I hear it; the splash of the gong exclaiming the beginning; the “Acknowledgement”; almighty and powerful. I can hear it. He lays out the opening chord in broken “saxophonal” English as drums batter patiently behind him. Toms roll like the thunderous voice of God, shouting, “I am here”, and he listens. I also listen. The world listens. He speaks only in sound, there’s no trick or hidden message to be misconstrued; it’s all just pure and honest magic. Thoughts flutter through my head bouncing from one wall to another as the sounds of effortless, dangerous, and irresponsible notes fuse to form near perfection in a medium where imperfection is encouraged. I think of God or the lack there of, I think of myself, of life, of the world and its inhabitants. I raise a glass of newly chilled Coca-Cola to my lips and remember every bubble. They pop in adventitious harmony to the scratching wax sculpture of musical ambiance, and I think. With all of this in my mind, and all of these passionate feelings of soul and being, and serious thoughts, I search and fail to find the presence of one. John Coltrane was a black man. I believe in racism and that it can be and will be cured through the power of Jazz.
I grew up in the South with my parents. My mother was the daughter of Depression era immigrant children, and my father was an eleventh or twelfth generation American. He and the remaining of his family live in North Carolina and complain about what they see as “the ever growing immigration problem”. Basically, they’re homegrown racists who listen to Elvis Presley religiously and attend all-white churches in exclusively white areas of town. It’s an environment in which one wouldn’t expect unity, or brotherhood, or even common interests, but I have seen it. When Chick Corea comes to the Greensborough Jazz festival no one concerns himself with thoughts of his Hispanic background, they are simply there to think and enjoy the beauty and the rhythms of the music. It’s in every jazz history text I’ve ever glanced at. There’s Duke Ellington; 1933 at an auditorium in Atlanta. White police officers are working crowd control. Jimmy Crowe is still there enforcing his ridiculous Ferguson Dogma, but oddly is nowhere to be seen. Without concern white men, as well as black men, are pushing their way forward in order to get a closer look at the stage. They don’t care that everyone in the Ellington band is black, they don’t even think about it. They know jazz is for everyone, not just its African-American founders. People touch, the sweat of black men and white men mingles like the chords of an Ellington serenade. There is no violence and no strife. There is no hatred, or even thoughts of hatred, just the splash of the cymbals, the shifting chords, and the sweeping melodies. It is all harmonious.
Why? Because of music. It cures all ills, brings people together and makes us colorblind. The music is the only color we need to see. Stan Getz, Charlie Parker, Astrud Gilberto, Cole Porter, you, me, the mailman, and so many others have been connected. Not through hate and fear, and not through love, but through something much deeper, steadfast, and unchanging. We all make it up as we go, but fundamentally are doing the same thing…improvising; because on the bus of life there are no seating arrangements, but there is always jazz on the radio.
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