I sing with great musicians.  It is at once the joy that comes from singing as well as the sense of energetic connection with the other musicians while we’re linked for this song, heart, mind and soul.  At the end of the song the applause was gratifying, but I was more aware of the gratitude I felt toward Cado for having the courage and generosity to invite me up there to sing, never having met me before or knowing how that risk might play out.   I thanked him and he invited me to stick around so that we could talk.  I did stick around and ultimately did one more tune with him “Corcovado (Quiet Night of Quiet Stars)” This time we each took a verse in our native language;  English lyrics for me, Portuguese for him. 

Cado relaxing after the gig.

Cado relaxing after the gig.

Later, when we talked, I learned that he was a self-taught musician who came to San Jose from Rio de Janeiro with his mother when he was about 12.  Like most musicians I know, he works a day job to make ends meet.   He still lives at home with his mother and younger sister.  He also told me of Café Stritch as the nearest place to hear jazz in downtown San Jose.  He’d played there before and had another gig lined up to play there again on November 2nd.  We agreed to meet there on the evening that the Russo-Alberts Trio was playing and I would interview him and record the interview while also taking photos. 

This interview and photo session were, and still are, a part of my plan for becoming self-employed as an interdisciplinary artist, singing jazz, and interviewing the various participants in the jazz scene:  musicians, composers, club owners, fans etc.  I hope to find a way to be in the music making act as well as stand back from it just far enough to interview the various individuals, photographing them and writing about it all.   I had brought along my camera and recorder in case the opportunity presented itself, which I suppose in retrospect was an invitation to the universe to make it happen, and so it kindly obliged and provided me several opportunities.    

Thursday afternoon after our conference luncheon I introduced myself to Steve Borkenhagen, the 60 something manager/owner of Café Stritch.  I immediately liked this tall, lanky guy and his palpable enthusiasm for jazz.  He’s a sunshiny sort that talks at the speed of light.   I had to bring out my recorder to ensure I caught all that he was saying, as I would have been hopelessly lost if I had to rely on taking notes. 

He told me that he and his 24-year old son Max had recently taken the family run restaurant, Eulipia, off line after 30 years, remodeled and re-purposed the site as a music club with food and renamed it Café Stritch.  I commended him on the tasty re-design and the powerful illustrations throughout the space, and asked about the origins of the name.  He explained that stritch refers to a modified alto-saxophone which resembles a larger version of a soprano saxophone (or perhaps a bass clarinet in shape at least) because the bell is not turned up in a U-shape as it typical with the alto, tenor and baritone saxes.  In researching the subject a little more, I learned that modern legend claims that the name “stritch” was concocted by Rahsann Roland Kirk for his Buescher straight alto sax, a latter day variant on the original sax line created by Adolphe Sax. 

A daily ritual at the opening of the Cafe Stritch - hanging the legendary top hat and stritch, once owned and employed by the guiding spirit of the Cafe, Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

A daily ritual at the opening of the Cafe Stritch – hanging the legendary top hat and stritch, once owned and employed by the guiding spirit of the Cafe, Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

This café’s name honors Kirk’s musical spirit as it references the instrument synonymous with Kirk’s groundbreaking use of it in unforgettable concerts.  Kirk’s beloved stritch and one of his famous hats were given to Steve by Kirk’s widow who remains a good friend of the Borkenhagen family.  Horn and hat are lovingly hung on the back stage wall each day after the club opens and they’re taken down each day before the club closes for the night.  

I asked him about the source of the quotation on the wall above the bar.  Steve  explained that its a quoted from  one of Kirk’s albums entitled THE RETURN OF THE 5000 POUND MAN, and on the album is a tune called THEME FOR THE EULIPIONS.  The album was released in 1976, just a year before Kirk died. 

He said that he opened his jazz club EULIPIA in 1977 and operated it for three years before converting it to a restaurant.  Then for thirty years the restaurant operated until March of 2013 when Café Stritch opened at the same location.   He hastened to say that though he and his wife owned the establishment since 1977, his son is the owner of the café, and Steve, the father, works for him. Max, the youngest son, is the artistic director, so he books all the music, the art selection and manages social media.  

I ask Steve when he was first introduced to jazz, and he told me his father taught social studies and English literature in junior high school by day and played traditional jazz nights and weekends and would practice with the other musicians at their home. 

Somehow, though I was interviewing Steve, the nature of our conversation had us frequently comparing notes and sharing anecdotes from our lives.  The ages of our children,  what newsletter service I use for the restaurants where I’ve done music booking, event planning, writing and communications, and then I found myself telling him about how I came to be terminated from my position and how it led me to begin this project. 

Steve asked me about my singing, confessing that he has a soft spot for female jazz singers, and wondered what tunes I sing.  I rattled off a few:  Sister Sadie, Stolen Moments, Foggy Day and he interrupted (come to think of it, he interrupted often) to ask if I sang Lush Life – when I told him I did, he said it was his favorite ballad of all time.    We talked about the fact that trying to tightly contain music within genres is not particularly meaningful and Steve mentioned how Coltrane is a perfect example of that in his rendition of “My Favorite Things” and how a local singer can bring him to tears with  her rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” 

Steve is alternately listening to the Russo-Alberts trio and then leaning over to explain something about the performance to an audience member not familiar with jazz.

Steve is alternately listening to the Russo-Alberts trio and then leaning over to explain something about the performance to an audience member not familiar with jazz.

After he acknowledged that jazz is in his DNA, I asked Steve about the club’s practice of booking many musical styles and artists in addition to jazz.   “That’s because we have to make money,” he replied without missing a beat.  The pop, indie and rock musicians will play for little or nothing, he said, even those with bigger names, so the house need not levy a cover charge, resulting  in much larger audiences, usually two to three times the size of the jazz audience.  Jazz musicians on the other hand will only play for a sizeable fee (relatively speaking), which in turn requires a cover charge, with the unfortunate consequence of smaller audiences.  

After going down another conversational byway, we returned to Steve talking  about his hope to create his own informal introduction to jazz course which he wants to call “The Gift of Jazz”   He said the idea occurred to him in a recent celebration of what would have been Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s 78th birthday, which featured Steve Turre, leading jazz trombonist who had performed for ten years with Kirk back in the 60’s and 70’s.   He said the lineup of players for the three concerts and the music being performed was so powerful and momentous, yet, so inaccessible to many because they had no understanding of the form, the history, and important players.  As I asked more questions with the intention of helping him formulate a plan (I’m an event planner, after all) he said I could be a co-conspirator if I wanted in making this plan manifest.    He said he wouldn’t charge for the workshops because it was all about the love, not the money.  We proceeded to knock around ideas about how he might structure the series and had a grand old time brainstorming possibilities. 

Steve then segued into talking about the Kirk Birthday concert series featuring Turre and other heavy hitters.  He scheduled the celebration to coincide with the San Jose Jazz Festival, which took place August 9 – 11, 2013.  Kirk’s actual birthday is August 7,  hence the synergistic opportunity.  Two months later he could still quote Richard Scheinin, the classical and jazz music critic for the San Jose Mercury who tweeted to the world that the best event of the jazz festival would be found at Café Stritch, referring to the Kirk birthday celebration/tribute concert.  Steve went so far to say that he was confident that when Scheinin looked back over the past year of concerts that he attended, he was sure that Scheinin would declare the Kirk tribute concert to be the most compelling and important musical event of the year. 

I think about Steve’s pride and enthusiasm over Scheinin’s reaction and I understand it on so many levels.  I know the power that journalist and critic Howard Reich’s voice has in the Chicago community and I imagine how I would feel, as an owner of a small struggling jazz club, to have Howard say similar things consistently about the jazz concert that I personally conceived of and brought to life.   Especially when the big kid was in town – the San Jose Jazz Festival  – with its impressive line up of jazz stars spanning three days. 

This inspired my suggestion to Steve that he think about getting a 501c3 in place for the jazz programming that he does, while keeping the for-profit business of bar and food.  The jazz musicians could meet with students in the club during the day and conduct in-services, and Steve could get underwriting for their steep fees to play at night while providing a service through his “Gift of Jazz” workshop series.  He said that what he’d really like to do is eliminate the kitchen, extend the bar so that about 15 more stools could be put in place and the seating area on the floor could accommodate about 20% more people than it could currently.  He declared that the food business was not a solid source of income and the kitchen was a waste of valuable space.  He thought that becoming strictly a jazz club with a 501c3 for underwriting thoughtful programming could be a great thing.  He admitted that he  dreams of becoming a club like the Village Gate or the Village Vanguard with similar year round cutting edge, world renowned programming.    He said that the band that would be playing that evening, the Russo Alberts Trio would have the kind of vibe that the top clubs have and I would see it if I came. 

Steve stands at the door to say goodbye even as he awaits the next guests coming for the live music.

Steve stands at the door to say goodbye even as he awaits the next guests coming for the live music.

Before I left Steve, I asked to take his photo at the entrance.   I went back to my hotel room with a lilt in my step and I found myself humming as I went, looking forward to returning that evening and dreaming of how I could travel, meeting and having wonderful conversations with more club owners like Steve, and sing alongside more talented, generous of heart musicians like Cado.  


I love to go a-wandering, Along the mountain track, And as I go, I love to sing, My knapsack on my back.


Val-deri, Val-dera,
Val-deri, Val-dera, My knapsack on my back.

I love to wander by the stream, That dances in the sun, So joyously it calls to me, Come! Join my happy song!

I wave my hat to all I meet, And they wave back to me, 
And blackbirds call so loud and sweet, 
From ev’ry green wood tree. CHORUS

High overhead, the skylarks wing, They never rest at home, But just like me, they love to sing, 
As o’er the world we roam.

Oh, may I go a-wandering, Until the day I die! Oh, may I always laugh and sing, Beneath God’s clear blue sky!