Tag Archive for 2020 reflections

I can’t possibly imagine…

….what my Life would look like without Black America.

From my musical identity, to the most formative and foundational experiences of my life, I can’t imagine what my Life would look like without Black America. Here’s what I mean:

My livelihood, my Career, my Gift, my Passion, my means of Self-Expression, my ability to Help/Teach/Serve others, my Ability to Inspire others, all this and more is found in one word: Music.

Let’s start at the beginning. How did I find my way onto this path, this passion and dedication of life to Music?

I can point to countless experiences along my journey, but one is absolutely the cornerstone of ALL else that followed:

The Sunday morning I experienced the Music at Mason Baptist Church, a small and humble African American congregation on the outskirts of Birmingham Alabama, at the young impressionable age of eleven years old. My Mom’s family, growing up in the Old South, mind you, had “help” from a lady named Louise, one of the kindest, gentlest souls I knew. Well, years later she invited our family to her church, and the details of the sermon from the venerable Reverend Perry that day, and the extent of the absolute feast of the after-church Sunday lunch that followed are hazy. You know what isn’t hazy? The moment the Music ministry at that church, probably no more than 4 or 5 guys, began TO PLAY! I remember the organist started up, and already my ears ticked up. First off, I had never heard anything like this to date. They weren’t reading music, they were Feeling it in every fiber of their being and body. But I will never forget as long as I live, when that Drummer started to play, and really get going, churning the entire congregation and very building into a rhythm and a fever pitch I really can’t even put into words. THAT MOMENT I experienced the Spirit of MUSIC – or in that context we might even call The Holy Spirit – on a level I never knew possible. Looking back, I point to that moment right there as one that forever changed my life and made me absolutely obsessed with the possibility of what Music was capable of, the heights of sound, the sheer and palpable, raw, creative, Spirit-in-action that Music in its highest Glory can achieve.

I can’t possibly imagine….

…The shape my musical identity would then take, if it weren’t for Black America.

I was a budding piano student of around the same age, 11 or 12 years old, studying with the formative Jim Walbert, an old family friend who lived down the street from my house in Homewood, AL. We first tried a few classical pieces, a few themes from movies/TV shows..I was still more interested in getting outside and jumping on my skateboard. One day, he breaks out a little arrangement of something called “Prelude to a Kiss” (he had his own handwritten arrangements in the hundreds) and played those first chords for me. Again, like the Mason Baptist moment, I was stopped in my tracks. How could these harmonies sound so good, so rich? What on Earth was THIS!? Well, this was my introduction to the world of Jazz, and the possibilities of this rich American musical tradition opened up before me. Specifically, this is a Black American tradition, at its core. Where would this music be without the contributions of composers like Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Miles, Bird, Dizzy and so many more…? Mr. Walbert assigned me two of my first jazz CD’s, ever – A compilation of Duke Ellington’s big band classics, and the Oscar Peterson Quartet Live at the Blue Note. I listened to these CD’s constantly and from then on, my ear and my musical sensibilities have been hooked on this thing called Jazz, which we might just call Black American Music. Under that heading I also include – Funk, Soul, Hip-Hop, RnB…so many variations and permutations of those styles and more that have informed my tastes and sensibilities over so many years, and continue to do so every damn day.

I owe such a debt to this musical tradition, it cannot be overstated. I have tried to humbly study and dissect this music for the last two decades and feel like I am still scratching the surface. I’ve tried to offer my small contribution to this music, through the lens of my own experience and original composition. I follow a continuum of a tradition that is so much larger than myself and my own story. This Music has literally payed my bills. This Music has given me the title of “Professor” at a major university, and the quote unquote status that affords. My “brand,” my career, my Art, ALL of it owes an incredible debt to Black American Music, and thus, Black America.

Which brings me to, finally…

I can’t possibly imagine….

What it’s like Being Black in America. I don’t know what it’s like to deal with the continual judgment of my worth as a human being – my abilities, my aptitudes, hopes, dreams, intentions, desires – simply based on the skin color I ended up with at birth. I don’t have any reference point for the feeling of continual fear, paranoia, trauma, that must accompany any and every interaction with the authorities, whether getting pulled over for blowing a light, or getting pulled over..for being black. I don’t know what it’s like to have to constantly wonder and worry every time a friend/child/relative goes out at night (or goes practically anywhere in modern day America) if they’ll return in one piece, or return at all. I can’t possibly imagine what it’s like to turn on the news, and again, see another black or brown life extinguished so mercilessly like that of George Floyd. Or Ahmaud Arbery. Or Mike Brown. I don’t know what it’s like to be understandably aggravated, tired, weary of all of this, for so long…and then be told to just grin and bear it, again and again, and to abide by the rules of a society that routinely dishonors and disrespects those rules when it comes to MY LIFE, MY destiny, MY very worth or ability to exist in that society. Even if I could really imagine it, I’ll still never have to really live it.

So, to conclude I just say –

Allow me to acknowledge my debt to Black America today. Allow me to confess my lack of understanding, my lack of Lived Experience. But please, don’t refuse or discount my empathy, my care, my concern, my gratitude, my wish to uplift and heal in whatever way, this thing called Black America. I believe these times call for Unity like never before, for Fellowship, for Brotherhood. I don’t support the destruction of business or property, but I support the protesting of injustice, of systemic inequality, of long-held ways and assumptions that just aren’t working in 2020 (and never really “worked”), and acknowledging that yes sometimes, there’s gonna be some necessary sacrifices in that process. I am inspired and encouraged that my generation is coming together in a whole new way to tackle the systemic problems that have been festering in this experiment called U.S.A for so long. I’m aware that this change has to come from the Ground Up. Ah, I have so many more thoughts, really.

But today I just wanted to say that no, I can’t possibly imagine what my life would look like without Black America.

Take care out there folks.

Peace and Love,

-J

. . .

P.S. Did you know that June is designated “African American Music Appreciation Month” ?? How bout that.

#thoughtsonthursdays

#blacklivesmatter

#justiceforgeorgefloyd

#justiceforahmaudarbery

#BlackAmericanMusic

#BAM

 

Words for 2020 (so far)

Ahoy folks!

Its been ages since I wrote a blog post. So what better time than here, now, in this wild and whacky 2020 we find ourselves in!?

I’m gonna keep this one fairly brief. I’m not gonna offer the full extent of my thoughts on the coronavirus crisis, or whine about how things have affected my life and music career, or even share what I think is REALLY GOING ON. I’m just gonna offer a few words that might best serve us at this very decisive, empowering, transformative moment in time, to say the least.

So in no particular order, in 2020 I suggest:

DISCERNMENT:

2020 is all about Vision. I’m gonna repeat that later in this post. Part of VISION is keeping perspective on what’s happening, no doubt, but also weeding through the sheer vastness of SO many theories, opinions, conflicting narratives, spins, remixes and takes on the TRUTH right now that it’s hard to know where to turn. We need to exercise new-decade-levels of DISCERNMENT right now to make head or tail of it all. What are the sources of our information? Who’s story do we really buy? Who’s pill do we swallow, who’s shot do we take!?

It seems that with every new take/opinion/ on the origin and agenda of the current crisis, there’s a counter-response, a chess move made made in return. Like chess, pausing to weigh our options and our moves requires a deliberate level of reflection and discernment.

We were endowed with sound minds and reasoning capacity, and the ability to make judgements for our best good, for a reason. So I just urge us all to question who’s narrative we are getting, and do a little more detective work to see the larger aims of said narratives, especially from those sources who’ve been proven time and again to deliberately mislead, misinform, or worst of all, deceive, the public. With all this work required on our parts, I’d say it’s equally important to take a step back, get a few good deep breaths, and listen to our gut! Which segues nicely into…

INTUITION:

Mission Critical at this juncture. Hand-in-hand with discernment, what really feels right TO US right now!? There’s alot of pressure to conform to mass opinion, to fall into the herd mentality more than ever. The audacity to think for oneself can land you in hot water, and get you labelled in one fell swoop as a “conspiracy theorist/nut-job/pick-your-poison” epitaph. But the price to pay for that means going against one’s inner knowing, one’s sense of what’s truly right, if it is honest and sincere. As it happens, the abundant time in self-isolation affords plenty time to go within and search for the real meaning in things, and gauge for ourselves what resonates on that deep level. Intuition starts with I, after all. This is a time for greater responsibility, an ownership of our judgement faculties, like never before.

Not only to make sense of the ever evolving chess game OUT THERE, we need to figure out what the heck our own path is gonna be through this storm. We are being forced to adapt (or even majorly overhaul) our careers, livelihoods, our very basic ways of surviving/existing in the world. And no one handed out a road-map for this, so we must create it. The true litmus test of any big choice is again, really feeling our way into that new path, as scary as it can be. If we can all really dial our intuition antennas up in a big way, I think we’ll emerge from the storms of 2020 in a much stronger and firmer place in our lives than before.

MOVING IN, THROUGH, AND PAST FEAR:

Turning on the news stirs up alot of fear. Not knowing when we’ll have a reliable income again creates alot of fear. The massive uncertainty of our direction, and the potential for even more roadblocks up ahead surely creates alot of fear. Go out in public or to the six-foot-distanced line at the grocery store and you can practically taste it. Don’t know about you but some days I can literally feel this fear in my body, and it’s quite powerful. So, fear is here and it’s quite real. It’s a totally natural, justifiable response…I’m not suggesting denying or pushing it away is gonna help anybody. So how do we deal with it in a constructive way? I suggest moving into it, through it, and finally, past it.

I think we’re ultimately better off allowing fear to do it’s thing on us initially, rather than trying to avoid or suppress it. The problem is dwelling on it and getting stuck in the mire of fear, being paralyzed by it’s constricting quality. One thing I’ve come to find in my own personal life is that fear is just a few degrees on the scale away from excitement, enthusiasm, passion, and action. A little bit of fear is actually helpful to us, spurring us on in a major way because we’re so inclined to get away from it. All success stories usually say something to the effect of – “Embrace discomfort. Your fear tells you the direction you need to go” and yadda yadda yadda. But I think there’s real truth in that. We don’t grow from everything being nice and comfortable all the time. So I think if we can really feel this fear, but then use it as fuel for moving in that new, uncharted direction, we’ll have a chance at putting fear in its right place, instead of letting fear having us stuck in place.

TRUST:

It’s not particularly a given even in the good times to Trust, really and fully, the course Life intends for us. All the moreso in times of global pandemics. But here we are, and we can wave our hands in despair and hopelessness, or we can access a deep part of ourselves that ultimately has the strength to Trust. Challenging times have a way of forcing us into trust – there isn’t much else we can do when all else looks uncertain. If we can surrender our need to understand, to fully know where it’s all supposed to lead, to have an answer – we can “let go and let God,” to use the old cliched expression. But true surrender is the only real way to get to the heart of Trust, after all. Can we trust that there’s a higher purpose to everything we’re going through? That there’s a Divine order to our lives and we have the wherewithal to deal with even the most unexpected, extreme challenges? I’m of the belief that we might have even chose to be here, at this crazy time on the planet. How much better might we sleep at night if Trust was our foundation? I think times like these steer us into Trust; we go into Trust kicking and screaming, or in calm surrender, one way or the other.

VISION:

2020 is all about Vision (there, i said it again) Ideal vision, after all, IS 2020! So now that we have had this real PAUSE — some would say, RESTART BUTTON — really pushed, where DO we want to take it from here? It’s clear by now — for all of us in different ways, and also in a majorly unique, collective way — that we had alot of other issues before a mass pandemic hit. We’ve lost income, routines, structures, and more…but we’ve also lost alot of negatives related to that old “normal” too. I think Nature agrees that a break from the global economy churning at full speed has some upsides…cleaner air, for one. We have a pretty blank slate moment to take advantage of here. It’s a wonderfully unique opportunity to really re-orient our goals, dreams, and visions to the type of person we want to be, and the world we want to have, like never before. I think it’s obvious by now that we’re not gonna return to that old normal, so instead of defaulting to what we know, what are we gonna create instead? I say, let’s proceed into the rest of 2020 with a mighty vision, and up our standards for the world we actually want to live in, and go boldly in that direction.

. . .

Anyways, that’s all I have to offer for now. I hope these words help you in navigating these wild times and staying adrift in the storm. I think 2020 has more in store for us yet. . . but if we can hold fast to these words and apply our own inner strength and power along the way, I’m confident we got this 😉

Much love, light, and health to all!

-J