Random thoughts on the morning after...

Our small band of gypsies arrived home in Pittsfield after being up for nearly 48 hours of wandering, farewells and travel.  And after a great night's sleep in my own bed, I feel refreshed and overwhelmed  with gratitude for this pilgrimage.  Over the next few days - and probably longer - I'm going to be sharing some personal reflections and photos of this journey in the context of asking myself (and any one else who cares to weigh in) what could the Spirit be saying during our time in Istanbul and why does it matter?

I think that is the right place to start - discerning rather than proclaiming - don't you?  One aspect of discernment is that insights emerge only through a patient and humble search for truth in the presence of others.  That is to say, wisdom requires community: it takes time to ponder, it takes silence to listen, it takes study for context, it takes conversation and challenge for clarity and it takes a commitment and practice of trust to ripen. With the risk of bending the jazz metaphor to the breaking point, discernment is a lot like improvisation with the band as this clip from Cannonball Adderly playing Miles Davis' "Nardis" makes clear.  Everyone joins the melody and rhythm as equals at the start and only take off on an improvisation when the Spirit leads them (after tons of private practice, careful listening in the moment and a sense of serendipity and trust, too.)

So, in the Spirit of God's love and jazz improvisation, let me share a few questions out loud to see if they resonate.

+ An easy and obvious one for starters - but one that really surprised me - and that has to do with how complicated it is to do travel with a group.  Dianne and I are used to going all over the world as a couple - and we know one an other's rhythms and needs - and plan accordingly.  As noted before, we are wanderers who love the adventure of finding new people and places in unexpected and unplanned ways. I have been blessed 1000 fold by this combination of wandering - starting unexpected conversations with potential new friends - doing a little background research about our chosen wandering spot (to avoid unnecessary risk) - and then following our feet and the energy of the place.

That is not so easy to do in a group - especially a group of equals - who also all have their own rhythms and needs and expectations.  If the group isn't operating like a band - paying careful attention to one another in addition to the inner groove - and people start wandering away without planning or conversation, it can become stressful, annoying or even dangerous. I think that group travel - even in a band of gypsies - needs a "designated driver" for maximum fun.  What's more, while everyone has been blessed with gifts by the Spirit, not everyone can drive, yes?  How does St. Paul put it?

God's various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God's Spirit. God's various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God's Spirit. God's various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful... What's more, all these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God - and God decides who gets what and when.

As one preacher friend used to say:  Not everyone was created to be a tongue - even if churches mostly act that way - and not everyone was called and blessed with the gift of leadership either.  Some of us are better suited to support - and encourage - and question. So, one of the things I am considering is what this means for me personally, as a leader in a spiritual community and as a member of a jazz band.  I really loved being a part of this group experience.  At the same time, I discovered that I needed alone time, too. 
I also discovered that I really had to practice patience very intentionally whenever we moved off to explore some place without a plan.  It was sweet when we GOT to our destination - and we found some truly beautiful destinations - but often the process of getting there was complicated for me:  where did this guy go?  what do you do with stragglers? how fair is it to the group to disappear with no word to the others? what do you do about it?  how much do you let go of the "group" with a gaggle of individuals? how important is it to discuss the dynamics and mechanics of group travel before embarking? what is the balance between getting everyone to the same place and just letting things happen even if somebody gets lost?

Any thoughts or reactions?  (NOTE: the logistics of GETTING from Pittsfield to NYC - and then Istanbul - were OUTSTANDING!  Sue and Andy were masters of driving this and I am humbled and grateful for their hard work on all the planning and coordination of getting us to Turkey.  And their creativity and perseverance in lining-up gigs, too.  So, my questions and reactions are about the non-international travel/non-gigs times of travelling as a group.) 

+ Second, I learned - once again - how loud and unaware of my surroundings I can be in a foreign culture simply by the accident of birth.  Once a Polish dissident during the Marshall Law period of the Solidarity movement said to me, "You can always tell an American because they mostly speak without thinking."  Interesting, yes?  He was both critical and envious when he said this, too.  Critical because we usually don't have to worry about the consequences of our words (or attitudes or even our own stupidity.) And envious because of the freedom implied in our way of being in the world.

I bumped up against this time and again in Istanbul:  sometimes, in exuberance, I would laugh with gusto - something I didn't see a lot of in public; sometimes our group would get caught up in the moment and be lost in the beauty and awe of our environment and want to share that with energy - another thing I didn't see groups of people doing in Istanbul.  It would seem that there are clear differences between what takes place in public and private in Turkey - and I wasn't always clear or even aware of what those difference meant.  To be sure, Turks were loud - the drunks stumbling past our window at 3:30 in the morning, the vendors in the market places, etc. - but their loudness was very different from ours.  And I am wondering what that means?

I know that after one late night encounter with a Turk who felt the need to scold us for being Americans - with some cause - I become much more circumspect.  Before the incident, I really was caught up in the beauty, energy and joy of finally being in Turkey for our jazz gigs and all the potential they implied.  Afterwards, I tried to keep my laughter down.  I also found it wise to encourage a quieter public presence, too - especially when Raki of Efes (the local drinks of Turkey) were involved.  This is another place where your insights would be very helpful, ok?

+ And third, every place we played jazz the people LOVED it.  They loved the more cerebral jazz of "Take 5" with its long, extended improvisations, they loved the down and dirty jazz of our rhythm and blues songs like "Shake, Rattle and Roll" and "Stormy Monday Blues" and they loved the sweet jazz of "Blue Skies," "Summer Samba" as well as the jazzy reworkings of pop tunes like Van Morrison's "Crazy Love."  On our last night, the young women started jumping up and down - and singing along with us in English - when we broke out into "I Feel Good" by James Brown.  They did something similar when Bennie did Stevie Wonder's "Superstition," too.

Superstition in Sultanahmet from Tessa Kelly on Vimeo.
So I have a couple of hunches about this:  we played the hell out of them and the folk simply reacted to the beauty and the energy - that's part of it.  Making GOOD music touches people at a deep level no matter what the style, yes?  We also played a wide variety of tunes - very eclectic - so we found ways to touch the soul of very different people in the course of any given set.  And, at least among those who came to listen, jazz was a way of building a bridge beyond language and culture. 

For example, in every book store Dianne and I visited in Istanbul, jazz music was being played (and we hit a LOT of book stores!)  What's up with that?  I know jazz has a certain esoteric vibe among intellectuals - and it is clear that we were playing to the more secularist elite who go out to the clubs and not the so-called "Muslim street" - but not everyone who shook their booty with us was an intellectual.  Some were Turkish youth who loved to dance.  Some were tourists from all over Europe.  Some were jazz fans.  And some were.... I don't know.  They just all dug it and really made us feel valued as musicians.  So what do you think?  Any insights?

(Dig our man, Bennie Kohn, as he slipped onto the piano on our last night in Istanbul at the Club Nardis' Tuesday night jam session.  He was freakin' amazing and the crowd KNEW it...)

On a host of different levels, we accomplished round one of peace-making through music. And before we go to another level I need to let these ideas simmer.  I would value your comments and questions as I explore what the Spirit was saying about this sweet pilgrimage. We were a wandering band of gypsies sharing jazz and ourselves...and there is much to consider.


Black Pete said…
I thank God for your trip and your safe return. And the answers, James, will shake themselves out of the tree for the rest of your life.
RJ said…
Thanks, brother man, I think you are right. I am grateful we made it there and back safely; and now the reflection begins, yes?

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