Long ago, Jazz music was referred to as the devil's music. So what did that make the musicians that played this, and why would anyone want to be identified with such evil, I often wondered? The further I dug into the history of this music, the more I began to understand the artists and why their gifts were considered in this manner.
If you listen closely to the lyrics of some of your favorite Jazz singers, they sing of deep hurt, pain, dismay, heartache and anger. But they also shared with us the joys of love, touch and sensuality that eventually became taboo to the very people that previously enjoyed this type of music from the seats of their pews on Sunday morning. It is my understanding that it was in the churches that Jazz was born.
As I sat down with icons like legendary bassist Ron Carter, Ron West and Ron Scott, I learned of the great challenges they faced. They endured an absolute torment of a storm of criticism from the very society that gave birth to the music they love.
I am getting a better understanding of the pain and joys experienced by a musician with just my association with Ron Carter alone. The stories continue to fascinate me and puzzle me.
They, Ron Carter, Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong are the Picassos of Jazz music, which derived from old Negro spirituals, and later gave birth a variety of Jazz: Afro-Cuban Jazz, Latin Jazz, Blues and even on to Hip Hop, Rap, Rock and Soul.
I am no music expert, nor a historian of this topic, but there is one thing I do know from my ancestors: There is no life without music.
From the drums, to the bass and everything in between, we find something that would express every human emotion imaginable and are reminded of precious moments of our lives through music.
During these past couple of months, as I've walked back into time with the great Ron Carter, through personal conversation and the pages of his book, Finding The Right Notes, I am learning first hand of his personal story. Of his climb to the only art form of music that was born in America, what is now known as Rap music.
I am learning so vividly through his story the harsh affects of racism, inequality, abuse of power by the gate keepers, grave disrespect, violence, disparaging circumstances and the determination to succeed with dignity, class and pride while keeping sane, and free from bloodshed.
Imagine from the tender age of 14 being told you would never be more then a factory worker. To being told, "We don't serve ni****s here." Or to being stopped and searched down to the wheels of your tires for no clear reason at all.
It is a wonder why so many turned to drugs of all sorts, whether it be women, sex, gambling, alcohol, narcotics or religion. These individuals needed something to help them cope and to survive.
The price they paid baffles me.
The sacrifices of their family and friends overwhelm me, while the wealth love, passion and commitment to music inspire me. The first one I can't fully understand, as much as I have tried. But I feel it. I see it in their eyes as they describe it. And it still seems like yesterday for them.
Carter paints a picture that we can clearly see, because sad to say, some of us still experience this painful reality in some aspect of our lives. With every visit I make to him and his former model wife Quintell Williams-Carter, I make sure I hug him. In return I receive my dosage of love. I hug him tight because every page of his book I read prior to each visit made me feel much closer to him. I hurt for him, I laugh with him, I triumph with him. I feel this strange sense of gratitude towards him for all the pain and shame he had to endure for the better of my generation and that of my sons, daughter.
We often converse about modern day music. His ultimate goal is to sit at a round table with today's influencers like Nas, Common, Jay Z, Kanye West and one of his personal favorites, Mos Def, to discuss the future of music and the direction our youth are taking it in, to assure that the art of playing an instrument is not lost.
That wish alone has left me speechless... And hopeful.
I feel a strong desire to make this man proud, to remind him how much his sacrifices mean to me personally. I feel some sort of obligation to succeed for him, because of the all he did to ensure that black men, women and children were seen and treated with dignity.
Carter is more then the Jazz icon our mothers and fathers listened to. He is the cool cat that young rap artists sample from and they request his presence on their track. The likes of MC Solaar, Q-Tip, The Roots and people like Mark Ecco name drop him in their books as legends. Carter is not only the past, but the future of what modern musicians strive to be like. He is respected for his passionate commitment to music and the art of life under some of the most trying situations. He is often described by some as "the gentleman's gentleman."
I read his book slowly because I wanted to savor every moment. I want to ask questions, I want to look in his eyes and see why he is not bitter, why is he still so in love with the music, life, people and so hopeful of the next generation.
I want to know his secret! So I keep reading, keep coming back and I keep learning. Maybe one day... I will be as great as he.
But today I will settle for a kiss on the forehead, a tight hug and a simple "I love you too," as the elevator doors close and I scream I love you! I run home so I can continue my journey found on the pages of his life, and then later fall asleep to the tunes of his soothing base.
My end goal is clear. I want to continue my very own search in "Finding The Right Notes."
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