About rbtwms

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rbtwms has written 25 articles so far, you can find them below.

Celebrating Miles Davis’ 96th

William P. Gottlieb, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Trending this week on my social media feeds is the celebration of the 96th anniversary of Miles Davis’ birth. In addition to sparking me to pull up tracks on Spotify that the deep jazz heads are spotlighting from his catalog, it got me to thinking: when I think about artists—not just writers—that I look to as models and lifelong influencers, Miles is somewhere at the top of the list. And I say that as not a super Miles “fan” and he’s not even my favorite jazz trumpeter. (That honor goes to Lee Morgan, though I have been digging into the Spotify crates lately exploring a lot of Freddie Hubbard’s 70s stuff  I had never listened to before. He might be gaining on Lee).

I began playing the trumpet in 5th grade; 1979 or 1980 it would have been. If there were five reasons that I picked the trumpet when asked what I wanted to play in the school band class, Chuck Mangione’s smash hit Feels So Good was probably number one.  Herb Albert’s Rise would have been number two. Somewhere in a family photo album there’s a picture of an adolescent me mimicking Chuck’s high flying playing-to-the-sun style. Chuck was the man, as he made jazz cool, accessible, and fun to listen to. The art produced was what I wanted to emulate.

A few years later, Wynton  would have us kid trumpet players reexamining and rejecting our pop radio heroes, Chuck and Herb. Wynton, the “police” as Miles supposedly called him, had us turning towards the classic jazz greats.  My older brother and my high school band director first steered me to specific 50s and 60s cool and hard bop era Miles Davis recordings… via mix tapes for my boombox and scratchy old albums played on  school record players. I remember thinking…. this stuff is kind of boring. Listening to old Miles felt like homework. Too serious for my teenage comprehension. I listened dutifully though—and it was OK for background music while doing homework—but I didn’t really listen. Curiously I was intently into Wynton at the time, because even though he was playing “old” style music too, his professorial modern day reflective point of view and preppy youthful and intellectual aesthetic made my ears more eager. This of course was around the time when Miles’ 80s drum machine electronic era was emerging, so as an artist, he provided me with a second chance to engage. He gave me another entry point. When I first heard  some of that work, it seemed like weak imitations of the styles of the day– an old man trying to hang with the hippity hoppers, but  past his prime.  But then Miles put out You’re Under Arrest in 1985, which included the notable cover of Time After Time.  I hadn’t even liked the Cindy Lauper original that much, but I wore out Miles’ version. It was the prettiest  trumpet playing I had heard…lean, piercingly emotional, soulful… so many adjectives come pouring out upon every listen. How could a pop melody that is fairly simple, be elevated so? Takes an artist to do that. I found something new that I wanted to emulate: The artist who can take “simple” ideas and push them into something new, while honoring the integrity of the source material, the reference points. In lesser hands, with the same instrumentation, it would have been elevator music.

Over the years, I began to see that Miles didn’t stay in one place and wasn’t nostalgic for any particular points in time. He was always in the present. Didn’t rely on pony tricks or the foundational jazz repertoires established and amplified by others, mostly media fanboys, whose adulation I suppose sustains many aging artists. He didn’t care about the jazz “police,” and he  challenged his audiences–I still can’t really get into his psychedelic 70s albums– but found entry points for where we could meet his artistry. Wherever  he was in life, Miles always had something to say, to paraphrase Andre 3000. Just didn’t seem like he was worried about who wanted to listen. 

Who are your artistic influencers? The makers of what’s popular and cool? Those with an aesthetic that you want to emulate? Those that challenge you? Of those who simply produce art that moves you, help bring you closer to your own artistic visions?

2022 WWPH Winners Announced

Congrats to the Washington Writers Publishing House 2022 honorees: Poet Anthony Moll and fiction writer Suzanne Feldman. While I didn’t play a role in the fiction editorial review this year, I am excited to dive into Suzanne’s collection “The Witch Bottle and Other Stories.” Kudos to Suzanne for coming up such an evocative and memorable […]

WWPH Writes Up and Running

  Launching this year, the Washington Writers’ Publishing House’s online journal “WWPH Writes” is in full swing. Kudos to the fiction editor Caroline Bock for getting the effort off the ground. Submission is free. Any monies raised through the tip jar will go to support WWPH’s operations costs. Please see the WWPH Submittable page for more […]

A Different Kind of Writing Project

Statesboro HIgh and Industrial School Historical Marker, Statesboro, Georgia, October 2019 Recently I had the opportunity to collaborate on writing the words for a historical marker honoring the site of an African-American high school my great-grandfather William James helped to start and lead in Statesboro, Georgia in the early 1900s. Some thoughts and reflections on that experience.  As an English major in college, I was required […]

Toni Morrison, 1931 – 2019

Ms. Morrison Toni Morrison passed today. As the accolades and memories pour in, I am remembering tackling “Song of Solomon” freshman year and invoking her in one of my 2016 readings for “Strivers and Other Stories.” Some notes from that reading: Thanks for coming and giving me a bit of your weekend time. Your support is definitely […]

“Cotton Compress” Published in Callaloo 40.2

  My story “Cotton Compress” was published in the Callaloo Journal’s latest issue, #40.2. Many thanks to Ravi Howard–who led a great workshop I participated in at Callaloo’s 2016 Oxford creative writing workshop session– for recommending my submission. Also many thanks to  Melanie Hatter, who provided key edits to the story and made it much, much better and […]

Tin House Summer Workshop

Coming back from another spirited, challenging and enlightening workshop week, this time the notable Tin House Summer Workshop held at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. I participated in one of the novel workshops led by the gracious and energetic (and fellow native Georgian!) Tayari Jones. In the midst of her book tour for “An America […]

Aspen Words; Words in Aspen

In the wake of celebrating the life of my father, the Aspen Words writing workshop in Aspen, Colorado provided a breezy clean-air escape—again—into the “serious” literary world: Manhattan agents and editors. MFA grads. Tea drinkers. Brows that furrow at the mere mention of a certain current White House occupant. And us “emerging” writers gasping at humble-bragged mentions of […]

“This is America” — Podcasting… Just for Fun

A casual chat in the studio with some old friends at “We R Sumthin Else.” Talking about Donald Glover, #AtlantaFX, Kanye, growing up in the South, America, white supremacy, living your best life– and oh, yeah,  a bit about “Strivers and Other Stories” too. Check it out. (And all their other episodes too).

Write and Author Interview

Interview in Write and Author I had an interview with the blog site Write and Author,  a resource dedicated to helping writers develop their craft and offer advice on publishing.  I discussed my writing process, influences, and why I like to write. Some excerpts from the Q&A What do you love most about the writing process?The excitement of not knowing […]