Senior Aquarist and Jelly-Jam Master Tommy Knowles is a sea star if there ever was one. He’s at the heart of a jelly team that has brought millions of people face to face with the beautiful gelatinous drifters we share our ocean planet with. Tommy is also an accomplished musician, and he performs around the Monterey Bay area with various troupes of terrific troubadours.
We’ve been chatting with him for a while about “Jamming With The Jellies"—but just as we were about to get a recording session together, the Aquarium had to close to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Tommy continued his work to care for the jellies and the rest of the Aquarium’s critters, and we kept chatting over email about the Jelly Jam. On April 3rd, Tommy headed to the Aquarium to care for the jellies—this time with his guitar in tow. Using a red dive light in a water jug for lighting and a few bits of recording equipment, Tommy jammed for about ten minutes with the Pacific sea nettles he’s helped raise for so many years—the same ones you may have seen on our Jelly Cam.
His set list included a few classic folk songs, and a cover of "How Lucky” by John Prine. At the time, Mr. Prine was in the hospital, and Tommy played his song as a get-well-soon. Since then, Mr. Prine has sadly passed away. Tommy wanted to share this cover with you all as a tribute to Mr. Prine—for the role his music has played in inspiring Tommy’s musical adventures and for being a soundtrack in his work with the jellies that have inspired so many.
Tommy says: “As a Senior Aquarist specializing in jellyfish, part of my job is to create living art exhibits in our Drifters gallery. The jellies can be like a song, growing and changing through time.
When I am not culturing jellyfish, I enjoy playing music, and I think there are more similarities between these two pursuits than one might expect. They are art forms that cannot be rushed. One needs to go with the flow, listening and observing in order to cultivate something beautiful and perhaps discover something new. They both require focus and discipline as well as creativity and mental flexibility. And, painful stings aside, jellies and music can both bring people peace and joy.
We lost a musical giant this week in John Prine, one of our great songwriters and an icon of Americana. Much like jellyfish, his music was generally laid back with a gentle rhythm yet still able to connect deeply and emotionally. His influence on my music was massive, and his loss will be felt widely in the musical world. “How Lucky” is one of my favorite John Prine songs and is especially poignant these days, as its reflective longing ultimately yields to contented happiness.
Be well everyone, go with the flow, and remember how much we have to feel lucky for.”
Thank you for watching everyone. We hope you enjoy this Jammin’ With The Jellies tribute to John Prine. Stay tuned for the full set that Tommy played.