Friday, May 6, 2016

The Jazzocratic Convention

The party that represents what “America could be if it ever became itself” (Wynton Marsalis) just had its Convention at the SF Jazz Center. Folks who were young, middle-aged and old, black, brown and tan, women, men and other, rich, middle class and poor, came together to vote at the primary and it was a landslide—the music won. The party was to celebrate the 5th Season of SF Jazz and was titled Tradition and Transition, the dual poles of jazz in constant conversation with each other.
Jazz has always had three feet dancing to its beat—one foot in the past, one in the present, one stepping forward to the future. Jazz has always been the most democratic of musics, both in terms of the people who play it and the kind of conversations they have with each other on the bandstand. Jazz has always been the most universal of musics, from the first foray into Europe by the James Reese Band, Sidney Bechet and Josephine Baker to the SF Jazz Collective players from Venezuela, New Zealand, Puerto Rico and the U.S. And despite high ticket prices and some soaring leaps into the intellectual stratosphere that sometimes leave the dancing shoes at home, it always has been and (hopefully) will continue to be the music of the people. Whether or not folks can rise beyond the omnipresence and often banality of pop, jazz still speaks their dreams and highest aspirations, even as it growls their anger, softly sings their sorrow and jubilantly trumpets out their joy.
At the end of some concert previews with wonderful artists, a band came bursting through the doors and the audience leapt to its feat. It was a group from Brooklyn titled Red Baraat and described as a “merging of hard-driving North Indian Bhangra with elements of go-go, rock and jazz. Created with no less a purposeful agenda than manifesting joy and unity in all people, Red Baraat’s spirit is worn brightly on its sweaty and hard-worked sleeve.” Indeed, it felt like a mix of a New Orleans marching band, a klezmer band and yes, the North Indian sound mixed with a bit of Balkan. The members were African-American, Anglo-American, Indian-American, but the music disappeared all those confining labels and indeed, proclaimed joy and unity, no exceptions, no apologies, no questions asked or answered.
Perhaps it was the effect of the whiskey I had just uncharacteristically drunk with all the party-folks to toast the new season while listening to Billie Holiday on an old scratchy record or just the raw power of the band rushing past my “be nice” voice, but the message I felt in my bones coming out of the horns and drums was “F- you Faubus and Wallace and Conner and murderers of Emmet Till and Medgar Evans and Dr. King!!! F-you Bush and Cheney and the Tea Party Fascists, F-you Trump and Cruz and Palin and murderers of Mike Brown and Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin!!! F-you to ISIS and Al-Qaeda and fundamentalists of every stripe, to Wall Street thieves and billionaire’s psychopathic greed!!! F-you to all the limiters and nay-sayers and haters and ignorant louts who don’t even care to know the facts!!!THIS is the world we’re supposed to live in, EVERYONE out on the dance floor together. The music beats your dollars, the spirit swallows your hate, the intelligence eats your ignorance, the joy vanquishes your greed.”
Inside the church, at the jook joint, in the dance hall, down under in the jazz club, that’s where the jubilation could happen in the face of the day-to-day brutality. That’s where the real freedom was found, then, now and forever. That is as true as a truth can be, but still it’s not enough, not an easy excuse to avoid mending our broken world. Bob Marley spoke truth when he said, “Some people are so poor all they have is money.” The people who have music and dance and art and humor have a spirit so large that it can’t fit into a bank’s safe-deposit box.
But, damn, those people with the dollars only and no love in their hearts and no education in their minds sure can make life miserable in-between the concerts. And you can’t dance without a body. When the Klan or Nazi’s or Police disappear your body, no brass band can bring you back to life.
Here I am still looking for answers to life’s persistent problems and I want to pull out some moral to the story—“ if everyone danced together to Red Baraat’s multi-cultural soul-stirring music, what a wonderful world it would be.” If only. But it doesn’t hurt. And it does heal. And every minute of healing is stealing from the hurters and harmers. It helps.
That’s the secret that whiskey and Bhangra music whispered to me. Let’s see how it holds up in the morning.

PS Morning after thought. EVERYONE is welcome and invited to the dance floor, even the folks I cursed above, maybe especially the folks above. But first they'd have to check their hatred and ignorance and identity based on dollars at the door. Give it up and get it all! 


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