All posts by Wendi Loomis

Dancing on the edge of dreams & blowing my horn to the wind while living & loving the live entertainment.

Stealing time

Rather than taking a break and going for a walk, I’m stealing a few moments of high speed computer time to blog before I turn the computer off for a while. I mean like…maybe two whole days or even more. I might just go for a long drive instead of staring at a screen, look farther down the road. Maybe then I’ll be able to see which way I’m going.

I’ve been balancing other people’s budgets while neglecting my own. I’ve been promoting other people’s events while taking the odd hours of the day to prepare my own upcoming shows. Today I had a call from someone at 8 a.m., who does not pay me a salary, telling me to pull the interview from tomorrow’s paper, without even reading the article. Fortunately, a few hours later my actual salary paying boss had cleared the matter up and the article was run. But, I realized that besides the average of three people who I am dependent on each week to hand me the money that pays my bills, it seems there are more and more people who feel they are responsible for telling me what to do.

It’s wearing me out. It’s time for me to cut ties and fly until I can get enough air of my own to breath. Maybe then I can sort out the good advice from the garbage and see the pathway that will lead out of the rut some folks wish to put me in for their own convenience. I know that 50 a hours a week in front of the computer does not allow me to be a happy person and after one year of it, it’s time for something to change…and fast.

Okay, back to finishing up the last details that will allow me to shut off the internet and steal some time in the real world.

The push & pull of it all

It’s Sunday night and I’m worn out from a full weekend of artistic events and communication. The autumn breezes are stirring everybody up and I find it hard to keep focus through the frenzy of politics and personal drama reaching my ears.

It seems as though I get pulled to help everybody but myself. It was a pleasure for a couple of hours last night to sit and simply listen to amazing music by Frank Vignola & his Rhythm Machine. I should say phenomenal. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a standing ovation in the middle of a first set before. After meeting and greeting everybody while valet parking, it was restful to hide by myself in the back of the theatre.

However, I couldn’t help but wonder what it might be like to watch such a show in the company of someone who would simply sit and appreciate it with you. Perhaps it was being offered a free ticket for a companion and despite my efforts to contact folks who would enjoy the music, there was no one to use it.

So many times I go to these events without ever thinking about trying to bring someone with me. It is work for me. I talk community business at intermission, or get pulled from looking through a gallery opening for an idea about an article that someone needs me to write to promote the next big thing. I rarely make plans with other people because I’m always thinking about work. Even just watching a show is educational for me and inspires me to the next thing to practice. I end up running away to Asheville to hide without a plan, just hoping to see a friendly face that doesn’t need something from me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to be needed and feel valuable to my community, but sometimes the push and pull of it all gets to me.

I feel like everyone I know is under strain right now with the pending election and the state of the economy. I believe the arts are necessary to help us learn and grow together. Long ago I learned to diversify my income sources. Yet the push and pull of it all reminds me that my only true investment is myself. I can only hope that one day my “sole proprietorship” becomes a “partnership” that lifts and supports us both in this crazy business of living.

Frank Vignola

I just had the pleasure of interviewing the amazing jazz guitarist Frank Vignola before he arrives for a show here in Tryon, NC on October 18. I am in utter awe. Here’s the video link he sent when I mentioned learning to play clarinet.

I mentioned some of the folks playing for our gig earlier in the day (Dan Petrella who he met years ago in Detroit, Tuba player Henry Westmoreland, piano player Reese Gray) and he said “bring instruments and we’ll jam in the second set.” I said I didn’t know if they’d have a piano set up and he said “I was thinking of the clarinet.” I think I have some practicing to do before then.

The Art Deco Review

Last night was the first Russ Wilson Art Deco Review at Eleven on Grove in Asheville. For me, it was my first real opportunity to play with an Asheville audience doing something other than Poetry Alive! For a moment, I felt intimidated when I looked at the band’s “script” for the show that just had my name in capital letters between every act. I knew what my “bits” were though and had mapped out where I needed to be and what I would be doing for each one and focused on that instead. By the third time I interrupted Russ I had the audience heckling Russ on my behalf and I knew it was working.

By the time I sang with the band, even though I only had two friends hiding in that audience and doubt any of them had ever seen me on stage, I had them cheering for me more than any “star” that performed that evening. There is something terribly addictive about winning over an audience and getting them laughing with you and cheering you on.

As if that wasn’t special enough, I got a big smile and thumbs up from the local jazz diva (retired Chicago music teacher/jazz pianist/community chorus director) I admire most at the library show the Dixie Rhythm Aces played earlier in the day.

Funny, there’s one musician I’ve been trying to prove myself to for years. When I release all that work and energy to the rest of the world I get more back than one heart could ever return.

Do I really need another blog?

A friend recommended wordpress.com and I must admit it’s fairly easy to work with. I have a blog at www.jazzandpoetry.com but recently that has become a “professional” blog with all the articles I write for the Tryon Daily Bulletin. This experiment is still a fledgling and has just a few posts from myDancers of all ages enjoy the Firecracker Jazz Band myspace/facebook blog/notes. While in some ways it seems silly to start yet another blog, I’ve been writing notes to the world since 1997 and it’s hard to give up that personal yet public blog time. I don’t know who my audience is and therefore have the freedom to write what seems appropriate at the time. Enjoy the blurbs culled from other places or visit the articles listed over at www.jazzandpoetry.com or read a few of the blogs I enjoy by friends from different points in my life. (Well okay, I’ve never met Neil Gaiman, but Sam Lovelace has and I keep reading what he writes – comic books, novels, short stories, blogs – and hoping to someday grow up and be kinda like him…but different.)

Check back and see what happens here. I may even announce posts through twitter. Haven’t decided yet.

what you need to hear

It’s 12:30ish on July 16, 2008 and I should either be sleeping or writing an article about what to do this weekend in the county where I live. Some of you live here, most of you do not, but if you’re reading this then this is for you.

You are an amazing person. Life is short and I hope you are enjoying every minute of it.

Over the next five days I will spend the majority of my energy giving eight performances in three different venues in hope that those people who share that time with me will feel refreshed and joyful from that experience.

Five of those performances will be playing the “soundtrack” for a group of children who have worked their butts off this summer to put together a production of C.S. Lewis’s “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” Behind these kids are an amazing team of “big kids” who have donated their time to this effort. Sam Lovelace has done an amazing job creating the visual world of Narnia. Marianne Carruth has wrangled these kids into intelligent three dimensional characters. More parents than I can name have spent countless hours painting sets, sewing costumes, painting faces, and whatever else needs to be done to help these kids shine like the stars they are on stage. I’m just the girl in the balcony surrounded by instruments adding the aural glue to fill in the remaining spaces. If you have time and are close by, stop by to see what a magical experience this community has created.

Tomorrow night after the matinee I’ll have the chance to sing my heart out and fiddle on the clarinet with Joanne Domka on her sweet smooth trumpet and Dan Petrella on his tender lovingly self-made plectrum banjo while folks enjoy the exquisite drinks, dinner, and desserts crafted by the talented chefs Steve & Ally Landon at Persimmons Bistro. (apologies to those poetic folks who find that sentence too dense for literature…but it is late and I am tired) Join us if you can. I plan to have fun and would love to see you having fun too.


The music will be turned up a notch on Friday when we add tuba, piano, and amplification to the mix at Rogers Park in Tryon. We’re opening for the dashing Russ Wilson and his exquisite Nouveau-Passe Orchestra who will continue with the joyful jazz after I head back to the kids at the theatre. I can’t even begin to explain how exciting this mix will be for me. Please feel free to heckle me since my favorite hecklers Ciro and Thomas are too far away add their spark to the evening.

As for you who are reading this and wondering what it all has to do with you….
Spread your joy where ever you can this week. I love you because there is something you do, that only you can do. Share that with others as much as you can. If you need some inspiration and are too far away to see me in person, check out what my other friends are doing.

I just had an wonderful visit with the current line-up of the Asylum Street Spankers. Find out when they are coming to you and catch their show. The lovely and dashing Henry (aka Dr. Crisp) stopped by to share his talent as well before heading off this week for a fresh line up of shows with the Squirrel Nut Zippers. Catch them if you can. I know I’m jonesing for some Firecracker maddness and Mad Tea Party rockabilliness or even some poetic juice from all of you amazing slam poets out there in this world. (I’ll start getting into trouble if I try to name too many names, but I’m talking about you in case you’re wondering.)

Get out there and do your thing…enjoy someone else doing their thing…and live life for all the joy there is this weekend. You deserve it.

On vacation at the Sacramento Jazz Festival with Firecrackers

Anybody who’s met me knows that I have a bit of an affection, affliction, or just plain addiction to jazz. So it only makes sense that when I finally wrangle myself a vacation it includes some sort of music. This particular grand adventure may have seemed sudden to some, but was actually years in the making. For now, let’s say it started when my roommate in Tryon got a call from an old Squirrel Nut Zippers band mate asking for help with a Dixieland gig. That first gig was so much fun they sought out a weekly venue and found a home at Thibodeaux’s in Asheville. Now, five years later after solidifying the band line up Firecracker Jazz Band has appeared here in Tryon at Rogers Park in addition to a wide variety of weddings and venues around western North Carolina and as far north as Rhode Island. This year they finally earned their ticket west, to not just another smoky bar, but to two of the largest festivals on the west coast for Traditional and Dixieland jazz. I had to at least catch one of the festivals and see how they matched up to the “big shots” of the jazz business. I chose the bigger one.

Knowing I was biased about their abilities, I brought along an old friend who had never heard them, but was well versed in the genre and excited about the music at the festival. From the first gig she was amazed at their energy and raw talent. Throughout the weekend we saw many of the “big shots” of the style, yet she still wanted to catch as many of their shows as possible.

While I was there to support my friends, it was also a chance to hear and meet and talk with vocalists and reed players who are virtuosos in traditional jazz.

One of the highlights was meeting soprano sax player George Probert. The last surviving member of Firehouse Five (plus two) and former musical director for Disney, Mr. Probert was responsible for helping to revive and educate a new generation in a form that might have otherwise faded from public view in the fifties with the advent of rock and roll.

The most memorable moments of expanding my understanding came hearing the technical brilliance of vocalist Becky Kilgore with her “favorite piano player” John Sheridan (formerly of the Jim Cullum Jazz Band) in a cabaret duo setting. She chose Irving Berlin as her focus and brought to life not just the popular favorites like “Cheek to Cheek,” but also dusted off some hidden gems like “The Best Thing for You is Me.” It was like a dream listening to a vocalist and pianist so skilled at their craft and in tune with each other musically.

Other notable mentions from the festival include the sultry Vivian Lee, the elegant and refined Brady McKay with Parlor Jam, the lively Night Blooming Jazzmen with showman Bob Draga, and the high energy performance of Cornet Chop Suey. The young blonde bombshell Bria Skonberg stole many hearts with her exquisite trumpet and vocals not only with her own band Mighty Aphrodite, but also sitting in with various bands throughout the festival. All of these shows were the “complete package” for their style and technically brilliant. There were also several “All Star” jams that gave a taste of what the top players of the festival could do when thrown together on stage for an hour. In one such performance, John Sheridan’s brilliance as a pianist was brought to light when the band cleared the stage for him to play Bolcolm’s Graceful Ghost Rag.

As for my friends, they not only drew the crowds to their shows as the word flew around the festival about this new band, but connected with other musicians like saxophonist Kelland Thomas of Tuscon’s Original Wildcat Jazz Band and pianist Paul Reid of Cornet Chop Suey who sat in on a couple their shows.
As Reese Gray shared the bench with Paul Reid one morning with a broad smile on his face he exclaimed into the mic “I didn’t know class started so early!” At the other end of the day Reese, his drumming brother Mike, and banjo player Jason Krekel of Firecracker were invited to sit in with Mighty Aphrodite at the end of their last set and brought the crowd to their feet with the raw excitement of so many talent young players on stage. They will take that energy with them on tour this summer and are sure to bring a power packed show when they return to Rogers Park in August for the Summer Tracks series.

By sheer dumb luck I befriended one of the guest stars Allan Vaché whose skill on the clarinet allows him the flexibility to play with the smooth beauty of Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw while still managing to get “down and dirty” like Johnny Dodds on the hot jazz numbers. Born into a family of musicians that includes his father Warren Vaché a world renowned bassist and brother Warren Vaché, Jr. who is known for cornet and flugelhorn he grew up with the opportunity to study and play with some of the greatest players in the genre. From 1975-1992 he was a member of the Jim Cullum Jazz Band of San Antonio, but has now made a career freelance as a world traveler on the festival circuit. Our conversations throughout the weekend illuminated some of the maze of the business of playing jazz professionally. Listening to him play was inspiring, but he also encouraged me to take what I was hearing and apply it myself.

It was this exchange that got me excited about the possibilities of the Nina Simone Jazz Festival here in Tryon. How amazing to have the chance to bring in musicians like Rebecca Kilgore and Allan Vaché who not only share their talents from the stage, but offer help and advice to younger artists.

If I forget about the fear of dying

If I forget about the fear of dying, there is nothing left to do, but enjoy each moment as it appears. Sometimes it is necessary to stumble and fall in order to stop and ask, “Where am I going?” It is the bumps in the road that renew our strength to continue the journey with purpose. The people most entertaining to us are not those who live life perfectly. We learn from watching others make the mistakes we are too afraid to attempt ourselves.

The hero of the story is always innocent in the beginning. We are all the heroes of our own story. Each of us begins with innocence and then experience teaches us caution and wariness. The heroes that inspire me are the people I’ve met in my life whose light outshines the trials they have overcome.

I threw off the idea as an adolescent that somewhere out in the world Disney’s prince charming was waiting to swoop in and rescue me. I wanted to be the hero of my own story. The daring princess who escapes the tower on the back of the dragon set to guard her by the witch. Yet rather than taking revenge and burning down the castle that held me prisoner, I’d rather work to transform its purpose. In order to make that happen, I need help from people with skills I don’t possess.

After more solitary years than most people would ever imagine surviving, I am just beginning to learn how to live with other people without fearing they will do everything possible to shame and embarrass me into submission. While all my working life has been spent in performance jobs where I am paid to be entertaining, I am not someone’s “performance pet.” I do not belong to one person or company who tells me what to do, but have struggled to maintain my freedom to choose where to share my talents and survive that way. Now I am faced with the challenge that in order to reach my next set of goals, I will need to work in partnership with at least one other person again. Ciro and I managed four years of travel on the road, but this new project involves a different skill set and different talents. (Yet, I can’t help missing Ciro’s rock steady driving skills and organization that allowed me to relax while travelling.) It’s been seven years since he chose a different path, and I’ve spent the time learning and growing and preparing for something new. The question is…when will it finally be time to start the adventure? If I forget about the fear of dying, there is all the time in the world, yet my feet are itching in this spring weather to get moving. I’m still learning patience.

My name means “to try to hold together,” and that seems my best purpose. Whether through writing or acting or music or simply listening, the whirlwind of my soul wishes for life to move harmoniously.