5 o'clock Sunday afternoon driving through the Texas panhandle 20 miles from Amarillo.
Big Sky Country for sure. Wide open spaces with crucifixed power lines stringing one ranch to the other. Aluminum grain elevators glisten in the setting sun and rise out of the brush dotted plains with the purposeful permanence of the functional.
From way off you can smell cattle sloshing in their holding pens on the last leg of a bad journey.
Water towers announce the presence of a main street, a high school, something to eat.
Here we go.
A strip mall. Civilization.
On the road at 5:30 am leaving Los Angeles headed east to Mesa, Arizona.
The sky over the road ahead (as far as the eye can see) is pink-blue-yellow haze with shavings of smoke gray clouds and orange searing the expanse with no identifiable logic or pattern whatsoever.
I'm telling you that every dreamy, unmanaged, wisping, floaty shape against the horizon inspires optimism and is celebratory of freedom. And here comes cars, cars, cars with so many rapidly passing headlights and there go smaller, red-eyed tail lights guiding us through the immediate landscape in syncopated polyphony with the criss-crossing brights of vehicles who zoom rank and file through the arteries and veins of this concrete maze we call highways and Frank is sleeping.
Boss Bragg, not ever given to much talk, takes in the new sun as it peeks through looming mountains. We speed past waking neighborhoods that we will never know.
I called Chris Beiderbecke last night in response to his comments about this sentence in my post 'Egyptian Blues':
"From Buddy Bolden's first revolutionary notes, to Bix Beiderbecke's decision to play this music in spite of his family's disrespect of 'nigger music', to Benny Goodman's historic integration of his band (before baseball), to John Coltrane's 'Alabama', jazz musicians have always known—-when YOU are free, I become more so."I apologized to him and his family for the justifiable misunderstanding caused by the quotations in this sentence. My quote around the term 'nigger music' was meant to indicate that this was a prevalent national sentiment about jazz at that time, not to imply that it was a direct statement from or teachings of Bix's parents. I extend this apology also to any others who may have misinterpreted my intended meaning. I used Bix's decision to play this music in spite of his family's lack of support AND the obvious cultural obstacles, as an example of a personal quest for freedom through jazz. In combining his family's concerns with the national attitudes about jazz at that time, I gave an unintended inference. One of the beauties of this forum is that it allows people who would never meet or speak to one another to communicate freely without the cloak of anonymity. I enjoyed the conversation with Chris and always welcome comments that spark meaningful dialogue. Thank you. Wynton
Congratulations to the Egyptian people whose quest to remove the yoke of dictatorship was successfully realized today.
Much respect to those who stayed the course when the road was blocked with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, to the young people who forced action to change the trajectory of their future, to the military leadership (undoubtedly not young) who showed unusual forbearance and wisdom, and to the international media who kept relentless pressure on the Mubarak regime.
This glorious hour speaks to the timelessness of the human desire and quest for freedom, equality and for dignity. This moment, in a far away land and in another time, speaks yet again to the greatness of the American Constitution, the Bill of Rights, The Declaration of Independence, and to the insight of the Founding Fathers and the debate around democracy that attended their deliberations. It brings into focus the struggles of our own country to better realize the ideals which undergird our way of life.
Struggles which include a bloody and defining Civil War, life and death fights for enfranchisement of the excluded, and of course, the travails of the American Negro whose non-violent Civil Rights struggles are so clearly resonant in this relatively peaceful revolution. And though we continue to work through kinks in our democracy, we have surely received a eye-opening, spirit-lifting boost from the recent happenings in Tunisia and now, and no more significantly, Egypt.
Jazz is always on the side of freedom, always on the side of equality, always on the side of human dignity. It came from people who were slaves and therefore, keenly attuned to ascendant changes in the fragile harmonies of the human spirit.
From Buddy Bolden's first revolutionary notes, to Bix Beiderbecke's decision to play this music in spite of his family's disrespect of 'nigger music', to Benny Goodman's historic integration of his band (before baseball), to John Coltrane's 'Alabama', jazz musicians have always known—-when YOU are free, I become more so.
Here is our recording of Warmdaddy's "Egyptian Blues" :
Blue gray skies that engulf all that you see or think or even dream.
We are truly on the road. Two back to back 'through-the-nighters'. 7 hours ago in the beautiful Holland Performing Arts Center in Omaha we were embraced by a warm and extremely inviting audience.
The cats responded by playing all kinds of stuff I had never heard. Joe played something on the blues that came from the recesses of the Scottish ancestry (so far back and forward it found the DNA strain that connects us all).
Printup crooning with the plunger, Ryan blessing us with a fiery and well constructed solo, Vic, Vince, Ted on the flute, Sherman with those biting Shermanic lines of harmonic sophistication dipped in Alabama souse, (so many and much I have to make myself stop retelling it)…….the rhythm section..yeah, everybody came to play.
Just 15 minutes ago (it is now about 6:15 am), Boss Bragg was in a dead sleep and I was trying to find a comfortable angle in my seat. Frank hit patches of black ice on the road (I-80 outside Sidney, Neb.) that sent the vehicle skidding all over the road. He was dancing with the steering wheel in vain search of traction as gusting wind joined ice in trying to help us plunge into the gully on the right side of the road.
This was a rough stretch, 4 or 5 trucks were jack-knifed and all others were in single-file and blinkered. When you notice that yours is the only passenger vehicle on the road and truckers are pulling over. That's a clear signal. Not to Frank. That's a green light to him. Sure would be a shame us dying with Frank's beautiful photographic exhibit up in the House of Swing.
Boss Bragg gets up in the middle of the sliding and says,"Take your foot off the brakes. Don't hit the brakes!" Frank, in the middle of his life and death scuffle, starts arguing, "I'm not hitting the breaks! We have down shifted AND have the 4 wheel drive on gotdammit! It's slick as a cat's ass out here." After the irresolute moments passed, we began to joke as people do when they're not quite out of a bad situation but past a very uncomfortable episode. "Frank, pull this motherfucker over! (When we tried, a truck cut us off).
Continuing down the road completely awake, we laugh about Frank and Boss Bragg finding the time and clarity to argue in the midst of extreme duress. Me and Frank tease Boss Bragg (who is normally very calm) about getting big eyes.
He says, "Hey man, I need to get out this vehicle for my knees."
He's about 6'4 and 3 something. These long rides are rough on the big fella.
Last night in the House of Swing in Rose Theatre.
2 and 1/2hr concert with Chick Corea. Him demonstrating all types of mastery of harmony, rhythm, the art of accompanying and of thematic development in improvised solos. Eric Reed with Mary Stallings in the Allen Room. The J Master holding forth with his trio in Dizzy's. People creating a warm and participatory vibe in all rooms.
Jam session 'till 2:30 with Chick, the J, Printup, Cone, Walter Blanding, Vic, Lew Soloff, Abraham Burton, and the great Willie Jones. J and Chick playing all kinds of stuff on one piano on the blues, Chick's wife Gayle (after singing the hell out of 'You're Everything' in the Rose) creating the proper vibe.
Jason Marsalis and Ali Jackson fall into a groove so deep on J's 'A Servant of the People', Chick gets up and plays cross rhythms on the crown of an available cymbal. Ali's dancing on Jason's snare and bass drum, Jason clacking and stroking on the low tom and ride cymbal and Chick calling the N.O. clave on the bell. People clapping on 2 and 4 and wanting to dance.
I asked Chick if he was tired at 2 am.
He said, "I'm not tired! This is the real stuff."
Yeah, it was.
This has been an inspirational week of rehearsing with the great Chick Corea. Chick is gracious, attentive and purely musical. He was instructional with astute technical adjustments as well as brilliant in his comping and soloing.
Concise, deeply intelligent, playfully interactive and coherent on-the-fly, we have thoroughly enjoyed this experience. Vincent, Ted, Sherman, Victor, Marcus, Ali, and Carlos came in with imaginative, well crafted, difficult and original arrangements (12 new ones including mine).
Our music preparation team, led by the unsinkable Kay Niewood, did its usual stellar and impeccable job.
J. Kelly sent me a message that sums up what our week was, "9,910 notes this weekend…it felt like a ton of work becuz it WAS a ton of work….nice job."
By nice job he meant himself because there were maybe 2 copying mistakes out of those 10,000.
Yeah, we work at JALC.
The band is looking forward to tonight.
We can't wait.
I always remember that Christmas meal: gumbo, some type of barbecue, and stuff that was not made for Thanksgiving.
I remember the day after Christmas when everybody was out with their new toys that would be broken in a week or two. You had to enjoy those fleeting moments of initial possession. Our family had enough brothers for opposing teams in all sorts of games. It was always Branford and Ellis vs me and Delfeayo in Monopoly, Scrabble, Operation….. everything in that era before electronic games.
After eating, we would have our holiday football game and then argue into evening about who really won. In high school Branford and I always played some type of dance at night. It was funky and soulful. We would also visit friends and talk about whose momma made the best pot of gumbo. We loved Charlie Brown because the music was good.
There was always a lot of music around Christmas.
A lot. There still is.
Our momma and daddy scuffled to get funds together to buy things for all of us. They did a great job making it good for us. Not till I became an adult did i understand what it was for them and that the difficulty also made it more special and intense. Every passing Christmas makes me even more grateful for their efforts in difficult times. Yeah!
I love all the pagentry around Christmas- the spiritual and commercial implications of it all and there is a lot of music. There still is.
December 2nd 2010
New York City
My great uncle was born in 1890. He was an artisan who cut the names and last statements of the deceased into their resting stones. I lived with him for the entirety of my 6th year and visited on many weekends. He taught me so many valuable lessons passed down from 'old folks sometime long ago' in stories, songs and folkways. My experiences with him saved me from falling into the generation gap. I return in my mind always to his shotgun house on Gov. Nicholls St. in New Orleans with its lack of hot water, 1930's appliances, and big super-cooling house fan.
I can still hear the morning news radio with his personalized and pungent commentary on every story; can still smell his morning coffee, feel the hand mower he made me use to cut his lawn. 'The War' for him meant WW1, and all of the great technological achievements of the 20th century were 'miracles.' His fascination with these new things was tempered by a sense that there was still a lot to develop in the human condition. He loved to say things like, "We can put a man on the moon but can't fix one block of asphalt." He was not in any accepted sense of the word 'cultured'. But my great uncle had a general sense of Americana that included everything from the Gettysburg Address to the Ballad of John Henry to stories of Marie Laveau the voodoo queen to countless Creole songs. Yes, he knew many things, but he never so much as mentioned Buddy Bolden and Jazz. You see, he was Creole and Creoles didn't put too much stock in Buddy Bolden's kind. And through that inbred underestimation, he missed or misunderstood the most significant thing to happen in New Orleans (besides the Robert Charles riots and the closing of Storyville) in his time. In a way, when I first realized this, I felt like the English bluesmen who came to America in the 1960's and saw that many of us were completely ignorant of the blues, in large part due to a traditional undervaluing of our darker brothers and sisters. But my great uncle was an everyday working class man, and though he had a keen sense of what was going on in the world (at least it seemed from what he told the radio), he was not looking to be a crusader for peace or education, or looking to save the soul of the American people. He was living and being himself. And some kind of way, he clearly understood and could articulate that 'who he was' was in the stories he told and the songs he sung and in his humor. He would say," that's just the way I do it." Well he died in 1982 and I wish he was alive today so I could tell him about Buddy Bolden and Jazz and what he missed… And he would've loved it, if the story was well told. He used to say, "I'm gon tell you this one with my own tongue" which meant absolutely no reading.
My uncle Alphonse, lived art with no pretensions to being any more sophisticated than the next stonecutter. He knew that art goes hand in hand with survival because 'what people do' becomes art. And the ceremonial practice of 'what people do' becomes essential to maintaining and enriching a way of life. We are always in a crisis and its always time for a renaissance.
When grown men and women debate and fail to find common ground on anything except the necessity for graft; when laws replace ethics and every law is for sale; when the educated abuse the uneducated at every turn; when the old no longer know their own young and all that is and was seems to have never been; when the volume becomes unbearable and we are detached from all rituals from birth to death to rituals of courtship to rituals of worship; when we lift our voices to sing after profound national tragedy and no collective song emerges; no hint of the fiddler's reel of Davy Crockett or of the plaintive wail of a western ballad, or the deep moan of the Negro spiritual or the joyous jump of a swinging band; no tinge of Whitmanesque breadth, Faulknerian irony, Ellingtonian largeness of spirit. We are lost and have no idea how to be found. Like Europeans of the 14th century searching in vain for causes of the Black Death when it was crawling all around them, we look to everything but the source. It's time to return to the center, to home. Home is about stripping down, being naked. For a people, that home is the collective memory, the stories and ways that make us who we are; the symbols that speak to our soul. When these stories and myths are no longer a part of the national consciousness, the national discussion—-people are in trouble. It's time for Buddy Bolden. He taught us how to speak our mother tongue. He showed us it was alright to be yourself. His music was designed to respect and inspire other folks' individuality and creativity even as it highlighted his own. And Buddy always told the truth when he opened up his horn:
"I thought I heard Buddy Bolden say, pick it up slow and take it away. I thought I heard him say. If Buddy tells you then you been told. Cause what he says don't ever get old. His horn stays hot its never cold. Please Mr. Bolden play."
They say that before Buddy Bolden played his famous cornet call. He would say, "It's time to call my children home."
And let us reflect on Concord, New Hampshire and the 15th anniversary of the Capitol Center for the Arts.
I love towns of the North East, especially in the fall. Colonial style houses, red, burnt umber (frank stewart's word), and gold leaves speckle the grass and are strewn about clean-cut streets. This cacophony of terra-cotta and yellow, frames the solitary majesty of trees in various states of undress starkly against the clear baby blue sky.
Its 6am. Frank and I are going to meet a friend for breakfast in Fairhaven. The morning air slaps you into the freshness of a day. Just a few hours ago we were on the stage swinging and working things out for patrons of the Capitol Center. The feeling was one of deep, small-city soul. We love playing community theatres because a tight-knit group of die-hards is always at the center of activities. They make great sacrifices for the arts knowing that concerts, plays, museums, shows, ballets, etc. bring people together for something meaningful. Now, everyone may not understand or may not even like everything that's on the stage, but they love the fact of it being there. People here know each other and each other's kids and grandkids.
The Capitol Center raised over $2million from 1990 to 1995 to renovate their historic theatre. The 2mil was still not enough to paint the ceiling, so more than 3000 volunteer hours were expended to make thing stylish and right. The Center brings all kinds of people I love from BB King to Alvin Ailey American Dance to Metropolitan Opera House broadcasts. The gig was relaxed. It was uncommonly happy for a black tie gala. People in Concord make this house part of their lives. It's evident in the natural way they inhabit the space. We are joined by Bobby Allende and Christian Rivera on timbales and congas for several red hot songs and the band is glad to be on the road playing for folks. After the gig we go to the reception and meet people and enjoy them enjoying themselves and the success of the Center.
Here's some of what I hear. "Mr. Marsalis this was my first jazz concert and it wasn't bad. Wasn't bad at all." Now that's not, "I just loved it," but it's an honest 'that was ok and I might check it out again'. You don't have to give me no more than that, if you don't feel it. One gentleman told me I played with his high school band some years ago and it impacted his life in a very meaningful way. I thanked him and explained that you never know if all those many years of encouraging young people to play has any effect. He spoke with such sincerity that his wife began to get full and she brought me to the edge of getting full too.
The band at the reception started playing 'Brick House'. I must have played that song 10,000 times in high school. It took me right back to so many wedding receptions, and proms, and dances. Damn! (Time is no enemy but a friend) I reminded myself. Flo Woods said, "Mr. Marsalis, working in this theatre is my golden retirement plan….and I LOVE IT." Evie showed me her name tag and said, "…..Well, I had y'all on my bucket list. I'm almost ready to go now." Young Chris Burbank who was at Juilliard (playing all kinds of trumpet just a few years ago) came with David, a high school student he is mentoring.
I always love to see musicians in their twenties leading teenagers into the music and into an understanding of what it means to be a young adult. David was excited to meet me. I said,"Stop bullshitting son" (my standard line to kids who think I'm a big deal). We both laughed and talked about the importance of reading and developing your intellect. Yeah, it was a special night. I was telling Ryan at sound check that I played these types of community theatre's all over America throughout the 80's and 90's. He just looked slightly over to me and nodded.
Executive Director Nicki Clarke summarised it all in her beautiful opening remarks when she further rallied the troops in saying,"…. as we embark on the Capitol Center’s journey through the next fifteen years and beyond, what continues to remain at the center of our work is the transformative power of that moment of live performance when the audience becomes one with an artist. That is the core of who we are. A couple of weeks ago a young women who had not spoken for many months finally did so with the words ‘thank you’ after attending a performance….." That's what we say to everyone in attendance in Concord on thursday. Yeah.