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.

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.




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.




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.


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.



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.


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