Black Lives Matter
One of the first albums my father or teacher got for me when I was six years old was “Movin’ In,” by the New York studio drummer and percussionist Specs Powell. The next albums were Art Blakey’s “Drum Suite” and “Gretsch Night at Birdland.” Soon after I attended my first summer jazz camp which was held on the campus of Indiana University during the summer of 1961 where I met, among others, Louis Hayes and the members of the Cannonball Adderly Sextet. Other mentors at subsequent camps included Donald Byrd, Oliver Nelson, Ron Carter and Alan Dawson. These four men were my friends as well as my teachers.
Meanwhile, my listening library was brimming with albums by Max Roach, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Elvin Jones, Jimmy Smith, Charles Mingus, Shirley Scott, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Haynes, Roland Kirk, Wes Montgomery, Milt Jackson, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Herbie Hancock and Thad Jones (in addition to Stan Kenton, Stan Getz, Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Dave Brubeck, Shelly Manne, Gary Burton, Gary McFarland, Cal Tjader, Mike Mainieri … and Leonard Bernstein!).
All to enumerate that my first musical heroes were, and remain, the black artists whose genius developed and produced this unique American art form that would bring the greatest respect and accolades to this country, as well as the greatest joy and meaning to this young drummer. There was never any question in my mind of who created this music … there was only gratitude. Black Lives Matter.
Fast forward: the Selma demonstrations in March of 1965 were broadcast “live” during the day. My mother insisted that I stay home from school in order to witness the brutality of the police as well as the bravery of the protesters on the television. “Watch this, and remember.” Black Lives Matter.
My musical education continued apace. My parents sought out the best instruction they could find for me. My father was a psychiatrist who had been a bass player in his youth. “Oh, your daddy’s rich and your ma is good-lookin’.” White privilege. I can’t count the number of doors that were opened for me. Now, I was fortunate to also have been born with a cheerful heart, and there’s no doubt that my enthusiasm matched my gratitude as well as good manners. What I’m trying to say is that I’m pretty certain that my respect and love for these men was apparent enough to them. Still, the amount of good luck astonishes me and I’ve never taken it for granted. But this is a time of reckoning.
Racism is a malignant cancer. I fear that too many of us have coasted along for far too long without acknowledging or directly confronting its demoralizing, dehumanizing deadliness.
I’m not a social scientist nor a poet, philosopher or pundit. But I am an educator, a father, and musician who owes the language he speaks to Black Lives. And I am a human being. All of the identities I enjoy have the responsibility to proclaim: Black Lives Matter.