Monday, October 6, 2014
The first time I was in Jury duty in Queens New York, somebody had told me that if you donate Blood, they might let you leave. At the very least, they might put you to the front of all the thwarting lines. I don't know why I believed that, but when asked to give, my hand shot up like when I used to answer multiplication questions in fourth grade. I had to be first and correct, the Aries curse. I was on a severe self-created diet at the time, placing me in a precarious position. As I watched my blood get extracted and start to swirl up the tube, I noticed how burgundy it looked. I recall adjusting my focus to a planned indulgence of the Oreo cookies they had out for when you were finished. It was then that the whole world gradually started to spin, suggesting a heavy inebriation. When I woke up, the technician was scrambling a little and looked concerned. A woman donating blood next to me said, "I have never seen a white person turn opaque until today." I was a little frightened, but I pressed on in my mission. I went right to the judge seeking forbearance. He was more interested in adjusting his robe then engaging in profitable discourse.
"You look fine to me sir. Return to your seat and fulfill your civic duty. Being a United States citizen isn't free."
I ended up in what could be the lamest TV court drama of all time. An oil company wouldn't pay the medical bills for an old woman that had tripped over their delivery hose in the street. There was no warning sign or people nearby. Some lawyer was trying to discredit the morals of the old woman, showing me that justice was clearly no virtue here. All my trepidation about being there was confirmed.
When I ran out of deferments to serve in Manhattan in 2012, I could only wonder what jury duty would be like right near where the World Trade Center used to be. My pilgrimage downtown led me to a line of about two hundred people standing outside. It was frigid and blustery. I had neither gloves nor a scarf, and started to catch an ice burn on my hands and face. I tried to hold onto a hot coffee cup which proved fruitless. I swallowed a big bagel from a food cart whole and tried to troop it out. Forty minutes later I discovered I might as well have been entering airport security area. Belts off, shoes off. I was surprised they didn't run a gloved hand up my inner thigh like that one time in Germany. The first thing I noticed inside, was that the court system seemed obsessed with not being tagged on diversity. Every staff member was not 100% anything. There was a white guy cop with a big afro; a thugged out street tough white girl cop, an Asian cop, and a Spanish cop. The post offices in NYC are largely staffed by African Americans and Asians, but this was different. All the judges would turn out to be a white woman.
Everyone was led into a room to watch a video about civic duty and to get lectured on the laws of the game. People being herded in groups and not knowing what's coming next reminded me of Holocaust stories. People just submit to the process and try to ride it out. Eventually, we were led in groups to a courtroom interview process to see if we fit the bill to sit on a jury.
Translation: The lawyers will try to figure out if you're a person who won't mind if the truth becomes misconstrued. Just a little. As doctors say before they deliver, a shot, this will only hurt a bit.
I learned through keen observation that the way out of this mess was to become a broken part of the machine. If the court system was a human body, I had to become poison. I most certainly wasn't trying to suit up as a white blood cell. I could tell people were uncomfortable being there, but were too suppressed to attempt an escape. Language barriers were insurmountable. Attempts at communication with the non-english speaking folks led to deep levels of mutual bewilderment. Eventually, the judge would ascertain that somebody couldn't speak English.
Or could they?
The first day I wasn't chosen and never made it to the interview. You spend an entire work day waiting for nothing. My second day adrift in the abyss, I felt I was headed into a direct confrontation between me and civilized society. I tried to pass the time writing music to no avail. I was amazed how much people that didn't know each other starting talking and finding a repor. Finally, I was led to a case between a rapper and the police. I was shocked and baffled that this insipid drama was playing out in real life and that I was being tasked with a minor role. The musician in me was offended. I would take anything over a farce like this. The rapper in the system seeking street cred. Is my life going on hold for a famous rapper fantasy? Am I juror number three? Bring back the old lady who tripped over that oil delivery cable.
The worst was the judge lecturing us before the interviews about civic duty once again.
"This trial may last up to two months; the Court understands your sacrifice."
WHAT? REALLY? JACK MY LIFE FOR TWO MONTHS TO PLAY A ROLE IN A FAKE PLAY ABOUT JUSTICE? SO A RAPPER CAN BE LEGIT?
It reminded me of the garbled recorded message you hear from the broken speakers on the Subway when the trains stop. They never make even a shred of sense. I have a newsflash for you: A recorded computer apology is not legitimate.
The judge embarrassed herself, and all of us further:
"Does anybody here know the rapper MC Doo Doo?"
I had no choice at this point but to believe this rapper has coined his name after, yes, human excrement.
As the interviews started up, the question was raised about trusting the word of the police. You had to be able to hear them with one-hundred percent no-bias. It was at that moment that I saw a way possibly evade the darkness. Maybe I could elude them. My light in the dark had appeared. I devised my plan at once.
I Know, we're all starting to know, that cops have no accountability. They lie to cover up when they abuse power. The system protects them. The recent murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner are the latest in a long and unending list of tragedies at their hands, while they hide behind the holy badge of forgiveness.
F L A S H B A C K
I enter the Bodega on forty-eighth street and tenth avenue in New York city. I order a sandwich. I'm ignoring the police van outside and cops inside. That's when a cop online behind me starts whispering in my ear requesting me to have a problem. He leaned in and pressed into my back.
"Come on you piece of shit. C'mon. Start something with me. Have a problem. Just turn around and look at me."
I abandoned my Roast Beef and left looking at floor. I slinked out of there like a weasel on crack. I watched the news that night and saw a story on cops being behind on quotas and doing anything to get an arrest. After all, it wasn't that long ago when cops moonlighting as bouncers murdered my friend Hilton Ruiz, and then had it covered up.
Back in court, I thought of how Mayor Rudolph Giuliani sanctioned the murder of Amadou Diallo. I thought of how the cops sodomized Abner Louima. I knew in my heart that I couldn't give any cops even one ounce of trust.
During the court interview, I was already a suspect however.
"What do you do Mr.Lavelle?"
"I sell trumpets."
"Do you sell them on the street? Do you understand English?"
I was already being sized up for having too much street in my soul. Finally, the judge gave me my opening:
"Is anyone here unable to trust the word of Police one-hundred percent?"
My hand shot up just like I was back in fourth grade. I was the only one in the room of almost seventy people with my hand raised. Soft spoken but with a revolutionary fire in my heart, I confirmed that I do not trust any policeman. Not one single pig in the whole world deserves my trust.
I left the courtroom with escape velocity. On my way out a Latina, just excused because she couldn't speak English, came over to me and said with crisp articulation in clear English:
"I am so glad I got out of that. Being a member of society comes with a price. I wish I at least had health insurance instead of their measly forty dollars a day we get in two months."
I was then directed back to the jury selection room. I had not yet achieved freedom. I was watching this gay dude attention freak putting on a show for everybody when my name was called. I was released at last. I picked up all my plastic bags with books I thought I might read and my notebooks for composing music and vacated. I caught a few snide glances for looking a little homeless. I had survived Jury Duty once again.
I thought about how next time I'll show up for Jury Duty as Dracula, drunk on too much blood.
"Isn't it true Mr.Lavelle that you enjoy biting on necks and sucking the blood from innocent victims?"
"No. Not me sir. Just ask my buddy Frankenstein over there. The guy with the gun and the badge".
For Cecil Taylor
Friday, September 26, 2014
Strutting tall and strutting proud
The needles pierce and twist
Divine dance of the water chords
Snapping and creaking bones
The needles pierce and twist
Yogic edges grasp and grind
Snapping and creaking bones
Devour the light
Yogic edges grasp and grind
The unhinged knee.
Devour the light
The walk of drowning
The unhinged knee
Shedding the grip
The walk of drowning
Shedding the grip
Pulsating skin and spasm
Pulsating skin and spasm
Treacherous lesson ingestion
Treacherous lesson ingestion
Treacherous lesson ingestion
The cutting descent
The Forbidden stairs
Divine dance of the water chords
The cutting descent
Strutting tall and strutting proud
Sunday, September 7, 2014
Sometime during the day on September 3rd last week it came to me that I had to play John Coltrane's prayer called Peace On Earth at an anti-police brutality event in Brooklyn conceived by my friend Matana Roberts. I have a book of John Coltrane's music and proceeded to learn the music in every key in whatever free time I had before the event on Sept 4th. I transposed it on the down low at work and got it together mostly in a park after work before I gave a lesson to my only student. All I knew was that it was important to play this song. The event to raise money for Michael Brown seemed appropriate.
My brother Ras Moshe was there on tenor. I wasn't going there with the music of Trane without Moshe. Tomas Fujiwara had agreed to play drums with us. I mentioned to the folks before we played about how an NYPD van near my job was recently tagged with PIGS and FUCK THE POLICE. I also mentioned how recently one block from where I lived the last 5 years up in the heights there was an almost riot as a crowd of people started throwing bottles at cops and approached them in mass holding up their arms saying "Don't shoot". I had anger at cops in my heart. What I really want is ACCOUNTABILITY. I want people who kill to answer for it. Parts of me call for big time payback. That's where I was as we started to play. It was then that I truly was able to experience the spiritual power of John Coltrane.
As I started to play peace on Earth on flugelhorn I felt a wash of energy overtake me. I felt no anger. I felt like I had become a conduit for forces beyond this world. John Coltrane's piece opened up a door to the other side that allowed Love to flow through. Love that forgave us. Love that asked us to find peace in our hearts. Love that called for an end to violence. Love that called for an end to fear. Love that called for every person on Earth who had a weapon to lay it down. It was just that past Monday that I sold a violin to a man from Belize who declared to me:
"I'm going to take a gun out of a street kids hand and hand him a violin."
As I played the song I felt the presence of Roy Campbell who told us from beyond this world through his sister during his wake:
"We're here to learn how to love one another."
Afterwords I felt a different reaction from the listeners. Some of them knew the door to a Love Supreme had been opened. We have to open it and keep it open. A piece like peace on Earth by John Coltrane is an actual key. A gift that he left to the human race. Long have I studied Trane. I've written about him. So many musicians all over the world deeply resonate with his music and what he was called to do. I know someone who was cured of drug addiction through his music. All of this time I believed I understood him, but it took the experience of playing Peace On Earth in a live event to truly feel it past an intellectual and heart based resonance down to the spiritual core. A place where I acquired a true knowing of the healing and trans-formative power of music. As an 11 and a spiritual messenger myself it was a joy to receive a further message from beyond. The message being that we have to keep going.
The world seems more unstable now than anytime in my living memory. As evil gets uprooted they're making their desperation move. People are surrendering to fear. Ignorance abounds. People the world over continue to act sedated, infested by greed and superficiality. Musicians and artists are locked down all over the globe in survival mode.
We have to keep playing though. We must keep creating.
Nobody can see it just yet.
If you look closely enough you'll see.
You'll know it in your heart.
For Michael Brown and Eric Garner
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
I went down to the basement to find a case for an old King Zephyr Tenor sax today. Coming back upstairs Brother Diaz shouted at me saying "Hey man, your friend is here!" I rounded the bend and there he was. Brother G was embroiled in a new piano creation. He was playing those wide dark and ominous chords he enjoys so much. His running buddy and hustle partner Jimmy wasn't with him so I knew something was up. G had a ginger ale and a 7 Eleven danish in a wrapper on the floor. I picked up his food. The danish was still warm. As it usually goes with G, music had taken over the need for food. He stopped playing and gave me a hug. After a little prodding I learned the situation. No reeds and no neck strap had his music for nickels and dimes program at a standstill. It was like that time in the 70's during the gas strike when we waited in line for two hours and then a sign was placed on the back of the car in front of us. NO MORE GAS. No reeds means no sound. That's why at the Ash I'm the connection for notables such as Sonny Fortune, Paquito D' Rivera, and James Carter. Everyone knows I'm the guy to see for reeds at that special price.
G was out of cash. My wallet had nothing but dust in the wind. I told G to get back into his music while I stepped out to remedy the situation. I returned with my friend Andrew Jackson, who promptly made sure Giuseppi's needs were met. G then asked me to show him beginning violin and guitar books, in case he found any music students. Then we listened to some tracks from the great Monk record Underground. The swing on the song Green Chimney's really perked G up as was evidenced by his body language. Eventually I walked him to the bus headed back to Avenue D for destruction. G is walking slower and slower these days. I have witnessed age tighten it's grip on him. I'm truly worried about him. The doctors notes in his room are written with urgency. On the way to his last gig for ESP he caught violent shakes on the subway and really scared me. As I tried to help him calm down I told him in my mind "Not like this man. Don't end your life here." As usual, tenacious G made the gig. A door gig of course. And maybe his last.
Giuseppi doesn't trend on Twitter you see. He has no social media presence. He's been charged with not being able to play anymore by the musical community at large. He can't defend himself without any gigs. Ever since this article in the New York Times ran called Giuseppi Logan's Second Chance, I have witnessed a steady decline in interest in his music. Despite my best efforts, the well has run dry. All those people that book the Stone don't care about an old man that created a free jazz masterpiece before they were born. It's all about them now, or their friends. Nobody from any scene will offer him a gig. Mostly because he doesn't give them any political power or support their agenda. Can he still play? Giuseppi's music comes out in short bursts now. He might be wiped out in 25 minutes, but he's in there. Trust me on that. At a piano he could play a full long set. Doesn't matter now. The NYC he knew back then is a far cry from NYC today. The NYC of 2014 has turned it's back on brother G. They treat him as a relic, simply watching the world go by from his self-assigned busking bench in Tompkins Square Park. The cute little old guy with the sax. What a great way to decorate your NYC experience in a city that has cast aside it's own culture in pursuit of the holy cash.
We went down swinging though. Believe that. I tried to get G a grant from New Music USA. We went down in the first round. I reached out to Music Cares from VH1. The response was bleak as hell. They chose not to even write me back an email about it. Judgement has been served. Brother G, you are guilty of trying to live your final days out as an artist!
The only time the late great master Roy Campbell got mad at me was when that New York Times article came out. Roy said that the article validated the stereotype of the down and out Jazz musician. I was surprised that Roy got mad but have come to see just how right he was. There is a part of the media that expects and wants us to fail. The down and out Jazz man. Perfect for their distorted perspective of the kind of life you lead if you actually dare to let your art lead the way. People like to see that their choice to lead a safer life is validated when they see an older musician living his life out in a super busted little room. The recent New Yorker and Washington Post articles prove that our adversity is actually funny to them. Ha ha.
I get it. Life is all about choices. If you choose to be a cop then you might choose to kill an unarmed teenager. If you choose to be a cop then you might choose to choke hold somebody to death for selling a few loose cigarettes. If you choose to be a soldier then you choose to possibly scar your soul by killing someone in the name of freedom only to then end up homeless in the country you fought for.
Brother Giuseppi Logan chose to be a musician. Yes. He also chose a life of self-destruction. All of that is over now. He's just a man with a song to sing. No one is listening however, too busy with Facebook.
I'm still listening though. I'll keep listening and fighting for you man.
Every human being on Earth deserves a final chorus.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Point being there actually are some real things happening that deserve far more attention. Things like TRUMPET CITY.
I am still reeling from this impossible experience. Long have I imagined giant music ensembles. Back on Myspace I wrote a fantasy called "How to tune the World," in which stadiums all over Earth would fill with musicians who would all play together simultaneously in an attempt to create a common energy of intent. An intent that would create world peace, and bring balance to the continued adolescent tantrum we continue to spit out all over the globe. I encountered Craig Shepard a month or two ago on FB with his trumpet city project. Craig is really on to something. Something really big and so important.
I didn't know what to expect when I gathered in a Church basement with 92 trumpet players. Right off Craig really surprised me by leading the group in a meditation. This was a brilliant move. Going further in Craig next removed ego from the table by about 97% by having people focus on his composition and his vision. A vision which would have us take over 30 odd blocks outdoors in NYC. Graig also conducted simple but very powerful listening exercises. He created a small army of trumpet players looking to play TOGETHER. Finally in just a few notes I felt a musical power greater than anything I had ever experienced. I felt a vortex of sound form at the center of the group. This was it! I had dreamed of what would happen if a group of musicians this large could focus their power. By playing together we became vastly more powerful than apart. Craig, mad respect to you man. Maybe we can do an interview here at Fat Eb.
My own orchestra the 12 Houses is where I have put all the energy of this dream for the last few years. UNITY is the foundation of this growing musical family. We have no boundaries in regards to gender, race, culture, orientation, style, generation, and especially sound. I want EVERY sound to be with us. The greatest example of this by far was the cosmic synchronicity that allowed a master of the SAW to join us. My new friend from Japan, Hajime Sakita. Hajime had people straight mesmerized. (Links coming asap from Don Mount). Today I went hunting for some big venues for 12 Houses. We even recently almost received a grant. Send us some positive energy today. We need a kickstarter of positive energy and intent.
Up to this point with 12 Houses I've been featuring each member with melodies that are not unlike hymns. They're like William Parker's song called poem for June Jordan. I wrote a piece about Moonflowers that only bloom at night featuring Claire de Brunner on bassoon. Another piece about the power of Faith as represented by my Mom's ability to walk into a third brain surgery like she was headed to a walk in the park. That one featured pianist Chris Forbes. Another piece with no title was named Sleepy Harlem by clarinet player Sweet Lee Odom. I'm deep into what is known as exotic Ellington. Duke validated me and my avant-garde approach when he declared that for the avant-garde he had Paul Gonsalves, my biggest inspiration in music. I have my own version of body language conduction based on seeing Duke conduct in one of his sacred concerts. It's a simplified reduction of the Butch Morris technique. I learned a great deal from master Butch. Butch in fact makes 12 Houses possible, I couldn't do it without his innovations. As the ensemble has grown my relationship to music has deepened. What's happening now is that after listening to Alice Coltrane for many years, I'm really starting to HEAR her. You can spend years listening to somebody before you're ready to hear them. Amazing.
From her piece Wisdom Eye where she actually captures the moment of spiritual surrender and allowance, to Radhe-Shyam where she conjures a futuristic landscape that I can only perceive as being on a beach on a planet in the Sirius system, Alice is truly transcendent. She continued on a very personal journey after her time with Trane. Her music has become a huge signpost as to a direction to travel with the 12 Houses. I'm about to sink into a book about her music that I just found. I've sought out every known record she made that I didn't yet have. Commencing study now. Her music always had a profound spiritually positive energy and always had the LIGHT. I once stopped playing music to pursue an entirely spiritual life. While I came back to music as a primary focus, I have never reconciled the two perspectives. Gratitude to Alice for helping to show the way.
As usual we need all the positive musical energy we can summon. How else can we turn the tide as the police murder Eric Garner? What else can we do to save the girls kidnapped in Nigeria? What other energy can we summon to stop the entire Middle East from absolute chaos? I still believe that what Albert and Trane believed is true. We have to keep creating, keep playing, keep burning.
I have my own selfish reasons of course. I want the world to take a vacation from itself so I can make the 20 records I carry around in my head. I want the resources to rehearse and record the 12 Houses. God bless them, they have stuck with me up to this point. I want the resources to become a better writer and write stories that expose our true cosmic reality and our true destiny. Until those glorious days when we arrive at the mountaintop however we have to keep on writing, keep on playing, keep on painting, and keep on creating despite whatever adversity reels its ugly head this week. We have to keep creating just to hold on to our basic standards.
It's like William Parker said that one time..
Demons you see, the demons must be BOWED away.
For Eric Garner ****
TBC August 16th with John Pietaro's Dissident Arts Festival.
The Dissident Arts Festival
The 12 Houses meet Daniel Carter
The 12 Houses play at the CSV for Arts for Art
Matt Lavelle and the 6 Houses (first set) - Freddy's Back Room, Brooklyn
Matt Lavelle & the 6 Houses (second set) - at Freddy's Back Room, Brooklyn
Monday, July 14, 2014
Why just the other day I was playing the music of a living titan of the tenor saxophone up on the big screen. This musician was not interested in chord resolution by any means. He needed something more. I had the volume not too loud, but loud enough. Two older woman reacted as I rang up their sale. They spoke quietly as if it were a private conversation not wanting to offend someone.
Karen: "Someone is murdering the saxophone."
Jane: (with a touch of sarcasm) "No...they're telling a story."
Karen: "Well what's this story about? Can you tell a story entirely in metaphor?"
Jane: "Well we're in no position to judge."
Karen: "I'm judging this. I'm sorry but it's just not good. What good is it if you can't understand it? What do you think young man?"
Me: (smiling) "I'm glad you asked that. When someone reaches this level of expression the feeling is paramount. It might be the feeling of what he experienced in his first marriage, or the feeling of trying to become a better person, or the feeling of trying to make the world a better place. It's obviously a very personal thing."
Karen: "But is he playing for himself or for the audience? I need the story to make sense."
Karen had me on the ropes and gave me something to delve into. I'm all about the story myself. I want to tell the real stories, but I enjoy science fiction big time. The line between reality and science fiction is paper thin to me. I like stories when the gloves come off. Stories with no limits. I'm looking for a way to bridge my literary world and my musical one. I came to the conclusion the other day that for me story is what it's all about. In music that's my new bottom line. Are you telling a story or not? I'm not just applying this formula to Jazz, I'm self-righteous enough to apply this to ALL music. Say what you will about rap and pop music, they tell stories. Problem is they usually suck eggs. I'm like Daniel Carter, everywhere I look I'm searching for gold. In Regina Spektor's song "You've got time" from the show Orange is the New Black she sings these lyrics:
"Taking steps is easy. Standing still is hard." I really took something from that. I've had lots of time on the sidelines. Orange is the new Black is loaded with stories. Good ones. It's the new crack but without the side effects. I still remember this guy on 8th ave in 1986 telling me "Got that crack, got that smoke, ain't no joke." He offered me a free hit. If I took it my story might be vastly different. Years later a friend told me at a diner on the Lower East Side at 3am that you can never match that first high anyway. This cat may have won the award for most firings by Cecil Taylor.
Stories can be where we see something go down that relates to the core meaning and experience of being alive. Do the right thing, or not. The core message of a good story is usually to live life. It's by living life that you get the real benefit. The choices and consequences are where you get into the Nitty Gritty. I feel that music should contain ALL of that. It was Bird who said that music is the story of your life. Here in Fat Eb I have told the stories of Roy Campbell Jr, and Sir Hildred Humphries. They lived lives that are stories and testaments to the power of music. The quest to make music your life. They will always be remembered for living lives of music. Their music is their story. I've set up interviews so people could tell their own living story. More of those on the way. If you're alive right now then you're a living story. What is it? Have you dedicated your life to something or someone? What would you be remembered for if you cut out tomorrow?
That's why I'm at odds with Facebook. If you're a FB user could you stop for a day? Could you stop for a week? If Facebook charged $50 a month would you pay for it? Would you pay $75 a month for Facebook premium? Watching everybody else lead their lives on Facebook it's easy to forget that you're supposed to be living your own. Is it all about people needing approval they don't get in their actual life? There are different directions you can go. I like it when people challenge your perception of religious reality like Lonnie Plaxico. I like when Ras Moshe gets you to think about the true reality of music and politics in the world. Some people initiate necessary discussions that otherwise would not take place. I have dabbled in this in discussions about the Crop Circles and also asking everyone on Facebook to describe a musical experience that made them tremble. Big response on that one. My goal was to prove that those moments were more important than any top 10 list. The other side of Facebook is family photos, cat photos, comedy, tragedy, and lots of superficial crap thrown on top. When you click on "new stories" you're playing roulette with the world.
The other part of FB I'm at odds with is that it's seemingly impossible for us not to invoke the love of our heroes and their music at every turn. I'm just as guilty as everyone else invoking Miles on a dime. We have to focus on the living stories. Some of us try to do just that. I've digested many living stories in many forms on multiple levels and extracted three core things that I think the human being is being asked to do. What we have always been asked to do regardless of where or when we lived.
Clean your body.
Clean your mind.
And the biggest challenge of all..
Clean your heart.
To be continued with the 12 Houses tonight at 10pm at the CSV. Peace.