The Next Big Step
No longer relevant, no longer an agent of change, much of jazz music is being played solely to impress others. Technique is used, not in the service of dynamic expression and emotional depth, but in the service of ego. One becomes an artist not to distill beauty and truth, but to make a quick buck and a big splash in the trades.
This is our disposable culture, our dumbed-down no books no thoughts no feelings no caring culture. Thoughts of others? None. Only actions in the service of the self.
Many years back, I'd read books by Ayn Rand. She fascinated me the way the snake fascinates the bunny rabbit. We were all headed into the "me years", and many of us still remain stuck there like flies in amber.
Being a "me person" means being a mover, a shaker, a getter, a taker, an earner, a shark...it means being selfish. That book Ayn Rand and Nat Brandon wrote, The Virtue of Selfishness, affected lots of lives, and helped to create a new breed of capitalist. Folks like Ann Coulter started popping up like weeds in a vacant lot. Suddenly it wasn't cool to be an altruist anymore.
altruism | altroo iz m | noun| the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others: some may choose to work with vulnerable elderly people out of altruism. ORIGIN mid 19th Century: from French altruisme, from Italian altrui 'somebody else' from Latin alteri huic 'to this other'
In Ayn's cold cruel new world order, altruism became a dirty word. She was a true Social Darwinist. Survival of the fittest, the fattest, the fastest, the most furtive. Cunning became an asset, and innocence became a liability.
In time, poverty became a crime.
To be poor is now a deadly sin, possibly as repulsive to the righteous elite as any mortal sin. The meek inherit the earth? Certainly not on their watch.
Ayn would've loved Rove-Bush-Cheney. And Nathaniel? He loathed gay people, so much so that he called for the criminalization of their very existence, and wrote about curing their "illness" with drugs and shock therapy. He didn't think too well of women and people of color either, but then, those prejudices seem to go together in a startling number of instances. He liked Ayn, though. Worshipped her.
She, as evidenced by her body of work, worshipped only her wonderful self. Her "beautiful mind" invented characters like Howard Roark and John Galt. Good old Howard raped Dominique Francon in the book The Fountainhead, and again in the movie of the same name. This was the world according to Aryan Ayn, as she had no women heroines in her books; only women that supported their men, even if they were rapists. In Ayn's world, women were to be dominated and controlled and swept off their feet by supermen whose highest ideals centered around their own selves. The self became GOD. Not too far off from Sharia Law, Ayn lived in a world of dominance and submission, power and powerlessness, moral absolutes and unforgiving laws of survival.
Strange, that a woman should give birth to a "philosophy of life" called Objectivism...a frigid, heartless, and unsympathetic view of the world in which only the strongest and smartest and richest and most gifted survive. The rest are swept away by the tide of history. His Story. Such hubris. Mother Theresa would not have liked Ayn too much, I think.
So here we are, still immersed in the me culture. Acquisition. Cars houses yachts big-screen TVs iPhones PDA's things. Billions of things.
And let's be fair. We who live in free, democratic societies are so very lucky! We are guilty of nothing so much as bad habits, big carbon footprints, and insatiable appetites for cool new tech toys.
We all know that life is NOT fair. We will just accept that for a moment, because it's true. It's true NOW. But we who are free must remain so. And it is time to act, now, to help improve the lives of others, it is time now to stand up and do what we each do best, for the good of humanity and for the survival of our way of life.
There is something new, something brilliant and blindingly NEW, on the horizon, just ahead of us, and we can see it if we DARE TO LOOK. It takes courage to look at it and study it and understand its workings and its design, because it seems to ask so much of us. It asks us to GIVE UP OUR VERY SELVES. It asks us to THINK and DREAM and LIVE outside of every box that has made us comfortable and warm and secure for all of these years.
It's The Next Big Step. It is called service. It is called giving. It is called love. It is called selflessness. It is called altruism.
In it is the only answer to the paradox of our suffering. Here is what it means to me, as a thinker and as a mortal musician and as a lover of freedom and as a flesh-and-blood woman and as a child of the Creator of the Universe:
Music, to me, is love. There isn't any force more powerful, more able to heal, more able to lift spirits, or more able to resolve conflict, than love. Music is love. It should never be used for deceit, or for evil, or for selfish motive. It's the antithesis of our political world. It's the antidote to illness and loneliness. It's the language that speaks of love and freedom the loudest, in tongues that almost everyone can understand. It belongs to no one and to everyone.
It is made by letting go of the self, and yet it is the means of finding the self. The more I see of tragedy, grief, pain, prejudice, inequity, and despair, the more I'm convinced that we have to all PLAY more, MAKE ART more, WRITE more, and LOVE more. Even when we are bone-tired, discouraged, filled with doubt, and lost in our own pain. We must turn those emotions, within our selves, into LOVE, into MUSIC, into ART, into WORDS.
We do that by our will. It is our mission. It's the reason we live. One person can change the world. It happens all the time. It will happen tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. Think of the power we have when we ALL work together to bring LOVE into this world.
In the heavenly tones of John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" , as in the deeply emotional renditions of Bach, as so lovingly played by Glenn Gould, there lies the answer to every question ever asked about the meaning and the purpose of our short time here on Earth.
The answer is LOVE. No other answer will end a war. No other answer will heal a human heart and rekindle hope in a human soul. No theory or ideology or governmental decree can do what LOVE WILL DO - as materialized and realized in the creation of Art and Music and Poetry and ALL positive human endeavor - to heal us and save us and bring us together in celebration of the true human alliance, right here, right now, all together, for this short time we have to share.
So now I begin my next phase, a phase of true creative giving. I already know what I'm going to do for my first new "project". It will no doubt fall terribly short of what I wish. If I had billions of dollars to enlist in its execution, it may still not fulfill my deepest wishes. If I had billions of dollars, I may be too blinded by the wealth to even see the nature of The Next Big Step.
The Step is Evolution to me, and it demands that I let go of so much that has, until now, defined me to the world and in the world. Conversely, it demands that I change how I see the world, and let go of what I had previously (selfishly) demanded or expected of it.
It's no longer about being defined or understood. It's about being effective, and being kind, and being present, so that I may change the world. My spirit has to be purified and new, just as my music has to be free to change beyond any limits or boundaries of any genre or box. This is my way to fight for my country, this is my way to fight for our freedom. This is my way forward, to the world of tomorrow.
I've been saying a long slow goodbye to the jazz world, with its competitive, narrow, elitist, androcentric, and hopelessly self-centered aesthetic. And it's been saying a long slow goodbye to me.
People do not have enthusiasm or time for expressions of self-centered show-boating. Rightly, the average citizen will show more interest in a sporting event or a gathering of friends.
Music that speaks to the soul and to the times will speak to the "masses" (of which I am a proud member) and music that speaks in unintelligible squawks and squeals will fall on deaf ears (mine included).
Now that I've heard the music inside of me, the deepest songs in me, hidden on previously unavailable frequencies, I have fallen in love with the piano again, and I feel the desire to make beautiful things happen with it. Too much of my life has been spent surviving. Trying to get work. Trying to make a living. Trying to talk men into letting me play. Trying to convince other musicians that I can play. Trying to win jazz polls. Trying to get critics to notice me. Trying, trying, trying.
Funny thing is, I've tried and I've succeeded. I can play almost anywhere, and do almost anything at this point. It's just that what I thought I would do when I got here is not what I intend to do at all now that I'm here.
It is not important to be hip. It is not important to be better than others. It is not important to be liked.
It is important to serve. It is important to bring peace and love and freedom to the world. It is important to make the world better than it was when we entered it.
This is The Next Big Step and I challenge the best among you to follow the lines and be part of The Next Big Step.
It is our future.
At least it's mine.