About Jazz and Love
I didn’t always like jazz.
Yes, I was one of the many souls who detested the slow highs and lows of classical and contemporary jazz. I thought it was boring and elevator music. In my youth, I was more a fan of the attractive, manic nature of hip-hop or popular music.
My dad, on the other hand, loved jazz. He was a lover of music, something that he brought with him when he and my grandmother emigrated to the United States in the 1970s. He was never formally trained, played no instruments until later in his life, but saw a quality to it that I couldn’t grasp at the time. Even when he and my mother enlisted me in piano lessons for over a decade of my life, it felt like he knew something that I didn’t know.
He would repeat the desire for my siblings and I to have something that our peers didn’t have, with their hippity-hop and boom boxes. And if we weren’t listening to Ron Kenoly, old school Kitchener or Parang music, it was probably jazz.
Grover Washington Jr.
On our many trips to Brooklyn to visit family, the radio of our Toyota pick-up truck would be tuned to Smooth Jazz CD 101.9, and this is where I got my first lessons in Jazz Appreciation.
Despite all efforts otherwise.
If you were a kid with old-school, West Indian parents who detested everything that 90s hip-hop stood for, you know the struggle of wanting to play something else on the radio. You either learned to like what was being played, or grumbled in the backseat while the grown-ups grooved to what they called “real music”. I guess I went the route of the former.
There was a reckless abandon that I suppose attracted me to jazz, how what occasionally sounded like a uniformed effort was actually a laborious search for a groove, one that took a lot of time. Robert Gelinas discusses this in his book, “Finding the Groove”, and connects the natures of both jazz and spirituality, which I personally endorse and encourage you to read.
Isn’t love like that at times?
It often feels like a search for something grand, something that has an undeniable flow, but we don’t always know it when we see it. Especially when it feels contrary to our environment, or what history has told us.
As a kid, jazz conflicted with my desire to dive into the world of EPMD, Nas, and Gang Starr, the same way my desire for love conflicted with my pre-pubescent height, high-waters, and Steve Urkel glasses.
As an adult, while I am much more appreciative of sound and culture of jazz, the nature of love conflicts with the world around me.
Unless you have made your home under a rock for the past few months, life in America has become a polarizing experience. It’s not enough that this is an election year, but all of the other issues that are ingredients to this self-proclaimed melting pot present a lot of emotions.
Simply put, it is pretty easy these days to find something to be angry about.
Speaking personally, 2016 has been a struggle for me. I find myself experiencing emotions that I thought were behind me. Feelings like anger and rage, frustration and hate, despair and hopelessness, with very little room for love in there.
John Coltrane is known as one of the premier saxophonists of modern jazz, and his album "A Love Supreme" is frequently heralded for its improvisational nature and ground-breaking risks. This album takes place after a personal descent, where he succumbed to drug addiction. In the liner notes of this album, he states that he experienced a "spiritual awakening", and things began to change.
It is from this reawakening that he explores the definition of love in four phases: "Acknowledgement", "Resolution", "Pursuance", and "Psalm". Each track is a different journey on its own way, but one thing was clear to me; Coltrane took the time to explore what this love meant to him - what it sounded like. He was relentless in it. Instead of giving in to his past experiences, Coltrane took his art and created a sound that would change contemporary and improvisational jazz forever.
All in the name of love.
It'd be easy to give in to the anger and frustration that I've been feeling lately. If I'm going to be real, it'd probably feel really good, like a release of sorts. Some days, I sit in full "I-wish-some-body-would..." mode.
I have to make a conscious decision to move past that. As good as it may feel, I couldn't survive on the fury.
In order to make sense of it all...I have to write.
Maybe I'll make something beautiful.