Gregg Karukas started this whole dream of blissful romance and a peaceful partnered partnership. It’s something I’ve been chasing around my brain for a few years. I was about 20 years old and just getting a compass bearing on my life’s purpose and what role smooth jazz would play in it. A few days ago when I picked up Gregg’s new CD “Blue Touch”, the whole thing transported me to the 180 side of the 360 a rear view mirror’s vision gives you.
Time began in me about 200 miles out on the Caribbean Sea. The first cut from the album “Blue Touch” reminded me of that one moonlit and calm night floating with a few of my friends on the Coast Guard Cutter “Seahawk”. I sat beside myself with a cassette tape I had purchased somewhere along that way and fell into deep thought accompanied by a group Karukas. I didn’t know who Karukas was, name, number nor group, let alone who I was, my direction nor cause. The few things I do remember about that time was realizing that I had never been in love before and just how much a romantic I might be if given the opportunity. Hearing “Blue Touch” and those familiar rides, riffs and rhythms of Gregg Karukas tickled the tips of my synapses; the tips where the old roots begin.
Back then, the subtle roll of the Seahawk, the soft, warm tropical breeze and this group or guy named Karukas coaxed me into a self-reality helped along by long shimmering moonbeams reflecting their dance on the water. The quiet din of the ship’s diesel generators at 3:12 in the morning and Gregg’s plinking piano reverberating off infinity was life made good. I was young, dumb and full of ….. You fill in the rhyme. I’ll keep the time.
Now living the forward 180 of the 360, I’ve found my path in life, my reason, my song. I found out why I’m the romantic love calls me to be and I found that one love I saw dolphin dancing those many years ago. I also found out who this guy named Karukas was.
Back in the 80’s, Gregg Karukas was also getting his feet wet with life. 1984 was way before his Rippington’s stint. Gregg hails from the metro DC area, a place we here in the States call “outside the beltway”. He worked with a group called East Coast Offerings then moved to LA in where he put the piano skills learned at 17 to work. He created his first solo album in 1987 entitled “Nightowl” and it was this album that brought the how and why to Gregg and I. Gregg’s “Blue Touch” CD is a perfect reintroduction for us, myself to you, and how I revisited that dreamed of romantic love on my honeymoon to Niagara Falls, Canada.
More introductions. After having just graduated… again, my “Pops” helped me get a hold of a rat. Not a bad rat mind you, “The Rat”, as its reputation has earned it’s naming, is my 95 Honda Civic. Money green, 5 speed ladle in the floor, “tricked” VTEC engine, hole in the head (sunroof), and a freshly Pioneered stereo system which when mated with a trip through the heart of Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Mountains, make just what the doctor ordered after a 3 year stint in a Chevy pickup. My “rat” and “D’s” “cat” (my wife,her Cougar) can oftentimes be seen chasing each other around town like the two of us after a run through the evening lawn sprinkler.
Still with me? OK, allow me to back track a bit. Back to those moonlit nights cruising the Caribbean Sea. Track two, “Azure Dreaming” conjures up those soulful but solitarily beautiful nights aboard the Cutter Seahawk and drifting on the deep azure blue waters of the Gulf Stream. There, I would wonder what it would be like to be married and honeymooning with a love not yet found and gaze upon a sky full of unseen stars. I had envisioned the Falls of Niagara and how perfectly powerful a walk along its cliffs and cataracts would be if holding a hand and feeling it’s heartbeat. For real yall! That’s the first place the cassette Nightowl (pre-CD era) and Gregg Karukas took my mind’s eye those many years ago and now I’m taking this vibe and that dream to my dreamsite.
Deanna and I began to settle into our first time through listen to while running the beltway around the D.C. area Gregg calls home. While listening to Gregg and Peter trade eights, Luis Conte pumps the rat’s new Pioneer to trademark the taps of John Lewis. Gregg and Peter cross-talk the momentum through its first phrase and we were off on a cruise controlled by jazz’s precession through space and time. I found myself daydreaming about how much I loved Deanna and my gladness of what was to come in about 500 miles in the future.
Gear in five, traffic flowing with the music, and giving lady Deanna’s left leg the massage Ms. Johnson is commercialized as waiting for, my baby and I are nodding our heads in syncopated appreciation of this dream’s tenor tenure and groove. The synth bass Gregg grinds in rumbles the tens on top of the trunk while traffic slows down to 70. Deanna relaxes down also and Gregg and Peter start their conversation again and the long arm of Mr. Miles Per Hour swings further past the 90 degree mark. Floatin’! Freedom! I-95 North the U.S. Interstate way!
The three track of Gregg’s “Blue Touch” is aptly named. “Crusin’ Your House at Midnite” is fresh, funky and “Rat” ready. This sports car I got now is much like the one I had back in the early 90 days when Deanna and I were first messing around and doing the corner cut and tree duck in a effort not to get caught. Following in my draft? “Crusin’” would have fit well with my late night drives by her sister’s house, hoping to get Deanna’s attention with the help of a woffer or two and not her husband’s. Hey… Joan Rivers asks “Can we talk” so why not us, right? OK…
Dee’s E.O.M (ex-old man) was in the Navy and known for slipping in and out of town unannounced and decidedly unjazzy-like. (Navy… Coast Guard… You still with me?) To circumvent this, we would tiptoe around town so far up on tarsal that the sounds coming from our feet were much like the cymbals and wood blocks “clucks” of drum programming Gregg pried onto this private party. Those past days past and gone like the waterfall then waa-waa of Michael O’Neill electric guitar, the only tiptoeing done between Deanna and I are in the “rat” in and around in this D.C. traffic.
Bose bouncing, today’s ‘cruise’ called track #3 begins with Gregg’s opposing Yamahas trying this spot and that to see where they can “get their groove on”. One on “the riff”, background checking, and the other piano politely poking for the right key. Kickin’ with the kicker Gregg and our Pioneer are providing, the “rat” and this button under my right foot match moves like Exlax after a 5 hotdogs with slaw pit stop. All the way from the north state of Carolina, me and the rat patted foot and paw patiently, waiting until we got a hold of some “lap traffic” and a rhythm track like Karukas is crusing on this track. Running north like Castro after Elian, we make I-95 our “Club Havana”.
Right then, as track four comes into “traffic play” and with cars stacked 4 wide and 10 deep, all of us running 80, maybe 85, me and the rat ‘got it goin’ on’ now. The fourth track, “Club Havana” which features Eric Marienthal on sax and Gregg’s Yamaha tuned to vibe, could not be more appropriate for pulling this whole highway freight train of human cargo down the line. Coming on strong, each driver tediously tending the reins of their particular thoroughbred or pachyderm, we roll across Maryland foothills like the pack on the gettie-up side of the Charlotte Motor Speedway! Those of you on the other side of Atlantic’s deep blue have your driving rules, roles and routines on the Autobahn and the like, but us over here, we run bumper to bumper like Mark Martin and the rest of the NASCAR boys out for the Cup on this Sunday’s NASCAR drive! One mistake and you’re crossed up and history. Guardrail garbage! Get out of the draft and our “Club Havana” will blow you to the back of the pack, hoping you’ll get a break back to our front draft.
I push the rat’s nose to the fore, trying to out sniff this BMW beside me and all of a sudden, I notice the rear end of the U. S. Mail semi truck running the center lane calling for more and more attention over the bounce of the bass line. Me and Mr. Motor Works drop to the gear of four, punch it then split like the trumpet and trombone stabs of Fowler and Lane. We divide the huge, smoke belching proposition into lefts and rights just as Gregg’s vibe hits its high note! Adios Amigo!
20 miles later and my pulse a little slower, the next track rides repeat and my mind flies away again. I remember our wedding day. Deanna was full of the normal trepidation and fright that one encounters facing this sort of forward-view mirror. I? I honestly felt the best I ever had in life. As the Aussies say, “No worries mate”. I knew that this was the beginning of dreams, of dreams dreamed for one for more years than you know; waking and asking for forever to follow. I love this girl Deanna see. She takes all the cares of the world and toss’ them over the brink. The brink of the fall. That out of control fall few figure out. Is falling in love an out of control action? Must be!? We gain control by giving up control. Mmmm.
Actions speak louder than words. Words fly away but it's the actions that always calls the remembrance. We all remember how it was to fall. Like kids on the skate, we all fall for the one that brings us to the brink. The same brink where I lost my forever and gained, gained like the speed of loves rapids rapidly moving me toward her, pushing me over that brink of not alone anymore and happy to just be a being trying to become human and feel that fall while thinking of you my Deanna. I love the fall and being a being out of control for love. You help me gather the strength to turn electric wheels and spark an existence of togetherness like the songs from my heart and soul. Thank you for jazz loving me.
This love song “Fly Away” was the curtain call for the Allegheny Mountains too. Climbing up from the Susquehanna River Valley above Harrisburg Pa., track five, accentuated my love for Deanna. Gregg Karukas followed the beautifully colored backdrop of the rolling mounds of earth dough where his Yamaha piano took center stage. Talk about Maslow’s “peak experiences”! The heirachy of where my head and heart where was becoming confusing. Having to "handle up" on this goat path of a back road kept me honest though. I grew up in these mountains and knew how one turn up here usually deserves a sharp other. Rubbing the soft curves of Ms. Deanna’s bucket of chicken (“I’ll take the legs and thighs please”), my mind’s eye winks at the vistas like an old friend. Turn after turn, phrase after phrase, “Fly Away (Thinking of You)”, is the sugar in your coffee, the tea with your crumpets, your morning hello to the world.
The sun finally creeping, sneaking its arms of ray shine through the cracks in the earth and clouds, my mind says “Can’t believe” and coaxes my grin to come full on. Yea Gregg. You’ve flown me back from the past and straight into the future. This is the future I saw reflections of looking over the gunwale of the Cutter Seahawk those so many years ago. This was the love, the direction, the goal of the stars. This is living! Soft and tenderly. Our initials the same, it’s a DGP thing live and in full effect! Deanna pulls out the time transfer devise and snapped the accompanying pictures from here out.
Fly away is Gregg’s first chance to back lit bar and smoke filled room. Luis pushed percussion and the rest is up to the musical staffs and bars bouncing from the black and flipped lid of a piano on stage. Nightowl studios saying “woo”, “woo”.
The ride getting long, a bit sassy, brass full of ass, I had to clear up “one of those statements”. I’m talking to my baby and after a couple of reruns and replay, ole “Snakey Shoes” tips in his hat and pulls into the conversation. “Can we Talk?”
Life has it’s own built in detours and traffic interruptions. It’s the way to progress and man was made to be uncomfortable. Dissonance from the bandstand will make anyone uncomfortable after a few key changes. It’s supposed to! Sitting on the two lane of life, we have to wait for the stop light to change, the pedestrians to cross and the bumpers to move away. Wanting one’s way on a two lane street isn’t asking anything of either direction. A give and take of drivers is the smoothest way to get around these small towns on the hills of Pennsylvania. Every house along the way flying a flag for Memorial Day, there are symbols for speech everywhere. Stop, go, yield, trucks entering highway! All the road signs have their own painted pictures, colors and shapes. We read the road for tell-tell signs of what’s to come and that’s uncomfortable and time consuming. We have to slow down to see, stop to feel and signal our turns before we can trust what’s around the next corner and trust is uncomfortable. We must remain open-eyed and brained, and honest enough to gather additional information about the road conditions ahead. We must turn on our headlights to see through the fog and rain, keep off the gas to keep from sliding and never panic and hit the brakes. We do all this because this is a two-way street. There are construction crews on the berm, cars entering and exiting our direction of travel and ole Snakey Shoes is just waiting to push you off the road. Snakey Shoes will do a 4/4 on you if you give him the break and a couple of bars of life to get warmed up with.
Track six has a 40’s style swing style to it with Boney James phoning in on the lead sax while Brandon Fields back him up. Will Kennedy sets the skins in action to mark ‘Snakey Shoes’ entrance groove. Gregg ragtime plinks his piano from time to time. Jazz is a feeling, an emotion of sorts. This tune, Snakey Shoes is like the feeling you get when beating out the tune of rebuke. A bluesy swing movement toward the chin, knocking out any form of fear, failure or fretfulness. Snakey Shoes is a lowdown and dirty dialect of the soul of jazz. Grab a good footing baby, tie your strings up tight. Snakey Shoes is around. Back from the days of high-roof cars, Zoot Suits and floppy hats. Snakey Shoes will always be so be prepared. Swing Gregg!
A long time ago Deanna and I decided we loved each other. Those things unspoken kept repeating the recorded message of forever in our hearts. The ten years apart, we spent searching ourselves and the life chosen for us to live. That highway of life past the fork was tricky and traitorous and we never knew if our paths would ever cross again but we always dreamed of the “Road Back to Love”. With vocals by Ron Boustead, Gregg serves up words straight from my heart and soul, the words of my soul that gave rise to what Deanna and I have now.
Niagara Falls Canada! The honeymoon capital of the world! My road back to love. Both of us ragged out from the road, we wanted to stop short of our goal but had to finish our run for the boarder. Deanna even ate at the Taco-Bell tonight. The view of the falls is magnificient! Our first view was at 11:00 at night. The Rat nosed his way into about 20 other cars parked in “No Parking”, un-housed the hazards, and I boosted my wife from the car to the tune of “Simone”. I retouched the tunes, swung Deanna around to meet my arms and we fell in love all over again.
Each time I hear "Simone” now, I remember how Deanna’s face lit up to match her heart and soul; how I finally realized that dream dreamed aboard the Cutter Seahawk half a Caribbean ago. Standing at the brink of Niagara Falls, Gregg’s piano struck an emotional chord and Deanna and I danced with the joy of we’ve finally arrived, arrived to each other on the crooked road where life and love meet. We met each other right in the middle, the middle of the street where true love crosses the bridge called Rainbow, we found our pot of gold in each other standing there that night. Our pot of gold was in each other, in each other falling over at the Falls. Boney James’ sax made the earth shake and we looked over to where the earth once was. Sprayed misty by the water in the air and Gregg’s piano, Niagara Falls and I proposed true love again to the one I love. I re-proposed the reasons for the actions of my heart and how I’m so thankful to have hurt, to have struggled, to have cried in order to meet this day, this moment. the moment Gregg’s “Simone” helped single out.
I wink to the moon, the heavenly body that followed me from the beginning. Both of us tell each other that we DID continue to look to the stars and think of each other while we were apart; just like we said we would. We have a fairy tale kinda love Deanna and I. Our love for each other and jazz is like the chocolate stirred up in the ice cream tasted tonight. Each person, each flavor being independent and different but when melted together, savored and appreciated for the time it took to blend, the taste of love’s cream is cool, wonderful and gives chills to the secret kid in all of us.
Five days later during our last sit and gaze, I play and replay “Simone” as we gaze into each other and talk while watching people of all nationalities and ethnicities enjoy the view and music floating from the Rat and into the mist of the Horseshoe Falls. There’s an all day rainbow in the sky created by the force of gravity and the effects after the fall. That same gravity that holds Deanna and I together, bound by the laws of nature and God. Our love is our conversation piece.
Conversation. Conversations are born from half notes. Jazzy little half notes that when added, you have a phrase. Conversations are the give and take of ideas, the equal exchange of shades and subtleties. Marriage is a conversation. Two half notes trying to make a phrase out of each other and themselves. Two beats to a bar, sometimes half time, sometimes double time, a conversation implies growth. It is the melody of the song.
What is the riddle behind the conversations? We left Niagara Falls with a “Conversation” in mind. After ungathering from others at the brink and now alone to our thoughts and hearts for the next 12 southbound hours or so, we're moved to ask ourselves how to make our true dreams come forth from life’s rubbing on the genie’s bottle? How do we follow God’s leading and not our own, only to lose the trust we have in Him and each other? The love for each other keeps building on that conversation, the conversation about the give and take love, His love, calls one to do. To the untrained eye, some might say that two gives don’t make a right. What does one give make? A raindrop.
Gregg’s “Conversation” begins as a raindrop and gathers in it’s drop from leaf to leaf. As the Karukas conversation builds, their droplets become one and gather in congruency, each looking for another note to meld with, to become one with. Gregg takes the lead and brings the band to earth, watering the roots once laid down upon the waters of the Caribbean. Life’s never ending cycle of earth and sky returned me to the Caribbean, back to where I wondered about today, evaporated to the sky and after the fall. Our life’s conversation is about starting life again together, always together, right where the conversation started anew before.
I timed the “pull in” as close as I could with the last cut on this fabulous album, “Always”. We sat in the front yard re-introducing ourselves to real life and, for the first time, we get hit with the “We’re married?!?!” We smile at each other, hold each other, share the rejoice between us and the soft sounds of the tune for a minute and just like the raindrop, we found we’re always together again. That’s how I feel about this CD and the love it helped re-foster. I just emailed Gregg Karukas and told him the same. Always together again. Again at rainbows end.
Joy, hope and love to you also. May you find the long lost love of your life’s float on this earthship and may you always you’re your telescope keep pointed to the stars.
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