Sunday, June 30, 2024

After the Whitney

It was 2018 when I went for the first time to the Whitney Plantation with my wife and daughter. It was a powerful experience to be walking the grounds where the atrocities sanctioned by our government actually happened, giving a new weight to the stories I had read. The second time I went with my 2019 Jazz Course was even more powerful, as we were led by an expert guide who knew the surface stories, the underneath stories and the greater narrative that drove them all. He engaged with us, asked us questions and time and time again, parted the curtain to reveal Uncle Sam pulling all the levers that created and sustained the horrors. I remember the silence in the car on the way back, so thick and dense with the tangible heaviness of letting the grief soak in.

 

So now in 2024, we prepared the Jazz Class as much as one could to expect something difficult and may I confess, I was disappointed it didn’t quite happen. Some chose the self-guided audio tour which was necessarily informative but distant. Those who went with the guide—myself included— heard a young woman rushing through her script without engaging us or even being prepared to answer simple questions off-script. She was emotionally detached, so so were we. I’m still glad we went and I’ll find out tomorrow how people experienced it, but it was far from what I hoped for. 

 

Still I came away with my own takeaways, found a promising book in the bookstore filled with many promising books, bought a T-shirt that I will wear in a workshop sometime as a conversation starter and came a half-an-inch closer to articulating what I think needs to be done to move towards genuine healing. But my surprising first takeaway was this:

 

Since the expected deep sorrow wasn’t coming, I focused on the trees and the water and the birds and felt something unexpected. The trauma of centuries of injustice concentrated in these few acres is huge. Perhaps it can never be wholly healed. But walking the grounds I imagined these ungrieved wandering ghosts, whose stories were never told, whose murderous deaths were never acknowledged with an apology, who witnessed from the other world the “white devils” continued to cause their unceasing mischief, I imagined them all now noticing all sorts of people walking these grounds feeling the sorrow and outrage of what happened, feeling the pain those enslaved, raped, beaten and murdered endured, reading their names on their plaques. I could feel how that might make a difference. How that birdsong might be announcing some genuine relief and release from all those long years of restlessness, unable to “rest in peace” because too few knew them or missed them or grieved them as they deserved, finally coming to rest. 


This is not a theory designed to make me feel better as someone with white (though technically Jewish) ancestry, but a felt intuition coming from the heart, in conversation with live oak trees and the songbirds. 

 

More coming up about what this might mean. 

 

Preparing for the Whitney

Today the class goes to the Whitney Plantation, one of the few forced labor camp tours that actually tells the truth about what happened there and what toxic narrative gave permission to it all. In preparation, I read out loud an article I wrote in 2020 titled “A Thumbnail History of American Slavery.” Here it is.

 

It all began when Western Europe—particularly England, France, Portugal and Spain—developed the technology to travel by ship to lands as far away as West Africa. They carried with them four things that helped them dominate much of the world in the centuries that followed:

 

1)   The fabricated story of a God who favored them and disparaged others.

2)   The desire to accumulate material wealth.

3)   The guns, germs and steel to help them conquer people who outnumbered them. 

4)   A literate tradition that gave certain powers difficult to attain in oral cultures.

 

The first narrative was the engine that drove the others, justified, them, excused them, made them acceptable as the norm endorsed by the “Christian god of brotherly love.” Indeed, the highest Christian authority in that historical period, Pope Nicholas V, said this in 1452:

 

“We grant you, King of Portugal, by these present documents, with our Apostolic Authority, full and free permission to invade, search out, capture and subjugate the Saracens and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be, as well as their kingdoms, duchies, counties, principalities and other property and to reduce their persons into perpetual slavery. “

 

And that is exactly what they did. When they first arrived on the west coast of Africa in the 15th century—what is now Ghana, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Gambia, Angola and other countries— they encountered tribal cultures that already had a type of slavery in place from people captured in the local wars. This made trading goods for people a possibility and by 1472, the Portuguese negotiated their first slave-trading agreement with a king’s court. Thus began one of the most inhuman economic systems the world had ever known—the slave trade to the New World.

 

Backed by the worldviews mentioned above, the European explorers began a long and deliberate process of taking the land and resources of the native populations in what is now North and South America by any means necessary. This included intentional genocide and unintentional epidemics. But once they had the land, they quickly realized they had neither the skills nor labor to effectively survive. Thus started the notion of making others work for free, justified by the narrative that they were inferior beings who were lucky to be given the opportunity. The Native Americans were decimated by disease, the poor whites did not work well, but the African slaves had the strength and stamina to survive. 


Thus, the roots of racism were economic. Once the system started, the difference in look and temperament between Europeans and Africans allowed the white slave-masters to invent “scientific” theories of racial superiority/inferiority, Biblical decrees that God felt the same way and ignorant ideas about African cultures as “primitive” and “savage.” The scientists went along, the priests and ministers went along, the school teachers went along, the lawyers went along, the politicians went along and because these groups held the political power, they created a blatantly false dominant narrative that people to this day still believe when it’s convenient for them to do so—ie, when it gives them the feeling of a special privilege that they neither earned nor deserve or benefits them economically.

 

The world had always known slavery and as mentioned, it also existed in West Africa when the Europeans first arrived. But several things made this particular incarnation of slavery markedly different. Amongst them:

 

1)   Losing every aspect of identity—name, language, clothing, family, religion, ethnic group, music, even their status as a full human being (the 3/5th’s rule).

 

2)   Lifetime contract that automatically was passed on to children and grandchildren. 

 

3)    The sheer number of enslaved people stolen from Africa— 12 million.

 

4)   The astounding length of time—from 1619 to 1865 in the U.S. and continuing today in different forms (see number 8 below).

 

5)   Brutality and inhuman treatment—beatings, whippings, rape, murder (later lynchings and police murders of innocent black folks) with full support from the government and no accountability.

 

6)   Boasting of economic prosperity that came entirely from the labor of others.

 

7)   Ongoing story of the honor of the Southern way of life and the genteel well-mannered plantation culture. 

 

       8) Purposefully created and government-sanctioned ways to continue new 

             forms of slavery that exist to this day—the Black Codes, Jim Crow, the school 

             to prison pipeline, etc. 

 

How can we understand the forces that led to the centuries of subjugation of one group of people over another? What was wrong with a culture that valued conquest over community? That taught their children to hate those that appear different? That needed to feel superior by virtue of a skin color without the need to do something worthy or prove to be of high character? That was confused and conflicted when faced with the moral, artistic, intellectual and physical accomplishments of those purported to be inferior? That was not capable of the actual labor to produce wealth, but boasted of it as if they achieved it through their own efforts? That allowed them to imagine themselves upright citizens and dutiful Christians while beating, raping and killing other people? That to this day continues excusing the police killings of so many (George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and hundreds more) without consequence for the murderers? That has citizens voting for a President who recently publicly threatened schools with defunding if they taught the real history of slavery?

 

At this writing, the world is suffering from some six months of quarantine, held captive by a virus and all are wondering, “How long can this go on?! Six whole months without going to a bar or getting a haircut or teaching my class away from a screen or seeing my grandchildren?! Unbearable!”

 

Now compare that to some 600 hundred years of large populations of fellow human beings held captive by a narrative that gives others permission to denigrate them, limit their choices, imprison them, enslave them, rape them, murder them, all in a land that publicly professes “All men are created equal” and school children pledge “liberty and justice for all,” all under a religion whose founder proclaimed “love thy neighbor as thyself.” All of us held captive by an ideological virus that we created and each time we had the opportunity to vaccinate ourselves through education, love or just plain human decency, we created a new strain of the virus to keep the narrative going. And still today it goes on unchecked.

 

“Each time history repeats itself, the price goes up” said the famous philosopher Anonymous and that is as true for social justice as it is for climate change and pandemics. If each of us took it upon ourselves to educate ourselves (a thousand resources out there, many available at a click on the keyboard!) to educate the children, to educate our stubborn brother-in-law, hope could become a verb with muscle. And after such education, then vote. 

  

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Not in Kansas

School on Saturday? Because the normal 10-day Monday to Friday course I envisioned was cut short by July 4th, I had to make up a bit for it by starting Sunday night and doing a half-day class on Saturday. But I had the good sense to make it notably different while also giving space to my successors to someday carry on. James, who first took the Jazz Course with me in 1992 and then took over my 8th grade Jazz Curriculum in 2020, Allen, who took the course in 2018 and became our New Orleans host and Joshi, who took the course with me in 2010 and became a stellar member of the Pentatonics, were all today’s teachers. All did exactly what I hope any future teacher to do. Thoroughly understand the basic principles of uniting Orff and Jazz as I have for 40 years while making it their own, bringing the whole of their musicianship, unique way of choosing and developing material, teaching presence in the fullness of their own character. Each lesson a gem and happily received by the students. 

 

Then we were almost ready for Saturday the way it should be. But first we convened in Congo Square, danced a short ring play remembering the ancestors, processed to the Louis Armstrong statue and took our group photo. Now all were free to wander around the French Quarter and beyond. Sweltering 94 degree heat, full sun and no air-conditioned band room to protect us, off we walked, my little men’s group of Joshi, Rody, Owen and Allen. No destination in particular, just ambling to Jackson Square and the waterfront, bypassing the long line at CafĂ© De Monde, checking out the Jazz Museum only to find out it was only open for 15 more minutes, closing at 4:00. (Why so early?). Allen took Rody and I back to the dorms to shower, change and refresh ourselves the way that hot weather demands, only to pick us up again to head out for—guess what?— a jazz show at Snug Harbor club!

 

Off we went and can I just say yet again what an extraordinary place this is? The show was off the chain with Cuban singer Yusa feeding us 25 music teachers in the audience a phrase to sing which we gave back in three-part harmony while she sang the filler and danced on stage. Then out onto Frenchman Street and just while standing in front of the club deciding what to do, here were three different buses with three different musics blasting filled with people dancing and reveling. Then came some 40 bikes with colored wheels and Allen thought they might have been a group of teachers. Down the street we sauntered and there was a guy free-style rapping verses about the people passing by, the poets seated with their manual typewriters offering a poem for a little money, a psychic or two. Every doorway with a different band and a different kind of music playing. We— some seven of us— finally settled at a long table in an air-conditioned brewery and there emerged organically a profound conversation that I’ll save for another blogpost. Where else do things like this happen in the United States? Not in Kansas, Dorothy.

 

Tomorrow is the Whitney Plantation and I will certainly have a lot to say about that. Stay tuned. 

Coming Home

For anyone following and interested in the story line, the miraculous continued to be the norm in the 5th day of the Jazz Course. I began by scolding teachers who begin an Orff/Jazz study by “jazzing up” English nursery rhymes. Meaning just adding a superficial gloss to something that has a different foundational coat of paint. Instead, we should begin with African American rhymes, clap plays and children’s games that already carry the seeds of future jazz styles and are still accessible to children. Everyone politely nodded their head in agreement. 

 

Then we began dancing to Dizzy Gillespie’s School Days, where singer Joe Carroll folds some five or six English nursery rhymes into a 12-bar blues. At the end, I reminded the class:

 

1)   Don’t always listen to the teacher. 

2)   You still shouldn’t use English nursery rhymes to teach jazz—unless you’re Dizzy Gillespie.

 

And that was the prelude to the next big “Orff-multi-media-event” that is part of my classic repertoire—Humpy Dump. Movement, singing, drama, Steppin’ body percussion, vocal ostinato, instrumental arrangement, solos all joined together to create one pretty hot performance piece! Fun for kids (around 5th grade) and adults alike. 


Now that we were in the world of straight rhythm instead of swing, we went from a Jazz-Rock feel to Latin Jazz and put together a sizzling and spicy Soul Sauce (another Dizzy Gillespie composition), again with everyone learning all the parts—conga, guiro, cowbell, bass, melody, harmony, soloing scale— before choosing their instrument. 

 

That took us into the afternoon, where we welcomed three local young musicians from Cuba, Dominican Republic and Uruguay. They spoke to us about their background, played a bit for us and then I spontaneously suggested we play Besame Mucho and 10 or 12 of us popped up to join the instant band. We ended with them playing Soul Sauce with us and as often happens, they were mightily impressed by the welcoming energy, joy, vigor and solid musical skills of Orff music teachers. One of them seemed genuinely intrigued to take Level I with us!

 

Finally, I taught a medley of three simple but exquisite tunes that all shared the common scale of G pentatonic, but sounded so deliciously different from each other—Moonglow, Mo Betta Blues and Comin’ Home Baby. After the last, we all sat down and I asked “Who has cried today?” A couple of hands. “Well, that’s not enough. The day isn’t completely until at least a few tears roll, so let’s see if I can open the ducts here.” And then went on to read a beautiful testimony from a former student (from the 1980’s) who came to the San Diego Orff Conference in 2015. When she heard the SF School kids perform there, the memories of what that program meant to her flooded in and the day after, she wrote a letter that is simply stunning in its eloquence and beyond-heart-touching in the appreciation of the music program she experienced with me. Part of that letter referred to the tune Comin’ Home, Baby (hence, the context for reading it) and she ended with: 

 

“Listening to that concert was for me, an utterly poignant moment of reconnection to a past self, to a present and future self. It was a re/connection that transcended space, and place, and time in this exquisitely beautiful moment, where I felt like I was coming home. Where I felt—if only for a moment—that I was home.”

 

And so ended Day Five.

Friday, June 28, 2024

Don't Answer

 

THE SONG OF THE MAN WHO CAME THROUGH

 

Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me!

A fine wind is blowing the new direction of Time.

If only I let it bear me, carry me, if only it carry me!

If only I am sensitive, subtle, oh, delicate, a winged gift!

If only, most lovely of all, I yield myself and am borrowed

By the fine, fine wind that takes its course through the chaos of the world

Like a fine, an exquisite chisel, a wedge-blade inserted;

If only I am keen and hard like the sheer tip of a wedge

Driven by invisible blows,

The rock will split, we shall come at the wonder, we shall find the Hesperides. 

 

Oh, for the wonder that bubbles into my soul,

I would be a good fountain, a good well-head,

Would blur no whisper, spoil no expression.

 

What is the knocking?

What is the knocking at the door in the night?

It is somebody wants to do us harm.

 

No, no, it is the three strange angels. 

Admit them, admit them. 

                                                - D.H. Lawrence

 

Not an easy poem for a Friday night, but as the week’s blogposts testify, it speaks to my experience. All I’m reporting here is the way the winds of my destiny carry me like a winged gift to the wonder that has always bubbled up in my soul. No need to guess whether “I would be a good fountain” — every day in class I’m gushing forth. 

 

But it is the end of the poem that got me thinking about it. The question of who is knocking and should we answer the door. Right now, the knock on the door is checking into what happened in the so-called (and misnamed) debates. The little snippets of reporting I hear make it clear—that is a door that I do not want to open right now. It indeed is something that wants to do me harm, preying on fears and anxieties and trying to pull me down into the swamp of who we have become by the horrible choices we’ve made and the toxic narratives we keep telling and re-telling. In the midst of this New Orleans musical paradise both inside my class and out on the street, why would I ever want to answer that knock?

 

So I will quietly decline Lawrence’s suggestions that the three strange angels are outside and I should admit them. Not now. Maybe never. 

 

The Elysian Fields

The drive to the UNO Campus is on a lovely street called Elysian Fields. Aptly named, for as describe by Wikipedia, the Elysian Fields in Greek mythology was a land of perfect happiness.  Only those favored by the gods could enter and there they were made immortal.

 

Having finished the 4th day of the Jazz Course, it’s the perfect description of the timeless and jubilant six hours a day we 30 mortals enjoy. A place where clock time vanishes, where “troubles melt like lemon drops” and the life we’ve dreamed of is right here, right now, resplendent with laughter, tears (the good kind), deep soul and soaring spirit. 


Yesterday it manifested in the opening game Uncle Jesse, where any tiredness a person might feel is vanquished by the power of stepping and clapping to life-renewing music. From there, a deep dive into Charlie Parker’s My Little Suede Shoes and Juan Tizol’s (from the Ellington band) Perdido, meticulously taught so that the head, hand, heart and hearing were thoroughly engaged and we all could feel, hear, play and understand each and every note—where it comes from, where it goes to, how and why. Complete with a swinging horn section and some tasteful glockenspiel solos. 

 

From there to another room to bring both the children I have taught and the extraordinary jazz artists we're indebted to into the fields with us via the miracle of YouTube and videos airdropped to a connected machine. The proper use of electronic technologies that left people’s mouths agape with the things they witnessed on that screen, from my then 2 ½ year-old granddaughter painting and scat singing with the brush strokes to the 5-year-olds playing their “secret song” to the 4th graders playing The Cookie Jar with such ease and infectious energy to the 4th grader singing The Sunnyside of the Street with my Doug Goodkin & the Pentatonics band at SF Jazz Center to my then 90-yer-old Mom and residents of The Jewish Home for the Aged uplifted by the folks in my 2009 Jazz Course—people from Siberia, South Africa, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, the U.S. and beyond— playing a swingin’ version of I Got Rhythm. With my beloved friend/resident Fran singing us out in the final chorus with everyone joining in. 

 

On to Youtube and if you want an antidote to the sub-human antics the media shines their cameras on every day, check out Blues Singing Bird, Jazz Dispute, Mumbles, Lindy Hop from Hellzapoppin’, Nicholas Brothers in Stormy Weather, Louis Armstrong and Danny Kaye When the Saints Go Marching In. If you don’t leave that room smiling, then you need some serious help to figure out what happened to you.

 

In the Greek Mythology, those Elysian Fields were a kind of heaven, a place to pass your afterlife. But our paradise at the end of the Elysian Fields street in New Orleans is happening right here, right now, in this life. On to Day 5.

 

Thursday, June 27, 2024

A Day in the Life

A kindergarten teacher was going around the classroom peeking at the drawings the students were doing. She would stop to ask them what they were drawing and the answers were predictable— a tree, a house, a family. When she came to one student, she repeated the question:

 

“What are you drawing?”

 

“God,” the child replied.

 

“You can’t draw God,” said the teacher.

 

“Why not?”

 

“Because nobody knows what God looks like.”


“Well,” the child confidently replied, “they will now!”

 

I need that child to draw an image of what I’m feeling when my entire body is smiling from ear to ear and beyond. Such a day as today makes “joy” seem like a blasĂ© little word in the face of the kilowatts of euphoria I felt so many, many times today.  Here was my day:


It began with the usual bubbling energy with our opening game, then break-out groups going off to work out some jazz blues and share, followed by some energetic Lindy Hop dancing. After lunch, guest artist drummer Herlin Riley comes dancing into the room just as we’re listening to Count Basie, gives me a warm embrace, turns to the group and effusively praises me as a music teacher who knows how to make learning fun. (He joined us in 2019 and also came to The SF School and spent some time with my students there.) 


I know what I care about and do well and don’t have an excessive need for such tributes, but when it comes from a musician and human being of his caliber, heck, I’ll take it! To add icing to that cake, I suggested that we play through a variety of jazz styles, me on piano and him on drums and Joshi on sax or bass. I prefaced it by telling the group that it was very bold of me, like asking Steph Curry if I could be on his team for some pick-up basketball. But Herlin, that most joyful and generous of fellows, was just happy to play period and we had such a good time, with him smiling through every note.

 

During question/answer, he was asked what the largest group he had ever performed for was and he mentioned a benefit concert with Wynton Marsalis and various pop stars in front of 80,000 people! But he quickly added that he was as happy to play for 20 in a club or for us in our class— the pleasure was simply in doing what he loves. I know just what he means. 

 

I ended the day reading Louis Armstrong’s description of growing up in New Orleans and how despite being poor and living in a violent neighborhood, he is clear that he was not to be pitied. “Man, I sure had a ball. Music all around you and music kept it all going.”

 

A short rest and then off to the Bayou Bar Club where Herlin was playing and over half the audience were from our class. Herlin sat on his chair like God on the throne and in my previous post on that subject, I forgot to mention that God is radiant with infectious joy. Don’t know what trauma that other stern guy suffered to be so grouchy, but the God of the drums is bliss. While performing the most extraordinary music with mind-boggling technique and virtuosity, Herlin was so relaxed that he was sometimes chatting with his friend seated nearby and even with one of the students in our class. His smile never ebbed and the energy of the music just kept increasing. At one point, some of our students got up to dance and that kicked it all up a notch further. Then when they launched into Horace Silver’s tune, The Preacher, I noticed that the chord changes were almost identical to I’ve Been Working on the Railroad and I began singing it with the whole club joining in! The musicians were delighted. 

 

And the little cherry on top of it all was that in-between one of the numbers, the band leader gave me an unexpected shout-out to the club, saying a “remarkable music teacher, Doug Goodkin, is in the house.” I don’t want to right now, but I believe I could die in peace. 

 

That was my day.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Dough Ray Me

After a fabulous day in the classroom, it was a fabulous night on Frenchmen St., reminding me why Bob Dylan said, “I like a lot of places, but I like New Orleans better.” The city truly is a national treasure, with its unique architectural aesthetic, friendly people and the music, music, music. We ate dinner serenaded by a sweet gypsy jazz band, then ambled down the street and had a beer outdoors listening to the Trumpet Mafia, three talented young men and women blowing their horns with a solid rhythm section and dishing up some Herbie Hancock and Miles. Then followed our ears to the street corner where a brass band was serving up the Trad Jazz of New Orleans with such energy and gusto. All of it for the price of donations in a bucket. 

 

When the band dispersed, I ducked into a nearby bookstore looking for that quirky classic “A Confederacy of Dunces,” which strangely they didn’t have. I browsed through Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” a classic dystopian novel which oddly I had never read. As described in Wikipedia:

 

Fahrenheit 451 is a 1953 dystopian novel by American writer Ray Bradbury.  It presents a future American society where books have been outlawed and "firemen" burn any that are found. The novel follows in the viewpoint of a fireman who soon becomes disillusioned with his role of censoring literature and destroying knowledge, eventually quitting his job and committing himself to the preservation of literary and cultural writings.  

Fahrenheit 451 was written by Bradbury during the McCarthy era inspired by the book burnings in Nazi Germany and by ideological repression in the Soviet Union. Bradbury’s claimed motivation for writing the novel has changed multiple times. In a 1956 radio interview, Bradbury said that he wrote the book because of his concerns about the threat of burning books in the United States.  In later years, he described the book as a commentary on how mass media reduces interest in reading literature. In a 1994 interview, Bradbury cited political correctness as an allegory for the censorship in the book, calling it "the real enemy these days" and labelling it as “though control and freedom of speech control.”

I wonder what he would think now in these days where books are not burned, but banned. Where people afraid of independent and critical thought, of hard truths being told, of nuanced perspectives being considered, are getting their hands into libraries and schools. Much of it coming from the right from people terrified of losing their unearned privilege, but also from the left as a small handful decide that Jingle Bells is on the bad list because it once was sung in a minstrel show and all art and literature that has the taint of its times in regards to sexism or racism is to be dismissed. 

I heard of a Southern university inviting guest teachers to give a music education course, but with the caveat that they can’t talk about anything but the “do, re, mi.” No cultural background, examination of lyrics, context of pieces learned and played, discussions of how schools are failing children in the context of considering what the music teacher can give them. 

 If I ever accepted such an invitation, I would agree and then find the appropriate times in the class to look into the “Dough, Ray, Me.” How “follow the money” is 9 times out of 10 the reason for culturally approved atrocities and how unchecked corporate greed is a toxic poison that leaks down to us all. Why children raised to lust after that green dough grow up to adults who cut arts programs.

Then we would look into the life of Ray Charles and reveal all that he suffered as a black man in a racist society while simultaneously offering such joyous music. And then while listening to and singing the songs and playing the pieces of fabulous women artists from Clara Schumann to Bessie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Marian Anderson, Mavis Staples, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Mary Lou Williams, Eliane Elias, Yuja Wang, etc. etc. etc., we would need to look into the Me (Too) movement. 

If the thought police stepped into the classroom and tried to fire me, I can tell them I did exactly what they asked and stuck strictly to their Dough Ray Me stipulation. 

Meanwhile, I speak freely in this Jazz Course and the depth of our serious reflection of what brought this extraordinary music to us all makes the height of our jubilation soar yet higher, as we stand on a corner on Frenchmen Street with a horse-drawn carriage ambling by and a brass band blowing us up to the heavens. Do-re-mi has never sounded so good. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

God Is a Drummer

I never bought into the notion of the stern, bearded white-guy God who goes to all the trouble to make a fabulous creation called World and then fashions human beings hell-bent on destroying it. Who sits in judgment of these flawed mortals that he himself created, telling them to smite this one and stone that one, ignoring the prayers of innocents being mauled, beaten, raped, smitten and apparently never considering that he made some mistakes and might correct them. Who abandons his son and sends him away to the cruel boarding school of life on earth, has him murdered, brings him home and the two of them watch a few thousand years of brutal destruction in the son’s name. Who goes to all the trouble of endowing humans with thinking brains and then lets them turn them off in blind faith that the son loves them and they need only believe and obey without question and then they’ll have their own spot in heaven to watch the show. I mean, really?


But after going to the Maple Leaf Club in New Orleans with some of the Jazz Course students last night to see bassist George Porter and his band and watch open-mouthed the drummer sitting on his throne creating universe after universe with some five drums and seven cymbals, I’m convinced that the spiritual force (neither man nor woman) that sits behind Creation is a drummer. Playfully and seriously driving the dynamic forces of the natural world and the sentient beings who have the good sense to align themselves with wind, water, stones, mountains and a skyful of stars. The drummer keeps track of it all, steers the whole show and propels it forward, calls to the rest of the band and responds to it, gently guides or thunderously takes center stage. It really is extraordinary to witness the power and the sensitivity, the imaginative combinations and vibrant energy, the exquisite control of it all born from relentless discipline and determination to create and re-create worlds that uplift, sustain, refresh all with the ears and eyes to witness it.

 

Equally astounding is that amongst the firmament of “stars,” the Jo Jones, Philly Joe Jones, Elvin Jones, the Tony Williams, Jack De Johnette, Brian Blade, Herlin Rileys of the jazz world, are thousands of people (like last night’s) whose names are not well-known but are indeed masters of their universe. Not to mention all the Ghanaian master drummers, Balinese drummers, Afro-Cuban drummers, samba drummers and more playing the world into Creation. 

 

So away with the bearded guy. Unless he is sitting behind a drum set.

 

Sunday, June 23, 2024

The New Ten Commandments

 

 In light of the Louisiana governor’s mandate to post the 10 Commandments in classrooms, I thought it could be time to update them. After all, most mission statements get revised every ten years or so and these have not changed for a few thousand! Times were different then and I believe they could use some revision. Below is my first-draft attempt. (I considered re-naming them The 10 Suggestions to get away from that stern patriarchal Almighty commanding that all obey. Or the 10 Invitations to Consider. I’ll get back to you about that.)

 

1.    Thou shalt respect and embrace all gods as the sacred parts of yourself and others.

2.    Thou shalt make images in an attempt to express that which is beyond imagination.

3.    Knowing that any name is too small for the ineffable, thou shalt relax about using it playfully or angrily. 

4.    Treat every day as a Sabbath Day, leaving moments of rest and feeling the sacred in each day of the week. 

5.    Honor your father and mother and thank them for doing the best they could, while refusing to carry on any of their hurtful and harmful ideas and practices.

6.    Thou shalt not kill and thou shalt oppose the NRA’s shameless production of and selling of murderous assault weapons and all calls to war. 

7.    Thou shalt not commit adultery and if you do, thou shalt not pay off lovers with non-disclosure agreements and face the consequences of your action. 

8.    Thou shalt not steal, especially in the forms of corporate capitalism and Wall Street unchecked greed. 

9.    Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor and hold accountable any President who has told 20,000 documented lies without consequence.

10.                  Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, husband, house, yard, car or vacations and learn to be content with your lot and deal with your FOMO.