Dreams, Healing, and Magic
I'm in a dream. It's my dream and I designed it.
Here's the dream:
Every time I touch the keys to a piano, the air shimmers (it really does).
Every time I play for people, their lives (and mine) can change and improve.
Every time I make Music, I heal myself and others, if I do it from love.
Our culture, our very mortally sick culture, is driven mostly by fear and greed. And even when the intentions are good, plans go awry because the intent gets lost amid the noise... the scramble, the rush, the din is continuous.
Many of us fly through the air with jets on our shoes to make that next dollar so that we can keep the machine running, keep the corporations humming, keep the three cars and eight mortgages and three jobs all going at once, like colored balls in the air at a circus.
Take jazz festivals, for example.
Music is a form of Magic. A very potent form. And we all know that there is good Magic and evil Magic. I want my Music to be GOOD Magic. Good Magic is GRACE in realized form. It heals lives. It reaches into souls. It heals bodies and minds and hearts. It makes tears flow, it makes smiles come, it makes our fears evaporate.
Music, made from love, can do MIRACLES. It is Magic, very good Magic.
But if there are distractions everywhere, it can hurt people. It can (and does) hurt the musician(s). It can hurt the listeners, and they won't even notice it if they're not aware of the deeper meaning going on around them.
I and my trio played, a few years back, at a well-known jazz festival in California. We made very little money, as we were considered locals, because I lived nearby and it was my trio. My associates flew or drove in and stayed in hotels, while I was nearby at my home. On the day of the festival, we drove in together. Since I don't drive because of my poor eyesight, we arrived together. We were not allowed in because we had no tickets.
It was a hot day, and we waited in the car for an hour. We were drenched with sweat by the time we were "cleared" for entry.
Upon arrival on the "grounds", I became aware of a miserable stench. The burning of flesh. Cows and pigs and all manner of animals were being roasted. The smoke burned my eyes. The death was all around me. It was an abattoir.
Then I noticed that practically all of the men that I saw there had two things in common. They all had shorts on, and they all had Budweisers in their hands.
There were at least ten thousand white men. A few had brought their children or their partners. I noticed a few African-American people. One was playing drums with me that day (Mel Brown). But I might as well have been in Denmark. There was a sea of white, hairy legs. There was the stench of burning animal flesh. There was the smell of stale beer (my daddy had smelled like that...not a nice smell...an ominous, threatening smell, to me).
I heard a saxophone player squealing (yes, that's the word), and the cacophonic sounds of three bands playing at once. Every one who has attended a jazz festival knows that horrible sound. There was the general overall feeling of celebratory abandon. A mass of humanity that could easily become a mob.
And that day we played. Three long, exhausting sets. There was yelling and screaming and wild behavior. People were running back and forth between our tent and the main stage so that they could catch two (or more) shows at once.
The crowd noise level was very high, so we were amplified. As the evening progressed, things just got louder and louder. Things got louder and louder in other tents as well, so that, towards the middle of the evening, one could hear four or five bands playing simultaneously at any given moment.
A terrible noise!
There's no climactic element to this story. We finished playing, waited two hours for several different festival helpers to find the "head guy" who had our check in his pocket. Of course, it was one check, made out to me...I would have to deal with the taxes and the W-9's and the payment to my band members. I signed a few CDs. I was exhausted, as were my associates.
We left with a feeling of "isn't it GREAT to get out of THERE!" rather than a feeling of "we have changed the lives of our mortal brothers and sisters"...we left with nothing. And I felt that we had left nothing behind. We might as well have gone to a movie or attended a political rally, for all the good we had done.
I had known for years that I was not doing the job I was put here to do.
I felt ok most of the time, because I was playing Music, and playing is (or should be) fun, but I didn't feel at all useful. And I didn't feel that I was getting anywhere. Not that I wanted to climb the social ladder... I mean that I wasn't getting anywhere spiritually. Here I was, with this GIFT, and I always felt somehow robbed and lost and unfulfilled after I'd given it.
There were a few "golden moments". I would play for a small crowd at a house concert. The crowd would listen to every single note, every breath, every silence. At times, I noticed people crying. Smiling. Going inward to whatever place it was that each of them held sacred. Some people would say, years later, that my playing had changed their lives. Some people would buy a CD at one of those house concerts, and later tell me that it had helped them get through a divorce, or chemotherapy, or some other troubling event in their lives.
This web site is like that too. Every day (with very few exceptions) I receive at least one email thanking me for this MAGIC I do. The details are different but the message is the same, every time. "Thank you for what you do."
My DREAM is to make MAGIC that HEALS people.
A few nights ago I played at a piano store in San Francisco, Piedmont Piano. It's much more than a piano store. The piano that I play there is up to the task of creating Dreams and Magic. It's a Fazioli 10 footer. But the real Magic is in the people that own the store. They want to make Magic and Heal people too, so they've set up this wonderful venue, right in the store, surrounded by all those beautiful pianos, those instruments of organic living substance and potential sorcery.
It feels, to me, like I'm circled by a tribe of loving family and friends. And there's a fire somewhere off to my right, and there are shadows and flickerings and spirits dancing around the flames. I just sense this, out of the corner of my eye. If I look for it, it goes away. So I don't look.
And, in that environment, without the burning flesh and squealing saxophones and beer and barely-contained debauchery, I can make my MAGIC. I can HEAL myself and others.
I can live my DREAM.
There are a few other places where I can do this. Not many. There are certainly a few things I need. I can't do it very well on a miserable instrument. Obviously, some otherwise intelligent people believe that the piano itself doesn't matter, that "a good musician can play anything."
The truth (for me) is that the piano is an extension of my soul. My soul fits into it like a glove. And if the glove is too tight or too big or not comfortable or hard or rough against my skin, it will not be as close to my soul's intent. It will fight my soul, and my soul will hurt.
And then no Magic will happen.
The same is true for the venue. Alcohol in large quantities won't allow Magic to happen. It takes us away from our selves, not towards our truth. We need to be silent in our selves. We need to be accepting of our selves as we are. We can't be running around with beers in our hands while beauty is being born.
I haven't had a drink for many many years, and I've been accused of being a typical, intolerant, reformed alcoholic, but that's not what I mean here...I mean pursuing the goal of infinite JOY, and the distraction that alcohol can be in the pursuit of such a goal. Having dinner with a few glasses of wine is fine for lots of people. That's different. I'm talking MAGIC here. This stuff can get out of hand. It can turn evil!
I told someone recently that, if I played in a nightclub (which I don't) like I played at the Piedmont Piano Store or at the Kennedy Center or at a house concert, I'd start fights. And it's true. Fights used to break out at my "gigs" all the time!
There I'd be, playing a hypnotic, mystical sequence, working over it, peering into it, kneading and plying it until it sang out loud and told stories and moved the gut and changed the color of the whole room...and some guy would just up and punch some other guy! It happened too frequently, in my youth, to be coincidental.
That's POWER, and that kind of subversion of power I don't need or want. Power is like that. It can be focused and directed, and all kinds of good things can happen. But imagine if John Coltrane had never gotten out of the gin joints that he started in. Imagine if he had made a career of "walking the bar". Imagine if he had never brought forth A Love Supreme or Transition. I can't imagine my life without that Magic. I wouldn't be ME without his contribution to Peace and Love. It was his Dream!
My Dream is to change lives for the better, also. My Magic is a GIFT I have, not understood by me (or anyone), to make the air fill up with warm colors and spirits and birds and ghosts and memories and hopes and desires and longings.
These are tumultuous times, as are all human times, and every bit of GOOD MAGIC is needed to balance the dark forces.
I won't do anyone any good at all playing in some gin joint, or playing at some jazz barbeque.
That's why I'm not working a lot these days.
It's also why I may work more as time goes by. We all need this so badly, and nearly everyone I meet lately knows it too. If we live our Dreams, be our true selves, and follow our hearts, we'll be OK.
I know that Dreams are powerful when they are for the Good and when they are held as goals rather than as vaporous ephemera. When we let ourselves be children, we let ourselves believe and hope and play! We let ourselves DREAM!
This is my future, this is my dream, and it is GOOD.