Future Paradise

Somehow, Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise” popped into my head, incessantly swirling around my mind all morning, compelling me to address whatever emotions or thoughts need to be expressed.  I can’t recall ever hearing Stevie Wonder referred to as a prophet, but if anyone fits the description, he surely does.

One of the beautiful things about art is that every eye can see and every ear can hear something quite different in scope. The points of view are never a matter of right or wrong, but of perspective based on one’s own experiences.

 “Dissipation, race relations, consolation, segregation, dispensation, isolation, exploitation, mutilation, mutation, miscreation, confirmation, to the evils of the world.”

“Jazz” is a word for which many find themselves provoked to myriad reactions. It’s been labeled a “four-letter word”, almost derogatory in nature. For some, it’s a way of life worthy of jingoistic worship accompanied by flag-waving and idolization. Still, for others, it’s a most limited form of codification that should be thoroughly abolished, killed, buried, and epitaphed: “Here lies Jazz: 18?? – 1959”. Jelly Roll Morton boldly claimed he invented Jazz, while Nick LaRocca claimed to have done the same, but vehemently arguing, “Our music is strictly white man’s music…My contention is that the Negroes learned to play this rhythm and music from the whites…The Negro did not play any kind of music equal to white men at any time.” In the ways of the world, adults claim to be so much wiser than children. How ironic that children aren’t born with hatred and prejudice, but are taught these behaviors by people who were once children – and evil becomes “the way of the world.”

When I first started listening to Jazz as a child, the term had little meaning for me; it was merely the sound and the faces of Bobby Timmons, Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Doug Watkins, Kenny Dorham, Hank Mobley, Ramsey Lewis, Eldee Young, Red Holt, Dave Brubeck, Joe Morello, Eugene Wright, and Paul Desmond. I saw the word “Jazz” on these record covers and in liner notes, and did not see it on the other albums I had by James Cleveland, Edwin Hawkins, Marvin Gaye, Raymond Lewenthal, Andre Watts, The Beatles, Tennessee Ernie Ford, or Fred Waring, and I’m certain I made no connection (or distinction, as it were), but inherently knew that the sounds were different. However, for me, different did not imply negative back then. (That unfortunate philosophy would be forced on me much later as a teenager.)

“Been wasting most their time, glorifying days long gone behind. Been wasting most their days in remembrance of ignorance oldest praise.”

Having been born just after the falling action of the Civil Rights Movement my view of the so-called Jazz world was quite romanticized with images of the hustle and bustle of 52nd Street, touring bands, Herman Leonard shots, the iconic graphics of record labels designed by Blue Note, Columbia, and Impulse!, fashion-plated musicians and singers. I wasn’t privy to the experiences of racism, oppression, police brutality, self-destruction, jealousy, competition, egotism, deception, and megalomania within the community, because my only experience was through the records. My imagination was Utopian, but the reality was closer to Dystopian. I’d no clue as to exactly what drove Charlie Parker to such brilliant heights, I could only frustratingly ponder why alto saxophonists of later generations who contained only a tiny fraction of Bird’s abilities could somehow become the new paradigm…alas, THIS was the trap!

 “Proclamation of race relations, consolation, integration, verification of revelations, acclamation, world salvation, vibrations, stimulation, confirmation to the peace of the world.”

Sadly, the powers that be run the show. If you want to succeed in the music industry, you have to play their game. On the artistic front, be YOURself, respect YOURself, do YOUR thing. If you’re in it for fame and glory, I feel for you – but, I won’t judge you. But, if you have something to say, keep saying it over and over – somebody will hear you, and you will have an impact, perhaps not in your lifetime and in the way you’d hope, but not in vain.

“Let’s start living our lives, living for the future paradise.”

 

Father’s Day, June 17, 2018

Fathers get the raw end of the deal when it comes to celebrations; they’re often perceived as the directors in a film – behind the scenes. I think this is largely psychological and social; if we go back far enough, men and women had narrowly defined roles that rarely intersected, especially with regard to child rearing. We view the roles of fathers and mothers quite differently, but often for the wrong reasons. Certainly, nothing can replace the bond a mother feels with a child that was formed inside of her own body. In the best of circumstances, the father has been with her every step of the way, but can’t physically empathize with the mother’s biological transformation. While my mother made me feel safe in the womb, it was my father who made me feel safe in our home (unless I did something really stupid, then, no one was safe, LOL!) But, I felt secure when it mattered.

My dad was funny, wise, responsible, diligent, friendly, tough, studious, outspoken, and trustworthy. He loved his family, although he was not given to sentimentality, as he didn’t grow up in the safest environment: his parents did what they could with 8 children (at that juncture), poor in the southern United States, during the depression and Jim Crow. Much like a honeysuckle, he withstood extreme conditions.

I am my mom’s baby (and my siblings better damn well remember that). My dad did not spoil me, but he took great pride in my choice to follow a musical path, as he would have wanted for himself. (That is about the only place in life where we didn’t lock horns.) One of the things I’ve gathered from my experience is that moms can be vulnerable in a family dynamic, but dads – maybe not so much. Each parent has to possess strengths where the other is weak in order to establish a united front with children in order to create balance in the home.

FROM THE INNER-CHILD
I had a dad.
I had a good dad.
Dad could get mad,
But Dad was never bad.
When Dad knew I was sad,
He’d laugh and make me glad.
I miss my dad.

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!

 

MY THOUGHTS ON JURY DUTY +

maxresdefault 2I posted a few occurrences and thoughts on my Facebook page; here are my thoughts more elaborately articulated and summarized. 

During voir dire, and in the presence of the jury pool and courtroom, you’ll be asked extremely personal questions about your life, and will be required to answer other questions about yourself as they pertain to the case; things you may not have even told your family and/or close friends. The defendant might be present, although not legally required to be. 

The Constitution does not specifically state that defendants are to be tried by “a jury of your peers”. Although you are entitled to a jury of your equals (as the court interprets “peers”), you’re not guaranteed a jury that contains only those who are of the same race, gender, or age as you. You are tried by a jury of fellow citizens – 12 random people from whom you have previously heard, that raise any number of concerns after you’ve heard them answer questions. 

Since the burden of proof is on the prosecution to make a case, the defendant is not obligated to testify on his own behalf; if he doesn’t speak up in his own defense, you won’t know why he did or didn’t whatever. I was explicit about this when directly questioned about it: if you don’t say one word in your own defense, you leave a dozen questions on the table. I don’t assume you’re guilty, but I can’t effectively and conscientiously lobby impartially if you choose to be silent as your fate is hanging in the balance. I can’t put together a puzzle when you only give me half of the pieces. I won’t pretend that doesn’t give me cause for concern.

During the trial, you might be instructed to dismiss a statement or an entire testimony – as if you never heard it. Ever try to unring a bell?

During jury deliberations, your personal conscience is irrelevant to the degree that you are restricted to the letter of the law and the instructions of the presiding judge – as if the average citizen actually knows how to interpret law. I have little faith in the American justice system (or law enforcement, for that matter), and respectfully articulated as much during voir dire. Even when there are intelligent people on juries, they are most likely not legal experts; intelligence and common sense would only get you so far in a copyright infringement case, for instance. (I believe the Williams v. Gaye verdict was a bad call; kind of wish I’d been on that jury.)  I’m the last person you want on a jury – in addition to eleven other people who might not want to be there for their own reasons. I think juries should be made up of lawyers, judges, and people studying law. And people without consciences – like politicians. …bad joke…

The judge can overturn the jury verdict. Also, you get no say in sentencing; in other words, the jury might find a defendant guilty and the judge might sentence him far more severely than you might have speculated when deciding the verdict. But you can’t factor that in – at all. 

It’s 2018 – they’ve figured out how to digitize the entire country to vanquish the need for manpower (jobs), pay bills online, perform major surgeries – and they still can’t (won’t) simplify the process of being called for jury duty? As much as I loathed being there and having my time wasted, I was not trying to get out of serving, but I’ve got issues with what they say is my “civic duty” and the process by which it is enacted. How is the state entitled to my taxes and my labor? In California, they compensate you $15 per day; in NYC it’s $40, and good luck trying to get your boss to be sympathetic. 

As harrowing, embarrassing, and traumatic as this experience was, I’m actually glad I did it because my voice was heard. Several of us, immediately after being excused and thanked for our service, hugged it out in the hallway, and wiped the sweat off of our brows. And went the hell home.

The American judicial system is not only adversarial – it’s downright hostile. Hopefully, I’ll not be called again.

 

Impressions

 

John Coltrane Impressions, March 19, 1965

BOOTLEG: something bootlegged (hidden inside of tall boots), such as moonshine (illegally distilled corn whiskey) or an unauthorized audio or video recording

Throughout the 1970s-80s, duplicated cassettes of this performance were circulated amongst “the cats in the know”; Kenny Kirkland laid one on me and said, “This…is the real McCoy…” Truly, it was a profoundly and intensely heated solo by McCoy Tyner, rarely documented during that period because microphones weren’t always connected to recording equipment during live performances. There’s nothing like “live”; I loathe the process of making records, but it’s a necessary component to my economic survival as an artist. Mingus felt the same way; the real music is best captured “live”. In the studio, while you have the benefit of higher quality sound than you would from a small recording device hidden in someone’s jacket, the environment is too sterile, every single sound is micro-processed, there’s too much room for “another take” of trying to reignite the fire and creativity of the first take, when all the real essence and soul is in that take – mistakes and all. Thelonious Monk knew that. The *industry* cultivated a field by where art should only be presented in its most *perfect* form – and now, the audience demands it. Even “live”! “Commercialism”; not a wholly evil word, but it’s fairly insidious and a rather bland, flavorless concept. It’s kind of like eating fish right off the bone versus having it served deboned – closer to the bone is where the flavor is!

Closer to the source. Stay close.

The “bootleg recording” is the bane of the record industry (until they can get a hold of it), but the holy grail of all thriving artists and genuine appreciators of the music. Would John Coltrane have wanted this recording to be released commercially? We have no way of knowing. Am I glad it finally made its way to the general public? Most definitely! Principles and integrity notwithstanding, when a record company owns the master tapes, its theirs to do with what they wish – much to the chagrin of the artist. (Read before you sign, player.) A couple of years ago, the world was blessed with Unheard Bird: The Unissued Takes of Charlie Parker. They were never intended for commercial release, but *the industry* changed all of that. No disrespect to Bird – I’m oh, so glad they surfaced. I love Charlie Parker – mistakes and all! Hearing Miles Davis’ clams from the outtakes of Round About Midnight or Miles Ahead remind us that these brilliant souls are still human souls. We’re also privy to their processes. It’s crucial to be reminded that the talented, the famous, the powerful – are merely human, therefore, fragile, and in need of care and concern. (Good night, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain.) It’s difficult to remember that John Coltrane was only human. I mean, it’s biological – we know it, but there were not a hundred other John Coltranes, you dig?

1960s. The height of the civil rights movement. This performance is a social and artistic time capsule as messaged by this edition of the John Coltrane Quartet (1961-1966): McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, and Jimmy Garrison – each man darker than the other, expressing the kind of unapologetic, explicit blackness that makes the fearful feel threatened, but compels the enlightened to feel joy. McCoy has effectively and joyfully set the tone for praise, celebration, worship, honor, love, and rejoicing. This hypnotic, intoxicating vortex of sound coming from these young Black men, from the tiny stage inside of the Half Note club in lower Manhattan’s West Village neighborhood (now Sprouts Deli) was a striking contrast to the soundtrack of the rest of the nation outside of it and the powers that had been trying to silence the voices and still the joy within.

To no avail, you devils. You can’t keep me down. We are human beings expressing from within; not expressing hate, but responding to it.

The wicked SHALL cease from troubling.

We must continue to force white America to face its demons and its past. Persistently insist on holding up the mirror to white America’s original intentions – which never included anything aside from the hope that being white was and would remain a defining attribute of participating in American life.” (Richard Klayman)

Well, you shouldn’t have brought me here. This is not your country. You stole it! Now, acknowledge, make whatever amends can be proffered, and move…over.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_AQeXp1-i0

More Than a Friend

January 15, 2018

How fitting that we should celebrate the birthday of one great man (Martin Luther King Jr.), and the transition into the otherworldly birth of another – one of my heroes, my mentor, and my friend Edwin Hawkins. Every time I sit at the piano, regardless of the venue or context, I’m paying some form of tribute to him. His musical influence on my work is as significant as that of Horace Silver, Donny Hathaway, Ramsey Lewis, Stevie Wonder, or Dave Brubeck, because as a child, I was exposed to all of that music around the same time.

Many admonish: “let go of the past” or “don’t be stuck in the past”; not so easy – the past is where my innocence is suspended, where my cognizance of difference was determined only by what I experienced without the perversion of anyone else’s definitions or opinions. My exposure to music was unfiltered: without description, explanation, marketing, cultural jingoism, or political platform. It was neither labeled, colored, nor geographically situated; to me, it was quite simply – music.

One strikingly bizarre childhood experience found me at my next-door neighbor’s house in Philadelphia. I saw one of Ed’s records in a stack on the floor and put it on the turntable. After only a few seconds of hearing what was then The Northern California Community singing I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say, my neighbor’s daughter made a mad dash towards the turntable, declaring, “Uh-uh! Today ain’t Sunday…”, and quickly snatched the record off and walked away with dismissiveness. At that moment and for the first time, I distinctly remember what it felt like to want to kill someone. All at once, I was overwhelmed by surprise, anger, frustration, confusion, rage, and powerlessness. It was one of my earliest encounters with social ignorance, the concept of people’s inability to comprehend and/or manifest spirituality in a positive way, and the realization that perhaps the average person might not be all that bright. It was also one my earliest experiences at having someone make a decision for me about what I was supposed to enjoy and how. This would prove to be a significant and frequent occurrence for me throughout my life.

It’s only recently that I’ve come to realize that Edwin‘s music always touted personal freedom and rejection of dogma. It never occurred to me that I would one day get to meet the man, let alone become friends with him. Within seconds of our first introduction, I found him to be approachable and modest; no entourage, no buffers. I couldn’t imagine that such a down-to-earth dude could be aware of the impact he had on gospel music, because he never acted like he was so special.

Recently, I was able to sit at length and converse intimately with Ed and his sister Lynette about their early days as musical performers and what it was like growing up in church in the 1950s-60s. Although 11 years apart, Ed and Lynette are of the baby boomer generation, therefore, their coming of age coincided with the USA’s “loss of innocence”, which compelled Ed’s reconfiguration of O, Happy Day in 1967. Lynette quite candidly explained to me how they had been ostracized for daring to use their “God-given gifts” anywhere except in the church (much in the way Thomas Dorsey had been “thrown out of some of the best churches in America” for daring to veer off from the sound of what was acceptable as “godly” music in the first half of the 20th century). In 1971, Walter (another brother and brilliant musician), organized Love Center from bible studies in his parents’ living room, where they discussed the issues they were facing as young people living not only under racism in their country, but oppression from the church; Lynette explained, “…the ministry…saved my life.”

Much like John Coltrane, Stevie Wonder, the Beatles and other significant artists of the 1960s-70s, Edwin tapped many resources to musically undergird powerful messages with global inclusion. The outing of the US government as racist, warmongering, and hypocritical yielded some of the most powerful music ever created. Having heard this music as a child, as an innocent, as a soul not yet sickened by the world, I count myself fortunate that I came along at such a time as then. I was free, and Edwin Hawkins’ music helped me to experience that feeling because he refused to limit his embrace of only one vibration, instead opting to react to all of them.

Admittedly, I’m still chasing my childhood with futility, hoping that at some point, I will be able to recapture a state of innocence (even if only metaphysically), and shed the shackles of judgment, fear, anger, and resentment that impede a life of freedom, joy, and peace.

#ALightInDarkness

THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: A CHRISTIAN NATION?

Many is the number of times I’ve cast a befuddled eye at people, especially white preachers, who continually and adamantly refer to the United States (another fallacy) as “a Christian nation”.

As the son of a preacher, I grew up in a devoutly Christian home – not a perfect home, but most assuredly a Christian one: we went to church on Sundays, we went to bible study, we went to choir rehearsals, we went to vacation bible school, and we served in various ministries in the church. More importantly, we behaved like people who believed in God through our speech and in our habits as much as we possibly could. My father never hesitated to talk about the bible with anyone; we believed the words of Jesus and attempted to live by them. There was zero tolerance for freedom of religion as a resident of Rev. Reed’s house: you obeyed God, or you could begin looking for lodging elsewhere – posthaste. [“But, if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today the one you will worship; the gods your fathers worshiped beyond the Euphrates or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” ~Joshua 24:15]

I know what a Christian home looks like and how it is supposed to function; so, what does a Christian nation look like and how do individuals declare the United States of America to be one? When was this ever the case? Is a Christian nation exemplified by the pillaging and massacring of indigenous peoples? Is it exemplified by the legalization and institutionalization of slavery, where people were stripped of their native tongue and culture, families were torn apart and sold off like property, body parts were chopped off as punishment for perceived offenses? Is it exemplified by legalized segregation – to keep colored people apart from and inferior to white people? Is it exemplified by the neglect of the poor and needy? Is it exemplified by the massacres of foreign nations, setting up its own puppets to protect their interests? Is it exemplified by corruption and tyranny? It seems to me that declaring, “the United States is a Christian nation” is nothing more than rank, shameful blasphemy.

It also seems only logical that this is either a Christian nation or a nation of religious freedoms – it can’t be both. When was this ever a Christian nation? The founders of a Christian nation would not have adopted its own code of laws based on independent views and human morality, but instead would have used The Bible (moreover, the New Testament) as its sole source of law and order. The founders of a Christian nation would not offer its citizens the freedom to serve other deities or none at all. God didn’t give the children of Israel options; He commanded them to obey Him or suffer the consequences – which they always reaped because of their recalcitrance.

Either the fumbling fathers of this grate nation were sending mixed messages, or most white evangelicals are faulty in their theology. How does a person rationally express “the United States is a Christian nation”, while the Constitution of the United States expressly states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” in the first amendment?

John Adams, one of the so-called “Founding Fathers”, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and as 2nd U.S. president himself ratified, in Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli: “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…” (There are conflicting notions as to the origin of this statement and whether it appeared in the treaty, even though “it appeared intact in newspapers of the day as well as in volumes of treaties and proceedings of Congress…”. (from Fact Checking Barton Part V: Treaty of Tripoli by Brian Tashman, 2011)

Here is a short list of some of the former leaders of your Christian nation and things they’ve done and have had to say – primarily regarding egregious ideas about race:

THOMAS JEFFERSON – American Founding Father, signer and chief author of the Declaration of Independence, 3rd U.S. President
I’ll just suggest the crux of Query XIV from his Notes on Virginia (1785), much of which was the foundation for the curriculum for American racism. Jefferson even constructed his own bible, excluding Jesus’ miracles or any mention of His divinity.
A leader of your Christian nation.

ANDREW JACKSON – 7th U.S. President
Second only to George Washington in number of slaves owned. Signed the Indian Removal Act (1830), forcefully removing indigenous peoples (tens of thousands) from their ancestral homelands, followed by the infamous Trail of Tears (1838).
A leader of your Christian nation.

ANDREW JOHNSON – 17th U.S. President
From an 1857 speech: “Giving black people the right to vote would place every splay-footed, bandy-shanked, hump-backed, thick-lipped, flat-nosed, woolly-headed, ebon-colored negro in the country upon an equality with the poor white man.” (Aww…the poor, poor white man; I got news for ya, Slim: the government don’t care about you either.)
A leader of your Christian nation.

WOODROW WILSON – 28th U.S. President, The Father of Segregation. Defended the Ku Klux Klan – let them roam freely to terrorize and lynch ad libitum. Today, we are afraid of foreign terrorists while national terrorists are still protected under law.
A leader of your Christian nation.

HARRY TRUMAN – 33rd U.S. President, dropper of the Atomic Bomb
Letter to fiancée Bess Wallace (1911): “I think one man is just as good as another so long as he’s honest and decent and not a nigger or a Chinaman.” Decimated two Japanese cities, murdering over 100,000 people.
A leader of your Christian nation.

LYNDON JOHNSON – 36th U.S. President, master of racial division
Statement made to then White House press secretary Bill Moyers: “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”
Maybe that should be printed on the money instead of “In God We Trust”.
A leader of your Christian nation.

RICHARD NIXON – 37th U.S. President, liar, liar pants on fire
Escalated the Vietnam War, sacrificing your sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers. O, yeah – lied to the entire nation.
A leader of your Christian nation.

Tell me – exactly what would prompt any citizen in the U.S. to become a Christian in the face of this kind of behavior? When you preach, “the United States is a Christian nation”, you excrete delusion.

My purpose here is not to debunk Christianity or diminish faith. Quite the contrary, my impetus is to force the hand of the real Christian and compel him to make a righteous and holy stand for God and for the loving treatment of all people, with the same grace, mercy, and love He bestowed upon people who claim they believe in Him. I’m decrying the hypocrisy and evil that is too often associated with the Christian church, and demanding that we do as God pleads in II Chronicles 7:14: “If My people, which are called by My name shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; then, will I hear from Heaven, and will forgive their sins, and will heal their land.” You want God to bless America? There are conditions.

Do I want this to be a Christian nation? Of course! In a perfect world, I would live in a country where God is worshiped and obeyed everywhere, that’s why I speak of Him so much. However, I’m not going to force my God on you – I merely live out His will through my life in the most genuine way I know how. God didn’t force His will on me – He allowed me to come to Him willingly.

You want this to be a Christian nation? Start with your heart and your house.

#ALightInDarkness

ANDRAÉ CROUCH [July 1, 1942 – January 8, 2015]

images images

As a kid growing up in Philly in the late 70s, my childhood buddy, actor Tim Cain introduced me to the music of Andraé Crouch. In that vein, I’d been soundly hypnotized by the works of Walter and Edwin Hawkins and that was the only contemporary sound with which I identified. Upon further research, I learned that Andraé spent time up in the Bay Area with the likes of the Hawkins family as well as The Family Stone in their early years. (To this fact, I should lament, the history and greatness of West Coast artists is criminally neglected.)

The children of the 40s (hippies, flower children and Jesus movement followers during the 60s,) had a great advantage of being socially conscious and artistically productive at a time of major change in the world. It was a generation that had witnessed the loss of America’s innocence. The paradigm was shifting, the tide was turning and the guard was changing. Tired, worn and weary of the oppressiveness and hypocrisy poisoning traditional institutions, young people of faith were seeking non-traditional ways of evangelizing. This attitude first permeated the secular world and resulted in a jolt to the music world.

As a result (and manifesting itself a short time before the freakish success of O, Happy Day,) Andraé Crouch’s music possessed that rare and effective diversity present in artists like Ahmad Jamal, Stevie Wonder or Earth, Wind & Fire. As a lyricist, he synthesized the hymnody style of Fanny J. Crosby, the testimonial style of former blues pianist Thomas Dorsey, the folk style of Dorothy Love Coates and the colloquial style of James Cleveland into an undiluted, passionate, empathetic and graphic message of faith, love and Jesus Christ. On this, he was wholly unwavering.

Crouch was a unique and unorthodox stylist both as pianist and vocalist. He did exactly what he needed to do to convey messages in a personal, engaging and direct manner. His sound was identifiable and incomparable.

Did I mention he was completely self-taught?

If you’re uncertain what genius is, I encourage you to go back and read my tribute again.

Good night, Brother Crouch – you loom inimitably

Open Letter to Scott Yanow, Jazz Critic, July 2013

Philly_Joe2

(This letter is over a year old, but I’d like to give Scott an opportunity to respond openly.)

 “But in reality, everything that Philly Joe Jones did after Miles Davis was anticlimactic.” ~Scott Yanow, All Music http://www.allmusic.com/artist/philly-joe-jones-mn0000845443

In realityEverything?

Scott, we’ve known each other a long time, so I’m not going to make this antagonistic, if I can help it.

No one can reasonably refute the fact that during the five years that Miles Davis and Philly Joe Jones spent in and out of the recording studio from January 30, 1953 – July 22, 1958, and Philly’s 3-year tenure in Miles’ band (1955-58), that Philly Joe Jones developed into one of the greatest drummers the world has ever known – and certainly in the top 10 of the greatest Jazz drummers of all time.

To claim “in reality, everything that Philly Joe Jones did after Miles Davis was anticlimactic” is unequivocally unrealistic. First of all, his playing didn’t all of a sudden get worse. Also, he didn’t go from playing with Miles Davis to slumming in cocktail bars, strip joints and playing with subpar local yokels. Philly Joe went on to work with Freddie Hubbard, Kenny Dorham, Blue Mitchell – and those are just the trumpet players – on gigs and in the studio. Keep in mind, these were mostly “blowing dates”, so you got an entirely different set of artistic results from those types of situations than you would from a band that had been working night after night for some years.

Granted, Philly Joe Jones made up 1/5 of one of two of the greatest bands Miles Davis ever had and unimpeachably one of the greatest bands ever to grace a stage. It’s almost impossible for there to have been a better band than the band with Red Garland, Paul Chambers and John Coltrane; as great as, yes, but, not better. It is no secret that Miles knew how to work a group, which would make it pointless to even try and compare the works of these sidemen post-Miles; his concept was so clear, specific, directed, and prolific. But, again – their offerings were far from not being high points.

Here’s a short list of some amazing work by Philly Joe after his departure from Miles’ band:

Bill Evans “Everybody Digs Bill Evans” – December 15, 1958
Jackie McLean “Jackie’s Bag” – January 18, 1959
Chet Baker “Chet” – January 19, 1969 (plus trio sessions from that session)
Blakey/Elvin/Persip – “Gretsch Drum Night at Birdland” – April 25, 1960
Wynton Kelly “Kelly at Midnight” – April 27, 1960 (Really, man?!?)
Freddie Hubbard “Goin’ Up” – November 6, 1960
Kenny Dorham “Whistle Stop” – January 16, 1961
Tina Brooks “The Waiting Game” – March 2, 1961

Even if you wanted to wax technical on the “after Miles Davis” time frame and include the happen-stance (and last) studio encounter with the two giants on March 21, 1961, you’d still have to include things like:

Hank Mobley “Workout” Mar 26, 1961 (3 wks after last studio date with Miles)
Freddie Hubbard “Hub Cap” April 9, 1961
Donald Byrd “The Cat Walk” May 2, 1961
Phineas Newborn Jr. “A World of Piano!” October 16, 1961

The issue most grand that plagues the average critic is that you’ve written not from an objective point of view, but from an authoritative, finite and rather dismissive one; this isn’t the first time either. In fact, when I read a cat’s overview, I can always tell when it’s your writing because of unflattering quips like: “not essential” or “no surprises here.” I’m aghast at how you can sum up so much great work in a few short and dismissive sentence fragments.

Unlike the majority, I don’t consider critics to be “complete know-nothings”; rather, I allege that the use of apparent knowledge is being used in precarious ways that do not bode well for anybody. We all lose, Scott.

Most concerned, Eric Reed

 

MILLER VARIATIONS (III): A Glance at Mulgrew Miller in Three Parts

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III. FAREWELL, DOGMAN

You gotta get your mind right before you attend a funeral: getting up that morning and knowing that part of the intent that day is to bury someone. The first, second and third things on your mind; all during the drive to the location of the ceremony. You’re there now and you have to get out of the car and walk into the building, not having any idea who or what you’ll see first. Funeral jitters.

It was unreal. I was kind of okay until I entered the church and saw Nat Reeves with tears in his eyes and – of course, crying is contagious. A compilation of a few of Mulgrew’s recordings was playing softly. The coffin was opened and I could see him, even though I knew that wasn’t really him. The stark reality of it all was, again – unreal. There was so much confusion as to exactly what was going on during the 4 days Mulgrew lay in the hospital, which didn’t make the anxiety of exactly how to respond any easier to endure. Yet, there was a horrible sense of the inevitable. But, the news of his death wouldn’t be as shocking as the funeral itself.

In the 2½ hours we droned through the observance, there were two awkward moments that, fortuitously, were quite necessary to take our minds off of the fact that one of Jazz’s greatest warriors was cut down on the battlefield. The first snafu occurred about halfway through the service, when one of the church officials introduced the playback of a live-recorded version of Mulgrew’s poignant Farewell to Dogma:

“And now, we’re going to have a CD by Mulgrew Miller entitled ‘Farewell, Dogman’.”

Now, as sad as we all were, we were ruined by that. But, it didn’t stop there…not by a long shot.

Most of you will know that a “homily” is a sermon delivered in a shorter amount of time than in a regular church service. In the context of a funeral, a homily briefly summarizes the life of the deceased. This particular homily did neither. Retired (or so we thought) pastor Dale Lind embarked upon a stroll down memory lane starting with the late early Jazz guitarist Lawrence Lucie, stumbling upon a minor treatise on candle ashes, finally wrapping up his 25-minute meander with a digression on The Wizard of Oz. With every passing minute, tears of sadness turned into tears of smothered laughter – some, barely controlling themselves. Someone’s cell phone kept ringing – I swore it was Mulgrew calling to shut it down. Ironically, the funeral was mildly indicative of how I used to see Mulgrew operate in minor conflicts – quietly letting the situation yield to its inevitable conclusion.

In addition to making us delve into a deeper level of feeling, great art inspires us to ascend to a higher level of consciousness. Hence, Mulgrew’s life embodied an immaculate painting or musical masterpiece. His music made us think, his words made us smile, his neglected career profile made us angry, and his death made us cry. But, the sum and total of him should make us appreciative and glad that God loaned him to us, even if just for a short while. Mulgrew motivated us towards human betterment, but without him here in the physical, the Jazz scene is gonna have one hell of a time staying on point. Grown men cried in front of each other and hugs grew stronger and lasted significantly longer. Some said, “Let’s keep in touch, bro,” – but won’t. Some said, “Man, we need to get on that bandstand!” – but, won’t. Business as usual will resume and then we’ll see each other again at the next cat’s funeral – or our own.

If I could siphon a single word from this whole ordeal, it would be “live.”

MILLER VARIATIONS (II): A Glance at Mulgrew Miller in Three Parts

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VARIATION II: GETTING TO KNOW ‘GREW

Back in 1985, I was sporting a 1980 brown Ford Thunderbird, which I spent more time pushing than driving around the city of Los Angeles. Keep in mind, this was right around the time compact discs had begun to flood the scene, but I had no such thing in my “hooptie”, just a radio/cassette player. The sound system was “tricked out” and actually cost more than the car itself, which I bought used (now “pre-owned”) from a vato down the street.

As I was getting ready to exit my ride to walk into the house, this blazing track came on KKGO 105.1-FM, which I recognized as the chord changes to The Days of Wine and Roses, but totally done in by some new composer’s wizardry. Halfway through the performance, I was back on the road, on the way to the nearest record store, because I knew once deejay Chuck Niles announced who this monster was murdering these changes, I was going to have to snatch that joint up. (No smartphones, no Shazam, no SoundHound apps.) Well, by the time I got to Sam Goody’s, the tune was over. Chuck back-announced it and I asked myself, “What the hell is a Mugloo Milner?!?” Needless to say, I got that straightened out and copped what is still a prize possession – “Keys to the City”, Mulgrew Miller’s first recording as a leader on the Landmark label. So, I popped the CD in my player at home and learned the entire album. (The tune, by the way, was Promethean.)

When I first met Mulgrew, he was playing with Tony Williams at Catalina Bar & Grill (back when it was on Cahuenga). I was the only Black teen in the house that night, so it was easy for him to zero right in on me with that big down home smile of his. After the gig, I wound up taking him to a Thai food place around the corner and then finally, to a nearby Holiday Inn, where he was staying for the week. By the time I got home, it was about 3am and moms was absolutely furious (again, no cell phones.) While she was reading my title clear, all I could hear was that ridiculous solo Mulgrew had just slayed the audience with on Arboretum. Mulgrew would continue to come to LA a couple of times a year, mostly with Tony Williams or sometimes Benny Golson. He knew to look for me and I certainly always tried to look out for him.

Musicians like to joke on stage when announcing each other: “My grandfather used to play his records for me when I was a kid”, etc. This is one of the oddities of the Jazz world; age doesn’t seem to be so apparent because the music and the musicians seem timeless. Mulgrew was 15 years older than me, but always addressed me as a peer. You would think with the age difference, his vibe would be more avuncular, but he was really much more big brotherly. He was painfully humble and extraordinarily compassionate. Perhaps, it’s this disposition that kept him from the exposure he desired, but even Mulgrew might shun the idea that he was entitled to anything. However, he was hardly passive, rather, he just opted to pick his battles.

He became more than a musical hero to me; he became a mentor and a friend. And ironically, I always noticed my blood pressure decreasing when I was around him. Maybe he has nine lives…

MILLER VARIATIONS (I): A Glance at Mulgrew Miller in Three Parts

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I. DIMINUENDO AND CRESCENDO IN ‘GREW

Every generation in Jazz contains a coterie of pianist/composers that influenced the idiom. On the short list, the 1920s yielded James P. Johnson and Willie “The Lion” Smith; 1930s – Teddy Wilson and Fats Waller; 1940s – Nat Cole, Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell; 1950s – Horace Silver, Bill Evans; 1960s – McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock, etc.
(Again, this is a short listnot a comprehensive one.)

The 1980s produced extraordinary talents like Donald Brown, Kenny Kirkland and Mulgrew Miller. “Doctone” (Kirkland) was a super-versatile beast that could hear a butterfly breathe, “Silk” (Brown) composed music that became the soundtrack for the decade and “‘Grew” conjured up ridiculous “sideways” lines and a “wtf?!?” approach to melody.

Mulgrew’s most obvious influences were always apparent (Oscar Peterson, Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner among them), yet he was still singular. You knew him the minute you heard him or if you didn’t know for sure who was playing, you thought you were listening to someone who had really checked him out. At some point or another, most pianists who came of age in the mid-1980s were stricken with Mulgrewnosis.

Quite simply – Mulgrew was, what the cats affectionately call, a monster. Nothing eluded his skills: harmonic ingenuity, fluid and articulate lines, velocity and clarity. His conception seemed to evolve out of his intense work and apprenticeship with the ill-fated Woody Shaw, much in the way McCoy Tyner’s conception was enhanced during his tenure with John Coltrane’s quartet. Like another well-respected journeyman – Hank Jones, Mulgrew was that rare musician whose knowledge of musical theory and standards combined with a unique approach to piano-playing made him a valuable asset on any project. A band or recording that featured him in the piano chair always had a fresh and edgy sound. These qualities placed Mulgrew on an elite tier of gentlemen alongside Hank Jones and Kenny Barron as the most frequently recorded pianists in Jazz.

I suspect that part of the reason that Mulgrew never gained wider access to audiences is because his concept was singularly musical. His enviable improvisational exploits flowed endlessly and effortlessly. But, when Mulgrew ascended to that higher plane, you had to have already been onboard for liftoff; this would have been especially difficult if you were not a musician. This also meant that whoever happened to be holding down the bass and drum chairs at the time were going to need to ably support ‘Grew’s fantastic flights of fancy, while neither constraining him or getting in his way. He had to have known all of this about himself; yet, he was the most humble man you’d ever want to meet. How could a guy with such influential musical prowess not have more career visibility? Looking back, I can see why this became a conflict.

As a sideman, Mulgrew didn’t ego-trip. He understood the supportive role of an accompanist and was very easy to play with (and get along with), not to mention being a musician of the first water. It may not have been his intention, but Mulgrew wound up inheriting the mantle of leadership from former employers Art Blakey and Betty Carter – the best Jazz institutions that ever existed. In his own bands, Mulgrew wasn’t into hiring the flavors-of-the-month, but rather cats with musical perspicacity. If the two were somehow combined, fine – but this was not his impetus. Some thought he made rather abstruse sideman choices at times, but if Mulgrew had a cat up on the bandstand, believe me, it wasn’t because he was doing anybody any favors.

Mulgrew was not a politician, nor was he a publicity hound. He wasn’t a stage hog and didn’t mind letting cats blow. Although he was full of personal and artistic integrity, this was often viewed as not playing ball by the powers that be. To fuel and maintain a high profile career, one is expected to hire the right musicians, play the right music, say the right things and kiss the right rings. Mulgrew possessed the kind of artistic authenticity of someone fully committed to the idea of Jazz. He wasn’t the type of cat who you could label as “limited” merely because he chose to do one thing amazingly well vs. dibble and dabble in a bunch of self-aggrandizing pursuits in some feeble attempt to convince people that he was diverse. The uninformed misappropriate “diverse” as not wanting to be labeled or stuck in one style, which essentially means, they don’t really master much. Somewhere in all the muck and mire, lies the explanation for a seven-year gap of no recordings of him as a leader between 1995 and 2002, save for a solo recording in 2000. Mulgrew remained hopeful and positive about the current state of Jazz; me – not so much.

Upon final confirmation of his death, I promptly whipped out my Mulgrew Miller-led discography (of sadly less than 20 projects) to reminisce and was reminded just how much he had influenced me. We bonded on such a human level; I hadn’t really paid attention to how strong an impact he had on me musically. Grew-vy is a tune I wrote that hints a bit at Grew’s Tune. When Kenny Kirkland died in 1998, I composed Doc’s Blues with a tip of the hat to Mulgrew’s Portrait of a Mountain. Honestly, these were things that I didn’t notice until well after the fact. Well, that’s how influence works – I digested so much of his work and then figured out a way to turn it into something from which I ‘grew. ;^D

Integrity

“Mulgrew [Miller] always played with integrity.” ~Russell Malone
“There are no rewards for disciplinarians – only consequences.” ~Ahmad Jamal

Sadly, the word “integrity” doesn’t generally inspire excellence these days. We are living in a time when words like “nobility”, “genuine” and “righteous” are associated with individuals touted as fanatical conservatives who oppress and judge. The inverse is some overly liberal, carefree existence where there are no rules, no definitions and no parameters. Even parenting has taken on an anarchic edge, as many parents are virtually letting their children raise themselves and select their own choice of consequences for bad behavior (or no immediate consequences at all.) We are rapidly deviating from any moral compass, devoid of the responsibility of making choices that require integrity.

Integrity costs. I watched a brilliant pianist like Mulgrew Miller get brushed aside for some 30 years. Essentially, Mulgrew was a quiet but warm individual, not controversial or outspoken and really not concerned for his own glory, but for the edification of others and their musical and personal wellbeing. One could say that he was largely ignored because he didn’t put himself out there; industry-wise, one could be right. But, Jazz (or any other art of this nature) is supposed to soar above the fray of greedy/thieving promoters, surly club owners, incompetent managers, jealous and mediocre musicians, publicity hounds and ignorant record executives that make up the crux of the “music industry.” We can take some solace in the fact that this venomous listing does not include every individual in the aforementioned factions, for there are a number of “angels” who serve the Jazz community well, of which Mulgrew Miller was certainly one.

Arts institutions do not exist in a Utopian vacuum; everyone has a fiscal bottom line. But, what of the artistic bottom line? Essentially, since we are the ones creating the music, the onus of integrity in the music is upon the artist, more so than anyone else. Once artists acknowledge that notion and subsequently function with this in mind, external entities would have no choice but to respond accordingly. We have to stop accepting whatever is tossed at us because our charge and mission are greater than that.

Look – nobody wants to be a “struggling artist”; we’ve spent many years eschewing the personal paths of Van Gogh, Mozart and Bird. But, in mentioning those geniuses in particular, I am moved and even terrified by the mere listing of their names beside each other; the amount of work they produced in their tragically short lives (not one of them reached age 40) – one could almost believe the myth that you have to suffer the worst of hardships and be self-destructive in order to pursue a higher artistic consciousness. We know this to be false, but we do know that there is definitely a struggle involved.

Part of the struggle includes making sacrifices that most of us are simply not willing to make. Though there is a high price to pay for excellence, these sacrifices don’t have to cost us our lives. Yes, an individual can excel artistically and take care of himself and his family – but, it’s by no means an easy road. What we have to accept is that most of us probably won’t be awarded the highest honors or “a little pin from the pope,” but look at Mulgrew Miller: quietly, he terrorized Jazz pianists with his abilities and was a beautiful human being – this is his legacy of integrity. I’m willing to follow that example.

“If the mountain was smooth, you wouldn’t be able to climb it.” ~Unknown

The Art of Swinging: Everybody Has to Be Doing It

The club opens. The people enter. The band hits the stage and everybody is ready to swing.

 

The servers pour water, the band starts the first tune, the people are getting into the groove. Everybody is swinging.

 

What I love about the Jazz fan is that they know what’s happening and they know when it’s nothappening, but they’re still gonna groove with you. What I love about the person who may not be an aficionado, they might not know exactly what’s going on, but they’ll bob their heads, pat their feet or sway to the feeling of whatever their hearts and minds are sensing. They’re just as hip, you see – in order for swing to be effective, everybody has to be doing it. When my sister yells out, “Woo!” and someone else goes, “Ah!” and the drummer goes “Blam” and the server stops what he’s doing to look up at the band – everybody is swinging, y’feel me?

 

The band is now on fire. They’ve been at it for about 4 songs and somehow 40 minutes have passed and the leader looks at the setlist and realizes he still has 8 more songs to go in a 75-minute set and what the hell am I supposed to do now?!? I got all this good music and I can’t play it all. Danny Jankow tells me we could have played another hour and it would have been cool. It was getting late and the leader wasn’t too sure about that…

 

I skip a few things to interrupt the “lull” and wind things down, but finish big, wishing there could have been another set. Not this night. Not this town. Not these days. Not this economy.

 

Next era for sure – everybody will be doing it

(Sunday, September 30, 2012 at 3:08am)

In Remembrance of Dave Brubeck

images-7But, it’s about so much more than that…

When I was 4, my Aunt Barbara gave me an inch high stack of used vinyl records that she purchased for a quarter from a flea market. Included in that stack was Dave Brubeck’s “Time Further Out”, recorded May/June 1961. When I put on the first track, “It’s a Raggy Waltz”, it struck a chord with the funny, adventurous side of my “old soul.” That’s all I knew; here’s what I DIDN’T know then:

I didn’t know that this record was over 10 years old.

I didn’t know that Mr. Brubeck was a leading force in the “Cool Jazz” era.

I didn’t know that he, along with Max Roach, was a master of odd time signatures.

I didn’t know that Dave Brubeck was White and Modoc.

I didn’t know ANY of that and didn’t care.

Here’s what I do know: we have to stop guilt-tripping young musicians into playing Jazz. They’re not going to find their place that way and ultimately, this is what freedom of choice is all about as an artist.  If they have to ask too many questions and don’t have the innate desire to consume this music with love and burning passion, then there’s a good chance they weren’t meant to play it. If there is a contingency that wishes to label swinging as “old hat” and “outdated” – I can’t do anything about that, except to keep being pro-swing. “Anti-“ is going to get you nowhere – fast.

The only way to “preserve” the music is to keep playing it. History gets written down – we learn about it. We’ll never forget wars, inventions, catastrophes – largely because these events have been documented (with some accuracy) and re-told over the ages. For those of us that love swinging, we have to simply continue in that vein. If we allow ourselves to get discouraged because of who’s on what magazine covers, who’s on whose gigs, who’s in which venues – we become bogged down in the mire of bullshit that has absolutely nothing to do with being artistic: performance, creativity and the edification of others.

Let’s find our way back home.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012