I'm just back from a writing workshop in San Antonio, Texas...the Macondo Writers Workshop founded by Sandra Cisneros and named after Gabriel Garcia Marquez's fictional landia of "One Hundred Years of Solitude"...Macondo. For some years now, back and forth at this workshop, other writing retreats and right here in my own "rhythm green" (the delicious name of the paint I chose for this room) home office, I've been working on memoir pieces about my father and his guns, his debt, his danger, his joy, rage, depression, and his fierce love of the culture, especially jazz. I cracked up so hard a few days ago free writing about the irony of how my often penniless pops always made sure my brother and I had serious stereo systems. It was especially critical to him that we have great equalizers. He'd come over and set his chair in the optimal listening position in our homes and analyze whether or not we'd set it up properly. It crushes/fascinates me to consider that this man who had no sense of emotional or financial balance was this obsessed with balanced sound. He'd usually play some Brubeck or Miles, music he knew like the back of his hand so he could compare the sound of Paul Desmond or Cannonball Adderley's solo to the way he heard those pieces on his perfectly finessed Bose back home. I wish I had a Youtube clip to share with you of my father straddling a backturned kitchen chair pointing his index finger in time with Paul Chamber's walking bassline.
Last week I was asked, "What is the question of your memoir?" While I'm not completely certain, it did lead me to consider the question I'm often asked at jazz clubs by the older black men, my father's generation and beyond, who love this music and frequent the clubs as much as me: "What brings you here?" The answer is always, "My pops." And that means two things. I'm in love with this music because it was my father's first, best and purest gift of sound to me and my brother...English is really my second language after bossa nova, Nancy Wilson, Miles and Gil Evans, Bill Evans, Nina Simone.... On the other hand, I need this music as a healing force to counter the less than pure, not so joyful offerings from Pops. I'm particularly drawn to and grateful for the images and sounds of black men collaborating in such a profound space of generosity, epic imagination, and the sense of swing that is only possible from sincere listening. I keep writing--and listening--to reconcile, to balance these sounds, to makes sense of my father's trouble and the hallelujah he made sure we heard as clear, as evenly as "Blue in Green."