Upcoming Concerts (December & early January)
Dec. 8 ~ Ethical Brew Concerts - Teaneck, NJ
Dec. 9 ~ Another Chance Café House Concerts – Flourtown, PA (RSVP required)
Dec. 10 ~ My Highway Home, Joe Jencks interviews Wes Weddell - Folk Music Notebook
Dec. 17 ~ Joe Jencks’ annual seasonal broadcast: On A Midwinter’s Night
Jan. 2 ~ John Platt’s On Your Radar – The Bitter End, NYC
Jan. 4 ~ Joe Jencks & Zoe Mulford in Concert - Park Ave. Center - Swarthmore, PA
Jan. 5 ~ Joe Jencks & Zoe Mulford in Concert - Happy Valley Concerts, State College, PA
Jan. 6 ~ Joe Jencks & Zoe Mulford in Concert - Historic Coopers House - Columbia, MD
Jan. 7 ~ Joe Jencks & Zoe Mulford in Concert - The Folk Factory – Mt. Airy/ Philly, PA
Dear Friends in Music,
As another calendar year heads into the home stretch, I am flying from Seattle back to Chicago for one night at home. I’ll have a 16-hour turnaround, and then head back to Midway to fly east and play a few shows in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Then back home to keep working on 2024 tour plans and to rehearse for my annual holiday broadcast (12-17-23): On a Midwinter’s Night.
On A Midwinter's Night Live-Stream (12-17-23)
In early January, my dear friend and beloved songwriting colleague Zoe Mulford and I will share some co-billed concerts including: John Platt’s On Your Radar at The Bitter End (NYC, 1-2-24). We will also have concerts in Swarthmore and State College, PA (Jan. 4 and 5), Columbia, MD (Historic Coopers House Concerts on Jan. 6), and at The Folk Factory in Mt. Airy / Philadelphia, PA (Jan. 7th). I look forward to making some great music with Zoe, and reconnecting with friends and fans in all of these places.
Please also note the essay below: Complex, Not Complicated. It was inspired by a recent interview in which I was asked, “What is your legacy?” While feeling entirely unqualified to answer, I suddenly remembered standing under a Saturn V rocket at the Johnson Space Center with my friend Jim Noble. I remembered a question he asked me at the time, “Do you understand the difference between complicated and complex?” The ensuing conversation was fascinating.
Wishing you all the best as we head into the holidays. May they be gentle and restorative.
In Gratitude & Song,
~ Joe Jencks (12-7-23)
Complex, Not Complicated
Copyright 2023 Joe Jencks, Turtle Bear Music
My friend Jim Noble is an architect, inventor, and ipso-facto engineer. One of his patented structural designs was adapted and used by NASA to house an experiment that needed to fly a couple miles behind the space shuttle on an orbital mission. How cool is that? He and I are both ardent fans of the space program, and of human exploration of our solar system, galaxy, and of interstellar space. We are both fascinated by the many extraordinary things humans have achieved, and the boundless things humans yet need to achieve, environmentally and otherwise. The world needs problem solvers who can work together, especially when it comes to environmental issues that touch on every aspect of human life and every society on this planet. We need big idea people. And we need people who know how to translate that into pragmatic process-driven solutions.
Jim Noble took me on a personally guided tour of the Johnson Space Center near Houston. As we were walking through the exhibits, he explained a great deal to me that that was not included in the kiosk write-ups about how and why certain things happened. He explained how specific problems were solved, and talked about some of the sub-processes (both successes and failures) that led to workable solutions.
At one point during our visit Jim asked me, “Do you understand the difference between complicated and complex?”
I said, “I think I do, but please explain it to me from your perspective.”
Jim looked at me with a twinkle in his eye that suggested, maybe I did not in fact understand the difference. And patiently, with his beautiful Texan accent and graciousness, he dove into an explanation. This is what I remember him saying to me that day, while standing under a Saturn V rocket laying on its side at the Johnson Space Center.
Jim began, “Any great undertaking is necessarily complex. There are many stages. A rocket has many stages from the time it launches until the capsule, satellite, scientific package, or other piece of hardware or habitat is doing what it was intended to do. Whether in orbit, on its way to the Moon or Mars, or out of our solar system, there are many stages. But every one of those stages is made up of thousands of parts and pieces, of hardware and constructed machinery, and required process. Each step and component is essential to the success of the process and the objective.”
He continued, “Each one of those parts and pieces had to be invented and fabricated by people who understood their work with precision, and had an ability to grasp how their work would relate to the work of others. So, there are stages not just in the rocket, but in every part and piece, in every aspect of conception, creation, and assembly. At every stage in the process, there is trial and error as materials are tested, reconsidered based on experimentation, and re-created to compensate for unexpected outcomes. This is necessarily complex work. But it only becomes complicated when there are non-essential steps and stages included in the process. The job of a good inventor, designer, engineer, project coordinator, or fabricator is to remove every step of the process that does not NEED to be there. In this way, complicated is reduced to merely complex. It is the art of reducing a process to the most elemental and elegant number of steps required to meet the objective, while still doing so with reasonably assured outcomes and safety.”
His implications were clear, though understated. And my take-away is ever unfolding.
We live in a necessarily complex world. But there is a lot we could do personally and collectively to make it less complicated. We can reduce complicated to merely complex. Whether putting people on the Moon or solving problems of climate change, homelessness and poverty, or a lack of access to food, water, sanitary conditions, or healthcare. There is a way. There is always a way. If we get enough people working together for common purpose and check our egos at the door (and throughout the process), we can find solutions. Furthermore, just because we have not found the solution yet, does not mean that it does not exist. Persistence in the face of failure is not always foolhardy. Sometimes it’s just common-sense scientific process, applied to things outside of obvious science.
I am a musician. I am a songwriter. I try with great effort in my art, in my performances, in my composing and songwriting to shine light on the stories of other people, sometimes in a precise moment of action or effort. Because it exemplifies a character trait that I respect and that could be emulated by more people.
I can write a song about a Labor strike, about racial justice, homelessness, about the Shoah (the Holocaust), about fisherman, immigration, about the wonders of love, the splendor of nature, or the enthusiastic joy of a child. But if it is not framed as an invitation into the story and the lives of other people, if it is not framed as an invitation into ourselves, it falls short. Somehow a song, or the story that precedes a song needs to be an invitation - palms up and heart open - into a deeper consideration of something. Sometimes that something is joy! So, whimsy also has a place in the conversation.
I have been a story teller. I have been an advocate for all sorts of social work, causes, justice movements, and laborers. I have been an advocate through my music for human rights, civil rights, climate justice, and civil discourse. And I have been a singer of love songs and lullabies.
But I have also been a minister of sorts, not of a given faith practice but as a spiritual humanist, ever interested in letting the power music give people permission to feel whatever they need to feel, in order to eventually arrive at a place of increased hopefulness. Music, art, dance, poetry, theater, singing together, being together, being in nature, having a good meal in the company of good people, all of these things can lead to greater hopefulness. They can also lead to tears and release. Laughter and release. Discomfort and release. Awareness and Ah-Ha!
Art has the power to allow us to express what we do not know how to express in any other way, whether we have created the art or are witness to it and in the presence of it.
So, as a personal tool, as a personal practice, art is invaluable. But as a community practice, shared performance, shared singing, shared dancing, shared jamming, shared art of all forms can re-connect us to one another and to ourselves in unique and needed ways.
Music is the path I have chosen, it is what comes most naturally. And I see myself as a crafts-person engaged in an honorable trade. I am grateful for the skills and the tools I have been given and have been privileged to develop. I am grateful for the many people who have helped me along the way, who saw potential and passion in the same place and decided to support it within me. I am grateful to have grown up in a musical family where I was surrounded by the ongoing and exploratory relationship that all of my older siblings had with music. I am grateful that I had the chance to go to a marvelous music conservatory and to study with other committed and accomplished practitioners of music, in all of its many forms. I am grateful for that diversity and the awareness of how BIG music is.
From the camaraderie I feel with other working musicians and artists, to the people like Jim Noble who share their world views and learned perspective with me, I continue to be a student. I am in the world, ever curious about nature, science, other cultures, other people, and what they know that I do not!
I was asked recently in an interview what my legacy might be? I am hard pressed to define it. In part because I sincerely hope that at 51, my best and most creative years are still in front of me. I hope that my capacity for organizing, problem solving, and collaboration is just finding its legs. I hope that I will be blessed to work with friends I don’t yet know, in places I have yet to go, to be a part of exploring and helping to solve problems I cannot yet comprehend, or may not yet be aware of in this moment.
But I hope my legacy also includes some of the following: I hope my legacy begins and ends with a deep and abiding love for humanity in all of our failings and striving, in all of our dreams and successes. I hope that I am remembered as a lover of people. Because for all of the difficulties in the world and the people who seem to thrive on discord, my experience has been that the vast majority of people in the world are really decent. And given the chance to self-actualize, the chance to chase their dreams or dare to grow, most people will choose to do so. If I can encourage that in any way through my music, what a beautiful thing to have helped foster.
I hope that I am recognized for the thoughtful and purposeful songwriter that I am and that I aspire to continue becoming. I hope that more musicians will look at my life and career (unorthodox as it is even for the music industry), and consider that they too do not need to fit into a specific mold in order to have an extraordinary life making music and bringing goodness into the world.
I hope to be a bridgebuilder, a peace maker, a journalist of sorts through the music and stories I choose to put on stage and on my albums. I hope that part of my legacy is that more people are curious about the world around them and the people in it, and bother to know something about their neighbors. I hope that people understand that my purpose was never to win a Grammy. (Though it would be nice. HA!) My purpose was and is not commercial. My purpose is HUMAN. My process is relational, rather than transactional. My hope is to shine light on the good that I see in other people and in the world. And to lift up that goodness and reflect it back to the people who listen, that we all might see each other with less suspicion and greater hope for understanding and acceptance.
We may never witness the whole picture of what has been affected by our art or work. But we see evidence that people have been affected by our work in useful ways. And when someone is willing to share how they have been specifically impacted, through that one person we can reasonably see that many more people are being positively affected by our efforts.
I don’t know what my legacy will be, but I hope it will be a legacy of hope. A discipline of hope. A hope carried forward by a lot of great music, good people, right relations, and productive collaborations. A hope that acknowledges complexity, while graciously side-stepping irrelevant complications. A belief that hope is not a Quixotic or Pollyannaish way of being. Rather, hope is how we find the strength to envision a world where positive change is possible, and in which we get to be a part of making that change happen.
~ Joe Jencks
(Written on a SW Flight from Chicago to Seattle 11-29-23. Revised on the return flight, 12-6-23.)