Who will love the lads insane?

Posted in Uncategorized on January 11, 2016 by Josslyn Luckett


Reading Bowie’s NYTimes obit this morning, I felt such a pang of nostalgia, of recognition when I got to these words: “Mr. Bowie wrote songs, above all, about being an outsider, an alien, a misfit….”

Somehow I managed to score (“borrow”) my brother’s copy of Changes Two when he left home for college in 1982. It’s possible it was my dad’s LP, but probably J’s. Bowie’s version of “Wild is the Wind” provided a solid musical meeting ground in the late 70’s/early 80’s for the three of us (when my Rodney on the Roq, Jason’s Jagger and Dad’s Nancy Wilson didn’t always make the best mix tape). We all knew and loved Nina’s version too, but frankly I think Pop’s favorite was still the original Mathis. Changes Two starts with “Aladdin Sane” which was the first song I longed for when I heard of Bowie’s death this morning. There is some old, blood memory of a kind of grounding quiet that that song held for me in my pre-teen Orange County colored girl angst. And that crazy piano solo again offered some kind of warm bridge to my father’s increasingly compelling jazz collection.

          “Whoooo will love Aladdin Sane?”

Who will love the crazy child? Who will love the politically radical, big, brown girl in Irvine, California in the 1970s? Bowie was such a surprising balm. By college, out of the suburbs and into the city, the eccentric black, brown and beige lads insane did at last start to find and love each other, still it gave me this private, affirming giggle when the thin white duke married the one-name Somali diva. Bless your funk to funky soul, dear Bowie.

I’m happy, hope you’re happy too…

“we are worth wanting each other”

Posted in Uncategorized on December 1, 2015 by Josslyn Luckett


The ICA here in Philly is paying tribute to one of the city’s most profound angels…Essex Hemphill. Today, world aids day, they are streaming Tiona McClodden’s “Af-fixing Ceremony: Four Movements for Essay.”

Watch here: icaphila.org
Essex Hemphill (born 1957, Chicago; died 1995, Philadelphia) was a poet
and performer who openly addressed race, identity, sexuality, HIV/AIDS,
and the family, voicing issues central to the African-American gay
community. His first collections of poems were the self-published
chapbooks Earth Life (1985) and Conditions (1986). His first full-length
collection, Ceremonies: Prose and Poetry (1992), won the National Library
Association’s Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual New Author Award. His work is
included in the anthologies Gay and Lesbian Poetry in Our Time (1986)
and Life Sentences: Writers, Artists, and AIDS (1993). Hemphill’s poetry
and his performances with the group Cinque were featured in the films
Looking for Langston (1989), Tongues Untied (1989), and Black Is … Black
Ain’t (1994). He received fellowships from the National Endowment for
the Arts and grants from the Pew Charitable Trust Fellowship in the Arts
and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. He was a visiting
scholar at the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities in
Santa Monica, California.


“Our brightest hopes, extinguished now”…and still THE EPIC sings our glory

Posted in Uncategorized on June 20, 2015 by Josslyn Luckett


I love that young brother Kamasi had the nerve to launch a three disk release called The Epic and folks are losing their minds behind it. I have so many thoughts and feelings about all that’s happened this week…the sorrow is so deep and yet I hope somebody’s been playing Mingus’s Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting loud, unafraid of the glory and joy in that piece because that kind of soul force must have also been present in the radical hospitality our departed African Methodist Episcopal brothers and sisters extended to their assassin. I played Kamasi’s album for the first time yesterday and was so full up with gratitude for the life force unleashed by this saxophonist I’ve been watching since he was in high school (maybe junior high?). Amazing to hear and reflect on all he must have absorbed from the brilliance, rigor, and imagination of the many musical education encounters, both organized and organic, he experienced.  I’m thinking of jazz education programs once helmed by beloved ancestors Billy Higgins, Buddy Collette, and Horace Tapscott (P.A.P.A. is ringing so clear throughout the Epic) and those still rockin’ from East L.A. to the Watts Towers to Leimert to the Westside with generous geniuses like Patrice Rushen, Nedra Wheeler, Lesa Terry, Bobby Rodriguez and all the UCLA heavyweights like Kenny Burrell, James Newton and Roberto Miranda…

Washington dedicates his sonic dance with Debussy to Maestro Gerald Wilson. Still when I heard it I remembered the time Dwight Trible told me that Oscar Brown Jr was working on vocal arrangement of Clair de Lune before he died that he thought Dwight might be able to handle….and all of those thoughts flood me with the majesty of these sacred, multi-genre/generational transmissions that keep all of these musics alive. Then I get a chill hearing Dwight and Patrice Quinn sing Ossie Davis’s Eulogy for Malcolm X…and I am returned to the dirge so heavy in all our hearts behind the 9 extinguished hopes in Charleston, SC. Seem too soon for a second line, still Kamasi’s epic keep giving me the fire to remember and know and keep speaking our glory.

Courage love and listening: thinking about the loss of Charlie Haden

Posted in Uncategorized on January 1, 2015 by Josslyn Luckett


Happy New Year!!!

I had hoped to post a few days ago to remember the greats who became ancestors in 2014 and this morning Charlie Haden is on my mind especially. Throughout the painful days of this past couple months regarding racial violence and police brutality, it’s guys like Charlie Haden who help me. He helps me remember there are courageous white men who actually love, value, revere, deeply listen to, study from and celebrate black people. I’m pretty sure the last time I saw him play was in L.A. with Alice Coltrane who he loved so deeply. I think of the time he lifted up the black liberation movements in Mozambique and Angola and got himself arrested after a gig with Ornette in Portugal. And this morning I reread these beautiful lines from an old piece by Rafi Zabor in Musician magazine (published in the great anthology of jazz writings from that magazine: The Jazz Musician: 15 years of interviews edited by Mark Rowland and Tony Scherman). Dig this:

“People ask me what I think about when I’m improvising, and I have to tell them there’s no thought process. You have to get to know music as you would a person, and get close to music as you would to a friend, and the closer you get, the nearer you are to touching music, and when you’re really playing, when you’re really touching music, if you try to remember back you’ll see that your ears become your mind, your feelings become you mind, and there is no thought process as far as the intellect is concerned. It’s coming from the emotions and from whatever energy is passing from the music to you. The ego goes away. Or should I say, you reach a place where there is no ego, and in doing that you see yourself in relation to the rest of the universe, and you see your unimportance in relation to the rest of the universe, and in seeing your unimportance you begin to see your importance. You see that it’s important to have respect and reverence for life and music, and in being able to do that you get close to being honest in your playing.”

I miss Jimmy Scott to the core, miss Horace Silver too…still I am heaviest with the loss of Haden because these times need men like him so much, to model this kind of humanity. Deep deep bows of gratitude for what you modeled Mr. Haden. I’ll go listen to Steal Away now and imagine you and Hank Jones swinging in the New Year wherever you are…

Strong and free

Posted in Uncategorized on December 9, 2014 by Josslyn Luckett

blk sonshine

And never G.I.V.E. U.P and keep your H.E.A.D U.P….

Who knew Jaheim would lift me this week but I stumbled on that old tune, “Fabulous” and had to play it about 5 times in a row.  The other album that is offering such healing grooves are my dear brothers Neo and Masauko, Blk Sonshine…especially their song of Peter J Harris’ poem, “Fingerpainting a Masterpiece” and the supremely uplifting, “Building”…here’s the youtube for that here.

Thank you all for the healing, hopeful, head-up sounds…

I’m gonna let it shine…Bernice Johnson Reagon on the collective “I”

Posted in Uncategorized on September 27, 2014 by Josslyn Luckett

freedom singers

Watching a video of this amazing interview between Bernice Johnson Reagon and the recently late beloved beloved Vincent Harding for his Veterans of Hope project, I was knocked out about what she had to say about a collective “I.”

Starting out by explaining the emphasis in Western choral music on blending, she explains:

…there’s an aim for a blend so you cannot distinguish where the parts are coming from. With congregational singing, I could drive up to the church and they could be singing and I could tell you who was there. Because, the individual timbres of the voice never disappear. And so one of the things I think that’s important for democracy is that congregational style, where the individual does not have to disappear. And it does not operate as an anti-collective expression. There are some others in the repertoire with the I songs: “We shall overcome” was originally “I shall overcome”; “We Shall not Be Moved” was “I shall not be moved.” I’m so glad they didn’t change, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine”…but if you’ve got a group of people, and all of them are saying I, you actually have a group. If you have a group of people and they’re singing WE, you don’t know who’s going to do what. And you know just try to organize something. You say, like this, you know, “We gonna bring food tonight.” And if you are the nervous wreck organizer, you will leave that meeting and you will end up bringing enough food for everybody because you won’t know who or if anybody’s going to bring anything. So you’re the one who comes in, you’ve got the vegetables and the chicken and the cake, just in case because nobody said, “I’m bringing this, I’m bringing…you don’t get a group until you get some individuals who will say, “I’m in.” And so you’ve got these collective expressions in the African American tradition that are “I” songs and those songs are the way to express the group.


However, one of the wonderful things about the evolution of songs, is that the change of some of the songs to “we” document black people coming together with a white left, predominantly white left, that’s heavily intellectual about collectivism and group, and they like to say, tell us very quickly, “I means individualism and we expresses the group. We means we’re together.” And we looked at ’em and we said (chuckles) “Okay, if you need it….because basically the important thing is that you’re here and if in order to be here you need this we, we gonna give you this we, you got this we, we gonna do all the “we”s you need.” And so you get a document of when another presence joined in collaboration and commitment against racism by following the changes in the words of the songs.

The Diaspora NOW…

Posted in Uncategorized on April 18, 2014 by Josslyn Luckett
nduduzo profile
We are hosting a beautiful conference this week at UPenn called “Diasporic Circuits Reconsidered.” If you catch this post today and are in the Philadelphia area, come on through! Find more info and today’s schedule here.
Last night at the Painted Bride in conjunction with the conference we hosted an amazing night of diasporic grooves…from South Africa, the sublime Nduduzo Makhathini (pictured above), from Jamaica (and Brooklyn) the Nyabinghi chants of Ancient Vibrations as well as Junior Wedderburn’s UZALO, and last but not least a deeply tender set of duets between Penn’s own Professor Guthrie Ramsey and his stunning vocalist daughter, Bridget Ramsey. I had the honor of hosting the event and providing some opening remarks, included below…
I first give thanks to and for this space, this generous, generative and welcoming space the Painted Bride, which I knew about long before I ever moved to Philadelphia because of the important relationship so many of my writing mentors had to this space…people like Ntozake Shange, Sekou Sundiata, and Toni Cade Bambara. Tonight, we also give thanks to our musical ancestors Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln, Oscar Brown Jr, and Babatunde Olatunji as we respectfully riff and reflect on their pan African masterpiece, “We Insist!: The Freedom Now Suite” recorded in 1960. We decided to call tonight’s gathering of music and visual art from South Africa, Jamaica and Philadelphia: The Diaspora Now Suite as homage to the diasporic circuits considered then by Max Roach and company….
From crushing cotton field stomps
To baleful Johannesburg cries,
“Ain’t but two things on my mind…driva man and quittin’ time…”

Those percussive prayers and unholy screams served then and still serve now as down beat to our antiphonal emancipation meditations, our atlantic-wide ring shout.

When I say whisper, you say listen,





listen say we’re free.
Say we’re free?…CAN IT REALLY BE? is it freedom day?

We gather this week, 20 years almost to the day of the election of Nelson Mandela, and wonder from the Western Cape to Coral Gardens to Old city Philadelphia, when is freedom day? And in our blues we feel at times like Abbey Lincoln, worried and wondering, are these just rumors flying, must be lying because the broken promises, broken bodies, broken hearts in our paths post apartheid, post colonial struggles, post civil rights, post 9/11 do not ring in the key of life, do not sound the bells of liberty.

It is holy week for our Christian brothers and sisters, holy (Maundy) Thursday to be specific, so brokenness is a theme in the meditations of many across the globe tonight. One of my favorite lines on brokenness comes from the Sufi teacher Hazrat Inyat Khan who tells us, god breaks the heart over and over and over until it stays open.

Until it stays open…

As engaged thinkers and seekers, activists and teachers we stay open to the kinds of conversations we are having this week at Penn in our Diasporic Circuits Reconsidered conference. And while most of us still insist on FREEDOM NOW, this week we do the work to collectively whisper and listen across oceans, across differences of region, race, gender, discipline, color, class, spiritual and secular practices, asking the question, not freedom now but freedom how?Tonight the extraordinary musicians gathered here, Ancient Vibrations, Guthrie and Bridget Ramsey, Nduduzo Makhatini and Uzalo, get to do a different part of this work with us. And here I want to wind down with some lines from Robin D.G Kelley’s recent book, Africa Speaks, America Answers…lines in praise of the power of jazz and other black musics of the diaspora to energize our minds and souls for this challenging work ahead. Kelley writes:
In short, the musical and political dialogue between Africa and America continues, and jazz–along with hip hop, reggae,
afrobeat, makossa, rai, zouk and countless styles and genres remains a vibrant language. But like everything else, the conversation has changed and will change again. The essential qualities of the music have not. Jazz knows no borders or boundaries, it is a music of lamentation and hope, pain and exhiliration, crisis and resistance, and above all…FREEDOM, UHURU! Jazz speaks and will continue to speak from every continent, every city, every culture around the globe. And before we answer, let us listen–listen to the music and listen for the music…wherever it might be. It will not solve global economic crises or end conflicts, but it can do what it has always done–
Thank you so much for coming out, hope to see you tomorrow at Penn. And now let the marvelous begin….

Cleanly and Freely…Rest in Peace Brave Baraka

Posted in Uncategorized on January 10, 2014 by Josslyn Luckett


Who will eulogize the greatest eulogist we’ve ever known?  Week this hit me most was the week I saw him deliver the eulogy for Sekou Sundiata bout 3 days before he offered one up for Max Roach. “For me, writing a eulogy is very much part of a writer’s central purpose, which is not supposed to be serving as a spontaneous reflector of one’s self, but as an investigator of a useful shared vision” -that’s from the intro to his collection of Eulogies. I have no further words at this time–just gratitude for Baraka’s generosity, his generous ears and eyes receiving and revealing our blues…all blues.

(here’s a lovely interview with Baraka on WBGO discussing the 50 year anniversary of Blues People.)

In gratitude…

Posted in Uncategorized on December 6, 2013 by Josslyn Luckett


This photo is by Alf Khumalo. I was actually trying to find his image of Hugh Masekela jumping 10 ft in the air holding the new trumpet he’d just received from Louis Armstrong, also by Khumalo, but this one came up first. It will take a while to write more coherently about Madiba’s passing…but I’m just thinking about my gratitude for his teaching, the gift of his wisdom. I’m also moved because just hours before hearing of Mandela’s passing I finished the last “Jazz Speaks for Life” class of the semester, the amazing course I’ve been T.A.-ing for with Dr. Guthrie Ramsey. The applause we had at the end of class and these testimonies from the students we’ve been receiving about how taking this class and being introduced to this music has changed their lives has served as a sweet upbeat to the blues of my grief for our planet’s loss. And all this makes me turn to another wise teacher…this is from Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Creating True Peace: Ending Violence in Yourself, Your Family, Your community and the World”…part 2 of the Five Touchings of the Earth ceremony…

In gratitude, I bow to all generations of ancestors in my spiritual family. (bell, touch the earth). I see in myself my teachers, the ones who show me the way of love and understanding, the way to breathe, smile, forgive, and live deeply in the present moment….I ask these spiritual ancestors to transmit to me their infinite source of energy, peace, stability, understanding, and love. I vow to practice to transform the suffering in myself and the world, and to transmit their energy to future generations…

My deepest bows and smiles to you dear Madiba. Viva!


Posted in Uncategorized on December 6, 2013 by Josslyn Luckett


“To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Nelson Mandela