Archive for August, 2010

Fresh and Falling…

Posted in Uncategorized on August 16, 2010 by Josslyn Luckett

Earlier this year, after my mom’s second major surgery in two weeks, laying heavily sedated in her Concord, NH hospital room, she asked me to sing the hymn, “Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.”  With what little voice and strength she had she still managed to help me through the middle verse, where I always get the words a little messed up

melt me, mold me, fill me, use me

This morning I sat in her church, listening to my recovered and absolutely radiant pastor mama preach a sermon about fire, anger and forgiveness…after which her small, profoundly loving, proudly open and affirming Deering, NH UCC church sang together, “Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me…” I can’t really hear that hymn now without tearing up.

Later this same afternoon Mom, my brother, Jason and I were among the hundreds in Peterborough, NH celebrating this year’s MacDowell Artists Colony medal recipient:  the majestic Sonny Rollins, who will be 80 next month.  In his remarks, Mr. Rollins spoke of a kind of sacred circle…he said if anything he ever played made someone’s life feel a little bit better, that he was grateful, that this was a return for all the music and musicians who did the same for him.  The ceremony was followed by a triumphant set in celebration of Rollins by Fred Hersch’s trio (with John Hebert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums).  Hersch is midway into his 7th compositional residency at MacDowell, working on a multi-media piece about the nightmares and dreams he remembered from the coma he survived 2 years ago. 

I was as present as I could be throughout this dynamic day, still my heart has been so heavy with news of the death of Abbey Lincoln yesterday.  I heard of her passing from another extraordinary singer, Diane Richardson after she and a group of brilliant Boston-based artists spent a gorgeous Roxbury afternoon resurrecting the music of Makanda Ken McIntyre.  Driving home this evening trying to make sense of/hold in tension so much loss and so much glorious, living, right-now spirit/sound (I’m thinking of Hersch’s composition “Still Here” that he played today and wrote for Wayne Shorter) I figured out that some of the sadness I feel is a sort of anxiety that too many of the wise ones are leaving…Herman Leonard the same weekend! 

But then I think about the circles, the fresh spirit that falls from the wise and holy ones to the open, present, listening ones.  I love the story Robin Kelley shares in his new book, Thelonious Monk:  The Life and Times of an American Original, that Max Roach had invited Monk to Abbey Lincoln’s 1961 studio date where she was singing her original lyrics to “Blue Monk”.  After the recording, Monk approached Ms. Lincoln who recalled, “he whispered in my ear, ‘don’t be so perfect.’  He meant, don’t be afraid to make a mistake.”  I will write soon about the glory of the 2010 Newport Jazz Fest, but right now just want to mention one of the deepest realizations I had at the fest was how important good jazz parenting is…As I watched the 85 year old, “young blood” Roy Haynes’ set with Chick Corea, I thought about Roy playing with Charlie Parker who was mentoring Miles Davis, who mentored Herbie and Wayne (and Chick)…who mentor Lionel Loueke, Brian Blade….I watched the stream of young musicians like Gretchen Parlato and Kendrick Scott who were mentored by Terence Blanchard (via the Thelonious Monk Institute), who with Wynton Marsalis and Donald Harrison were mentored by Art Blakey who also mentored Wayne.  As many different musical styles and sounds as there were bursting from those three stages…I dare anyone to find more than a degree of separation between the musicians in terms of these wisdom sharing circles.  And so I go back to my last post on Abbey where Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh talks about  no death, no birth,  only continuation…we celebrate the continuation of generosity, wisdom, and the kind of deep listening that makes swing possible.  We follow the sorrow song dirge with the sacred second line stomp.  We are perfect and we are blue.  Fresh and falling, fresh and falling and fresh….

Now, I gotta go find Abbey singing “Nature Boy”

…the greatest thing, you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return…

For the Courageous Vulnerability of Abbey Lincoln

Posted in Uncategorized on August 6, 2010 by Josslyn Luckett

Happy Birthday Abbey Lincoln!  I love reading in Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Fifth Book of Peace that the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh calls birthdays “continuation days” (“We aren’t born, we don’t die.”)   I wish to simply express my profound gratitude to Ms. Lincoln for continuing for 80 blessed years to breathe and live and walk this Wholly Earth, writing, whispering and even wailing love…can you dig it?  Can you dig it?

I used to keep this post-it on my computer that said “courageous vulnerablity” and I can’t even remember where I first saw that two word epic poem, but those words come to mind/heart/body/soul whenever I listen to Abbey’s voice, wisdom stories and songs… 

~going alone, life is your own, but the cost sometimes is dear…being complete, knowing defeat, keeping on from year to year, it takes some doing….(“Blue Monk”)

~moving slowly is not really bad, moving slowly you see, the wonders of the deep just waiting there for me (“A Turtle’s Dream”)

~throw it away, throw it away, give your love, live your life, each and every day, and keep your hand wide open, let the sun shine through, ’cause you can never lose a thing if it belongs to you (“Throw It Away”)

Maxine Hong Kingston lost the first drafts of her Book of Peace in the Oakland fires of 1991, right at the same time she was burying her father.  She begins the book this way: “If a woman is going to write a Book of Peace, it is given her to know devastation.” 

Dorothy Allison closes her memoir, Skin:  Talking about Sex, Class, and Literature also in praise of courageous vulnerability: “I wear my skin only as thin as I have to, armor myself only as much as seems absolutely necessary.  I try to live naked in the world, unashamed even under attack, unafraid even though I know how much there is to fear….I tell myself that life is the long struggle to understand and love fully.  That to keep faith with those who have literally saved my life and made it possible for me to imagine more than survival, I try constantly to understand more, love more fully, go more naked in order to make others as safe as I myself want to be…”  On this Celebration of Continuation day for you dear Abbey,  I lift you up for keeping on from year to year, for making it possible for so many of us to imagine more than survival, to truly know the glory of sunshine and song shining through your wide open heart and hands… 

The most exciting news I heard this past week is about the feature length documentary film Abbey Lincoln:  The Music is the Magic soon to be completed and released by dazzling jazz photographer turned producer/director, Carol Friedman.  Please visit her Facebook page to watch the stunning trailer and invite all your jazz loving friends to support this incredible and necessary feast of film.