Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Jazz Gather We

"We can become a 'we' with a little bit of good manners and a little bit of what we call swing." Wynton Marsalis last night on PBS.

I'm so high on Wynton these days. I got that quote listening to a little interview he did with Glenn Close on PBS last night. This year while back in NYC for my friend Nina's wedding, I flew in with just enough time to catch one of the last performances of "In This House, On This Morning" a 15 year anniversary concert in the new house of swing, The Rose Theater at Lincoln Center. It was my first time in the new building and wildly when I got out of the elevators I was greeted by a massive gospel choir singing one of my favorite hymns, "Everyday is a Day of Thanksgiving." It felt a bit surreal, particularly because it's a hymn I so associate with The Glide Ensemble in the tenderloin in San Francisco, and now I was in this fancy high rise off Columbus Circle stepping into a Gospel Festival in progress in the lobby. This is all before the concert. This is all before stepping inside that hall...that, embrace of a hall. And while the concert is astonishing, just mighty, I think I'm most choked up with gratitude recognizing that this is really the only space of this kind built for jazz in the country that built jazz. During Reginald Veal's hallelujah bass solo, "In The Sweet Embrace of Life" he called out, "Somebody say 'Amen'" and I hollered, "Amen" from the balcony. This kind of call and response doesn't tend to happen in Disney Hall, but let me stay on the gratitude tip here. Thank you Wynton, for respecting this music and our ancestors who created it, and for building a spot to gather and consider the sweet embrace. (One day I'll post more on the concert and cd of "In this House, On this Morning" I'm still unpacking it.)

"The Triple J Coalition..."

Now fast forward to this past weekend here in L.A. at the Southern California Library where maestro bandleader, sax and flute supreme, composer, civil rights activist, Buddy Collette was honored and honored us with stories of growing up in Watts, followed by an hour or so of his favorite local musicians playing some of Buddy's original compositions. Buddy's like family--my brother and Buddy used to shop at the same Ralph's and dine at the same Bob's Big Boy 15 years or so back, and particularly in the past 5 years or so, Buddy's claimed us both and enriched our lives with the greatest epic tales. I was particularly touched by a simple tale he told at the library Saturday about growing up and playing with his school friends who were black, Japanese, white, and his mother would come outside and holler that it was time to come in and eat, so he'd say goodbye to his pals and his mother said, "no, not goodbye, they're all coming in to eat too. So we learned something about sharing."

After the program folks were lining up to shake Buddy's one good hand and ask for autographs. I see a young man, who I find out is DJ Kenzo, aka Joshua Aldrete, who identifies as "super mixed but mostly Mexican." He asks me if he's blushing because he's so excited about the thought of having Buddy Collette sign his copy of the book, "Central Avenue Sounds" a book he picked up after reading "Mr. Jelly Roll" and feeling curious about Jelly Roll's adventures on Central Ave. I introduce him to my brother, Jason, and we share a laugh about Josslyn, Jason, and Joshua...Joshua is swift to tag us: "The Triple J Coalition." Coalition. I miss that word. It's a word I heard constantly as an undergrad at UCBerkeley majoring in Ethnic Studies in the late 80's and hear so infrequently in Los Angeles. The media will have all of us believing that blacks and Latinos are only at war (some are) and that all Koreans hate blacks (some do) but I stand as a witness that there are spaces where "we can become a 'we' with a little bit of good manners...and swing." Friday I was a welcome and well fed guest at my Korean friend Esther's mother's birthday party where we noshed on a gorgeous fruit tart and homemade eel sushi and Saturday I was deep in the Triple J Coalition, surrounded by one of the most integrated age and race wise gatherings in Los Angeles, care of this very hip library, dubbed "the people's library" on Vermont, listening to jazz legend Buddy Collette remind us the value of sharing.

This is my super long way of getting back to why I'd want the Sacred Jazz Center to be interfaith. Jazz is a great gatherer and the act of gathering is central to all faith traditions. And as much as a conversation about coming together across racial differences is crucial in my city of angels, world wide I feel like the interfaith conversation is the most urgent one for the survival of our humanity and our home. And it happens to be a conversation that happens so seamlessly on the bandstand.

I recently fell back in love with that great quote at the end of Toni Morrison's "Beloved" where Paul D tells Sethe about Sixo's love for Thirty Mile Woman. Sixo describes Thirty Mile Woman like this: "She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order." Jazz does this. Always has. Thank you.

Check out the library: socallib.org/
Also Buddy's got a web site: buddycollette.com and also check out his tuition free jazz institute: jazzamerica.org
And you can find out more about DJ Kenzo via the very groovy organization J.U.I.C.E. (Justice by Uniting in Creative Energy)

Hey, if you're in Los Angeles this week, don't sleep on Richard Bona and Mike Stern at Catalina's (I know, expensive! But the last couple times Bona's been in town he's played at the Bowl, so it will be lovely to hear him in a small spot.)

1 comment:

Sermons given at Deering Community Church said...

I've just caught up on all your blogging and it's all great and this particular one is especially full of meaning for me. I know it's no surprise to you as the "we" theme has been part of my life as long as I can remember as I rebelled against the prejudices of mother about Jews and Blacks. I am so thankful that I have a "we" family now of blood and love!