Yokoji Zen Mountain Center and a Jazz Drummer’s Request for Help

This post is about an organization I have recently become aware of and have taken a strong personal interest in regarding zen.



As a jazz drummer in high school, I found that my brief couple of years studying the martial arts opened mental doors I had no idea even existed. When I walked through them, I began reading about zen, and this carried over greatly to my development and inner explorations as a musician on a level that was rarely discussed in my 1970’s world. Today, many publications and discussions can be found, but at the time, I had little to draw from, with more questions than answers…

Some of the most fulfilling and inter-connective thoughts I ever had came from those times. However, as I grew older, I fell away from exploring the inner depths as much as I should have. Life can do that, but I wish it hadn’t, because I found far greater meaning from my playing when I did go there. My ego was better restrained, my sensitivity to the instrument grew, and my grasp of what really mattered in this world expanded far beyond just landing a famous gig or getting press or getting on MTV or whatever… all of which were accomplished, but… so what?

Recently, the desire to go back inside and continue exploring the deeper sides of playing have returned, mostly as the result of hearing and reading about the Yokoji Zen Mountain Center, near Idyllwild, California. A friend of mine had initially moved there to do training, but the center had been hit hard by fires and floods. She and some fellow residents stayed to do what they could, often digging through the mud all day at high altitude to clear things out. When I finally got a chance to visit recently, I decided that I too wanted to do something to help.

Why? Because without question, I have been drawn back to what really matters to me deeply about drumming and living as a result of hearing about the center. Before the fires and mudslides, it was pristine and what you would expect such a place to look like…




But when a rapidly-spreading fire struck in July 2013, the wind, embers, and years of unburned surroundings quickly created a living nightmare…


Shortly after the fires, the rains came. In fifteen minutes, enough water fell to send five feet of mud sliding down the mountain and directly into the path of Yokoji…




Despite the center’s damage, Yokoji’s peace and quiet felt immediately reminiscent to me of something I have felt when practicing techniques I explore to maintain physical sensitivity and focus behind the drums. Be still. Be quiet. Listen and then speak. This is the essence of jazz drumming, at least to me. I got good and lasting reminders of what being an artist is about… which is to live and to accept life on life’s terms… which aren’t always as we’d like…





Joe Zawinul was fond of saying, “There’s only now.” He used to watch people walk and could tell you about how they played. Miles Davis would observe deeply in a similar way. What they were looking for was presence, looking to see if YOU were present, because if you were, it would show. and it would definitely be reflected in your playing. As I walked the grounds of Yokoji, I felt my quiet foot steps and once again heard the music they made.

These lessons and so much more have come back to me that I am compelled to write about the center and offer my help in any way, because at a distance and then directly at ground zero, something is me has re-awakened, and I am grateful.


If you have an interest in the deeper philosophical aspects of playing, and if zen happens to be a part of your world, here’s a link to the Yokoji Zen Mountain Center’s fundraising campaign. I’ve only written two posts in three years about fundraising, and with worldwide readership of this blog, I sincerely appreciate and respect your considering what I write and why I write it. Please feel free to share this link and this post as well with musical friends who share similar interests.


This is a link to the Facebook page of the same fundraiser.


I can’t and won’t profess to know much about zen, but you’ll see more than a few links out there using the word to promote commercial interests. This is not such a post, and regular readers know my work well enough to understand my intent. However, I can say that I will be writing a lot more about my return to the wonder of living, playing, and being, and I hope it can be of some benefit to you. Anything you can do to help the Yokoji Zen Mountain Center may, in the end, provide a place for a future player to discover something deep and profound. For me, being of service is part of that.

In closing, let me leave you with this: What’s really moving your sticks? When you find the answer, forget that you ever asked the question…