Thursday, October 22, 2015

Passion Party #553: Down — But Not Out — In Los Angeles


(also published on

There is a housing crisis in Los Angeles. Some people call it a homeless crisis I think of it as a housing crisis.
You see it in Downtown: As the gentrification picks up speed, the old “flop house” hotels get converted to hip apartments and the condos start selling at $550,000.
You see it in West Los Angeles: Now starter homes are selling for $800,000 and being torn down by developers to make million-dollar houses. You see it on the beach in Venice, when the police chase the homeless across the border into Santa Monica; you see it again a month later when the Santa Monica police chase the homeless across the border into Venice.
You see it on the street level at many a freeway overpass.  You see it near the Veterans Hospital in West LA, you see it next to the 110 as you drive to Pasadena, and you see it in the San Fernando Valley.  People are homeless: they need help, they need jobs, and they need counseling.  They need a place to call home.
Ten years ago I saw the problem up close and personal.  A friend — let’s call him “Billy” —was living in an industrial park in Marina Del Rey, and got evicted from the illegal unit when management changed hands. Billy started living in his car, having nowhere else to go.  After an arduous process that took a couple of years, Billy was finally able to secure “Section 8” housing with the help of many friends, charities and some government agencies.
I wanted to do something to help those in this type of situation. After releasing a few jazz albums and performing at the top jazz clubs in Los Angeles, I had enough good will and contacts in Los Angeles to put together an evening of great music with some of the best jazz players in the city. Now I just had to find the charity to partner with. 
Through my Temple, I was introduced to PATH (People Assisting The Homeless) and their housing division, PATH Ventures. Rather than just do another gig in Los Angeles, I wanted to give back to the city that has given me so much, and so in 2006, I decided to hold a fundraiser concert for PATH.
PATH’s philosophy is “a hand up, not a hand-out.” They offer various services, including street outreach, interim housing, the PATH Mall — which has everything from county social workers to a barber shop to a computer center, all to help people get back on track — and permanent housing projects. As soon as I reached out to them, they were welcoming and supportive about the idea of holding a “Jazz for the Homeless” event.
Little did I realize that when we did that first “Jazz For The Homeless” concert in 2006 it would turn into an annual charity event, and we would end up raising over $100,000 for PATH Ventures.
The thing I love most about doing this show for PATH Ventures every year is that it is so effortless. I call the charity, and they say, “Great, let’s go.” They do the marketing and outreach, and I bring the band, The Jazz & Blues Revue (a five-piece jazz band with three fabulous female singers that can do everything from the Andrew Sisters to The Pointer Sisters). The world-famous Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood gives us the club for a night, and ALL the money we raise goes directly to the charity.  No egos, no drama just a fun night of music for a very worthy cause.
We are now holding our 10th anniversary PATH Ventures Jazz & Blues Revue show on Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11. Once again, KJAZZ DJ Bubba Jackson will be joining us as host, and we will play our hearts out in joy as we raise money to help build housing for the homeless of Los Angeles.
When we began 10 years ago, the goal for the charity was to build or have under construction 1,000 new housing units by 2015. I am thrilled to say that PATH Ventures now has over 1,300 units of permanent housing either completed, in construction, or in the pipeline. And during just the last two-and-a-half years, PATH has found housing for over 4,800 veterans, families, and chronically homeless individuals.

We live in a world now of haves and have-nots. The dividing line is pretty clear. The “middle class” has begun to vanish. The statistics that describe the magnitude of economic inequality are stark. Before taking into account the effects of redistributive government programs, the richest 1 percent of Americans makes 20 percent of the income. Wealth inequality is even more extreme, with a 2014 study from the London School of Economics estimating that in America, the wealthiest 160,000 families have as much as the poorest 145 million families. This disparity becomes very clear in Los Angeles, “the Land of Opportunity.”
Like many people in this city, I have had my ups and downs. And I know that when things get tough very often it is a matter of circumstance, not a matter of choice — it could be an outsourced job, or a medical emergency, or a car accident when you have insufficient insurance. Whatever it is that takes you over that edge, things can happen when there is suddenly a wolf at your door and you have nowhere to turn.  I feel a responsibility to help my city, to help stitch together a part of the safety net that our government does not or cannot provide. 
So, where does the PATH Ventures Jazz and Blues Revue go from here? I am not really sure — we have talked about expanding the event to a larger venue, maybe bringing in some bigger name jazz artists. This is the first time we are holding the event on Veterans Day. Since one of PATH’s goals is to help homeless vets, perhaps we will build on that connection. One thing seems certain: unfortunately, the homeless problem in Los Angeles is not going away any time soon. The city puts
forward promises, but in the end economics drives this problem, and unless there are some fundamental changes to our society, there will be no short-term answer. What is important to me is that I know I am helping to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.
If you are in Los Angeles on Nov. 11, please join me for the 10th Annual PATH Ventures Jazz & Blues Revue, at the Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood. You can find tickets at or, for more information, call Tessa Madden at 323-644-2202. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Passion Party #552 - End Of A (B)erra

I was born in New York City in 1952, and although we lived in the suburbs I have very fond memories of my dad taking me to Yankee Stadium while I was growing up. Maybe one or two games a year.  Not a lot, but enough to give a lasting impression.

This was the time of the most powerful Yankee team: Mickey Mantle, Phil Rizzuto, Whitey Ford, Roger Marris, and Yogi Berra (the catcher).  By the time I went to my first game when I was 7 years old, Yogi was already a hero, and he was already becoming famous for his Yogi-isms, wacky public utterances spoken with complete sincerity.

Yogi died September 22, 2015, at the age of 90.  He came from a simpler time in our world and a much simpler time in the world of professional sports.  He knew by the age of 14 that he was destined to play in the big leagues, and his belief propelled him into the American Legion Junior League where he was nicknamed "Yogi" because of his habit of sitting cross-legged on the ground with his arms crossed.

He was best friends with Joe Garagiola, and in 1942 they both tried out for the home town team, the St. Louis Cardinals.  Garagiola was signed for a $500 bonus.  Berra was offered a $250 signing bonus, but turned it down, believing he was worth more.

Yogi signed the next year with the Yankees for a $500 bonus, and the rest, as they say, is history.  (What was Yasiel Puig's signing bonus in 2012- $12 Million Dollars?)

Yogi is gone now, but he has left us with his Yogi-isms, and I'd like to share my favorites with you:
"When you come to a fork in the road, take it."
"If you don't know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else."
"Never answer an anonymous letter."
"You can observe a lot by watching."
"We make too many wrong mistakes."
"Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical."
"It's deja vu all over again."
"The future ain't what it used to be."
"I really didn't say everything I said."
"Always go to other people's funerals, otherwise they won't come to yours."
On why he no longer went to Rigazzi's, a St. Louis restaurant: "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."
"It ain't over till it's over."

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Passion Party #551 - Taming the Wild Brain

Last week was rough.

I was grinding my teeth at night, sweating.
My workday followed me home each night, demanding that I pour over the days events, the troubles in the world, my fears of money, failure and letting down those I care about.
Then I found this poem by Wendell Berry, 

The Peace Of Wild Things:
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

So this weekend I went walking in nature and saw wild things, and tamed my wild brain.
And this morning I basked in the full moon-set, full and glorious, as the sun announced another day.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Passion Party #550 - Prayer

Today is Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, or "the big do-over" as I like to call it.

Asking forgiveness for all my sins, conscious and unconscious, known and unknown.  And moving forward into a new year where I hope to spend more time in communication and connection.

A year of "At One-Ment", rather than Atonement.

Here is a most appropriate poem from Marie Howe, "Prayer":
Every day I want to speak with you. And every day something more important
calls for my attention—the drugstore, the beauty products, the luggage
I need to buy for the trip.
Even now I can hardly sit here
among the falling piles of paper and clothing, the garbage trucks outside
already screeching and banging.
The mystics say you are as close as my own breath.
Why do I flee from you?
My days and nights pour through me like complaints
and become a story I forgot to tell.
Help me. Even as I write these words I am planning
to rise from the chair as soon as I finish this sentence.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Passion Party #549 - I Don't Know

Early in my childhood I came to realize I had the ability to sound smart, even when I didn't know what I was talking about.

It wasn't arrogance.  It was the ability to say something with conviction and authority that would cause people to believe it was true.

This seems to be a primarily masculine trait.  More men than women are afflicted with this malady.

Over the years this trait has served me well.  It wasn't until much later I learned that acting like I know everything is not the best way to travel through life.

Some people think the most important three words in the English language are "I love you".  I suggest that the most important words are "I don't know".  This opens you up to learn something new.   It gives you the ability to increase your knowledge.  It allows you to be vulnerable.  It creates a space where it is possible to find the true answer to the question.

So today I will practice "I don't know".

Monday, September 7, 2015

Passion Party #548 - No Labor Day

I learned from my dad that working for an hourly wage is  a losing game.

You may not need to be "The Boss", but you need to be the boss of your own destiny, and to do this you cannot be tied purely to an hourly wage.

I learned that in America we are not paid for our labor.  We are paid for how many people we help and how many people our work touches.

So let's call it what it is.

Today we celebrate all those who are tied to a wage, be it $7.25 an hour, $10.00, $15.00 or otherwise.

And how do we celebrate this? By giving people the day off and a chance to shop for cars, mattresses, clothes and new television sets or appliances.  Because that is the American way:

The one with the most stuff wins, and Uncle Sam always needs the biggest rocket.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Passion PArty #547 - Truth In Advertising

How many times have we been told "this merger of Airline A with Airline B will benefit consumers with better service, more competitive pricing, blah blah blah"
"This merger of Phone Company A with Cable Company B will benefit consumers with better service, more competitive pricing, blah blah blah"

when we all know that the purpose of these mega-mergers is to benefit shareholders and executives, not the general public.  This is a business after all, right?

It would be so refreshing if they fired the spin doctors and just told the truth.

Every now and then someone will call a spade a spade.  I try to do this every day in my business.  It saves a lot of time and avoids bad feelings later on.  And even in Los Angeles, this city of illusions, every now and then there is Truth In Advertising

Monday, July 27, 2015

Passion Party #546 - The Land of Yoga and Donuts

I live in a land of contradictions

Where people are willing to spend $30 to have their dog get a massage, but are unwilling to give a guy on the corner $3.00 to get a sandwich.

Where people obsess about exercise, but are unwilling to walk a mile to the store when it is so much easier to drive.  Oh, and you have to fight for the parking space closest to the door to enter the Mall.

Where we obsess about eating the healthiest food, but then, driving home from the yoga class you can't help but take a detour over to La Cienega Boulvard to visit Randy's Donuts.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Passion Party #545 - A Dream Realized

In 2010 when my son Evan was starting his senior year of high school, I approached the head of the music department and asked if I could write a piece for solo cello and string orchestra for my son to play at the end of the school year. Evan had already shown himself to be a very accomplished musician, and the school agreed.
In the Spring of 2011 the Adagio for Cello got its world premiere: Evan Kahn, Cello, with the Santa Monica High School Senior Gala Orchestra.  Jason Aiello conductor, Joni Swenson director. You can watch it here on youtube if you like
Evan went on to be a Cello Performance  Major at Carnegie Mellon University, and for the last 4 years he has been ripping it up in Pittsburgh.  In his junior year he asked me if I would like to take the Adagio and turn it into a full-blown Concerto for Cello.  I loved the idea (of course), and started work on the two additional movements.
Evan graduates in about 4 weeks.  He won the Concerto Competition this year, as well as a Chamber Music competition, so he is already scheduled to return to Pittsburgh in the fall as the featured artist in two concerts. Next year he will be continuing his studies at San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

But on next Thursday, April 30, Evan will be premiering my Concerto for Cello and Orchestra with a chamber orchestra under the direction of Professor Daniel Nesta Curtis.
Here is more information on the Carnegie Mellon Website
Please join me, if you can, for this dream realized.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Passion Party #544 - Teach Your Children

If you could teach your children one lesson in life, what would it be?

This question was posed to a group of parents yesterday, and here are the answers (in no particular order)

 - Be willing to give.  Be of service.
 - It's all about your contact list, and learning to differentiate between who you meet and who you want to get to know better.
 - Don't give up. Don't let anyone tell you you can't do it
 - ASK.  If you don't ask, you don't get.
 - Everything in life is negotiable.
 - Don't be afraid to fail.
 - Have the right tools for the job.
 - Be open-minded.
 - Everything starts with a thought.
 -  Hard work is its own reward.
 - Growth can happen in leaps.
 - Have persistence - "When someone says no, that's when you go to work".
 - Luck does not just happen.  You can make your one luck
 - Play nice in the sandbox.
 - Worrying is a poor investment
 - Learn how to read a balance sheet and P+L statement - it will help you in more ways than you can imagine.
 - Be generous in life - always leave something on the table
 - Balance between career and life is a key to happiness
 - Listen - listen - listen.
 - Life has a bias towards action.  It's better if its "done" than if its "perfect".

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Passion Party #543 - Listening

As a music major in college
I spent four years developing my knowledge of music and sense of hearing.
I learned to differentiate melody lines
and to tell if something was in or out of tune.
I developed "selective hearing" -
the ability to focus in on one sound while totally ignoring others -
(kind of like binoculars for your ears).

But the four years of developing my hearing
did not help me become a better listener.

Listening means giving complete attention for the purpose of understanding.
It is the difference between "I hear you" and "I get you."
It means paying attention to another person's thoughts, feelings and ideas, and not dismissing them because you don't agree or you did not think of it first.
It involves holding thoughts at  distance in order to respect the other person's point of view,
reacting only once you have put yourself in that person's shoes.

We often spend all day talking
and "being interesting"
rather than listening
and "being interested".

Just stop
the hum of the heater
the tick of the clock
the bird outside the window
the ring of the phone
and then listen
to what the other person has to say.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Passion Party #542 - Would You Let Your Music Go Unheard?

Many years ago, violinist Itzhak Perlman gave a performance in New York. During the concert one of the strings on his violin suddenly broke. The crowd gasped at the sound, which could be heard throughout the entire auditorium, and the music abruptly came to a stop. 
The crowd waited patiently for Mr. Perlman to replace the string. However, much to everyone’s surprise, Perlman didn’t rush to find a new string. He took a moment to gather himself before he motioned for the conductor to begin playing again where the orchestra had left off! For the remainder of the concert, Perlman played the music that should have been played on four strings on only three.

As Itzhak finished playing, for a moment, time slowed and silence filled the air then the audience rose to its feet to offer a standing ovation for this incredible feat. Perlman smiled and humbly raised his bow. “You know,” he told them, “sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”

In life, when something breaks, does the loss stop us or do we continue making music with what we have?
With creativity and persistence!
-George Kahn

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Passion Party #541 - Patience

"Rivers know this: there is no hurry.  We shall get there some day." - A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
Patience is a lost art.
To stop and wait while life swirls around you
trusting that  something hidden here will be revealed,
this is the gift that patience brings.
Patience is like water:
It takes the shape that you give it
and in the end, if set free, it will always go where it wants to go
and nothing can stop it.
In time, it can find a way around most any obstacle.
In time, it can create something as incredible as the Grand Canyon.
I think back to the summer of 1972, when my friend Rick and I rented a cabin on the
Wyalusing River, where for four weeks we did nothing much
but watch the river flow by.
Always there, but in every moment
always different.
Like putting a bird feeder in your back yard - 
you put it up, and put the food in,
and then you can do nothing but wait.
Patience brings the gift of the birds
Patience is the gift.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Passion Party #540 - Persistence

Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more com- mon than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'Press On' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.- Calvin Coolidge 

It seems like such a simple idea:
Pick one thing, and keep doing it
whether it is exercise, or practice, or study.
It is the obstinate and continuous course of action that in the end creates results.

There should be an easier way
but in the end the task does not get easier,
what gets easier is our ability to perform it.

Pick one thing, and keep doing it.
There are days that I just don't feel like it
I am not motivated, or inspired.
But motivation does not produce results.
It is the action, the persistence,
the morning ritual that you do because,
well, because you do it every day.

Persistence has made it a habit.
And now it is easy to see that
the answer is not out there,
but in here.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

PASSION PARTY #539 - Money and Energy

It takes energy to make money.
They say that money doesn't grow on trees, but if you plant an orchard and work at the harvest, money can grow on trees.
The relationship between time, money and energy:
Money does not equal energy.
If it did, day laborers would be rich.
Knowledge does not equal money
If it did, librarians would be wealthy.
But knowledge, combined with time, energy and action, can create money.
I think of money as congealed energy.
Each day I exchange my life force energy, which is formless
for money, which is solid and tangible.
And in our society, money is also an accurate measurement for the amount of value
I am bringing to the marketplace.
So the secret of making more money is not
to spend more time
or to  exert more energy
it is to give more value to more people
and build systems and teams to expand my capacity to receive the fruits of my labor.
Then the money takes care of itself.