I’m not sure where this is going this morning, but here goes:
I spent a great deal of time this summer listening to four great jazz artists—Jessica Williams, Dave Brubeck, Maynard Ferguson, and Miles. The breadth of invention; the dexterity of fingers; amazing, creative, brilliant musicians. Ground breaking; that is, opening up the ground and my soul—airing me out. Filling the vacuum.
Amazing sounds: such sounds; such vibrations; such wildness, barely under control. The journey to and from the chart…the theme….the idea!
I’ve listened to jazz since I was a kid. There were two radio stations I grew up listening to: KLAC, classical radio, Los Angeles, and another, a jazz station, at least at night; I’ve been trying to remember its call numbers but cannot. Yes, I also listened to what was playing on Top 40 stations. I did like Elvis and loved the Beach Boys; when folk music “happened,” I did really connect to that.
Many a Friday or Saturday night my friends and I (so young and so sophisticated, so cool) sat in the dim light of “The Prison of Socrates,” a coffee house near the Newport Pier—old time espresso, poetry, art, and folk music.
But the challenging complexities and beauty of classical music and the amazing intricacies and joyfulness of West Coast Jazz—well, they always drew me back. Sitting in my room, late at night, reading, listening. I listened, fascinated and ignorant.
How can I describe it? My room was the “dorm,” a large room that my Dad built out of packing in the garage. He built it for my oldest brother; then, for my two older brothers. Finally, it was mine. They were gone; I was alone. The room had a full size bed, a oversize chair and a great ottoman that you could sink down into, listening to the radio and my “stereo.” (The first 33 1/3 album I remember was an anthology of “West Coast Jazz All Stars; I remember listening to Art Blakey over and over!) And there was always Brubeck; I wore out my "Take 5" album. In the quiet of a cool southern California night, those sounds moved me in ways I could not understand. I just didn’t get it; I just loved it.
As wonderful as it is, jazz itself is not what I want to write about.
I’m reading Shannon’s Thomas Merton’s Paradise Journey—a refresher on the life giving practice of contemplative prayer. There are some insights here that loudly echo Parker Palmer. (I wonder if Palmer read Merton.) In class, we’ve been living with these words (Palmer paraphrased):
The pilgrimage to our true selves is not only a personal pilgrimage
but it is also a social and political act.
“The journey to our true selves”: the journey inward to find our home—imago dei. This, of course, is Merton’s journey. It is also the journey of Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Juan de la Cruz, Oscar Romero…. Then, in the midst of all of this I find myself sitting with the lections for the week—especially the Gospel: “Who do you say I am?”
The challenge of jazz: to stay true to the tune;
the challenge of contemplative prayer: to stay true to the source;
the challenge of the pilgrimage: to stay true to the journey;
the challenge of discipleship: to stay true to the teacher.
no matter how wildly or widely one may improvise away or through or down or up or along, there is a way home.
As I said, not sure where this is going, but I know this: it isn't done yet.