Archive for December, 2007

From the Fatigue of Despair to the Buoyancy of Hope

Posted in Uncategorized on December 28, 2007 by Josslyn Luckett

In full holiday, high logistics mode, spending a good part of yesterday shuttling car-less family from out of town–I didn’t hear about Benazir Bhutto’s assassination til this morning. Musically my first thought was “Alabama” by John Coltrane, his deep river lament on the assassination of four little girls in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama September 15, 1963. Googling a bit on that song made me want to listen to King’s eulogy for the martyred girls cause I’d just read a line from Martin Smith, the author of “John Coltrane: Jazz, Racism and Resistance” where he suggested that Coltrane “patterned his saxophone playing on Martin Luther King’s funeral speech. Midway through the song, mirroring the point where King transforms his mourning into a statement of renewed determination for the struggle against racism, Elvin Jones’s drumming rises from a whisper to a pounding rage.” To me Elvin Jones is not so much raging but embodying “the buoyancy of hope,” King talked about in his speech. King preached that the four martyred girls have something to say to religious leaders “who have remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows.” The girls have something to say to government leaders who feed their constituents “the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism.” The girls have something to say and King, Coltrane and particularly Elvin’s drums let those freedom voices sing and swing and call us to be “concerned not merely about WHO murdered them, but about the system, the way of life and the philosophy which PRODUCED the murderers,” and call us once more to “substitute courage for caution.”

This all resonates so close to me as I process Benazir Bhutto’s death. I know very little about this woman. I read a moving, frank, personal commentary about her this morning in the LATimes by a classmate of hers, Amy Wilentz (http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-wilentz28dec28,0,4296745.story?coll=la-home-commentary) and a few other posts that just gave me a chill that the hard times, particularly in that region just got harder, “as hard as crucible steel” King would say. But King would also say and did say in the final minutes of the eulogy, “…through it all, God walks with us. Never forget that God is able to lift you from fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transforms dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace.” From Alabama to Rawalpindi, be it MLK or Jesus, John Coltrane or Elvin Jones, somebody knows our trouble and can lift us buoyantly to our deeper sense of humanity, our deeper commitment to justice, peace and freedom. Glory hallelujah.

“Goodnight sweet princesses. Goodnight those who symbolize a new day. May the flight of angels take thee to thy eternal rest.”

I wonder about the just buried Bhutto now as I listen to those final words of King’s eulogy where he paraphrases Shakespeare’s Hamlet…I wasn’t clear about her currently or historically enough to know if she was anyone’s “princess” or a symbol of a “new day”, but I feel determined to become more aware and with that awareness stay steeped in the buoyancy of Elvin’s swing and King’s and Coltrane’s call to courage.

(I invite you to check out the 7cd collection “A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” and also the must have collection: James Melvin Washington’s “A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr.” You can find “Alabama” many places, today I grabbed “The Gentle Side of John Coltrane” cause I thought I might need a little John C/Johnny Hartman too after all this.)

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Beautiful Love

Posted in Uncategorized on December 21, 2007 by Josslyn Luckett

I’m still feeling the love today after two mesmerizing sets of jazz storytelling from Kenny Barron, Kiyoshi Kitagawa and Johnathan Blake at the Jazz Bakery last night that jumped off with “Beautiful Love” and the soul thrilling songs, standards and new originals just kept coming. I’ll return to that majestic trio in a sec, but first I have to say I can’t really hear that song without feeling Shirley Horn and Toots T in that tug-of-war of yearning when they recorded “Beautiful Love” on my fav disk of hers: “You Won’t Forget Me”. Toots accompanies her piano-less voice with both guitar and harmonica while Shirley wails:

“beautiful love, you are a mystery
beautiful love, what have you done to me?
i was contented til you came along
thrilling my soul with your song

beautiful love, i’ve roamed your paradise
searching for love, my dream to realize
reaching for heaven, depending on you
beautiful love, will my dreams come true?”

Haven Gillespie, Egbert Van Alstyne, Victor Young and Wayne King responsible for that beautiful/excruciating love. I have major gratitude for these old Tin Pan Alley cats…did a little googling and found out Young also wrote “When I Fall in Love”, “My Foolish Heart” and “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance” and Gillespie’s credited with “You Go to My Head” and (right on time) “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”…I like noticing that Gillespie was still alive for the Jackson Five version…hope he grooved.

This makes me think of one of the last Christmas’s my pop’s was alive and his main cd that winter was Al Jarreau’s live, “Tenderness” and the track that stayed on repeat was Al and Kathleen Battle singing “My Favorite Things.” At some point pops is like, “Quiet as it’s kept, this is right up there with Coltrane’s for me.” Then we all had to turn around and give love to Julie Andrews too, no question. And right now I wanna give love to those mostly Jewish composers writing these joints listed above a generation or two before Dinah Washington, Keith Jarrett, Trane, Toots, and the organic Michael Jackson recorded the versions I hold so dear. I wonder what music Haven Gillespie and Victor Young would compose and debut at the Duke Ellington Center for the Study of Sacred Jazz.

If you happen to read this before Saturday night, Dec 22, please catch Kenny Barron’s trio at the Jazz Bakery before they head back home for the holidays…as my friend Peter kept saying, “exhilarating! mesmerizing! took us to another level!” And as powerfully as they played, all three were just as gentle and open when they came out after two long sets to chat and connect with the lingering crowd. I kinda stumbled trying to tell Mr. Barron about this blog and my vision for the Duke Center…and he said, “it doesn’t have to be religious” …as if to check in and make sure my vibe was inclusive because for him as long as you come together, totally willing to be in synch like that–he holds the hands I’ve just watched for 3+hours glide across those keys so responsive and resplendent, he holds them together, well, as if he’s saying grace–“I guess it is sacred.” Beautiful. Love.

"If You Have The Ear of God…"

Posted in Uncategorized on December 13, 2007 by Josslyn Luckett

Shout out to the old Musician magazine writers! My brother used to have a subscription to Musician magazine back in the early 80s and it was a big “rule” for him that he got to read his own magazine first. (This makes me giggle now thinking back). But it was great when he left for college and sometimes I’d get to read it first. To begin this journey of writing and thinking about jazz in this more journalistic way (vs the stack of screenplays I have about musicians) makes me think back to those feasts of reading Musician in my early teens. At some point in the 90’s a great anthology of the best of the jazz writing from Musician was published and if you can find a copy of it buy it now! The pieces on Lester Bowie, Charlie Haden, Joni Mitchell on Jaco Pastorius will have you swooning…just remembering them gives me chills, so this morning I grabbed the book and re-read the gorgeous piece Chip Stern wrote for/with Sonny Rollins. I just have to transcribe a few quotes here cause they’re so touching. The piece was originally featured in the May 1988 issue, “Sonny Rollins: The Cross and The Rose.” Stern points out that Rollin’s Manhattan workshop had “a neat pyramid of books on Shintoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity…crowned by a portrait of an African drummer dancing against a brooding russet sky…”
At one point Sonny speaks so sweetly about a recent dream he’d had of Coltrane:

“We were hanging out together, like back in the old days. We were talking, and he was telling me some of his stories with his wry sense of humor. It was very upbeat; everything was harmony and love, you know, and when I woke up I was happy–smiling. I’m sure glad he came back.”

And then on Louis Armstrong:

“When I think of the spiritual, I think of Louis Armstrong. I read where Django Reinhardt said that the first time he heard Louis Armstrong, he cried. Very spiritual. Very much beyond the physical, it’s definitely beyond that–joy!”

The article ends with Sonny talking about the limitless possibilites of new discoveries on his horn:

“And guys say, ‘Oh Sonny, that’s impossible.’ But I don’t think there’s anything that can’t be done. Because music is such a spiritual thing, man. There’s a place where I believe you can transcend these metal instruments and go to another area where you can impose a spiritual reality on the music you are playing. If you have the determination, if you have the faith, if you have the ear of God, you can do any of these things.”

Thank you Sonny Rollins. Thank you thank you Musician mag for years of inspiration and excellence. Again, try to get hold of “The Jazz Musician: 15 years of interviews, the Best of Musician Magazine” Edited by Mark Rowland and Tony Scherman

Jazz Gather We

Posted in Uncategorized on December 11, 2007 by Josslyn Luckett

“We can become a ‘we’ with a little bit of good manners and a little bit of what we call swing.” Wynton Marsalis last night on PBS.

I’m so high on Wynton these days. I got that quote listening to a little interview he did with Glenn Close on PBS last night. This year while back in NYC for my friend Nina’s wedding, I flew in with just enough time to catch one of the last performances of “In This House, On This Morning” a 15 year anniversary concert in the new house of swing, The Rose Theater at Lincoln Center. It was my first time in the new building and wildly when I got out of the elevators I was greeted by a massive gospel choir singing one of my favorite hymns, “Everyday is a Day of Thanksgiving.” It felt a bit surreal, particularly because it’s a hymn I so associate with The Glide Ensemble in the tenderloin in San Francisco, and now I was in this fancy high rise off Columbus Circle stepping into a Gospel Festival in progress in the lobby. This is all before the concert. This is all before stepping inside that hall…that, embrace of a hall. And while the concert is astonishing, just mighty, I think I’m most choked up with gratitude recognizing that this is really the only space of this kind built for jazz in the country that built jazz. During Reginald Veal’s hallelujah bass solo, “In The Sweet Embrace of Life” he called out, “Somebody say ‘Amen'” and I hollered, “Amen” from the balcony. This kind of call and response doesn’t tend to happen in Disney Hall, but let me stay on the gratitude tip here. Thank you Wynton, for respecting this music and our ancestors who created it, and for building a spot to gather and consider the sweet embrace. (One day I’ll post more on the concert and cd of “In this House, On this Morning” I’m still unpacking it.)

“The Triple J Coalition…”

Now fast forward to this past weekend here in L.A. at the Southern California Library where maestro bandleader, sax and flute supreme, composer, civil rights activist, Buddy Collette was honored and honored us with stories of growing up in Watts, followed by an hour or so of his favorite local musicians playing some of Buddy’s original compositions. Buddy’s like family–my brother and Buddy used to shop at the same Ralph’s and dine at the same Bob’s Big Boy 15 years or so back, and particularly in the past 5 years or so, Buddy’s claimed us both and enriched our lives with the greatest epic tales. I was particularly touched by a simple tale he told at the library Saturday about growing up and playing with his school friends who were black, Japanese, white, and his mother would come outside and holler that it was time to come in and eat, so he’d say goodbye to his pals and his mother said, “no, not goodbye, they’re all coming in to eat too. So we learned something about sharing.”

After the program folks were lining up to shake Buddy’s one good hand and ask for autographs. I see a young man, who I find out is DJ Kenzo, aka Joshua Aldrete, who identifies as “super mixed but mostly Mexican.” He asks me if he’s blushing because he’s so excited about the thought of having Buddy Collette sign his copy of the book, “Central Avenue Sounds” a book he picked up after reading “Mr. Jelly Roll” and feeling curious about Jelly Roll’s adventures on Central Ave. I introduce him to my brother, Jason, and we share a laugh about Josslyn, Jason, and Joshua…Joshua is swift to tag us: “The Triple J Coalition.” Coalition. I miss that word. It’s a word I heard constantly as an undergrad at UCBerkeley majoring in Ethnic Studies in the late 80’s and hear so infrequently in Los Angeles. The media will have all of us believing that blacks and Latinos are only at war (some are) and that all Koreans hate blacks (some do) but I stand as a witness that there are spaces where “we can become a ‘we’ with a little bit of good manners…and swing.” Friday I was a welcome and well fed guest at my Korean friend Esther’s mother’s birthday party where we noshed on a gorgeous fruit tart and homemade eel sushi and Saturday I was deep in the Triple J Coalition, surrounded by one of the most integrated age and race wise gatherings in Los Angeles, care of this very hip library, dubbed “the people’s library” on Vermont, listening to jazz legend Buddy Collette remind us the value of sharing.

This is my super long way of getting back to why I’d want the Sacred Jazz Center to be interfaith. Jazz is a great gatherer and the act of gathering is central to all faith traditions. And as much as a conversation about coming together across racial differences is crucial in my city of angels, world wide I feel like the interfaith conversation is the most urgent one for the survival of our humanity and our home. And it happens to be a conversation that happens so seamlessly on the bandstand.

I recently fell back in love with that great quote at the end of Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” where Paul D tells Sethe about Sixo’s love for Thirty Mile Woman. Sixo describes Thirty Mile Woman like this: “She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order.” Jazz does this. Always has. Thank you.

Check out the library: socallib.org/
Also Buddy’s got a web site: buddycollette.com and also check out his tuition free jazz institute: jazzamerica.org
And you can find out more about DJ Kenzo via the very groovy organization J.U.I.C.E. (Justice by Uniting in Creative Energy)
http://www.rampartjuice.com/about.html

Hey, if you’re in Los Angeles this week, don’t sleep on Richard Bona and Mike Stern at Catalina’s (I know, expensive! But the last couple times Bona’s been in town he’s played at the Bowl, so it will be lovely to hear him in a small spot.)

The Duke Ellington Center for the Study of Sacred Jazz

Posted in Uncategorized on December 8, 2007 by Josslyn Luckett

This idea came to me so strong a year or two ago…I could see this interfaith center named after Duke, where Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu…and and and all musicians and music lovers seeking to become more human and whole through this music we love would gather and swing beloved community style. Okay now truth is I also had a vision of me being the founder and dean of this spot…then I got all concerned about divinity school and/or phd in jazz studies or performance studies, oh and raising zillions of dollars in grants and finding a space and could you name it after Duke and not launch it in NYC or DC…I’m still wondering about all of the above, but luckily I had Vietnamese food in downtown Los Angeles yesterday, appropriately at a place called “Blossom” and my friend says, start blogging on it. Begin the conversation. Ahhh.

Now this friend and most of my friends and family are a thousand times more tech savvy than me…I want this blog to look fine and sound so sweet…I’m going to get wiser soon about uploads and podcasts and groovy/inviting graphics…right now though I just want to start writing some of these ideas down and take 2007 out with deep river music gratitude.

“Now I can say openly…what I have been saying to myself on my knees,” Duke Ellington.

That line from the chapter on the Sacred Concerts in Duke’s autobiography, “Music is My Mistress” always stays with me. Last thing I want to suggest here is that I know what is sacred and what is not in jazz…I do want to wonder here and as much as possible start asking musicians and documenting what happens with the music that originates from knee conversations/chants/prayers/deeper silences? What happens in the composing or playing journey that feels different? How do we feel when we listen to these pieces alone? In community? With a lover? With our children? The recently retired genius preacher from Riverside Church, James Forbes gave an amazing sermon last winter about the spiritual, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” where he questions the lines, “Nobody Knows the trouble I’ve seen, nobody knows but Jesus. Nobody knows, the trouble I’ve seen, Glory Hallelujah!” He says how you gonna have that kind of trouble and glory hallelujah together? But then eventually he gets back to, “somebody knows.” Now in the tune and in the sermon, that someone is Jesus…and I’m a huge Jesus lover myself (in profound struggle with “Christianity” but give me Jesus) but for you that somebody might be John Coltrane. That somebody might be Charles Lloyd, Wayne Shorter, definitely Terence Blanchard playing his recent requiem for Katrina…somebody knows and blows our trouble AND hallelujah.

So I want to talk about the music itself that comes from the musicians’ knee conversations and also the music that brings me to my knees with that recognition that somebody seen what I’ve seen.

“& poem is my thank-you for music
& i love you more than poem” Ntozake Shange

That’s one of my favorite lines from Shange’s “for colored girls”…I think of this new blog journey as just one of my humble thank yous for jazz. I’m excited.