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05 July 2015

My big, fat Greek referendum!: A tribute with Profs. Sherman & Yanni at the Acropolis

Today, the Greeks participate in an important and historic referendum, the consequences of which will help decide whether Greece remains part of "Europe" (as in the single currency...not the continent).

Lest we forget that Greek society and culture are really, really old and really, really resilient (not to mention that we have a lot to thank the Greeks for....like, say, Western Civilization) I post this educational video shot and narrated by Yours Truly almost exactly five years ago. The video features "Professor Sherman" and "Professor Yanni" who are really just Sam Sherman and his buddy Kilian Copp both of whom were, at the time, learned students of Greek mythology...

08 March 2015


On the 50th anniversary of the march for voting rights at Selma, Alabama, President Obama offered these inspiring remarks...

19 January 2015

Pride (Part 4): Everybody needs to dream. Everybody needs to clap hands and be happy.

In 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr. offered this foreword in the printed program for the Berlin Jazz Festival:

“God has wrought many things out of oppression. He has endowed his creatures with the capacity to create—and from this capacity has flowed the sweet songs of sorrow and joy that have allowed man to cope with his environment and many different situations.

Jazz speaks for life. The Blues tell the story of life’s difficulties, and if you think for a moment, you will realize that they take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph.

This is triumphant music.

Modern jazz has continued in this tradition, singing the songs of a more complicated urban existence. When life itself offers no order and meaning, the musician creates an order and meaning from the sounds of the earth which flow through his instrument.

It is no wonder that so much of the search for identity among American Negroes was championed by Jazz musicians. Long before the modern essayists and scholars wrote of racial identity as a problem for a multiracial world, musicians were returning to their roots to affirm that which was stirring within their souls.

Much of the power of our Freedom Movement in the United States has come from this music. It has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms when courage began to fail. It has calmed us with its rich harmonies when spirits were down.

And now, Jazz is exported to the world. For in the particular struggle of the Negro in America there is something akin to the universal struggle of modern man. Everybody has the Blues. Everybody longs for meaning. Everybody needs to love and be loved. Everybody needs to clap hands and be happy. Everybody longs for faith.

In music, especially this broad category called Jazz, there is a stepping stone towards all of these.”

And here are Dr. King's words, delivered by musicians from SFJazz:

Finally, here's the drummer Max Roach's interpretation of (or duet with) "I Have a Dream":

04 July 2014

3 for the 4th

This week has been an interesting one in the evolution of liberty and devolution of community in the United States.

The conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court, with its holding in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, continued its years-in-the-making development of corporatist libertarian legal theory and doctrine. Without a healthy counterbalance from the representatives of the People -- which is our situation today because of the institutional dysfunction of Congress and the National Security State perpetuated by the Executive Branch -- corporatist hyperindividualism becomes the norm, eviscerates the social contract and fabric, and adds further fuel to the rise of covert authoritarianism. 

So on this day, as we genuflect at the alter of "freedom," I offer three perspectives on liberty and community, offered at three distinct points in U.S. history, from some fairly unusual suspects ....

First, Lou Gehrig in 1939...

Second, Bobby Womack in 1971...

Finally, Maya Angelou in 1993...

Study these words and teach them to your children...

"Farewell" by Lou Gehrig (1939)

"Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

"Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn't consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I'm lucky. Who wouldn't consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball's greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I'm lucky.

"When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift - that's something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies - that's something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter - that's something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body - it's a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed - that's the finest I know.

"So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I've got an awful lot to live for."

 "Communication" by Bobby Womack (1971)

I've got somethin' I wanna talk about to you
Just another communication
It could help the situation
It's not the generation
That keep gettin' on this nation

What I say, what I say
What I say, what I say

We've made this world what it is today
For the way we live and what we do and say
The pitiable show in the eye of need
You close my eyes every time I don't see

What I'm sayin', what I'm sayin'
Well, look at here

Disgusting one another
But still callin' me your brother

And listen to me now
Now if you believe in what I am sayin'
I'll be back, take a slam

Like I say, like I say, like I say
Say, like I say, like I say

All we need is just a little communication
That could make this world a better nation
Just like the preachers congregation
They're all in to his conversation

What I say, what I say

Oh, Lord, good God
Don't put down your brother
On the way he dress
I am gettin' tired
And sick of your mess

Ooh, and if you believe
Oh Lord, I know you believe in what I am sayin'
And I want every man to take a stand

All you gotta to is help me
Help, help, help me
Why don't you help me?
Help me, help me, help me sing this song

Just a little communication
Just a little communication
If you see your brother fallin' down
Give him a chance to make him come around

Got to, got to
You've got to, I've got to
I've got to, you've got to, you've got to
Everybody, come on now

Know it's gonna take me back to ...
Do it again

Need just a little communication
You can help this situation
It's got the, it's got the new generation
Just keep on tellin' down this nation

Communicate, it's a family affair
Communicate, it's a family affair
Communicate, baby

I know you hear me talkin' to you
I know you hear me talkin' to you

"On the Pulse of Morning" by Maya Angelou (1993)
A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Mark the mastodon.
The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.
But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.
I will give you no hiding place down here.
You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.
Your mouths spelling words
Armed for slaughter.
The rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.
Across the wall of the world,
A river sings a beautiful song,
Come rest here by my side.
Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.
Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.
Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more.
Come, clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I
And the tree and stone were one.
Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your brow
And when you yet knew you still knew nothing.
The river sings and sings on.
There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing river and the wise rock.
So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew,
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek,
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the tree.
Today, the first and last of every tree
Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the river.
Plant yourself beside me, here beside the river.
Each of you, descendant of some passed on
Traveller, has been paid for.
You, who gave me my first name,
You Pawnee, Apache and Seneca,
You Cherokee Nation, who rested with me,
Then forced on bloody feet,
Left me to the employment of other seekers--
Desperate for gain, starving for gold.
You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot...
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru,
Bought, sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.
Here, root yourselves beside me.
I am the tree planted by the river,
Which will not be moved.
I, the rock, I the river, I the tree
I am yours--your passages have been paid.
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage,
Need not be lived again.
Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.
Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts.
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.
The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me,
The rock, the river, the tree, your country.
No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon then.
Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes,
Into your brother's face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

16 April 2014

Listen Up and Stop Gun Violence! Jon Batiste and Duke Ellington School of the Arts Students "Fight4The33"

To everything there is a season.  This is the season in which celebrate rebirth. Yet, in the United States, 33 people every day are murdered by individuals wielding guns. 

Proponents of lax gun laws talk about how they want to preserve "liberty."  But the 33 daily U.S. victims of gun violence have no liberty because they're dead. Congress has failed them. State legislatures have failed them. Local governments have failed them.  The courts (especially the U.S. Supreme Court) have failed them... and us.

So, because the adults seem to keep failing, perhaps it's time to see if the kids can succeed.

Recently, students at Washington DC's Duke Ellington School of the Arts teamed up with New Orleans jazz musician Jon Batiste and Generation Progress to produce a video aimed at stopping gun violence.  Here it is.

Want to get more involved? Go to http://fight4the33.org

Check out Jon Batiste and Stay Human at http://jonbatiste.com


22 January 2014

A Little African Noël for Your Post-Holidays Pity Party...

I had the great pleasure in mid December to play a gig with the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington. They performed a wonderful African version of Noel as part of their "Sparkle, Jingle, Joy" annual holiday concert at DC's Lisner Auditorium.  I accompanied the chorus on djembe, along with fellow percussionists Doug Maiwurm (djembe), Robby Dean (gourd shaker), and my dear friend Michael Gottlieb (cowbell).  I'm grateful to Michael, a member of chorus, for getting me involved. 

This was my first time playing with such a large singing group and it was pretty intimidating....but fun! It was such a thrill to be onstage at Lisner, where I've seen so many outstanding musical performances (Suzanne Vega, The Waterboys, Warren Zevon, and Poi Dog Pondering come immediately to mind). I felt a little like a member of "the club."

So, sparkle, jingle....enjoy!