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Two years ago this month, I was in New Orleans, working at the Traditional Jazz Camp, happy as hell, as I always seem to be in that city.

Shawn and I first attended the camp in 2012, after learning about it on WWOZ, a New Orleans radio station we’d discovered and fallen in love with during our first visit to the city in 2011. All these years later, we now come back year after year as members of the faculty and staff, helping each year to create and hold this big-hearted container into which we all pile up as much joy, hard work, harmony, and connection as we can all muster. You know, all the best things that life has to offer.

Twelve months later, in the middle of a pandemic, the camp couldn’t happen, of course. This year, with the miracle of and trust in vaccines, we are BACK!

It’s a tired analogy, but it’s absolutely the center of the bullseye—last night was a family reunion with a few new members brought into the fold. Most are return campers—the giddy cousins, the goofy step-siblings, the shy sisters, and the grumpy uncles—all of us stirred together and flavored by the heat and humidity and the sass and the brass of the city that gave the world one of the greatest gifts to ever emerge from humanity—jazz. From the friendly handshakes of the rhythm section to the clear direction of the bells of the horns, this music bounces and brags and also caresses and croons, and it carries the heart to a place that is beyond tradition. It’s a form that rests in the knowledge that every damn one of us has a place in the band. Everyone can blow, everyone can step, everyone can play. We can always find a place for you. We will support you. We will hold you up. We will listen to you. YOU ARE WELCOME HERE.

I saw so many tears of joy last night—a few of them my own—and so many unmasked smiles and hearts, ready to be slowly boiled in this stew that we will cook together this week, allowing the best parts of ourselves to season all that we bring to the pot.

Boy, do I love my job and my life!