Racial Healing

     Powerful political forces are pouring explosive acids into our country’s centuries-old racial wounds.
     Regardless of where you stand, regardless of your race, surely you will acknowledge that this is happening.
     Here is the solution. It’s a short video clip in which Andre Previn interviews Oscar Peterson, then plays 20 choruses of Blues in F with him.
     Do yourself a favor and listen to it before you read on.
     What lessons can we gain from this, America?
     First of all, this thing of transitory yet enduring beauty was made possible because the two men listened to each other.
     Second, it was made possible because both men had spent years learning the other man’s language.
     Previn conducted five major symphony orchestras on two continents, and cut some great jazz sides.
     Peterson could have gone head to head with Andre, and probably knocked him out, in a cutting session on Chopin and Liszt.
     An old American cliché has it that everyone is entitled to an opinion. Well, that may be so, but unless you know something about the subject, your opinion shouldn’t count.
     What Andre and Oscar are doing here is elevating the musical dialogue, by listening to each other and using their knowledge.
     The musical equivalent of U.S. political discourse today is Wagner’s Gotterdammerung — the destruction of Valhalla in the Twilight of the Gods.
     Hyped by irresponsible and stupid media, white people and our black and brown brothers and sisters are not conversing anymore. We are shouting at one another.
     Not everywhere, true, and not all the time, but we are doing it, and it’s getting worse all the time.
     This is the face our country has created for the world to see — two ugly faces crafted from the faces of 320 million of us. This vomitous presidential campaign has made our country a caricature of itself.
     A caricature becomes effective, or “true,” by exaggerating aspects of the subject’s face. And who could deny that this caricature of the United States has been created, above all, by the P.T. Barnum of our times, Donald John Trump?
     My fellow Americans: Have we really become this?
     Is this who we are?
     The saddest of my many disappointments this year is that I thought better of my country.
     I thought we were better than this.
     I thought we were smarter than that.
     I guess I was wrong.
     What’s the solution? I’d say we could start by watching Oscar and Andre jam together.
     Notice their wedding rings.
     The people you denigrate, my friends, have wives and husbands and children.
     Notice how they get out of each other’s way so the other man can express himself.
     Notice in the seventh chorus that Andre ends his solo on the leading tone — a trick he picked up from Thelonious Monk. Notice in the 16th chorus how Oscar sends the conversation in a new direction by laying back, slowing it down, laying a bass in his left hand. Notice how quickly Andre picks up on it.
     Notice how they smile at each other as they play.
     Notice above all what Andre and Oscar do when the performance is over. They hug each other and hold on as though they never want to let go.
     Like it or not, my fellow white Americans, we are and always have been locked in a tight embrace with black folks, and American Indians, and now we’re locked in an embrace with people we call Latinos or Hispanics, and with people we call Asian-Americans.
     Wouldn’t it be better for us to create a beautiful thing from this, rather than use it as an excuse to stir up racial hatred and throw millions of people into prison?
     Listen and learn, my friends. And if you don’t know how to listen, sit down and shut up until you do learn.
     If you don’t know how to listen, you wouldn’t last 10 seconds in a jam session. Because you can’t lie in music.

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