Re: Person I Knew

     The last link to a dying part of America died two days before Thanksgiving. Paul Motian was 80.
     Motian played drums in the great Bill Evans trio. Scott LaFaro, the bassist, died in a car accident in 1961. Bill Evans died – like Charlie Parker, of everything – in 1980. Now Paul Motian is dead. One more link to something great about America is gone.
     What’s dying in America is not jazz – don’t you worry about that.
     What’s dying is what makes jazz possible: people listening to one another.
     People who are competent, and know how to play, listening to one another.
     Look around you.
     Turn on the TV.
     Vote, if you think it’s worth it.
     No one’s listening to anyone else.
     Look at the stupid Republican debates.
     No one listens to anyone. They just wait around for their chance to blab on TV.
     Their fans wait around to cheer for some bullshit they’ve already heard before.
     All of these wannabe presidents have their notes written out in advance.
     You could ask any one of those vicious waterboys what’s the chances of a giraffe flying to the moon on a bagel, and they’ll respond with some bullshit about unions, or immigration, or that Barack Obama is a socialist.
     And people applaud them for this.
     Listening doesn’t pay anymore.
     If it ever did.
     Pardon me if I go all Walt Whitman on you, but listen to me, America:
     Jazz is the only thing that ever made you worth a damn.
     Jazz is not possible unless people study, and learn, and do this for years, and all the time listen to other people who have studied and learned before them. And learn all the things those other people learned. Then learn some more.
     Jazz musicians do not whine and bitch and moan that Bird and Miles and Coltrane were “elite,” and it’s so unfair.
     No. Jazz musicians shut their damn mouths and study their ax.
     They take their ax to the woodshed and they chop wood for a long time before they dare to chop wood in public.
     The late great Betty Carter sang: “Jazz is living high off nickels and dimes / telling folks ’bout what’s on your mind / Jazz ain’t nothing but soul.”
     Where, or what, is America’s soul today?
     Money and bombs, man.
     Bile and prejudice.
     Ignorance sold as illumination.
     Dwindling power, increasing fear.
     It’s been that way for a long time. Now it’s speeding up.
     Jazz is nothing new. Beethoven and Sebastian Bach were the greatest improvisers of their day. Jazz is the living continuation of their tradition.
     “Jazz is freedom,” Thelonious Monk said. “Think about that. You think about that.”
     What we see every day, on TV, in the newspapers, on the Internet, in Congress, around the world, has nothing to do with truth, or freedom.
     What we see is a bunch of lame white guys, and a few black guys, who can’t count up to four, or snap their fingers on two, pushing other people around.
     Paul Motian was a white guy. So am I. I’ve got nothing against white guys. But I don’t want to listen to anyone – black, white, mustard-color or green – who doesn’t listen even to himself, who toots John Philip Sousa tunes while the world is dying.
     I’ll miss Paul Motian, and you will too, whether you know it or not.
     We’ve been missing him for a long time.

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