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  • Writer's pictureThomas Doggett

Midsummer and midyear

I’ve always reflected on the past year in December.  Partially because of the calendar year and partially because of my birthday but now that I’ve embraced my life as a band director, December isn’t the end.  The year is more of an ouroborus than anything else; a cycle that never stops.  In May, students graduate and in June, new students arrive.  While the concert band season is wrapping up, the marching band season has already begun.  While some of my colleagues pack up for the summer, I unpack the outdoor PA and search for sunblock.  The month of July is as good as any to reflect.  I’m not sure where to start my story because it feels like the past month happened all at once.

Lisa and I got married back in December.  We had a simple wedding at the courthouse.  Photo by Jami Milne.

photo by Jami Milne

We had a party to get family together for the first time in June and it was a blast! Photos by Figment Art Photo

Photo by Figment Art Photo

Photo by Figment Art Photo

more photos by Jami Milne

photo by Jami Milne

photo by Jami Milne

Planning a party is one thing.  Not planning a get-together is even better.  This past month, it happened twice.  Two different friends driving across the country and passing through Des Moines.  Not only are they great humans, their musicianship continues to inspire me to this day: Ike Wriston and Gary Ruschman.  In a world of schedules, appointments, and bell schedules; it’s nice to have unplanned visits.

with Isaac Wriston

I met up with Gary Ruschman at the Iowa City Jazz Festival.  It allowed him to take a break from driving and gave us an opportunity to do our favorite past time: listen to great music.  We even had an opportunity to perform for each other by attending the open jam hosted by Blake Shaw at the Wilder in the Graduate Hotel.

with Gary Ruschman at Iowa City Jazz Fest

Jam Session hosted by Blake Shaw, Iowa City Jazz Festival 2024

Gary Ruschman singing at the Jam Session hosted by Blake Shaw, Iowa City Jazz Festival 2024

Iowa City Jazz Festival 2024

I wrapped up May with a show with Tony McGhee and Carl Morton.  I learned a lot of tunes in a short period of time ranging from jazz to soul.  It was a nice afternoon of music.

with Tony McGhee and Carl Morton at the Middlebrook Mercantile

I started the month of June with an unplanned performance with Anne and Dave Ducharme-Jones.  It’s a very similar feeling to not planning a get-together.  The host is so supportive of the local music scene, so I brought my horn with me.  One song turned into all of the songs and I can’t think of a better way to spend an evening.

with Anne and Dave Ducharme-Jones at Ann Flood's

A week later, I had a show in Cedar Rapids, Iowa at the Opus Concert Cafe for First Friday Jazz.  It was wonderful to share Lines + Lineage with a new audience both in-person and across the airwaves.  The first set was broadcast by KCCK 88.3 FM.  I was joined by Seth Hedquist, Scot Sutherland, and Russ Tomlinson.

First Friday Jazz at the Opus Concert Cafe and KCCK 88.3 FM, photo by Ron Gilbert

With nothing on the books the rest of the year, I feel like this is a time to dig in the dirt and see what I find.  I love practicing for the unknown.  With music, there’s never a shortage of things to work on and everything feeds one another.  I’ve been digging into harmony this past month.  I used LogicPro to create Lines + Lineage but I’ve reunited with Ableton Live this past month as I study harmony by recording layers of saxophone.  I’m not sure where any of this is going but I’m alright with that.

home studio

When inspiration is needed, there’s nothing like live music.  I saw a bucket-list band last month: The Mars Volta.  Much like Tool, The Mars Volta is a band that’s always been on my radar, I love everything I hear, but I can’t name every song or every past and present band member.  They did not disappoint.  To hear that caliber of musicianship for two hours of non-stop, epic, prog-rock was beyond inspiring.  The opening band, Teri Gender Bender holds my award for “best opening band ever.”  Great songs, musicianship, presentation, and the mix was perfect.  The show was held at the newly remodeled Val Air Ballroom.

Val Air Ballroom, waiting for The Mars Volta, just blown away by Teri Gender Bender

The Paul Lichty Jazz Orchestra played at Noce to a packed house.  Paul’s banter between songs and his outstanding arrangements and compositions made for a very enjoyable evening.

Paul Lichty Jazz Orchestra at Noce

After the set, we all headed over to Capital City Pride!

Friday night at Pridefest, Des Moines

Yankee Doodle Pops never disappoints: great music and fireworks! Des Moines Symphony, Turner Center Jazz Orchestra, and the Des Moines Youth Jazz Ensemble (featuring two of my students!)

Yankee Doodle Pops 2024

The Iowa City Jazz Festival was full of inspiring performances from a myriad of great musicians.  I finally got to hear Marvin Truong; his tone is even better in-person.  Wayne Page never disappoints and his set proved it.  Ingrid Jenson with the Iowa Women’s Jazz Orchestra was a study in tone, texture, and swing; great charts and outstanding playing by everyone on stage.  As the fireworks were starting, I headed to the jam session with Gary and heard more great music.  Gary said to me at one point, “I don’t know what’s going on in Iowa but the level of musicianship from these young players is outstanding.”  Gary’s right; it’s unreal how well the young players play.  The next morning, after getting Gary on the road to Minneapolis, I drove back to Iowa City for more music.  The Blake Shaw Biggish Band followed by Jackson Churchill and Good Question were outstanding.  The compositions, the arrangements, the solos, everything…just so good.

The Blake Shaw Biggish Band

Jackson Churchill and Good Question, Iowa City Jazz Festival

Ingrid Jenson and the Iowa Women's Jazz Orchestra, Iowa City Jazz Festival

Marvin Truong, saxophone, Iowa City Jazz Festival

My other source of inspiration comes from reading.  I like understanding people both socially and psychologically.  The book that took the most time to read this past year was David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.  Clocking in at 1000 plus pages with footnotes that are a chapter unto themselves and my personal favorite; a footnote for a footnote.  Page after page of more words.  I would say to my friends; “Imagine writing a book using every word in your vocabulary…every word.”  I made every effort to not read about the book before reading the book.  I didn’t want to know what the critics thought.  Once I finished, I read the forward and all of the press review highlights.  I wasn’t far off in my own thoughts from that of the critics.  I will say that the book had a positive effect on me because I find that I think in details more than before.  In some ways, the book encompasses the Information Age by being this monstrosity of a book packed with details but I think with all of the information around us, we sometimes become shallow.  For example, we speak in emoji’s, we shorten words, we consume bite-size portions of media.  Invite Jest is the opposite of shortening anything.

The book I just finished was Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens.  One of the most interesting books I’ve ever read.  The book is a history of humans.  Specifically, Homo Sapiens.  He asks the question Why? and does a great job answering it.  Reading it brought down my stress level.  When you understand that humans do human things and that we’ve always done these things, the current rhetoric and nonsense makes more sense.

My third source of inspiration is found in cooking.  Much like music, cooking is about experience, mistakes, and patience.  I’m not going to list everything I’ve cooked but I will share two things I’m happy about.  I’ve always wanted to make limoncello.  I like simple recipes that only require patience.  After I peeled the lemons for the limoncello, I made what I think might have been the best lemonade I’ve ever had.

Limoncello, lemon rind soaking in vodka

And with the rest of the lemons, the best lemonade I've ever made.

Now that we’ve lived in our house for four years, it seems time for a grill to enter our lives.  I didn’t mess around.  I got a big one.  All I have to say is that I’ll never cook inside again.

My cooking face

My fourth source of inspiration: movies.  I won’t list everything I’ve seen but I will tell you there is a wonderful theatre within walking distance of our home: The Varsity Cinema.  I’ve always known that there are two theaters inside but I had never seen a film in the upstairs theatre until we saw I Saw the TV Glow.  The film was great and it felt very now.  It was nice to watch it in a room that only holds 32 people.

From the 2nd floor of the Varsity Cinema looking out on the Drake campus

The past month, I've taken it easy on social media. I don't need to clutter the airwaves and I don't always need to consume. I'd like to think that I could do something like this every month; share a little bit in one blog post.

I hope your summer is filled with plans and suprises, good food and great music, books and movies. Take care of yourself and each other.


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