Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Divine Rights

The jazz pianist Art Tatum. The British royalty Prince Charles and Princess Diana. The German philosopher/poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Today’s assignment—make a connection between them. 


• Art Tatum was a virtuosic jazz pianist who astounded everyone—including other virtuoso pianists like Vladimir Horowitz— with his impeccable technique, clear tone and dazzling imagination as he improvised instant re-compositions of jazz popular songs. Thanks to Norman Granz, he was sufficiently recorded to leave behind an aural legacy of his genius. Yet he never performed in Carnegie Hall, there is barely any film footage of him and he spent most of his professional life performing in nightclubs with audience members talking while he played. When he died in 1956, his savings amounted to $6000. Every jazz musician knows his work, but it is unlikely that more than 2% of the American population knows who he was. 


• Prince Charles is the eldest son of Queen Elizabeth who married (and later divorced) Diana Spencer, known later to the world as Princess Di. When they married, tens of thousands of people lined the streets cheering in festive revelry as if the Golden State Warriors had won another NBA Championship or Joe Biden had won the election. When they traveled to Australia, the streets were again lined with thousands and thousands of adoring British subjects. While watching those scenes recently in The Crown and later Princess Diana: In Her Own Words, I couldn’t help but think: “All that attention—for what? What had they done other than be born into a royal family and played polo or put on a nice hat? Without having had to accomplish a single noteworthy thing (as Art Tatum did), they simply rode on “The Divine Rights of Kings” that convinced whole populations that what the royal couple ate for breakfast was worthy of front page stories.” (This was well before Diana actually had done some good works and revealed a humanity that touched people). 


• And Goethe? When I turned my calendar page to December, this was the quote:


“So divinely is the world organized that everyone of us, in our place and time, is in balance with everything else.”   


So Art Tatum is graced with a divine spark of genius that he meets head-on and cultivates through hours and hours of disciplined practice and then generously shares with the world. Prince Charles inherits a human-fabricated mythology of the divinity of royalty and does little to meet it beyond showing up for the newspaper photo. 100 people in a club pay scattered attention to Art Tatum, 10,000 people in the street cheer for Prince Charles just because. What’s wrong with this picture?


But Goethe suggests we all have the possibility of participating in the divinity of the world, that it is not enough to ride on the coattails of the stars and celebrities, but watch for our own place and time and understand that each person’s divine spark is in balance with all others. 


Stay tuned for more on Princess Di. 

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