We are very happy to announce Dear Freedom Suite's participation in the 17th Annual Vision Festival.
Dear Freedom Suite tributes the musicians who were activist with their art.
The release of Feedom Suite by Sonny Rollins with his cohorts Max Roach and Oscar Pettiford in 1958 marks the beginning of Jazz's participation in the Civil Rights Movement.
The use of the word Freedom, the use of African - American imagery, the reference to anything political, was taking a huge step into a myopic and controlling world of media at that time.
These men and the others that followed were the Vangaurd artists and producers who paved the way for a freedom of expression that crossed several boundaries of society.
Now days the Jazz musician is being used in several arenas; product advertisement, brain research.... I was even alerted that there was an NPR show on Jazz musicians and emergency response systems. Icertainly did not bother to find it. Although I thought this was a good time to bring up a topic that I have not spoken on. My name, and the associations folks have made with it. In an effort to promote some scholarship on this subject..I will mention both glaring assumtions, and interesting research. I hope that everyone I have quoted herewith would indulge me this post. If anyone is offended I will gladly take it down. Which is better than what most people offer.
Muslim Names in Jazz
compiled by Michael Fitzgerald
June 15, 1999-August 17, 2005
Now this was the first of its kind posting that I knew of. Did Ftizgerald call me up and ask me if I was Muslim? Did he consult with anyone about putting their new, assumed or original name in a category? One of the errant things that people who live vicariously through those who refine their arts, is that they often forget the real point.
It takes but one glance at history to get the point; the reason why people change their name is to NOT USE the former one! This goes across the board, from Muhammed Ali to Sting. It is simple and does not have to be guessed at. It seems that folks have a tendancy to magnify the significance of name change out of proportion for thier own use. Whether one changes their name because it refers to slavery of the past,( whichever side of the whip you were on,) or any other reason, you emerge with a new name for the purpose of establishing a new sound vibration. Sting said once "When people relish in exposing your former name it makes them feel like they are "on the inside". Well I can take it a step further and say "It makes them feel like they can put you back in the place they think you belong" which in some cases brings to mind the "N" word.
Muslims in Jazz Malik on Myspace 2007
This guy not only just assumed conversion to Islam based on a name change, he (and Fitzgerald,) published the original name and the new name of all of the Jazz musicians they thought were in this group. He even called himself a warrior. Do you think that association helps anyone? What I did not see, is him, and several other self proclaimed folks; on line, in line or standing to be counted when Tarik Shah was being railroaded by New York's petty Homeland Security farce in their entrapment that has him incarcerated today. When it really counts Jazz people have a tendancy to go obligato, or even fermata.
Jazz Musicains and Islam blogger Marc Manley in 2009 brings up something that may be widely regarded among musicians of my generation as as the perfect storm...and why religion is too small of a confine to take to the bandstand: He references, like too many, Art Blakey and his ilk during the 1950's, and thereby exposes some interesting anomylies:
"for Blackamericans, Islam not only held a mystique that called to them but also eventually offered an alternative modality of being both black and American" This process, something as simple as changing one’s name to something that sounded Middle-Eastern, offered some Blackamerican musicians a expeditious means of overcoming Jim Crow racism."...... and then....one from Dizzy's autobiography: "(that) “beboppers” expressed a preference for religions other than Christianity may be considered only a half-truth, because most black musicians, including those from the bebop era, received their initial exposure and influence in music through the black church. "
Manley's writing is in my view an attemt to have good discussions on this topic, but would probably get the typical New York knee-jerk reaction.
A Love Supreme: Muslim Jazz Artists 2009
I show up in something else! A 2009 Youtube video! Yet another misguided person, who not only titles it: A Love Supreme, and does not use the song itself, but something much less reverent. And worse, they associate John Coltrane solely with Islam. Most of us know that Onedaruth was pan-theistic, and I think if the Coltrane estate was not as equally forgiving as I, when it comes to these kind of things they would ask this person to take it down. Good photo of me though.
Now here is a touchy topic from a blog in 2011
Music, Muslims, and Islam in America by Akil Fahd
"Though there is still controversy on music and it's relationship to Islam, what can be shown is a relationship between jazz music or at the very least jazz musicians serving as conduits for the spread of Islam in America for previous generations"
Oddly enough he quotes someone I'd be afraid to argue with:
In his essay "The America I have seen" the Eyptian Sayyid Qutb once wrote "The American is primitive in his artistic tastes, whether in his judgment of art or his own artistic works. Jazz music is his music of choice. It is this music that the savage bushmen created to satisfy their primitive desires, and their desire for noise on the one hand, and the abundance of animal noises on the other. The American’s enjoyment of jazz does not fully begin until he couples it with singing like crude screaming. And the louder the noise of the voices and instruments, until it rings in the ears to an unbearable degree, the greater the appreciation of the listeners.
I am not sure what this blogger wants to advance here, but I learned my lesson on criticizing, when I told an audience of a thousand people, that one of their great German scholars was wrong in his assesment of what Jazz is. "Harmful and degrading" says Max Heindel of "Jazz music". Now as much as I enjoyed his writing on the esoteric, I could not stand such an assesment of the music I loved, and watched transform societies worldwide.. Fortunately, only one guyof this audience charged up to the stage with anger to argue with me. And actually now that we have approached the 21st century, and I see what "Jazz" is today, I am not so sure that I disagree with Heindel anymore. Spineless, selfish, individualist, commercialist, political-less, and down-right corny movements seem to be the call of the day. Something as meaningful as a religious fad would be actually be refreshing.
Islam's contribution to Jazz and Improvised Music :Thesis by Pat Thomas 2012
Here is a well written account of some little known facts, and an artistic exegesis verité.
"The Hans Wehr Dictionary of modern written Arabic has several meanings for the word “Jass”.they are to:to touch:feel:totest:probe:sound to be a spy.Idries Shah in his book ”The Sufis )also mentions theword,defining it as “to scrutinize (hidden things)...this is the root of the word for esponiage andhence the Sufi is called the spy of the heart.To the Sufi the scrutinazation for the purpose of ascertaining hidden things is an equivalent,poetically speaking,with the motive of concentrating the mind.”Unfortunately so;called “Jazz experts have consistently regaded this word assomething of a mystery,and seeing it as a slang word for sex.When in fact it gives a very good description of the music. Every Jazz fan knows that “feel”is central to the Jazz aesthetic for a great performance,that exploring and creating new sound worlds,are crucial to every new phase Jazz has passed through.Clearly the original meanings of this arabic word were distorted on entering the english language."..
I see this as an informative work that suggests a root to the meaningful prestidigitation of Jazz masters no matter what religion is associated with.
A factual and solid comparative analysis is done by Jonathan Curiel in an article for the San Francisco Herald Tribune in 2004 entitled
Muslim roots of the blues:The music of famous American blues singers reaches back through the South to the culture of West Africa
He suggests the crux of the connection as Muslim slaves from West Africa for 200 years constituted more than 30 percent, and an untold number of them spoke and wrote Arabic. "Despite being forced to adopt Christianity and give up their old ways, many of these slaves continued to practice their religion and custom."
How did they do so we might ask? in secret of course. Which illuminates the significance of Ms. Thomas' paper.....he goes on to say that "they melded traditions from Africa into their new environment in the antebellum South." Yeah they sure did, and someone please tell that to the Lincoln Center clan. "On plantations, they still managed throughout their days to voice a belief in the God of the Quran." "Slave practices eventually evolved and, parallel with different singing traditions from Africa, into the shouts and hollers that begat blues music "
It is a brilliant piece but I don't want to quote so much because of his copyrights, so I suggest you read it, and see what you think. I don't think he (or anyone) should stop short in the discussion of the Atlanic slave trade. Dr. John Henrik Clarke reminds us of the slave trade of Africans by Europeans, Arabs and in some cases Africans themselves. Fast forward and think Sudan. But then people like my late, great Mother will remind us of the fact that "white people" enslaved "white people" to perfect their later practice on Africans.
Another Jazz Musician
There are some Jazz musicians that I know, and truly respect, that are serious and dedicated to the teachings of Islam. And some of them wish that Jazz was not as sordid as it has become, and some, don't really want to be called a Jazz musician. Not to say that the two titles cannot co-exist. I hope my little here research adds food for thought on categories in general, and what the Christian, Buddhist, Bahai, Muslim or Orthodox Jew, Jazz musician may offer on this topic. Jazz is, or has fuctioned as its own religion to some. I may have been one such a convert. What is not appealing to me is to stand on less than thorough principles for religious based imputations. And hey, I did not see any of my white friends who happen to be Muslim Jazz musicians on any of these websites. So I say; please be careful.
Now as for an official account of ME and my name change. For the record, I changed my name because I was given a new spiritual name, the meaning of which, I do not discuss anymore. I do not reject my great family that produced me, but consider what William Shakespere said on this: "He who steals my purse steals trash, but he to takes from me my rightful name makes me poor indeed ". Sometimes folks who know me from my time in Connecticut, will call me by my name's meaning, and I don't mind, because they were there when that transformation occured. But I am constantly, to this day, trying to live up to its meaning, and hold eternal gratitude to sister Akua Ficklin and brother Ade Theotis Holland for naming me.
When I went to Paris for the first time in 1977, I met a man from Senegal, who in a short time was like a brother to me. I thought about my new spiritual name/ artist name/ or not slave name,,,,, and in which language I might express it. I am one who was a Pan-African congress member at 15 years old, and enjoyed having African - American Histoy and African-American Literature tuaght to me in High School during the too short lived period of "Black Awareness" so to speak. So I decided that it would be fitting to have a name in an African language as opposed to English. When he translated the spelling into Wolof, I noticed that the numerological reduction came to the same number as my original name. The written Wolof would be influeced by Arabic and therefore we find an etymological association. Another interesting thing about this process of identity, is that similar to what some of my brothers in West Africa do, they don't reject the old, they add the new. It is not unheard of to go from "Tribal, to Christian to Musilim to Buddhist etc., without dropping the former stage of ones developmental awareness.
This is truly a private matter for me, but I thought instead of: having folks wonder and really be a little scared of me also, or to pigeon-hole me into a group, I often answer questions on the matter as such: " I am either ALL religions or NONE of them."
I just thought I would throw some light on the subject ...and also ask people to "Lighten up".... cause in the overall scheme, the only title that Big Brother sees anyway, is just Another Jazz Musician
Stayed in all day this Ides of March
Purveyed our dis-earthly atmosphere
Thought of old Rome's Caligula
and wondered which present despot mirrors him/her
One man's take on Matsushima bay a place Basho called a narrow road to the deep North ...and composed some of his greatest poetry
The sites of immortal classic literature have been devastated by the earthquake and tsunami.
An up-and-coming haiku poet takes a journey along the road while composing haiku poems for
the repose of the land’s soul.
It was an evolution of spirit tradition; To get Rashied to play some "Philly"
We knew he had it in him, we knew he carried the goods. All the while stratified across several rhythmic planes,.All along the watchtower of John Coltrane's conclusive quintets, large ensembles, and duo. Yes duo...which was a rare treat. A rare feat, a major groundbreaker.
But it was almost as if John Szwed would predict it, and I believe I saw Bob O'Mealy cry that night.
We danced in and out of the traditional and the sacred with poetry and sound that mirrored the past and echoed the future.
The Double Duo at Columbia University Earl Hall December 8, 2001
Three months after the towers were just about finished with their smoldering, and imbuing us all with the fear and agony that massive death can promote.
We packed the house with so many, from such places we knew not where they came from. A free concert...a people in need...a house manager with a fierce hand and rude resistance to crowds, since the fire marshall had everyone on pins and needles following the "inevitable event" at Wall Street.
We barely saw our own friends and family until the swelling event subsided. The most talked about thing concluding the concert was how many people were turned away.
It was not a surprise to me, considering the energy in the air. I had entiled the concert "75 minutes of flame" in reference to the amount of time that some certain systems of emergency response was suspended by some certain aloof or conscripted commander in chief.
Meanwhile back at the drums Rashied and I carried on our usual dialogue, with our two favorive reed-men; Ravi and Mixashawn.
That night was magic. it was intended to be a healing for the many injured, and diffused. It was our way to come together, in a space to be made sacred. It was refuge, and regeneration, in the same cachophonic breath that came billowing from the praying, singing and preaching horns. It was drum, and gong, and hallelujah, penetrating the breast of all in congregation. Sponsored by the honorable University Chaplain and the Jazz Department, we had our cylinders tuned in to every higher force we have known, and called upon.....
I don't know exactly what I did, other than shout....especially during our trading drumset waves....especially when,
we were able to get Rashied to play some "Philly Joe"
An evolution of spirit tradition. A language scored in our sub- conscious.
I was inspired by a memorable trip to Almaria Spain, to try a recipie with saffron.
This trip 1995 or so... was memorable for three reasons.
1- A woman in a red dress.
2- The best calamari have ever had; made with Garlic and Saffron
3- One of the most compelling and evocative dream states I have yet encounter.
maybe it's the Gypsy thing...
I have always encouraged musicians to dance. It is a good way to strengthen ones rhythmic awareness and gravitational security on the planet.
But sometimes dancing can get you in a pickle...
As I stood at the bar ..at 4am, in an after hours joint of Almaria Spain, relishing guitar master, after guitar master, filling us with some of the most overwhelming emotions know to humankind -
It must have been clear to everyone in the place that the short dark foriegner of the 3 at the bar; Yosuke Yamashita, Cecil Mcbee and I, - was really enjoying the music.
Hence, I was struck with man's largest challenge: a woman in a red dress....yes she did ....she did everything that the red dress wearer should.
She called me out to the dance floor, and in a most dramatic fashion
from afar ...across the room...
My nerves were settled only by the fact that I was wearing the right shoes.
Yeah, my best leather heeled deerskin Italian loafers., with a heel that could represent every bit of my percussive compliance to the aura that was España verité !
I stomped with glee...and felt quite at home with the music and the "audience".
Well after this union of opposites...watching "beauty and the beast" hit the floor...in a place where "beauty" and others had danced on the table and called all the spirits in....
I felt really welcomed.
It must have affected a sacral point in my life on earth, because the telling dream I had that night was quite memorable.
In an effort to celebrate that moment, and many others where I have been at the focal point , I decided to try to make some Garlic and Saffron Calamari today.
I added shrimp and salmon and ...served it with asparagus and brown rice
If i make it for you, we must dance Flamenco
I am noticing how much rancor is tossed around in the news while the Repulican candidates are trying to bring down the present administration, or really just the idea of the Obama white house.
I hope there are some artists who will get into the fray, and illuminate the arguments.
Where to start, who should we hear from, what do you think?
When I thought about listing some of my favorite people for their work in Peace Initiatives, I of course considered at the top of the list Jose Arguelles; whose book Transformative Vision, changed my life.
I did the search for him and found out that I had missed his transition into the next world.
Ordinarily I would be crushed and delirious and talk about it with those who knew and respected him. But then I realized that not too many people I know would even have been aware of his work nor his passing.
From there I thought that instead of remaining in my insular depression for losing such a soul while I was unaware. (He died March 23, 2011 or Solar Moon 17 as he would have us mark it. ) I should do something to honor him.
"Valum Votan" as he became known to his closest people, talked to me on the telephone once. I had the nerve to call him one afternoon in the early 90's. He was so welcoming and loquacious. I hardly had a chance to thank him for how is writing opened my mind, and I don't remember if I even mentioned the Harmonic Convergence that he piloted.
I participated in that 1987 pilgrimage and show of unity, by making a passage up the Mount Tom; in Massachusetts, with my friends Michael Gregory, Chequita Chevalier, David Greenberger and others. I can't say if there has been anything like that since.
Most of what people know of Valum is his illuminating discussion of our world out of balance via the Gregorian Calendar and the ominous Mayan 2012 cycle that looms as our planetary transformation prediction. I must admit I have not used a Lunar calendar every year, but if there was a time to do so, it is now.
I would like to believe that my life work in Peace Initiatives is no accident, or coincidence, but a blessing that I should share.
When I performed a solo concert dedicated to World Peace in the Saikoji Temple of Nagano, Japan on August 6, 2005, (by using the sun calendar), it was an opportunity to (mark the 60th year of the most horrendous act of war - with the most rapid forgiveness, ever know to humankind. Add to this, the most alarming consequence of nature's adjusting of it's tectonic plates, to once again make humans insignificant!
Sometimes I believe the people of Japan and I, have spent 24 years of sympathetic vibrations with sound and meditation for more than just artistic reasons.
Therefore I would like for you to join me in a Peace Initiative on August 6, 2012 - if the planet still be habitable of course.
In honor of the awareness that Valum Votan brought to us when the planets were aligning, In honor of all of the Monks and and Priests and Bishops who work for peace, and in honor of your own gift from the creator that you inhabit - be it frail or impoverished, fleeting or mighty - it is a gift to others when we hold anothers hand in unity and love, for the sake of blooming in those who have yet to flourish, for the sake of healing those who may be bound in chains, for the oneness that can conquer individualism.
A moment or an hour to feel each synapse connect you to a universe that is in your hands to renew.
August 6, 2012