From Aristotle to Zen, man has always been searching for the meaning of life. Sorry, Pharrell "Happy" Williams, but finding true bliss is actually harder than solving the riddle of the Sphinx.
It struck me this week, while battling the doldrums, jogging to the syncopated sounds of Duke Ellington: "Doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah...makes no difference if it's sweet or hot/just give that rhythm everything you've got."
I got it all right. So did Fred and Ginger, sweeping across the floor, tapping into American hearts and minds, dancing their Depression Blues away. And so did Artie (Shaw), Benny (Goodman), and Cab (Calloway). They all knew how to jump, jive, jitterbug and jazz things up in life.
So, amidst the melancholy of 239 lives on a missing Malaysian plane gone awry; the Ukrainian-Russian-Crimean crisis; new Pyongyang rocket drill threats; and the grim future of New York City's landmark horse and carriages, I found my inner Mahatma.
The answer to gloom? Swing. Jazz. Trombones. Big band music. It bubbles over with passion, blaring "Squeeze the moments. Feel the beat. Live life large." Dance on tables, scat a solo, or swing your partner.
I always was intrigued by those one-name jazz heroes -- Bird, Dizzy and 'Trane. What better way to heal our aching souls than by listening to these real-deal music gods. They tell it like it is, straight no chaser.
So when two of these hip cats -- DUKE & SATCHMO -- reached out to me in one week, I figured I'd better sit up and listen. After all, what could beat the wail of a Louis Armstrong cornet or the lush tranquility of a Duke Ellington ballad?
Battling the March winds, I saddled up this pony to check out two spectacles of swing: After Midnight -- a dazzling glimpse into Ellington-ia and 1930's Cotton Club heydays, featuring the Wynton Marsalis Jazz at Lincoln Center All Stars -- and Satchmo at the Waldorf, a one-man tour de force directed by Gordon Edelstein, stunningly performed by John Douglas Thompson as Louis Armstrong, manager Joe Glaser, and Miles Davis.
These two theatrical gems should be "required" for world leaders and Everyman-on-the-street. If crooner Bing learned it all from Satchmo ("He is the beginning and the end of music in America"), why not the rest of us? After all, Glaser called Ellington and Armstrong the two geniuses of jazz. Their swing turns downtrodden into uplifting, touching souls from simple folks to sophisticated ladies.
So move over, shrinks. Transcending today's life coaches, these two legends sure knew how to squeeze the juice and joy out of life. Listening to Duke and Satchmo inspired this Basic Life Guide Jazz Manual :
INSTRUCTIONAL GUIDE TO FIGHTING THE BLUES & LIVING LIFE
Listen up, Vladimir, Barack, and Kim Jung Un. It's as simple as learning the jazz alphabet -- from Ain't Misbehavin' to Zaz Zuh Zaz.
1. FRIENDS OR FRENEMIES - According to Louis, a true friend will invite you to his home. Satchmo knew his manager for 40 years and never got asked over. Are you listening, Mr. Putin?
2. MONEY CAN'T BUY YOU LOVE - Eat your heart out, Wolfgang Puck. In the words of Satchmo, via playwright Terry Teachout, "I ate a lot of fine T-bones on the chopping block, standing right in the kitchen."
3. MOTHER KNOWS BEST - Louis took his own mother's words of wisdom to heart. Mae Ann taught him to help his fellow man; never worry about the other guy; "just treat everybody right." So tell us, Kim Jong - what exactly happened to your upbringing?
4. LYRICS RULE - At 12 years old in New Orleans, Louis marched in parades for the Colored Waif's Home for Boys, where he got his first cornet. What a Wonderful World's lyrics describe multi-colored "dreams of green, red roses, skies of blue and clouds of white." The song is a simple antidote for the '60's racially charged climate in the U.S., but also describes the simple joys of everyday life.
5. JAZZ HEALS - Take note, Hague Summit. It's not just about the kumbaya moment. Nope. It's long-term reality. The haunting harmonies of Stormy Weather and the soothing sounds of I Can't Give You Anything but Love can turn gray to purple, rage to solace.
6. SWING, SING & SPARKLE - Nothing can turn the mean reds to the hot pinks like love. It's all about the whoosh of a woman, the tingle of a touch, the tug of a red balloon, the passion of living.
After Midnight's Cotton Club sizzles. From the opening "swoosh of the early blue evening" to the closing Freeze and Melt, the Broadhurst Theater stage's cobalt blues and violets are mesmerizing reminders of the vibrancy of life. The BLUES can transcend heartache and beam the radiance of cobalt, azure and ultramarine hopes. Wide hats, lavender plumes, sashes, plaids and big band sounds pulsate with SWING.
7. COMEDY CONQUERS - True, Prez Obama's recent appearance on comic Zack Galifianakis Betweén the Ferns is a start. Now just keep it going. Satchmo sure knew how to blend humor and humility. "I'm a walking institution of jazz - well I'm walking, anyway."
8. CONTROL YOUR DESTINY - I've Got the World on a String. Lighten up, lad Vlad. Ever since Olympics Sochi, the world saw a rigid clapper and grim faced ruler. If Putin cracked a smile, perhaps he'd be holding more red balloons. If Putin could just Put on his emotional thinking cap, he'd have his world on a better string.
9. NO ROOM FOR DOOM - From trumpets to turquoise, rev up the band. As Louis Armstrong said, "What we play is life." In Get Yourself a New Broom to "sweep the blues away," Duke is tapping us on the shoulder with a paintbrush, baton and top hat, whispering it will all be ok if we just keep the exhilaration going. If you're gloomy on this side, cross over to The Sunny Side of the Street.
10. RHUMBA to ZUMBA - From ballroom to bossa, shake it up. Learn to "turn brown into gold." In the words of poet Langston Hughes, "there's liable to be confusion when the dream gets kicked around." So tap dance your sorrow into rapture.
11. GLIMMER, SHIMMER, NEVER BE GRIMMER - Slap on some sequins, saddle shoes and suspenders. Leap, spin, and sizzle. Fly. Foxtrot. Shimmy. Strut. Sing the Skrontch. Diga-Diga-Doo the blues away.
12. EAT PRAY DANCE - Live a passionate life. Harlem Langston Hughes, with a little tweaking from MC Dule Hill, said it best, since we all know Monday's coming. "Birthing is hard, dying is mean, so get yourself some dancing in between."
Hark, Sirs Putin, Obama and Kim Jung Un: Who could top the optimism of Edward Kennedy (Duke) Ellington: "Gray skies are just clouds passing over" and "a problem is your chance to do your best." Or the wisdom of guru Louis "Pops" Daniel Armstrong: "We all go Do, Re, Mi, but you've gotta find all the other notes yourself." Yup, we've all got some melancholy tunes, but one must revel in the melodies!
I guess Duke was right: it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing.