By Lang Kenneth Haynes
For the November 29, 2012 edition of
The Capital City Hues
About 1,200 words
About forty years ago an esteemed person told me that one atom deprived of vibration would destroy the universe. That’s pretty deep if you think about it. What I find even deeper is the notion that I have spent many years trying to stand in the way of vibrations or vainly attempting to direct the movement of the river that goes where it wants to go anyway.
Fact of the matter is (to the extent that facts exist in the first place) that music is the most common and generally acknowledged form of vibration and musicians are the bearers of that particular form of expression. I wrote a version of the poem below a few years ago. It’s about an actual person I know. I bump into him in different contexts from time to time. The mall that the poem mentions is near the University of Wisconsin-Madison Library by State and Park Streets. The gentleman, featured in the poem, was playing sax and flute for money. Open instrument cases on the cold, hard ground said so. I was privileged to know a little more of his story. He was an excellent musician who inspired me to practice harder and play better a long time ago. He gave me the music to Green Dolphin Street and Take Five. I never dreamed that I could play either tune, but I Iearned to play both pretty well. There are many interesting things about good vibrations. One constant seems to be that we never know how, when or where they’ll make themselves known. He never became a household name. No aspect of his life showed up on the Jeopardy television game show. And if you were to stand in front of him on line at the grocery store you wouldn’t have a clue as to who he was or what he had contributed to the world of vibration.
His eyes, black half-moons that scream out
Through the blackness of his face cloaked in night
A flute note makes the sidewalk list
Sweet, heavy tone with sour edges
I avoid his silhouette on the wall of the Library Mall
As though it is something other than my own
Unrealized mornings left to mildew
In the faint light of memory
At times the bridge contracts
Past and present merge in the space between breaths
As passersby slog by unaware of his accomplishment
But pretend to know and drop dollars in his hat
I add a twenty, walk past, and then stop,
Turn to face the music and
Realize that I am a passerby too, just before the
“Thank you” in G-flat
Our eyes promise to not
Make assumptions about each other
We are each trying to make music
In this discordant place
You guessed it. The musician is me and the musician is you and the poem is about an actual person whom we conveniently regard as living outside of ourselves. The instruments can be sax, flute, camera or no visible instrument at all. It is about vibrations and we need not worry about their point of origin. It is enough to know that there is one point of origin and that point is called creativity. The beauty is that we are all creative. Maybe we are musicians or accountants or dancers or wallflowers or maybe we are required to spend most of our time surviving in novel ways – but we are all creating. We are all vibrating.
Are you interested in knowing how this particular column came about? O.K. I’ll tell you. It’s a long story but that doesn’t really matter. The column can most easily be attached to marvelous photos of musicians taken and gloriously embellished by a sage who happens to be my brother-in-law. I have lived in Oakland, California for over one year now. In that time I have noticed many things. One is my tendency to believe that what I need necessarily exists someplace other than where I am. For example, I used to be a fan of the New Yorker magazine. I got a big kick out of looking at the entertainment section that told (among other things) readers which musicians were playing and where they were performing. I wrongly thought that geography was the sole determinant in shaping my experience. I am not saying that where we are is never important, but I am saying that we often give geography more power than it deserves.
Long lists of famous musicians would be playing a stone’s throw from each other. I was privileged to be in close contact with a number of well-known people. My father had a friend who lived near Clark Terry. I remember those Saturday afternoons driving over the Tri-Borough Bridge and being deliciously assaulted by the smells of a bakery somewhere in the vicinity of the bridge followed by the sweet notes of a trumpet that I later learned was being played by Mr. Terry. I was born in the hospital that the acclaimed television and radio host, Arthur Godfrey, used to be treated. I attended dances with my grandmother at the ballroom where Malcolm X was murdered. I used to routinely ride my bike underneath the bridge where Sonny Rollins is alleged to have practiced during the wee hours of the morning. Jackie McLean and his family lived in my old neighborhood at one time. Mongo Santamaria brought his band to the housing projects one week-end. Jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan was shot to death in a little club, across the street from Tompkins Square Park, where I had heard McCoy Tyner play 44 years ago.
In the time I’ve lived in Oakland I’ve been blessed to experience Amiri Baraka, Reginald Workman, Jon Santos, Omar Sosa, Archie Shepp and Ron Carter. No. Not all of the people mentioned are musicians in the way we normally think about music. But they all vibrate. The stone in front of me vibrates. The fact that I usually fail to detect movement does not make its vibration any less relevant. Some of the names I’ve mentioned will be familiar while there are others that you’ve probably never heard of. That’s the point! You need not have grown up in New York to have rubbed shoulders with these folks and the entertainment section of the New Yorker magazine is purely optional. It doesn’t matter if you live in Madison, Wisconsin, Paris, France or Paris, Tennessee. You do not need to become an instant extrovert to access creativity. You can begin right where you are. Might as well because that is where you are at this very second. You can start with yourself as easily as I can begin with myself. One of many things that is good and wonderful about good vibrations is that we have no way of knowing how, when or where they will show up. A photo that my brother in-law gave me is the basis for my drawing of a jazz musician and this column. Disfrutes. I hope that I just told you to enjoy. And the next time you’re in a store take the time to experience (in whatever way seems appropriate and non-threatening) the person in the check-out line with you. You’ll likely be surprised with what you find. Who knows? You may even find yourself.