In one of life’s whimsical coincidences, I grew up on Art Street. It was a nearly perfect childhood, with an artistic father and brother and a Jewish Italian mother whose laughter could wake neighbors one street over.
I connected with music early. My father, whose one-man company serviced jukeboxes in bars, would bring home the latest 45's for my brother and me to hear. I remember romping around our San Diego house, air-drumming wildly to the latest Beatles or Marty Robbins or Beach Boys tune, and from then on I couldn't get enough.
When I was nine, I was placed in an experimental electronics class. After setting fire to an entire wall-- details available upon request, but I swear it was an accident--I was dropped off at the only other class with an opening: beginner's piano. Apparently I impressed the teacher, because she called my parents and urged them to buy a piano. Amazingly, my folks bought a piano within a week. For 9 months I took lessons--most notably from kindly old Mrs. Foote, who would sit stroking her pet Pekinese while she sobbed softly as I played--but I didn't have the discipline to stick with notes on the page. I was already writing songs and picking things off the radio by ear, something none of my teachers encouraged. So I quit taking lessons and decided to teach myself.
Around the same time, local San Diego bandleader Richard Braun did a school assembly and demonstrated his abilities on drums, piano, bassoon, violin, trumpet and bass. From that moment on I assumed that being a 'good musician' meant being able to play every instrument in the band. My brother Andy was already a good rock drummer, so I practiced on his set until I saved up enough to buy my own. Soon after, various guitars and basses and organs followed.
As a teen, though, drums were my big passion. I had played with several rock bands by the time I was 12, when a young Nathan East approached me to ask if I could do a gig with his jazz band. Not knowing the first thing about jazz (although I loved Ahmad Jamal's version of Poinciana) I was about to turn it down when he told me the gig paid $10, and I suddenly found time in my busy schedule.
The very next day I found myself sitting in a room with four talented young jazz musicians: Nathan, Carl Evans Jr., Hollis Gentry III, and Casper Glenn. I set up my drums and awaited instructions. Instead, Hollis called out a Pharaoh Sanders tune and started to count it in! I yelled "Wait! What am I supposed to play?" With a sly grin, Hollis told me "Hey, this is jazz. All you have to do is play what you feel." That one cryptic/funky comment probably kickstarted puberty for me, and I jumped into a life-long love affair with jazz, an artform so filled with mystery that every attempt to define what it is usually ends up illustrating what it is not.
At 14 I discovered Synanon, an experimental community that was set up to help people in trouble with drugs. I decided I would do whatever it took to help the organization out, as I was simply blown away by the personal transformations I witnessed. I'd ride my bike down to Hillcrest every day after school and mop the floors, talk to worried parents, and anything else that was needed. Synanon was an extremely creative community - of course, lots of musicians and artists seem to have trouble with drugs, but the non-addicts, or "squares" who were there were also extremely interesting. By the time I had turned 18, I had some scholarships to study music at CalState Northridge, but my heart was really set on moving into the Synanon community, and one day teaching music to the kids in the Synanon school system.
This is where I clearly hit the jackpot: trombone legend Frank Rehak (Miles, Trane and many others) had come to Synanon to clean up from his heroin addiction for the last time. Even as a junkie, Frank had been well-loved both as a musician and as a man. Once he got healthy, he married and had settled into a career of teaching and performing at Synanon. He and I hit it off right away, and I am eternally grateful to Frank for taking me under his wing. For 15 years, he was my mentor and good friend.
Frank was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1984 and was given 3 months to live. 3 mostly wonderful years later, we recorded our final performance together. He died 6 months later. The song we recorded, The Man With The Horn, appears on my album "Plays Well With Others." Click here to hear a Real Audio sample of Frank and me on "The Man With The Horn".
The Synanon experience was extremely rich for me. I made friends with people whose lives would otherwise never have intersected with mine, because we were committed to breaking down alienation. It was a timely lesson for me, seeing how much such diverse people actually have in common. I had always wanted to change the world-- that’s what it said in my high school yearbook-- and in some small way I've actually had a chance to try. In fact, I’m still trying.
Throughout the 20 years I spent with Synanon, I always felt like I was beating the system. We didn't have any money to speak of, but our resources were pooled so we all lived pretty well. I didn’t own a lot of material possessions, and sometimes I miss that aspect more than anything else. Instead of filling our lives up with common everyday tasks like getting your car serviced or paying the bills, we placed a lot of emphasis on the grace notes of life, you might say-- working on personal relationships, "big picture" brainstorming, entertaining, and our own version of "the arts." It was not a perfect community, but it would be an understatement to say that I had a grand time and a great education. And I also met Glenda Alice Garrett. Together we formed a romantic partnership that changed us both forever, I believe.
Over the years, I got into creative marketing and advertising through AdGap, originally one of Synanon's fundraising businesses. In 1989, Glenda and I teamed up to create some fairly hip work for the pharmaceutical products division of Abbott Laboratories, and ended up spending a decade working with many terrific people there. I will always be grateful to the folks at Abbott who placed their trust in us, and pushed us to new creative heights every year.
As the '90s approached, Synanon shut its doors. AdGap was standing on its own, and Glenda and I finally entered mainstream society. ("You mean to say that if our refrigerator breaks down, we can’t just call Maintenance and have them drop off a new one? And we have to pay these all these bills EVERY MONTH?") We settled into a life of music, marketing work, and raising basset hounds and the highly-recommended beagle/basset cross.
March of 1999 found us returning to the scene of the crime: San Diego. My dad had passed away, and it was time to help Mom more than we could from such a long distance. Shortly after my mom died, my brother Andy and his longtime love Dagmar got married and moved into our old house on Art Street, one of the happiest events of the last couple of decades for me.
In 2003, Glenda and I ventured to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico where our old friend Mayer Shacter was building a new house. It was love at first sight, wandering around the amazing arts-oriented town. Within 9 months we owned a home there. Fast forward to 2011 and we'd successfully battled breast cancer, built a dream casa and recording studio high on a hill just outside of town...and now we are separated. We are trying to remain friends. San Miguel is a wonderful small pond, which enabled me to present a lot of musical work in various venues without too much muss and fuss. But it was more than that--I was inspired by the energy and attitude of a community, and I believe this drove me to create some of my best work.
And now, I am trying to continue this creative winning streak, with a new relationship with Rossario Otero and a geographical move/upheaval--I'm updating this from beautiful San Pancho, Nayarit, about an hour north and a world away from Puerto Vallarta.
And speaking of music, it's been flowing nonstop! I've produced a lot of albums, and I've played a lot of concerts, but I try hard to not repeat myself artistically. I've been fortunate to work with outstanding musicians no matter where I've landed: in Synanon, it was usually Frank Rehak, David Scott, Ken Elias, Doug Hurt, Wendell Stamps, Doug Hurt, Buzz Feiton and Bruce Gilbert, among others. In Visalia, it was Don Boomer, Byron Hori, Bill Nusbaum, John Taylor and Fritz Carney. In San Diego, I played and recorded with brother Andy, Tripp and Peter Sprague, Henry Austin, Duncan Moore, and Ken Dow. In Mexico, I've shared the stage with Marcia Ball, Don Grusin, Jimmy Dillon and also local greats Ken Basman, Victor Monterrubio, Ken Bichel, Tim Hazell, Stephen O' Connor and other excellent players. In terms of recording, my first few albums were basically one-man band projects. But beginning in 1997, I started going into the studio with bands that would push me to a higher level as a player, including Mike Stern, John Patitucci, George Young, Peter Erskine, Bob Sheppard and the late great Dave Carpenter.
Along the way, I've discovered that I enjoy producing talented artists whose work I feel deserves wider recognition, and so I've found time to make CDs with Andy Robinson, Bruce Gilbert, Michelle Abby, Whitney Moore and others. Throw in some cool side projects: composing the soundtrack for Lost Lake, a feature film by our friends Anthony and Christian Adams; musical-directing Love In: A Musical Celebration of the Summer of Love, featuring Ben Vereen, Eric Johnson, Jesse Colin Young, Peter and Gordon, Buddy Miles, Vince Martell, and Strawberry Alarm Clock; scoring a 28 minute DVD featuring the paintings of Juan Ezcurdia; two years of co-producing the Festival Internacional de Jazz y Blues in San Miguel de Allende; and my duo gigs with buddy and amazing guitarist Ken Basman, and you have a little overview of what I've been up to musically.
One other thing you might find interesting: back in the '90s, Glenda and I started getting requests to use various Doug Robinson recordings as branded corporate giveaways. The numbers were pretty staggering for jazz releases. By the third CD order, I decided to include music from other musicians who I thought deserved wider recognition. This led to the creation of a new one-and-a-half-man division of AdGap, the goal of which was to gently persuade corporate America into using original music from independent artists as business gifts, instead of more common fare like imprinted caps and mugs. In this capacity, I've been able to promote the music of friends and role models such as Peter Erskine, Fred Simon, Rob Mounsey, Don Grusin, Peter Sprague, Wayne Johnson, and Michelle Abby.
That's the story--I could go on and on about the procession of amazing dogs who have come to live with us over the years, but the photo gallery will do a much better job of showing you why I find myself laughing out loud most days.
I offer my thanks for visiting and hope that you will enjoy the music here at the site. I write it for myself, but I record it for you so please take a moment to listen when you can.
All the best,