Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Small developments on day 45 in Montreal...

Two small developments as we approach the mid-point of our sabbatical:

1) My mind no longer automatically goes to Spanish when I try to speak French.

2) I have discovered the sloppy ways I play bass, so now I can work slowly and carefully to make them less so.

Both of these small developments make a big difference as I move through each day. I don't
have to worry that I will speak Sprench while at a bookstore or grocery check out line. I may still run out of Quebecois vocabulary, but it will be"une absence né du français." And knowing what I do that is sloppy and slurred as a bass player gives shape and form to my daily practice. I am learning to play something slowly and precisely these days. My inclination it to get the basics and hurry on to something else, but that is part of the problem, n'est-ce pas?

Such small developments are wonderfully humbling in a helpful way. "May heaven protects us, cher monsieur," writes Camus in The Fall, "from being set on a pedestal by our friends." There is a reason why bass teachers ask their students to practice some of the time in front of a mirror: it is rarely a pretty sight! It gets better - incrementally - but watching my mistakes head on makes their ugliness vivid in a way that is useful rather than shameful.

Later tonight we're headed off to a jam session at Diese Onze Jazz Club to take in some of the hot local players. This week I hope to get a bow for the bass, make arrangements to purchase this bad boy and maybe even get an article I've written for the Christian Century sent off for their consideration.

And so it goes on day 45 of our 109 days in Montreal...

Monday, July 6, 2015

un dîner tardif à l'extérieur....

Started to read Albert Camus' The Fall this afternoon: why did I wait so long? The last time I read Camus was 1969 when I was in high school. And truth be told, it was wasted on me. For the past three years I've had an itch to reconnect with this old master, but I was either too tired or too forgetful or too something -- but not now. So before this afternoon's nap (I was up until 3:15 am last night finishing another novel) I took in the opening chapter and can't wait to return later this evening.

It is hot and humid in Montreal today so we've postponed our long walk until evening. There is a hipster place I want to check out to get my wild ass mane of hair trimmed - it has become completely bushy and beyond control in the humidity - and I have a craving for Indian food. So, we'll stroll Mont Royale to St. Laurent and search for a Quebecois terrasse  pour un dîner tardif à l'extérieur.

Bass practice was satisfying today, too.  And after chromatic reading drills and walking bass exercises I wrapped it up playing along with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Freddie Hubbard on "Cantaloupe Island." 

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Sunday, July 5, 2015

More about both/and than either/or...

It is fascinating the way calendars - and clocks - can focus as well as tyrannize our experience with time. Part of this sabbatical has involved a conscious withdrawal from both calendars and clocks. That has been so refreshing and liberating: mostly we do not plan our days. We get up when we are ready, we help Lucie take care of her business and then we see what grabs us. And with the exception of Jazz Festival concerts, we have not really paid attention to linear time.

AND... I have needed to reclaim a bit of order on each day and week so that I make time for serious practice. My goal is 90 minutes at least five times a week. Some weeks it has been more, but early on it was also less. So as I casually explored the calendar, it hit me: in order to make the progress I desire, I need to step outside of our easy frame of reference on a regular basis and step back into linear time. After practice, then I can let it go, but I need to consider what to work on during the time that remains. 

Once again I am struck by the both/and rather than either/or truth of my life: it is so easy for me to become obsessive and driven - and the sabbatical invites me to let go of time as a corrective. And at the same time, I can waste weeks without too much effort so the sabbatical has created this space and freedom in order that I learn to use time in a new. That is a valuable insight both for the time that remains and for the days after our return.

This afternoon I worked on scales for 20 minutes, then playing 3rds, 5ths and 7ths in a variety of keys before practicing a simple chart for walking bass in F.  At the conclusion of another 30 minutes, then I let myself play with creating improvisations in F using just the 3rds, 5ths and 7ths (plus the roots.) I've learned two things about my limited abilities doing this: 1) I tend to play ascending notes in my improvisations so I need to incorporate some descending grooves, too; and 2) it is totally fun to play all over the neck of this beast. As an accompanist, I tend to stick to the bottom half of my instrument, but as I become more confident of my intonation and awareness, I can zoom up and down and create some interesting sounds with octaves, 3rds and 7ths. Man, is that a gas - and LOTS more interesting for all involved, too!

Now that I am done practicing for today, we'll chat and figure out what else this day might present: both/and again, yes? Blessed rest and renewal as this Sunday unfolds.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Birthday fun continues...

Let me start by saying that if you get a chance to see Madeleine Peyroux in person: please do so! We saw her last night as part of my birthday celebration and I was knocked out. She wasn't wild or provocative - just very understated and earthy - and her band was equally grounded. But what a powerful and meaning filled performance she shared with us: a genuine blessing. As she said for her encore: Singing like this - and being so connected - this is heaven is for me.
Ms. Peyroux is a little Billie Holiday, a little Leonard Cohen and a whole lot of middle aged woman sharing the joys and sorrows of being alive in our culture. I was expecting someone more fragile and flowery. My mistake. She is grounded, bluesy and vibrant in a quiet and intense way. Check out her take on Leonard Cohen's "Dance Me To the End of Love" if you doubt my take on her groove: she is someone I want to give closer attention to, yes?

Today, still being in the birthday groove, we slept late - VERY late - then I walked Lucie and we ate sausages and drank tea for breakfast. I wrote and protracted the bass for a few hours while Dianne rested. We returned to Parc Baldwin later for Lucie to romp and then began another afternoon of wandering. We wound up at a copy shop in our hood so that I could get a hard copy of the bass study guide I've been reading on-line - and then took off for Rue St. Denis. A few miles later we decided it might be time for dinner - about 5:30 pm - so we wandered for another two miles before coming upon Chez Victoire on Rue Mont Royale. Totally excellent and upscale place where we ate on one of the ubiquitous Montreal "terrases" that are set up all over town to soak up the summer sun. We spoke French (and English) to the wait staff and had a ball sipping Cote Du Rhone red wine whilst people watching. 
Now we're home and taking it slow... Tomorrow I'm going to try my hand at a local coiffure and get my wild ass mane of hair trimmed and shaped before we head down to les Fetes du Jazz and hear maestro Ron Carter make his bass sing. A finer birthday could not be found for an old guy could like me. Thanks be to God - and my dear honey Dianne!

Post birthday practice...

My work for today....by tomorrow I'll have it in acceptable form: not hard, just good.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Still crazy...

Today is my birthday: 63 years old! How did that happen? I can still remember buying - and the listening in awe - to the Beatles' new album: Sgt. Pepper! What a magical moment that was for so many of us. My best friend at the time, Ross, was on summer vacation with his family and we wrote back and forth to one another of listening to that record over and over as the summer matured. I was 15 and it seemed as if we had entered a parallel universe that millions of others had discovered, too. I still love that album and own it (and play it) in vinyl from time to time, too.

A few nights ago, as we were walking Lucie in the late evening after the rain, there was a group of unruly young men gathered on the far side of our local park. Suspicion and apprehension was heightened as the potent smell of ganga wafted our way - and we prepared for the worse. And then, from the portable, roving piano that the city has placed throughout Montreal this summer, came the gentle piano riff we know as John Lennon's "Imagine." We paused as six young male voices sang a verse and chorus together in French - and experienced a bit of peace.
Like Springsteen observed a while back, these are better days - hard, challenging, complex and often demanding - but better, too. Thank you to my friends who have sent birthday greetings and love. I am grateful for your affection and attention. Thank you to my dear family, too who still find ways to love me after all these years. More and more, I find myself embracing the cosmic, comic wisdom of Paul Simon....

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

How long, o Lord, how long...

This is likely to become a rant although I want it to be a lament. Once again, my denomination, the United Church of Christ, got it wrong with their endorsement of BDS. There are some in this camp who actually believe Israel is the last vestige of European colonialism and ache for its destruction. There are others who are exasperated by the suffering Palestinians face on a daily basis - even if they don't fully comprehend the historical context and roots of this suffering - and want to DO something to make a difference on the ground. Some have no idea that there are those within the BDS movement who are in solidarity with Hamas and their allies; others don't care and still others are impatient to make a difference for peace. 

Two things strike me about the United Church's march towards boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel: 1) this resolution is more about our frustration and political impotence than justice for Palestinians and Israelis; and, 2) it exposes the naivete and romanticism of our historic and complicated antisemitism. We tend to celebrate a simplistic liberation theology - God is for the suffering therefore we must become allies of the obviously oppressed - without first dismantling our Manichean worldview. We enjoy black and white answers with obvious heroes and villains. We are not a people accustomed to patience and know almost nothing about waiting on the Lord in the spirit of Psalm 137.

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
    when we remembered Zion.There on the poplars
    we hung our harps,for there our captors asked us for songs,
    our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
    they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the Lord
    while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
    may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
    if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
    my highest joy.
Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did
    on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
    “tear it down to its foundations!”Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
    happy is the one who repays you
    according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
    and dashes them against the rocks.

Most of us are appalled at the close of this Psalm with its violence and desire for vengeance. It makes most of us uncomfortable. I have heard people in church say, "I would never act like that!" That is why, of course, we must read these uncomfortable words and wrestle with their meaning for our spiritual ancestors - and ourselves - honestly and without naive and romantic blinders. James Carroll articulates our challenge like this in Christ Actually: The Son of God for the Secular Age: The character of (both) Auschwitz and Hiroshima are related revelations about our past and future: (they point to) the anti-Jewish heart of Western civilization and the vulnerability of the human species to suicide. These realities expose our deepest fears and sins and must be acknowledged in all of our work toward justice, peace and compassion.

Tragically, the theological and sociological preparation for the United Church of Christ's BDS endorsement chose to ignore the reality of Auschwitz and Hiroshima. We relied upon incomplete and limited scholarship and interpretation. Our ecumenical partners in the region - especially those who worked on the Kairos Palestine document - are not evil people. They are compassionate and faith-filled souls who seek the peace of the Lord for all in this region. And yet too often they remain entrenched in dualistic theologies that conflate power with evil and pain with Christ's presence. Add to this mix our collective Christian antisemitism and it is little wonder that Israel once again is portrayed as the scapegoat.

An honest but complex reading of this moment in time would grasp that there is more than enough shame and blame to go around on both sides of the Green Line. It would not demonize Israel nor romanticize Hamas. It would not deny the horror of the refugee camps nor obscure the reasons why the Arab world has allowed them to continue. It would not turn away from the brutal destruction of last year's Gaza War, obscure the testimonies of Israeli soldiers wrestling with their consciences in Breaking the Silence testimonies nor deny the genuine compassion Israel wrestled with while fighting terrorist bombs and tunnels. They are all a part of this complex context - and they are almost all obscured by our BDS endorsement. 

I won't rehearse the history of compassion and solidarity shared by these two peoples since 1948 nor recount the mean-spirited and vicious acts committed by both Israelis and Palestinians either. I will recommend an authentically insightful study that is free from propaganda in Debra J. Gerner's book: One Land, Two Peoples (second edition) as a beginning. I will also urge exploring James Carroll's Constantine's Sword, too.

The action of the United Church of Christ does nothing to advance the cause of peace on the ground in either Israel or Palestine. It is a symbolic charade that makes the delegates feel righteous but little else. It does not strengthen a Palestinian peace movement for freedom because there is not one. It does not bring political solace to Palestine because the current division between Hamas and Fatah has crippled that broken nation. And it does nothing to move Israel closer to regional negotiations at a time when progress could be made. At best, this endorsement is self-congratulatory and alienating. Newly elected United Church of Christ President, John Dorhauer, got it right after the vote when he confessed:  I will (implement this BDS endorsement) with a deep awareness at the pain that I will cause to people who I care about deeply. And I will do so, to be quite frank, wondering if the benefits of our divesting from those companies is equal to cost to the relationships that we have with people who are critical to our movement towards justice, not just in Palestine but in many other places.

Would that we had spent time, money and resources on grassroots people-to-people peace making efforts - as well as practical ways to help local congregations connect with Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East and the United States - but we did not. Rather we had made a five year commitment to both educate our congregations on the US politics of Israel's stalemate and organized an all-church effort to hold our elected officials accountable for peace making, but we did not. And why did we ignore the unanimity of mainstream Jewish organizations who unanimously oppose BDS from the Right, Left and Center? That is my lament:

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
    light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.

One thing I have discerned on sabbatical: upon my return to ministry, it is essential to find ways of building common ground for peace that includes both Jews and Palestinians in concrete acts of compassion. Demonizing Israel does not advance shalom. Ignoring the anguish of Palestine does not strengthen salaam. And self-congratulatory pronouncements from safety do not build allies for action.  

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Better days are coming...

Today was a shitty day. They happen from time to time, yes? And the only thing that makes sense to do on a shitty day is own it. Shitty days are rarely someone else's fault. God knows you can't change them no matter how hard you try so it is better to just accept it and go with the flow. Anything less is self-indulgent and boring. I could list the details, but why bother it was just shitty, ok?

Then we went to Maison Symphonique de Montreal to see Wayne Shorter. Usually we hike Mont Royal and take the Metro but we were both feeling played - so we drove. Good thing, too because later there was an unexpected rain storm. But driving was only part of the unexpected blessing. First of all, the hall is incredible - it looks like this - and who can stay trapped in a funk while sitting in this place?
Second, a 12 year old piano prodigy, Joey Alexander, opened the gig. He is totally Mr. Asberger's - awkward and goofy while talking about his music - but damn can this kid play. He needs to work on subtlety to be sure, but what do you want for a tween? Mozart? And then Wayne Shorter and his crack combo took the stage (after an interlude of re-tuning the piano because Mr. Alexander pounded it to hell and back.) OMG... this was free jazz beyond anything I have heard or experienced. Was there a time signature? Perhaps. Clearly there were cosmic, mind boggling charts because these cats were all playing in the same key at the same time, but they had to be part of the stratosphere. 

These weren't tone poems, but contemporary, improvisational art songs of the wildest and often most beautiful variety. They soared, they squawked, they rumbled and then exploded in ecstasy or anguish. And they pulled the listener in by the heart. What stunning intensity these players gave to each composition. And then they had fun, too.
I would not be able to listen to most of these art songs on CD or radio - waaay too bizarre for my quotidian tastes - but to enter this zone in person - and after a totally shitty day? It was a taste of heaven and Mr. Wayne Shorter - at 80 plus years of age - was a messenger from the sacred saying: deal with it, man and hang in there because better days are coming!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Bad Plus Joshua Redman: sublime!

Last night we took in the Bad Plus Joshua Redman concert at Theatre Maisonneuve at the Jazz Festival in Montreal. It was stunning. Of a recent show in Great Barrington, MA, Albany’s Metroland said, “The newly christened Bad Plus Joshua Redman took the stage … and proceeded to raise the roof. In a word, the music the quartet produces is sublime. More than that, it's as though Redman is the long-lost fourth member of the group, just waiting to be snapped snugly into place.”


First, each of The Bad Plus players - Ethan Iverson, piano, Reid Anderson, bass; David King, drums - are subtle masters of their instruments. They can evoke longing in one passage and passion in another. They know how to utilize timbre and rhythm to bring the audience IN to the song's story in ways that change sound into a journey. Second, Joshua Redman is a master of the tenor saxophone who can play hard bop and funk as easily as tender ballads and classical composition. To put them together gives the ensemble a breadth of musical diversity that certainly rivals anything The Bad Plus has done on its own. This isn't to say that BP is compromised without Redman. Far from it. But together they create soaring solos in the jazz tradition rather than sound clusters.

Third, the music B+Redman are making truly is church for those introverts committed to the contemplative journey. Each composition evokes feelings that the extended solos - and silence - amplify. Indeed, given the length of each piece, the listener is able to go wherever he/she needs to go on an inward journey before being returned to the safety and community of the concert hall. 

I have long admired Joshua Redman and been intrigued by Bad Plus. At last year's festival, Redman shared a program with a string orchestra playing lush and romantic ballads in the company of Christian McBride and others. It was the highlight of Montreal for me. I also went to see the Bad Plus in a small venue and the chaos and cacophony of that night sent me scurrying into the street after only 30 minutes. Last night redeemed the event and helped me appreciate their gifts and genius in a new way.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

On a quiet, cool, rainy Sabbath...

It is cool and drizzling in vieux-Montréal and the whole neighborhood is moving slowly. We walked Lucie a short time ago and no one was in the park - and almost nobody is on the streets. It is a fine day to stay inside to read and think (and practice) before heading back down to the Jazz Festival for a dose of Joshua Redman avec Bad Plus. 
 
+ We are at the half way point in our sabbatical - 10 weeks left - and that both sounds too soon for returning but also like a healthy time period left to keep going deeper. IIn ten weeks I still have 70 days to work on the bass and 100,800 minutes for reflection and rest. Knowing that there is a closing to this gift encourages me to make wise choices for the time that remains. I may not get to do everything I imagined before the sabbatical started, but I will certainly get to the key aspects in greater depth. In that light, a few meandering thoughts call out for articulation...

+ We visited with friends from home yesterday for part of the day - showing them our hood and favorite eateries - and both Di and I realized this was the first time we've been "social" in over 70 days. Being serious introverts - and living in a Francophone neighborhood - has given us the chance to listen more than speak, hang out mostly with just one another (and Lucie) and order our days in ways that create ample times for silence and resting. Whatever we wind-up doing after we return, it is clear to us both that we are going to need more quiet, alone time in our daily/weekly routine than ever before.


+ We covered our TV and will likely mostly unplug when we return to the US. It would be fun to have access to some films - and a few programs - right now, but mostly it has been a sweet release to let go of the tube. We have returned to an old practice of reading out loud to one another in the evening. And reading a lot more literature and non-fiction, too. As Leonard 
Cohen singsI'm sentimental, if you know what I mean, I love the country but I can't stand the scene. And I'm neither left or right - I'm just staying home tonight - getting lost in that hopeless little screen. It clearly has been time to unplug.  

+ We need to get a CD player for our flat. One of the benefits of turning off the TV has been making more room for music. We've made an investment - thanks to the Lilly Grant - in some great jazz CDs, but there isn't much to play them on except my computer. And that's fine for me when I am in my study, but not so satisfying for evening listening or while preparing a late supper. Don't get me wrong, the silence is lovely, but it is also refreshing to hear Bill Evans making beautiful music through satisfying speakers, too. Not having access to our sound system has been an awakening.


+ We have discovered both how complicated - and wonderful - it is to share caring for our special needs dog. While in the Berkshires, Lucie's anxieties can easily be managed: we live in a quiet place, we rarely have guests into the house, we have a sun room with a gate to maintain her private space, she has free access to our secluded backyard for her personal needs, etc. Not so in Montréal.  Here we must accompany her everywhere. Here she is almost always on high alert. Here she experiences sounds and people totally bewildering to a nervous country puppy. At first, it was exasperating - mostly because she was demanding more of our time, creativity and energy. But as we learn more about communicating with her in her own way - and simply caring for her as she is rather than how we might like her to be - it has become an adventure. And I would even say it has become another unexpected blessing in slowing down and paying attention to a love that matters. I think it has been good for Lucie in an odd way too because she really loves being with us in a new way now.


+ I have discovered how much deeper I want to go as a bass player. IIn the busyness of life before the sabbatical, I had forgotten how important it is to carve out regular practice time. The three gifts I am receiving as a musician in this quiet time are clear: 1) humility - realizing how much I don't know; 2) patience - working to correct bad habits and go deeper into the craft of playing; and 3) gratitude - it is fun to play this crazy instrument - and even more fun to play it in community with musicians I love and respect - so I'm loving my time alone and anticipating my time with others. with a renewed vigor.

This time of solitude has already been invigorating and even healing. I look forward to what the next chapter will reveal. In that resting and trusting, I think of something Rilke wrote: 

Love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away... and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast.... be happy about your growth, in which of course you can't take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don't torment them with your doubts and don't frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn't be able to comprehend. Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn't necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again; when you see them, love life in a form that is not your own and be indulgent toward those who are growing old, who are afraid of the aloneness that you trust.... and don't expect any understanding; but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.

Friday, June 26, 2015

NEVER give up hope...

Three times in my adult life I have lived through events I never expected to see realized: 1) the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Iron Curtain; 2) the election of an African-American as US president; and now 3) Marriage equality for same sex couples in the United States. Each has been breath-taking in its own way; each has evoked unexpected tears of joy and gratitude. As the President said this morning: sometimes justice comes to us like a thunder clap. To be sure, this SCOTUS decision was a long time coming. And the struggle makes Justice Kennedy's words even sweeter than I could have ever imagined

"No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people becoming something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it. respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilizations oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgement of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed. It is so ordered."

My Christian faith rests on a trust that the Creator not only loves us, but empowers us to deepen that love every day. Ours is not a God of retribution and shame, but the Source of compassion, hope, integrity and justice. This God set in motion freedom. This God is adored by Jews and Christians and Muslims and others regardless of what name we have discovered. And what this God has begun - CREATION - God continues until it is fully realized. Today was another part of the unfolding blessing and a reminder to me NEVER to give up hope. Thanks be to God.

  

Thursday, June 25, 2015

a sweet day...

We're listening to "Blue Trane" by John Coltrane and his killer band from 1957 including one of my favorites: bass men Paul Chambers. We spent the day wandering the Outremont neighborhood of Montreal - once mostly an Francophone stronghold - but now very mixed with a large Hasidic population. It was a gas - especially the bookstore "Drawn and Quarterly" - a specialty shop with tons of graphic novels. Tomorrow is the kick-off for the 36th Annual Jazz Festival and we'll be très occupé.

So just for kicks, here are a few visuals from our neighborhood - and dinner table - tonight. I thought it would be fun to share them with you before I practice the bass...bonne soirée mes amis!
This is what it looks like coming down from out flat whenever we take Lucie out for a walk...

Here are a few shots from le petite balcon at the front of our apartment...

And here's a street side shot of our hood...

And our twice daily destination avec notre chien Luciie...Parc Baldwin.




Wednesday, June 24, 2015

jazz communitarianism...

"Musical communitarianism in America has a long and wonderfully eccentric history." Now that is a sentence that resonates with me! (Spirits Rejoice!, Jason Bivins, p. 112)  In his chapter, "Urban Magic: Jazz Communitarianism," Bevin's asks the question, "What makes people establish counter-institutions?" and "To what are they counter?" One word dominates his historical reply: freedom.

With each wave of centralization or period of political-economic realignment, Americans have - in varying numbers and for diverse reasons - built cultural moats. Whether railing against "bigness" with echoes of populist traditions, retreating into agrarian communities, or establishing organized resistance to the state (in examples ranging from the Hutaree to the American Indian Movement), American self-fashioning has often involved the establishment of different spaces and places to cultivate virtues hard won in a corrupt "mainstream."

This reveals something more than the truism that resistance to political authority is written deep into the American grain: rather, by foregrounding these themes at the outset, we see how religio-musical communities are situated in a constellation of improvisational efforts to enact selves and societies on terms other than the given. Walt Whitman's vistas and barbaric yawps, Herman Melville's character Bartleby preferring not to, the MC5's kicking out the jams, all operate on a frequency of creative refusal that is alive in jazz communitarianism... So it is in warehouses and living rooms, church basements and coffee shops, community centers and storefronts that sounds come into being and fade into air, that musicians play into being experiences that simply by their existence are radical in McWorld. (Bivins, ibid, p. 114)

What a fascinating insight. Not only is my artistic impulse rooted in a long history, it is shaped by the certainty that freedom, integrity and compassion can best be nurtured by participating in a community of resistance. Further, our best selves are strengthened for the common good prefiguratively; that is, in the practice of making shared music we learn how to live in harmony and peace. This is never perfect, of course - and idealistic communities of resistance are usually short lived. But their insistent rebirth throughout American history points to their value, yes? How did Dr. King put it the night before his death?  "I've been to the mountain top..."

Yes, we've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!


As this sabbatical time ripens, I can't help but sense that my return to ministry is going to include a more intentional - and intense - exploration of jazz communitarianism. Especially as it applies to a community of resistance in the spirit of peace, compassion, civility and radical hope. I might as well face it...