Wellness, schmellness

Savannah Morning News column

May 31, 2015


“First question. Can you tell me the date?”

“I have no idea. May 30?” (Memorial Day was coming up; it used to be on May 30).

“Wrong. May 20.”

“Are you ever irritated?” (Only in the waiting room. I thought I was going to a doctor’s office, not a factory).

“Do you ever trip?” (Yes; mostly on the tree roots on the tree lawn in front of my house.)

“What city and county do you live in?” (Slowvannah; The state of Chatham).

“Can you spell ‘worthwhile’ backwards?’ (In my head? Probably not).

“Do you want to get on the scale or do you weigh the same?” (No, I don’t want to get on the scale Who is their right mind would want to get on the scale?).

“Do you read the newspaper?” (This must be a trick question).

“Do you have anything wrong right now?”

“I have stomach cramps. This never happens.”

Computer snapped shut. That was the end of the “memory” exam. Then the doctor arrives, all crisp, polite, a slight ironic smile on his face. Pleasant. No lab coat. He opens his computer.

His first question: “Do you still use the same pharmacy?”

Then he brought up the stomach cramps issue, which turned out to be food poisoning, But neither of us knew that then.

His response: “Do you want me to make an appointment with a gastroenterologist?”

“Isn’t it a little soon for that?”

Back to his computer. Tap tap tap.

“Do you want a bone density test?”


“An ekg?”


Blood pressure, good. Skin coloring, good. Ankles, good.

Tap tap tap. Tapping into the computer, sometimes squinting, sometimes getting closer to the screen, pausing.

My turn to ask a question.

“What are you doing?” (I thought this was about me.)

“Recording what you’re saying.”

“Why does it take so long?”

He doesn’t say but I know the answer. He’s being very, very careful to put in the right code, the right combination of letters and numbers and dashes. He doesn’t want to be reported to the Medicare police, which are everywhere.

Then I couldn’t stand it anymore.

“Don’t you want me to drop my drawers? Aren’t you going to use that stethoscope or any of those other sterilized instruments? Listen to my lungs? How about looking into my eyes or my ears?”

No. No. No. And no.

The last time I went to see him at the factory I was looking for relief from allergies. I was at my wit’s end from sneezing and itchy eyes and not sleeping. I was down for the count. In the end I got what I came for, a prescription, a drug.

That was when he looked at it computer and said it was time for my wellness exam. OK, that’s fine with me. Nothing feels particularly wrong but that’s what you do. You see a doctor once a year, just to stay ahead of things. You have a physical. Except he never said the word “physical.” He said “wellness.” Same thing, I thought. Same old drill. Just another term. That’s the era and the language I’m familiar with. Physicals. You know, hands on, taking a hammer to my knee to check whatever, poking, probing, looking. Not at the computer keyboard but at me, my chest, my back.

Wrong. This is the twenty-first century. Physicals are so twentieth-century. Now, under Medicare, what you get is a “wellness” exam. Most of it is free. But no one is quite sure what is free, what is not free.

Computer snapped closed.

Back to the factory waiting room that used to be a grocery store to wait for  “labs.”

It’s the new world order. I hope they know what they’re doing because I sure don’t.

Sax player and the “artist’s way”

Savannah Morning News column

May 24, 2015

It’s always interesting to see how an artist or a writer or a musician manages to combine a love of craft with a decent bottom line at the bank. It’s a juggling act, for sure.

For saxophonist Jody Espina the aha moment happened somewhere between reading “The Artist’s Way,” a 12-week program for helping artists square their personal doubts with their creativity; gigging all over the world, and meeting the man who would change it all.  Jody says he was “on a path of being open and that things happen when they need to.” Beyond that, he was clueless.

He just knew he was hustling with a capital “H” and burning out fast. After leaving home in Tampa he went to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, then took off for Europe, where he bought a Eurail Pass and went as many places as the train would take him, including extended teaching and playing gigs in Spain. It was the early 80’s, the dollar was strong, and, “I was a big fish in a little pond.”

But New York beckoned, as it does most artists and musicians. He landed gigs but he also got a job – “my first real job in my life” – in a Queens’ music store.

That was the beginning of JodyJazz, a burgeoning worldwide business he moved to Savannah in 2008.

That was the beginning of JodyJazz mouthpieces for saxophones and clarinets.

“I’m not good selling myself,” said the man who plays (usually with two other people) every Friday and Saturday night at the popular Rancho Alegre, the Cuban restaurant on Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd. “But it’s different when I have a product.”

It was when he was doing the selling thing in New York, living in the Bronx and reading “The Artist’s Way” that Espina met a “mouthpiece guy,” Santy Runyon. Runyon lived in Lafayette, La. His factory was in Appaloosa. Runyon taught Espina’s teacher who lived in Tampa.

Runyon would help Espina customize a mouthpiece and start him on his design and manufacture path that is now taking him all over the world. But first Espina wrote – and sent – a short story about meeting Runyon. That’s when Runyon invited the saxophonist and store clerk to his 93rd birthday party in Lafayette. They partied. They celebrated. They talked mouthpieces. How mouthpieces react to the neck of the horn, how they feel in the mouth, how they do or do not give a certain feedback, how it feels when you blow through them. They talked shop.

Before Espina flew back to New York Runyon had customized a mouthpiece for the young sax player. He suggested Espina call it JodyJazz.

“I thought it was a stupid name at the time but I never would have told him,” Espina said.

Back in New York things started to change. Espina started custom fitting mouthpieces for all the famous players that would pass through New York, for horn players appearing with Tom Scott, Sting and Stevie Wonder. The business grew. He was running out of space and beginning to realize there might be a future in designing and manufacturing mouthpieces, especially when he saw “there was no such thing as quality control. It was ridiculous.” Horn players are very particular about the mouthpiece. When they find the right one, “it’s like when you kiss your soul mate; it’s like home.”

Around this time Jody and his brother, who lived in Savannah, decided they needed to move their mother from Tampa to Georgia. It was hard to leave his Tribeca apartment in lower Manhattan but with the help of the Georgia Economic Development Authority, he found a 1,500-square-foot factory on Highway 80 in Garden City, somewhere near a collision center, a window tinting outfit and an airport mini-storage facility.

A few weeks ago he expanded the operation to 4,500 square feet. He added lathes, mills, a buffing room, polishers, tumblers, a pad print machine to stamp his name and logo, dust collectors and a stage where he might one day offer private concerts or jam sessions. He has practice rooms where either he or one of his staff of 12 tests each mouthpiece they make and send out. He would not say how many he sells. Sixty percent of his business is overseas. Mouthpieces sell from $180 to $650.

“Since I was 12 it was drummed into me if I was a musician I’d never have a steady income I’d never have a family. The day we got to Savannah my wife got pregnant. Now we have three children.

“This whole thing always felt organic,” he said “I never felt like it was strictly commercial. I never felt like I sold out. We’re helping people in meaningful ways.”