|Rahsaan Roland Kirk in all his glory|
When I was sixteen years old, I was passionate
about Jazz. Passionate!
My passion for jazz was so crazy that I left home the day after I graduated high school I was going on a quest. I had two hundred
dollars in my pocket when I stepped onto the ramp of I-80 and stuck out my
thumb. My plan was to hitch hike from St. Louis to New York
City, in order to find a musician who
may not want to be found. I had to talk
to him! I had to meet him! Ornette Coleman had liberated my creative
Word on the jazz grapevine was that he was
"taking a sabbatical". In the jazz world this is sometimes shorthand for kicking a bad habit.* When jazz players take breaks from their
careers it can mean they're in rehab. I was hip to drugs: I was an all-grown-up weed smoker. Whoopee. I didn't understand addiction the way I would understand
it in another ten years. I didn't know
why so many musicians fell down the abyss of heroin.. I would know, later in my life.
Oh, I would know, I would understand, far better than my sixteen year old self.
This is all in my novel, "Confessions Of An Honest
Man." It's a three dollar e-book
and more people should read it. End of
I wanted to share an experience I had this week, an
experience entirely related to my love for jazz in the 60's. First, let me tell
you that I can't remember the last time I cried. It could be eight or ten years. That's a long time to have a Pandora's Box
of emotion locked up inside my soul. This part of my life has been one of silent agony. There have been times when I wanted to die, but I am resolved to not be a suicide. I saw a therapist for several months. I managed to squeeze
out a few dinky tears. It wasn't the
catharsis I'd hoped for. It was better
I first heard
Rahsaan Roland Kirk when I was fourteen.
This was in 1961 I was crazy for
Roland Kirk. (the Rahsaan name came later). The moment I heard his record I was
so smitten that goose bumps climbed up my spine. Wow! This was a musical
three ring circus with elephants and zebras.
It had midget cars out of which climbed dozens of quarreling
clowns. Roland Kirk was technically masterful,
innovative, insane and very funny.
Roland Kirk was a grade A bona fide original
Thanks to streaming sites like Spotify I can listen to
anyone I care about. Rahsaan has been
gone for thirty years, but his albums are still here and I settled in for a
visit to my past, to the passionate sixteen year old who couldn't get enough music.
I was listening to an old standard, "I've Got Your Number",
from Kirk's superb collaboration with Benny Golson. It's an amazing album, as good now as it was in 1964. I was
sitting in my chair in front of my computer and I started weeping. This was a real shoulder-heaving sob
session, a huge catharsis. My spouse
saw my hand covering my face, saw my body lurch..
crying?" she asked gently.
"It's all right, boo," I said, "it's good, it's very
The music came through the speakers and I felt as if the
sound of Rahsaan's saxophone was tapping at my chest, as though it held a key
to open my heart. It got through to
me. All my frozen emotion came welling
up. I saw my life in its difficulties
and frustrations. I saw myself at
sixteen, I saw what an extraordinary person I was. My New York quest
was lonely and unlikely to succeed, but I found Ornette Coleman by the craziest
accident. I was getting on the subway
at Forty Second Street. There was a man
getting into the next car, a black man attempting to carry five or six
instrument cases. I rushed up and
tapped him on the shoulder. I wanted to
offer my help. I knew from his knit cap
and his attire that he was a man of Jazz.
So, this stranger turned around
There he was. Ornette
Coleman. I had spent the last ten days
searching up and down Manhattan looking for this man. "I can carry some of these horns if you..." and then I
realized who it was and I stuttered, "You..you're Ornette Coleman!"
We got on the subway together. Hardly
anyone else was in the car. It was
I hadn't rehearsed a speech or anything. I told Ornette how
much I loved his music and how profoundly it had influenced my own work. I told him how far I had traveled. He gave me his phone number and the rest of
my experience in the world of avant garde jazz unfolded, just like in my
That was a long time ago.
In the present, the important thing is that I regained connection to my
emotions. I'm a psychological
person. I know what it means to be shut
down, to have no feelings, not even feelings of love. It's an inner act of self-preservation.
It's a response to trauma.
It's better, more joyful, to feel sorrow and love, to be alive to
emotion. I accepted being numb. I didn't recriminate myself. I allowed the numbness and the mental
torture to unfold and do their job.
Pain is always telling us to change things. "Change things!" pain screams, and so I began to take
action. I began changing my life, one
tiny bit at a time. I'm feeling more
creative. Art worked its magic on me; it
healed a child who was in mourning for a man who seemed to have failed. Music helped me revive the most important part
of myself. Here I sit, right now, at my
computer, sharing this personal and private story. I'm grateful that I can, grateful that I'm alive when a few
months ago I thought I would die of sheer misery.
I'm still here.
|Ornette Coleman in 1960|
*I never saw any evidence of Ornette Coleman using
drugs. He was taking a sabbatical
because his music had incited a furious controversy and that scared away
promoters. Ornette couldn't find work.
He passed at age 85, world famous and widely respected as one of music's most