Tag Archives: Will Jones

Jazzed Up ©

Appreciating jazz with Will Jones

jazzLast week my wife and I and a small group of friends went to see and hear Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra play at the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Performing Arts Center.  Fifteen virtuoso jazz musicians played a variety of arrangements, from Duke Ellington to James Moody, with a spectacular combination of precision and improvisation.  Combined with Marsalis’s knowledge, humor and reverence for the genre, it was one of the best jazz concerts I’ve ever attended.

My sister gave me the gift of jazz when I was only twelve years old.  She was eighteen, dating a guy a few years older who listened to jazz and got her into it.  One day in 1960 she suggested that I start listening to an FM radio station, WHAT, in our hometown, Philadelphia.  It was the first all jazz station in America, and the first FM station I ever listened to.  Up to then I listened to top 40 AM stations like WIBG (pronounced “wibbage”).  Hearing the jazz on WHAT was like visiting another galaxy.  It was both otherworldly and intensely exciting, and I was hooked from the start.

It was around the same time that my parents bought a Stromberg-Carlson stereo console, a cabinet on four legs meant to look like a piece of furniture.  We joined the Columbia record club, and my parents allowed me to order “Jazz Poll Winners of 1959,” award winning performances by the winners of the annual “Downbeat Magazine” poll.

jazzIf my appreciation for jazz needed any further boost, it came from listening to this record.  I can still hear virtually every one of the songs on that LP.  Beginning with “All Blues,” an absolute classic by Miles Davis, it also included “Blue Rondo a la Turk” by Dave Brubeck, “Better Get It in Your Soul” by Charles Mingus, “Cloudburst” by Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, and “Just You, Just Me” by J.J. Johnson, among others.  My sister also took me to my first jazz concert, the incomparable Nina Simone.

In high school I started a jazz club and I was a regular at the Barn Arts Center in Riverside, New Jersey.  There I saw greats like Dizzy Gillespie, Les McCann and Jimmy Smith.  My first solo road trip was in the summer of 1966 when my parents allowed me to drive to Rhode Island for the Newport Jazz Festival.  I’ve been attending jazz concerts for over fifty years.

For my sister’s 70th birthday I took her to the Allen Room in Manhattan to hear the Piano Kings of New Orleans, featuring Ellis Marsalis and Jonathan Batiste.  It was the least I could do for the gift of jazz she gave me so many years ago, one that has enriched my life ever since.

 photos by edenpictures and alexkerhead

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Good Morning Teacher! ©

A Story by teacher, Mr. Will Jones

teacher

I was in Siem Reap, Cambodia, to visit Angkor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the most expansive and beautiful ancient Hindu temple complexes on earth.  As excited as I was about that visit, I was equally excited when I saw a poster on the wall of the Bliss Villa Guest House where I was staying offering guests the chance to teach English for a day at a small rural school operated by local Theravada Buddhist monks.  So after spending New Year’s Day on an astonishing tour of Angkor the World Wonder, I awoke the next day to an adventure at the Angkor Buddhist Organization School.

On the morning of January 2nd, my guest house host, two orange robed monks, and a traveling companion and I boarded noisy tuk-tuks and bumped along dusty red dirt roads for 30 minutes.  Habitations of all descriptions, vegetable gardens, rice paddies, cattle and water buffalo were the most prominent features of the landscape.  We arrived to find a small, open air pavilion and three dirt floor and palm frond walled classrooms on a narrow strip of land receding about 50 yards from the roadside.  Across the road was a rough field for recreation, and a palm roofed open walled kitchen where the locals prepared lunch for the monks.

After a brief orientation about the curriculum by the gentle, soft-spoken monks, I was escorted to my classroom.  The second I entered, roughly fifteen beautiful children ages 10-16 stood at attention, raised their hands in an attitude of prayer and respect, and, in perfect unison, greeted me: “Good morning teacher!  How are you?”  Imagine the smile that spread across my joyous face and the warmth that filled my heart at this greeting.  In all my years as a secondary English teacher and a high school administrator, I had never received such a warm welcome.

teacherWith a small instruction booklet, a dry erase marker, a beat up white board and a lot of imagination, I taught four forty-five minute English classes.  By the end of the day my students knew a lot about my family, the names of the items of clothes I was wearing, and in a leap of instructional faith, synonyms, like “pretty” and “lovely.”

I watched and smiled as eager students wrote names and phrases in their copy books, as they chanted rhymes about purple sneakers, as they giggled with delight when I overreacted comically to their mispronunciations or when I encouraged and rewarded them by drawing stars beside their work.  Sadly, I learned that the two beautiful young girls with shaved heads had recently lost their father, their appearance a part of their mourning.

My biggest reward came at the end of the day when the students gathered around to thank me and ask if I would be their teacher the next day.  No, I said, but thank you.  I will remember you forever.

photo by will jones

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A Very Merry Christmas ©

A Christmas story by Will Jones

christmasOn July 18, 1983, I made this entry on the first page of a new spiral notebook: I started training for the Central Coast Marathon.  The race is in December.  Running a marathon had been a goal of mine for many years.  My wife and I were celebrating our second anniversary, she was pregnant, and the baby was due in December.  What better time and what better motivation would I ever have to put in the work necessary to run twenty-six miles?  After all, wasn’t my wife training for a marathon of her own, giving birth?  I dedicated my training to Melinda and our future child, and I maintained a thorough journal all the way through to two great events: completion of my first marathon on December 18th, and the birth of our son on December 21st.

Thirty-five at the time, I was managing a small restaurant and coaching a women’s softball team in a local recreational league.  I worked long hours and it was a struggle sometimes to stay true to my training, especially on the weekends when increasingly long runs were scheduled.  My goal was to run eight-minute miles and finish the race in three hours and thirty minutes.  There was no way I could accomplish that goal without rigorous preparation, so, despite the devil on my shoulder tempting me to skip a day or stay in bed on Sunday morning, I usually came close to my weekly mileage totals.

As I trained I ran in local races from 10 K’s to a half marathon, matching my goals in most of them.  But it’s journal entries like this one that kept me going: Felt the baby move in Melinda’s belly this morning.  Not much, but enough to bring home the realization of what’s going on.  My wife is a wonderful woman. What a fine baby we’re going to have!

On race day I lined up early in the morning with a couple hundred other brave souls, some of whom were friends.  On instructions from me, when the gun went off a friend in the crowd shouted “Slow down, Jones!” and I quickly relaxed into the pace I hoped to maintain.  Detailing the thoughts and challenges I experienced during the race are for another BOBB post.  I crossed the finish line in three hours and twenty six minutes, met there by Melinda in her red maternity top.  We embraced for a long time.

christmasThree days later our son was born.  A long labor ended in a caesarean, so my family didn’t come home until Christmas Eve.  By then I had decorated a tree in our small apartment, and that night, to give Melinda a break a slept on the couch with our boy on my chest.  The next morning I dressed him in a red sleeper, and when Melinda came out of the bedroom she found him in his baby seat under the tree.  Twenty-nine years later, it’s still the best Christmas morning of all.

photo by Walt Stoneburner and Tammy Lewis

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Baseball Dreams ©

A baseball story by Will Jones

baseballI still gasp with joy when I first glimpse the emerald beauty of a big league baseball field.  It is such a reliable payoff after the trip to the park, mingling with the fans in their hometown apparel converging on the turnstiles, walking into the dark corridors that echo with the nearly operatic voices of the vendors hawking programs, searching for level and section, culminating in the thrill of seeing that perfect green vision, taking in all the pre-game spectacle.  Baseball: in my family and neighborhood, being a baseball fan was very nearly a law, like growing up Catholic and never talking back to a nun.

In the 50’s and 60’s I attended games at Connie Mack Stadium, a creaky old double bleacher relic with billboards on the left field roof and a wall in right not unlike Fenway Park’s Green Monster.  The Phillies were mostly dreadful, and more often than not majestic home runs hit over the roof and into the darkness were hit by opposing players like Hank Aaron or Willie Mays.  There was a brief run of success in the mid-sixties, best remembered for an epic collapse in the last ten games of the 1964 season.  Forty-eight years later I still remember the pain of that failure.  The Phillies were my baseball team.  The Phillies had thrown away a chance to play in the World Series.

The seventies and eighties were a dismal time for baseball stadiums.  A succession of cookie cutter circles with no character dotted the baseball landscape.  Take away the names and the particular locations, and there was almost nothing to distinguish one from the other.  baseballSure there was still Yankee Stadium, the House that Ruth built, and the two old parks, Wrigley and Fenway, that had seen nothing but failure for decades.  It wasn’t until the 90’s and the turn of the century that imagination and individuality came back to big league ball parks, now, ironically, frequently cursed with bloodless corporate names.

As I write this, the World Series is set to begin San Francisco and Detroit, two great baseball cities.  Avid fans, young and old, are dreaming like children on Christmas Eve about going to the ballpark to watch their teams play, and, hopefully, win.  On the immaculate fields new heroes will be born and old heroes will inexplicably fail in ways painful and disturbing to watch.  And when the crowd leaves and the lights go out on the emerald brilliance, dreams and memories will linger in the air above the baseball stadium like the ghosts of hopes, teams and players past.  Baseball, more than a pastime; it’s a passion.

photo by nerolives & will jones

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The Art of the Letter ©

A letter to you from Will Jones

letterDear Readers,

Remember the thrill of going to the mailbox and finding an unexpected letter from a family member or friend?  Or maybe it was the letter you’d been anticipating for weeks?  Remember actually seeing the mailman approach the house and sprinting to the front door expectantly?  Those were exciting times.  Sadly, the “art of the letter” days are all but over.

No one can deny the convenience of email, texting, skyping or just plain picking up the phone and calling.  But for those of us who have lived through the transition from “snail mail” to high technology, some of the romance of communication has been lost.  Not to the mention loss of personal, family, national and world history that was a by-product of good old fashioned letter writing.  Adams and Jefferson!  Barrett and Browning!  Miller and Nin!

In an old manila envelope I have a collection of letters from the 70’s from a friend in Colorado and my from my brother who was living in Germany.  In a shoe box I have letters received over a period of twenty years from a friend who moved around the country and raised a family during those years.  In another box I have letters from my father, now deceased, an excellent writer with beautiful handwriting.  I know it’s possible to keep a history of emails, but it isn’t the same.  So what am I doing to keep the art of letter writing alive?

My first grandchild, Saskia, was born last February.  I wrote her a letter and mailed it on the first day of spring.  It was a letter about life and what she might expect as she grows up.  Today, the first day of autumn, I wrote her a letter about writing letters and about a gift that her father, my son, gave me ten years ago.  He took his brothers and me backpacking, which reawakened my love of the wilderness, and I’ve gone every year but one since then.

Spring and autumn are my two favorite seasons.  My plan is to write Saskia a letter on the first day of those seasons for the rest of my life.  My hope is she’ll return those letters with letters of her own when she is able and ready.  In that way I hope we will grow and age together and keep the art of letter writing alive in our family for another generation.

Sincerely,

Will Jones

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Sierra Redux ©

In the Sierra again with Will Jones

sierraWhen it comes to hiking in the Eastern Sierra, I agree with the person who first said  “You can’t get too much of a good thing.”  In back-to-back weeks I was able to hike many beautiful trails, first on an annual backpacking trip with a good friend, and then on a series of day hikes out of Bishop and Mammoth Lakes with my wonderful and intrepid wife, Melinda.

We left San Luis Obispo and drove to Bishop on the day after Labor Day.  It was her first time traveling glorious Highway 395, the road that gives access to all of the Eastern Sierra trailheads, most noteworthy of which is Whitney Portal out of Lone Pine, the trail to Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the lower forty-eight states.

The beauty of driving 395 north is the ability to turn left at 3000’ and end up at anywhere between 7000’ and 10000’ in thirty minutes or less.  The climb in the Eastern Sierra is steep like a roller coaster ride with breathtaking scenery.  We first hiked the Rock Creek Trail, nine miles round trip through Little Lakes Valley to Morgan Pass and back.  Turn left at Tom’s Place, drive to Mosquito Flats at 10100’ and start hiking.  Think Shangri La, and when your hike is over, stop at the Pie-in-the-Sky Café for an outrageous slice of homemade pie-a-la-mode.

Our second big day, twelve miles altogether, included three hikes in Devil’s Postpile National Park: the Devil’s Postpile trail, the Rainbow Falls Trail and Shadow Lake.  The Devil’s Postpile is astonishing, a dense collection of vertical hexagonal basaltic columns that look like pipe organs from the bottom and like nature’s dance floor on top.  Rainbow Falls is a wide, majestic 100’ drop along the middle fork of the San Joaquin River, still running strong in November.

After lunch at Red’s Meadow, a resupply stop for John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail hikers, we completed our Eastern Sierra trip with a seven mile round trip to Shadow Lake, the last half mile including a 900’ elevation gain on granite switchbacks to a pristine lake surrounded by jagged peaks dotted with snowfields and glaciers.

In addition to the exhilaration experienced from moderate to strenuous exercise, Melinda and I both felt the sense of “being here now” and the serenity that being surrounded by majestic Big Nature (as my brother calls it) evokes.  Since it was her first time in the Eastern Sierras, I felt like I was giving her a special gift.  It was a splendid holiday that concluded with a drive home over Tioga Pass Road and through Yosemite.

As John Muir wrote, “Keep close to Nature’s heart.  Break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods.  Wash your spirit clean.”  Hiking in the Eastern Sierras will make your heart sing and your spirit soar.

photo by will jones

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Sierra Serenade ©

In the Sierra Nevada with Will Jones

sierraIf there is music at the highest elevations of the Sierra Nevada it is the music of near silence.  A recent three day hike in the Eastern Sierras starting at the Pine Creek trailhead, a few miles north of Bishop, reinforced that reality for me once again.

Each summer since 2004, except 2010 when I was recovering from an unexpected “cardiac event,” my friend Frank and I have spent a few days backpacking in the Sierras.  We hike in anywhere from six to fifteen miles, establish a base camp near a peak we hope to climb, attempt to summit the next day, spend another night and then hike out.  The peaks are usually in the 13000’+ range, with suggested routes to the top rather than obvious trails.  Our highest summit was Mt. Agassiz at 13891’ in 2006.

This summer we chose Royce Peak, 13200’, as our goal.  On the first day we hiked about nine miles with an elevation gain of over 4000’.  When we reached Pine Creek Pass at 11100’, we left the trail and hiked overland to Royce Lakes at 11560’.  The hike was demanding, like being on a stair master for seven hours, the difference being the magnificent Sierra vistas that accompanied us: clear flowing water, waterfalls, aromatic pines, serene lakes, majestic granite peaks, the stark almost lunar beauty of the landscape above the tree line.

It is above tree line that the Sierras sing their sweetest silent song.  Camped on a patch of sandy ground next to the lake, only a few intermittent notes call out once we quiet our human activity:  murmur of the lake against the shore; a tailless pika’s excited squeak; the wind rustling the sides of our tents.  As night approaches and stars and constellations appear seemingly just above our heads, it is so quiet I can hear the blood surge through my body with each serene heartbeat.

We had company on this trip.  Throughout our two days by the lake, a lone seagull drifted on the water, preened on a nearby rock, soared above the rippled surface with Merriam and Royce Peaks as a backdrop.  It was like a theme in the music of this journey, one better felt than explained. 

And although it was satisfying to reach the summit of Royce Peak, and glorious to return to the trailhead the next day, it is the music of the Sierras that remains with me when I return to civilization, the ancient silence that yields a quiet heart and a peaceful mind, that keeps me right-sized as I walk through an otherwise noisy life.

photo by will jones

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Retired…and Loving It ©

Will Jones, his story about being retired

retiredI retired in June of 2011 after a long career in public education. Ever since, the first questions anyone asks when they haven’t seen me for a while are “How do you like being retired?” and “What are you doing to keep yourself busy?” Some people, who aren’t retired, ask those questions with a good natured edge to their voice, while others, who are or are about to be retired, genuinely want to know how it’s going.

It seems there is some fear out there among boomers that the transition to retirement will be difficult, tedious, boring…even depressing. That hasn’t been my experience. In fact, it’s been just the opposite. So when people ask those two questions, my first answer is “I love it,” and my second is “How much time do you have?”

First of all, retirement meant a huge reduction in responsibility, a significant weight off my shoulders. I immediately felt lighter in spirit and more energetic. With the elimination of constant “work thoughts,” my creative mind reawakened. I started writing articles for a local magazine, keeping a daily journal, starting an online blog and filling a notebook with poems and other ramblings. I also started playing more music (guitar, harmonica) and picked up the tenor saxophone. I have a wonderful seventy-six-year-old teacher who comes to my house every other Monday for a forty-five minute lesson. A friend and I have played at a few events under the name FreeWill, taken from the first part of his last name (Freeman) and my first name. It suits us perfectly and we continue to practice and expand our song list.

I started a book club called The Short Attention Span Book Club, comprised mostly of male friends. We meet once a month, alternately choosing a book from Column A (Classic) or Column B (Contemporary). We have a 250 page limit, and so far it’s working out beautifully. On my blog I post Short Attention Span Book and Movie Reviews, and friends check in regularly for updates.

My wife and I have been on two very rewarding vacations, one last fall to national parks in the southwest (Grand Canyon, Canyon de Chelly and Mesa Verde), and one in the spring to New York and Boston (Broadway shows, historical sites, meeting our new granddaughter, Fenway Park). Regular hikes on beautiful Central Coast and Big Sur trails, backpacking trips in the Eastern Sierras, and golf (no cart) have helped keep me physically fit, along with other exercise routines. Frequent participation in cultural events keeps me psychically fit.

Finally, regular service activities keep me involved in the welfare of the city I love, San Luis Obispo.

Looking ahead, I don’t see the need to make many changes in my new life. I try never to be in a hurry and there is nothing better than the sound of the alarm clock not ringing, although on most days I’m usually up by six anyway. If year two comes close to rivaling year one, my “attitude of gratitude” will grow even stronger, and retired life will continue to get better. “To boldly go where millions of my fellow boomers are going…”

photo by will jones

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Woodstock ©

Will Jones was at Woodstock

woodstockBy the time we got to Woodstock,
We were half a million strong
And everywhere there was song and celebration

– “Woodstock” by Joni Mitchell

Crosby, Still and Nash recently played a concert in San Luis Obispo, California, where I live.  While I didn’t attend, friends who did raved about it. Turns out the concert was filmed in HD and  it started airing on TV in late July. My wife and I watched it one evening and by the time it was over we agreed that we’d missed a great performance by a legendary group that reached a high it hadn’t reached in a long time, particularly on an astonishing rendition of “Suite Judy Blue Eyes.”

While not exactly déjà vu, the experience took me back to the summer of 1969. I was in the early days of a first marriage, living on an island in the Susquehanna River about 30 miles north of Harrisburg. It was that time in American history when everything seemed to be happening at once, including the continuing ascendance of rock music as my generation’s anthem and daily soundtrack. My wife and I were thrilled when her brother gave us tickets to the Woodstock Music and Art Fair as a wedding present, not realizing at that point that it would turn out to be one of the most significant cultural events of the 20th century.

woodstockAlong with my fifteen-year-old brother and another of my wife’s brothers and his girlfriend, we drove to the festival on August 15th, having no idea what to expect when we arrived. We had our tickets, our camping equipment and enough food to last the weekend. After a few hours negotiating Pennsylvania and New York back roads, we approached the festival site on a two lane blacktop, fell into a long line of cars, and when it was clear we were going no closer, we pulled into a field and made camp, along with thousands of other eager pilgrims.

We soon learned that we were about a mile from the staging area, a walk that we made several times over the next couple of days. I still remember the thrill of seeing the vast hippie army spread out over the hills in every imaginable style of shelter, music playing, flags waving, smoke rising, intoxicating aromas filling the air.

It would take more space than I have here to describe in any detail the experience of the next three days. Highlights? Santana, Sly and the Family Stone, Country Joe, Janis Joplin, and the incredible level of calm and cooperation demonstrated by several hundred thousand young Americans. Lowlights? Rain, mud and not staying to hear Jimi Hendrix. Bummer!

Tickets for Woodstock were not collected after Friday. I carried my Saturday and Sunday stubs in my wallet for many years, and eventually kept them in a safer place, pulling them out to show friends, and, when I started teaching, slack jawed students: “Mr. Jones, you went to Woodstock?!” Forty-three years later, nothing has replaced Woodstock as one my life’s greatest transformational experiences.

About a decade ago my wife embedded my old tickets in a window at the bottom of a framed Woodstock poster. It hung on the wall behind my desk during my nine years as a high school principal. On especially tough days I could look at that poster, remember Joni’s lyrics and smile:

I’m going on down to Yasgur’s Farm
I’m gonna join in a rock and roll band
I’m gonna camp out on the land
I’m gonna set my soul free..

photo by will jones, art by ame jo hughes

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Olympic Moment ©

Will Jones’s Olympic Moment

olympicWhat was your Olympic moment?  I don’t mean the day you went for the gold, although you may have had one of those, but the day you watched an Olympic event, either in person or on TV, and it changed your life?

Mine happened as a pre-teen watching the Rome Olympics on TV in 1960.  Imperial Bodyguard Abebe Bikila, a last minute addition to the Ethiopian Olympic team, won the marathon in record time…in his bare feet.  It was the first Olympic Gold Medal ever won by a Sub-Saharan athlete.  I watched the race on my parents’ newly purchased Zenith color console.

The 1960 marathon started and ended at the Arch of Constantine, next to the Colosseum.  In a spectacular and mesmerizing display of romance and artistry, the last few miles of the race were run in the dark with only occasional spotlights to illuminate the course.  Bikila, tall and graceful in red shorts and green singlet, the Ethiopian colors, out sprinted his lone challenger to the finish line and through the Arch, the lights of the Colosseum behind him.  Bikila became my hero and I vowed to someday run a marathon and win a medal of my own.

Bikila won the marathon again at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964.  In 1969 he was paralyzed in an accident while driving the Volkswagen Bug given to him by Haile Selassie for his Olympic conquests.  The accident occurred when he swerved to avoid student protesters on the streets of Addis Ababa. He died of complications in 1973. He was only 41.

On December 18, 1983, I ran my first marathon, finishing in three hours and twenty-six minutes.  I dedicated my training and race to my pregnant wife, my soon-to-be-born son, and my inspiration, the great Olympian, Abebe Bikila.  A few months later I was fortunate to be in the Los Angeles Colosseum when Joan Benoit won the first women’s Olympic Marathon.  The temperature was in the 90’s but I remember getting the chills as she entered the stadium and circled the track to the finish line, tens of thousands of fans on their feet cheering as she passed.

What was your Olympic moment?  BOBB and I would love to know.

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