Codes of Conduct
The Music of Freedom ...
When I first played with Philly Joe Jones back in the mid-seventies, I had a chance to learn a lot about what it means to respect The Music and the musicians who 'treat it gently'.
Now, in the opening years of a new century, it's important for me to revisit and restate those values, if for no other reason than to record a set of parameters for myself and my conduct on the job that's ahead of me: making my most important lifetime contribution to this art-form.
The values behind our music were not often spoken of, and it's still just about being decent and fair and above board, honest and true and determined. But sometimes, lately, I've felt that it might bear writing down, as our moral center has shifted so much as a nation.
Jazz is the music of freedom to me. We call it The Music and capitalize the first letter when writing about it.
Freedom might be the most important word in our lexicon. It defines what it is to live in the true spirit of America. It is the reason that America exists; as a set of human values based on dignity and self-determination, rather than as a country with set borders.
The concept of freedom demands that we be SELF-REGULATING; that we have laws but that we don't NEED those laws (if we're healthy) because we know RIGHT from WRONG and we live our lives based on those fundamental edicts that can be rooted in our love of country, love of Music, or, more simply and perhaps more indelibly, in our love of LIFE and of TRUTH.
Musicians reflect the codes of their country; we are a reflection of our times. We carry the torch of many generations of freedom-lovers and freedom-fighters.
We play The Music in the shadow of giants.
Our conduct within our community and our conduct within our larger social context is as important as the conduct of a US Senator or a US President; it reflects on the fabric of our system of thought and action.
Jazz is the Music of America, and the Music of freedom as an intrinsic human value.
Freedom is the underpinning of happiness; the first and main prerequisite for the pursuit of the self.
A few people that helped shape my present code of conduct were Abbey Lincoln, Betty Carter, Mary Lou Williams, Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane, Philly Joe Jones, Tony Williams, Charlie Haden, Kenny Barron, John Lewis; lots of others.
In short, anyone who does their life-job with single-minded focus, and determination, and adherence to a set of social and personal values that can be seen as moving the cause of freedom forward.
Anything or anyone that corrupts, devalues, interrupts, shifts focus, or shows disrespect for the concept of freedom and the sanctity of The Music is just plain unwelcome in my house and in my life.
Like talking loudly while Randy Weston plays a solo piano piece; it's rude, it's crude, and it's disrespectful.
Our nation is one of problems; the whole principle of America is about its POTENTIAL for finding solutions to human problems.
The solving and open discussion of the problems constitutes our system of democracy, and there was never a less- perfect system of government. But it's working gradually.
Freedom is being moved forward.
And Jazz is a part of that movement.
For those who would play this Music:
Look to John Coltrane ('It's all from the same Source', and 'I just want to be a force for good...') for a timeless example of self-discovery, self-perfection, and personal integrity. Never a 'perfect' human being, simply a man with flaws and weaknesses... but also a force of natural will, a light that advanced freedom through his art and through his conduct.
Look to Philly Joe Jones (I knew him and still dream of him sometimes) who didn't really think of these things, as far as I know. He was just a good man and a GREAT musician; a fine drummer and a surprisingly good pianist! He took this Music VERY SERIOUSLY and knew how much it meant to all of us. He was a beautiful light.
Look to Abbey Lincoln who just sounds better and better and just looks more and more beautiful. She is like a child, in grace with herself and her gift. She no longer has anything to prove; she IS her gift. She uses it to advance the human condition and to move freedom forward.
This is the Music of FREEDOM. Treat it gently!