Archive for January, 2008

Once Were Warriors, New Orleans Part 1

Posted in Uncategorized on January 30, 2008 by Josslyn Luckett

“Were you at Jacque-imo’s Saturday night?” a man I didn’t think I’d ever seen before asks me. Between acoustic Brazilian music from Riccardo Crespo at a stuffy French joint on Octavia and on my way to see Sunpie at a smoky cigar bar off Tchoupitoulas I suffered the hour long wait for the best meal of my trip. So I say, “Yeah, I was there, what’d you eat?” We drool a bit sharing tales of fried chicken, stuffed catfish, garlic butter cornbread and mashed sweet potatoes. Everything about Monday was magic, I mean Saturday, I mean Sunday…the days and all the souls who filled them kept literally overlapping. There was a Santiago de Cuba photo exhibit at the newly re-opened McKenna Museum of African American Art ( but see, I found out about it 30 minutes after they closed on Saturday and weren’t going to be open to the public again til after I was due to fly back home to Los Angeles. But luckily the dynamic new director, Shantrelle Lewis catches my pleading email and calls me on my cell saying she’ll be at the museum Monday and call her and let her know when I want to come by. I come by right as New Orleans ABC news anchor Michael Hill is filming a live interview with her. He’s the one saw me at Jacque-imo’s. Our conversation with Shantrelle as well as her childhood classmate and close friend who now does PR for the museum, moves from cornbread to Catholic school to the most expansive and complex conversation about the city…but this is so normal now. Sunday night I’m at Fair Grinds, a cafe by the old Whole Foods (that tiny one used to be on Esplanade up near New Orleans Museum of Art, not that mega one on Magazine uptown), and I see three “hip and contemporary” (as Peter J Harris would likely describe them) brothers talking race and theology and I keep noticeably scooting my tea pot and IBook closer so I can eavesdrop. Too interested in the conversation, I just ask if I can join them, and find out I’m suddenly sitting with a priest (in fact, the chaplain of Xavier University), a Dominican Friar, and a young Pentacostal minister from Baton Rogue studying at the Baptist seminary in town. Out way too late Saturday night listening to Kermit Ruffins, I missed church Sunday morning, but that was remedied when Father Ott invited me to noon mass Monday on the Xavier campus. Father Ott is already interested in being the chaplain at the Duke Ellington Center for the study of Sacred Jazz (!), and his music minister at Xavier, jazz pianist Dwight Fitch just lit up when I shared my idea and he immediately wanted to start talking to me about jazz chordal this and gospel phrasing that…Glory be! I know this is a breathless list and I want to break it down and analyze some of the pieces next time, but this is just to let you know in case you don’t that New Orleans is tooooo alive, and none of what I mentioned above even has anything really to do with any Mardi Gras Mambo, though I’ll get to that…there is so much hallelujah and of course so much trouble, palpable melancholy, sometimes contempt…all of it alive and moving and shifting with such profound potential…”if we can be patient” Brother Herman Johnson stares past me meditating hard on his birthplace, the city he keeps returning to–that he can’t stay away from–to minister and inspire, preach and listen.

Next time, I gotta try to describe the practice session I slipped into for the Wild Magnolia’s in prep for the parade. If I had a video you wouldn’t be sure where you were…Santiago de Cuba? Bahia? Mpumalanga? I remember when I saw the movie “Once Were Warriors” and I watched these Maori detention center boys in New Zealand initially forced to learn their ancestral dances to channel/refocus their passion, to create and inspire discipline and self love, love of culture, family, elders…I remember it came out not too long after April ’92 in L.A., the riots, the attempts at gang truces–all that was fresh on my mind–back then I thought, our boys don’t really have what those Maori boys have…not exactly…but what I saw a couple nights ago in New Orleans made me say, oh, okay, yep, here it is…here it’s been…

More soon after a little re-entry rest…

Divine Dissatisfaction

Posted in Uncategorized on January 18, 2008 by Josslyn Luckett

“Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds.” Swing Martin. “Let us be dissatisfied until those that live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security….Let us be dissatisfied until integration is not seen as a problem but as an opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity.” King did indeed swing these words during his last presidential address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1967. I love a little bit earlier in the speech when after saying he’s sticking with non-violence, he says:

“I have also decided to stick to love….And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go.” Love is the one, right? So much saxophone in those wailing metaphors and then he walks just like Jimmy Garrison right back to, “I have decided to love….And the beautiful thing is that we are moving against wrong when we do it, because John was right, God is love.” (I’m hearing the other John’s “Spiritual” right now.)

Then I have to segue to Riverside Church Apr 4, 1967, where he winds down the epic “Time To Break Silence” sermon with: “These are revolutionary times….A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies. This call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all embracing and unconditional love for all men….When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life….”

And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I seriously do have a dream that those words can some day hover over the stage at the center for the study of sacred jazz while women, men and children jam, swing, sweat and stomp divine and dissatisfied. Love moving against wrong, trouble into glory hallelujah. I have decided to stick to love.

“Happy Birthday to ya…”

Consuelo’s Kiss…and a Nun on Beauty

Posted in Uncategorized on January 9, 2008 by Josslyn Luckett

Jackie Ryan can sing. It’s such a joy to come across a REAL jazz singer you’ve never heard of who feels like she must listen to the same records you’ve listened to all your life…I kept thinking, okay, I know she digs the Shirley Horn version of this and she’s got to be in love with the Betty Carter version of that…but then she even pulled out some Oscar Brown Jr., and I was like, what is happening? Two things especially moved me…performance-wise she was inside of every lyric, in the spirit of the genius story telling singers mentioned above…and then on top of that she had great wisdom to share about the composers and lyricists of the tunes she sang.

I’m a little embarrassed to say that after a life time of hearing “Besame Mucho” I never paid attention to who wrote it. Consuelo Velazquez. In 1940. She was about 25 and says she’d “never been kissed” but was inspired by a passionate farewell kiss she witnessed, and then wrote the song that would become the yearning lovers’ anthem of WWII. Velazquez (below…I’m cracking myself up finally figuring out how to add an image!) was born in Ciudad Guzman, in the state of Jalisco, Mexico…probably in 1916…I love learning via a few obits and her Wikipedia listing that she was a classically trained pianist, with a rep for playing Debussy particularly well. And because it was considered too risqué for a young girl from a good family to work in radio…for years she performed on the air with a male pseudonym.

What does all this have to do with “sacred jazz”? Joy. Beauty. Right? I was moved several times during Jackie Ryan’s set both because of her performance and all the places my imagination leapt wondering about these composers, wondering about Consuelo. I just love being in this right now…so filled with curiosity and celebration.

I appreciate how this blogging journey has lit such a fire of curiosity, contemplation and dynamic jazz conversations inside and around me…as you see not too many folks are formally posting comments (so many thanks to those who have!), yet I’m high beyond belief about the private conversations going on…A new jazz aficionado comrade emailed over the holidays thanking me for the blog and letting me know he read the posts while listening to Leon Thomas’ “The Creator Has a Master Plan”…ahh…

Then today, no joke, I was telling a guy I just met about how I was starting to write about jazz…I didn’t even mention the sacred aspect and he spontaneously shared that the moment his daughter was born, he ran out of the hospital room and then back in with a boombox playing Leon and Pharoah, “The Creator has a Master Plan.” He was so passionate about wanting that to be the first music she heard! Delicious echoes.

Finally, I can’t believe I’ve gotten this far into the process without a shout to one of my fav theologians and radical Benedictine nun, Sister Joan Chittister. Recently I got an email from her Benetvision site, a mediation on Beauty where she writes:

“Without beauty we miss the glory of the face of God in the here and now….Beauty is the most provocative promise we have of the Beautiful. It lures us and calls us and leads us on. Souls thirst for beauty and thrive on it and by it nourish hope. It is Beauty that magnetizes the contemplative, and it is the duty of the contemplative to give beauty away so that the rest of the world may, in the midst of squalor, ugliness, and pain, remember that beauty is possible.”

Thank you Consuelo, Jackie, Sister Joan, and my two Leon Thomas loving comrades…thank you for the beautiful music and exchanges you’ve given me to contemplate, remember and celebrate.

"Orange Juice for the Ear"

Posted in Uncategorized on January 2, 2008 by Josslyn Luckett

Before I hit the sack on this first day of 2008 I want to give you a little Oliver Sacks as well as some Duke. I think between the blogging and the Thich Nhat Hanh I’m reading and the little ity bit of meditation/silence practice I’m trying out lately, I’m noticing more and experiencing dazzling synchronicities…wonderful to notice the peace and gratitude with which I’m beginning this new year.

That’s my turbo intro to kinda, slightly skip past, but at the same time celebrate that I paid attention to the quote on my Starbucks coffee cup today (smile). It was from neurologist/writer Oliver Sacks, whose book, “Musicophilia: Tales of Music and The Brain” I gotta get (who’s read it? what’s the word?) I felt excited by his quote:

“Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears–it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more–it can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them music is not a luxury, but a necessity.” Access to movement…to life…I love that.

In “Music is My Mistress” Duke Ellington writes a sort of poem called “What is Music?” that the Sacks quote seems to echo…here are a few lines:

“Music can dictate moods/It can ennerve or subdue/Subjugate, exhaust, astound the heart…Music is like honor and pride/Free from defect, damage, or decay/Without music I may feel blind, atrophied, incomplete, inexistent.”

And just to go out and wish you every joy, jazz and hallelujah possible this year, I share a more often quoted line from Duke’s autobiography, from the chapter on the sacred concerts.

“…every time God’s children have thrown away fear in pursuit of honesty–trying to communicate themselves, understood or not–miracles have happened.”

Thank you Duke! Starting out here with this honestly communicated desire to see a center built in your name to gather folks around music that astounds our hearts, I wonder what miracles might pop up in 08…