Ian Whitcomb is a highly respected performer, composer, and music historian. You can find all of his CD's, DVD's, Books,
and Songbooks by clicking here, or by going to ianwhitcomb.com

Letter from Lotusland

April 2015


        Most every morning, after swimming and breakfast, I go to the office/hut/shed behind the house and write up my journal, the one I’ve kept since 1972.I used to write with a gel impact ink pen but since my stroke I’ve found it easier to use a pencil. I have special pencils made by Pacific Music papers somewhere in the Valley. They’re special because of the thick black lead that’s perfect for putting down clefs and ties and sharps and flats. I used to love adding bold black circles to my notes when writing out my compositions. I felt I was drawing a picture, a sort of work of art. I could sit and create happily for hours, like a real artisan.

       I have an example in front of me now: “March Cantalini”, named in honor of the restaurant where I play on Sundays. The sheet music looks so solid and secure, installed in ink for all time. I set it front of musicians and, like magicians, they set fire to it and off it rushes like the Flying Scotsman. Afterwards they might remark on the surprise chord near the end. I’m glad because otherwise they might see the resemblance to other brisk marches. It’s almost impossible to create pieces completely original if you’re trying to connect, to engage listeners; there must be familiar paths and expressions before you lope off in your own journey otherwise you’ll be making a mess of horrid notes and phrases like a nightmare of freeform jazz. But I must admit I’m often finding unwitting quotes from older songs in my own.

       I write the journal right-handed because it’s illegible in my natural hand. The entries are very similar in tone and detail: swim or walk round track at Cal Tech; scrambled eggs at the Corner Bakery, trying to hold coffee mug in left hand as directed by therapists. Eating with fork in left hand is another matter and embarrassing, as lumps of egg tend to drop to lap and floor. Are customers watching in disgust or are they too busy with their smart phones and strident table talk? I think nobody notices. Islamists cutting off heads in the newspaper, reminding me of Tudor England and the French Revolution. A bit old-fashioned and far from smart phones—only they may have used phones to film the executions for immediate viewing on social media. Time to go home and rest.

       The remainder of a typical day is pretending go to bed and nap but actually it’s reading books ranging from Raymond Chandler and Elizabeth Taylor (the novelist) to Boswell’s life of Dr. Johnson. In between I come to my library and tap out paragraphs for this Letter or write an article on Ruth Etting for the upcoming Oregon Festival of American Music.

       What have we done this last month? Let me see if I can decipher. We’ve talked about a trip to England but at the moment it’s on hold because we’d like to base ourselves in London and hotels there are too expensive. Besides, I’ve been warned that London is  being pulled down and rebuilt with Arab, Russian and Chinese money. My source tells me it’s hard to find anyone with English as a first language. My source is suspect because he’s a great admirer of dictators, especially Putin.

       My band played for a wedding held in the historic Castle Green in Pasadena. Everyone was asked to wear black, a counter tenor sang Purcell during the ceremony and a collection of butterflies was released from the top of the staircase. They were happy to congregate round a floodlight. Everyone had a merry time. The bride and groom set off in a luxurious motor home. Two days later we played for the annual ragtime tea dance at the 1915 Lanterman house in Montrose. I’m lucky to be supported by a band of sterling musicians who carry the burden.

       Poor Regina is being poisoned by noxious fumes from the washing machine next door—the over-extended house of the preacher and his always hair-curlered wife. She uses a foul fabric softener whose fumes pour into the bedroom. Regina has countered by setting up outside a huge fan like an aircraft propeller. It drives away the poison and is as loud and terrifying as the noise that brought down the walls of Jericho.

       I have pretty vivid dreams. Often they are musical ones. My friend Will Ryan and his Cactus County Cowboys recently featured in one set in a new discovery TV Show. They were upset to find I had decided to compete too, especially as the series was hosted by Mork & Mindy. I know nothing about the latter but I was thrilled to find that Irving Berlin was one of the judges, especially when he approved of my performance of his song where I forgot his words but made up new ones which he pronounced just dandy. Then I woke to harsh reality—the dangers of shaving, the slipping of the soap bar from my hand in the shower, the struggle to put legs separately in trousers, the pulling on of socks. All to be done with the aid of my weak, recalcitrant left hand, as ordered by my therapists.


Ian Whitcomb is a highly respected performer, composer, and music historian. You can find all of his CD's, DVD's, Books,
and Songbooks by clicking here, or by going to ianwhitcomb.com