It just hit me that this years 40 year remembrance of MLK's assassination was for me surrounded by saxophone. Come Sunday, March 30, I was blessed with Charles Lloyd, then Saturday, April 5, I was lifted to new sacred space with Sonny Rollins. I really don't have the words yet to describe how meaningful both gatherings were to me, to everyone present for either/both shows...but just now I read this transcript of Cornel West's talk on Tavis Friday, April 4 and something about how West connects Martin and Mahalia resonates with what I experienced from both saxophone giants.
Cornel tells his brother Tavis: "...Martin is inseparable from Mahalia. You're not going to fully understand Martin unless you hear Mahalia sing 'Calvary,' unless you hear Mahalia sing 'Move On Up a Little Higher' because there's no way that that kind of human being, that kind of Christian, that kind of free Black man, that kind of Negro, can sustain himself without spirituality and especially music. 'Precious, Lord, Take My Hand.' Martin needs that music. Why? Because he got to preserve his sanity and his dignity."
So Sonny asks, "Why Was I Born?" and we are invited in to seventy years of his colossal sonic grappling. And Charles pleads, "Please look down and see my people through," as he (with Jason Moran's profound and pounding support) breathes new urgency into Duke's "Come Sunday" prayer. These free black men, these two thriving survivors, Charles Lloyd and Sonny Rollins, did the work to liberate themselves from crippling addictions, and consequently they are still on the planet (hallelujah), aiding in the preservation of our sanity and dignity. I'm so grateful and so humbled by their generosity. And they in turn are so humbled by the generosity that made their way possible...everyone who stayed for the second set at Catalina's Sunday night got to behold Charles Lloyd recite an original sacred poem to honor the presence of his supremely generous mentor, Mr. Buddy Collette.
Dr. King said that night before he died, "Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness." Wow. Forty years ago April 3 he said that and here go Sonny and Charles swinging up and down the coast last week, filling music halls with dangerously unselfish saxophone. Sound to me like these two tenor titans listened hard when somebody preached about a Drum Major Instinct then turned around and transcribed it for horn. Sound to me like Sonny and Charles still believe in freedom and will not rest until it comes. Now, somebody say, "amen."