The person I am today is a by-product of baked macaroni & cheese, and music. And by that I mean not calories, but character. And though I cannot share the taste of the food with you here, I hope you enjoy some of the sounds at the music links. In fact, to fully enjoy this blog it is essential that you listen to a least some of the musical hyperlinks. I promise it will be very much worth your while.
My dad loved to cook. He taught me how to cook. Everything from how to break eggs without getting the shell in the pan, to how to make great cheese eggs, to the world’s best meatloaf.
One of his favorite dishes was baked macaroni and cheese and the way I make it today was the way he made it and taught me. He also loved to baste a turkey
and when I do that, I also think about him doing it. Mom taught me how to make gravy. When I make baked macaroni and cheese now on Thanksgiving and Christmas, or make gravy, I think of my dad and my mom in a special way that only a son or daughter can after they have passed. I have never explained that to my daughter Kimberly or my son Michael , but I need to do some of the cooking during the holidays. Its part therapy, part honoring memory, part something else, but it is something important for me and I cannot function without that memorial process.
Music and Me
I grew up playing a musical instrument. Starting in elementary school, I “had to take” piano lessons. And though I did not learn about him until I was an adult on the Board of Trustees of The Studio Museum in Harlem, I sometimes felt like I was in a Romare Bearden painting. Then I wanted to play trumpet (after listening to Louis Armstrong. And if you want true insight into this musician, about whom Miles Davis (a.k.a. the prince of darkness ) said “I never heard a bad note come out of his horn”, get the exquisitely written book “Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong” by Terry Teachout).
Eventually, after having worked up to 120 minutes of practice on the trumpet and then on the piano, I moved more to my horn than tickling the ivories. Despite the shift, I was still good enough to win 2nd place in the New Jersey state Key Club International
convention—playing an original composition, part of which involved my playing piano with my left hand and trumpet with my right.
In High School, in addition to being on the varsity Swim Team and the JV Basketball team, I played in the marching band, the concert band, the Community Band, and also took conducting classes. While some of my contemporaries collected comics, I was into albums. My collection numbered in the low four figures.
During my junior and senior years at Rutgers College, my beautiful college girlfriend and kindred spirit Suzanne Zeman,
introduced me to modern dance
classical guitar (Segovia:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9efHwnFAkuA)
, Dvorak’s New World Symphony,
to Buffy Sainte-Marie (“Until It’s Time For You To Go”), to the Blues and artists such as Muddy Waters( Hoochie Coochie Man: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NV_ZhBcNiQQ B-B King (“The Thrill Is Gone”), and Alberta Hunter (My Castle’s Rockin from her Live From The Cookery album Alberta Hunter: http://tv.jazzcorner.com/view_video.php?viewkey=cd8d7dd095917f9efe4c
Reciprocally, I shared my lifetime love of jazz. I loved to listen to, and tried to play my trumpet to some extraordinary musicians. If I had to summarize this aspect of music for me, I would express it this way: Like the “Ode to Joy” in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, or the “Unto Us A Child Is Given” or the “Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah, or the chanting of “A Love Supreme” on John Coltrane’s album of the same name , you were transported to being a little closer to the Supreme Musician when Rhassan Roland Kirk, Freddy Hubbard,, Horace Silver, and the other musicians referenced below were really cooking in their own musical Genesis.
- Freddie Hubbard (who played a flugelhorn in a way that transported you to other realms)
- Lee Morgan (checkout his album “Sidewinder”
http://www.last.fm/music/Lee+Morgan/_/The+Sidewinder I know some generation Y person will be asking “What’s an album?”. Morgan was only 33 years old when he passed; “Morgan was murdered in the early hours of February 19, 1972, at Slugs’ a jazz club in New York City’s East Village where his band was performing. Following an altercation between sets, Morgan’s common-law wife (Helen Moore, a.k.a. Morgan) shot him in the chest.” According to a Wikipedia article, “The injuries were not immediately fatal, but the ambulance was slow in arriving on the scene as the city had experienced heavy snowfall which resulted in extremely difficult driving conditions. They took so long to get there that Morgan bled to death. He was 33 years old.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Morgan
- Miles Davis (Kind of Blue:
Sketches of Spain, Bitches Brew http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dc7qiosq4m4
- And in addition to MJQ (Modern Jazz Quartet),
- Dave “Baby” Cortez
- , Jimmy Smith
- and Dr. Lonnie Smith (all of whom played jazz organ like Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Handel played their genres; and Lonnie did it on the Hammond B-3 organ )
- Dorothy Ashby (jazz harp, Afro-Harping, and the Koto, the national instrument of Japan. http://indianapublicmedia.org/nightlights/fantastic-jazz-harp-dorothy-ashby/ and http://ilike.myspacecdn.com/play#Dorothy+Ashby:Afro-Harping:2136071:s148305.13155.18818.104.22.168%2Cstd_1a28af625d1780fd0574613dcf5810cc and of course Alice Coltrane (jazz pianist),
- Rufus Harley (jazz bagpipes) http://ilike.myspacecdn.com/play#Rufus+Harley:Bagpipe+Blues:6154530:s52205270.12844004.2264822.214.171.124%2Cstd_473e98ac2dd94dbb98d1e1554960c4b4
- Dr. Yusef Lateef (who was named 2010 American Jazz Master by the National Endowment of the Arts; my favorite of all times was is “Live at Peps”—I played along with every tune).
I encourage you to learn more about Yusef at this link: http://yuseflateef.com/about-yusef-lateef/ (“Yusef Lateef is universally acknowledged as one of the greatest masters and innovators in the African American tradition of autophysiopsychic music – that which comes from one’s spiritual, physical and emotional self. As a virtuoso on a broad spectrum of reed instruments – tenor saxophone, flute, oboe, bamboo flute, shanai, shofar, argol, sarewa, and taiwan koto – Yusef Lateef introduced delightful new sounds and blends of tone colors to audiences all over the world, and he incorporated the sounds of many countries into his own music. In 1987 he won a Grammy Award for his recording of “Yusef Lateef’s Little Symphony,” on which he performed all the parts.”)
- Check out these two links: http://www.yuseflateef.com/ and http://www.cduniverse.com/search/xx/music/pid/1142950/a/Live+At+Pep’s.htm
- The one and only Rahsaan Roland Kirk (for me, a once in a lifetime, true musical genius; able to play three saxophones and a nose flute at the same time, in harmony. One Saturday night when I was at Slugs Saloon/a.k.a. Slugs in the Far East in NYC (http://bedfordandbowery.com/2014/09/it-was-a-joint-jazz-musicians-remember-slugs-in-the-far-east/, Rhassan came off the bandstand, playing “Don’t Plug Me In ‘Cause I Got To Walk” and the tables parted like the Red Sea. Rhassan stopped a few feet from where I was sitting at the bar, and gave everyone listening a musical epiphany. His wife Dorthaan Kirk works for and is a co-founder of WGBO in Newark and I count her as a friend from my Bethany Baptist church days in Newark, and the Montclair Jazz Festival. Rahsaan wrote the following lyrics for the song “Bright Moments”:
You know it’s good to be in a place that feels like you’re in your house, you know. Now, it’s a beautiful thing, we’re glad you people are assembled here with us on this Saturday night … You know what I mean? You don’t feel like Saturday night people. Some Saturday night people, that’s the only night they get out and they act like it. […] Now we would like to think of some very beautiful Bright Moments. You know what I mean? Bright Moments. Bright Moments is like eating your last pork chop in London, England, because you ain’t gonna get no more . . . cooked from home. Bright Moments is like being with your favorite love and you’re sharing the same ice cream dish. And you get mad when she gets the last drop. And you have to take her in your arms and get it the other way. Bright Moments. That’s too heavy for most of you all because you all don’t know nothing about that kind of love. The love you all have been taught about is the love in those magazines. And I am fortunate that I didn’t have to look at magazines. Bright Moments. Bright Moments is like seeing something that you ain’t ever seen in your life and you don’t have to see it but you know how it looks. Bright Moments is like hearing some music that ain’t nobody else heard, and if they heard it they wouldn’t even recognize that they heard it because they been hearing it all their life but they nutted on it so, when you hear it and you start popping your feet and jumping up and down they get mad because you’re enjoying yourself but those are bright moments that they can’t share with you because they don’t even know how to go about listening to what you’re listening to and when you try to tell them about it they don’t know a damn thing about what your’re talking about! Is there any other Bright Moments before we proceed on? Bright Moments. Bright Moments. […] Bright Moments is like having brothers and sisters and sisterettes and brotherettes like you all here listening to us.
Because he mastered rotary breathing he could breathe through his nose while playing continuously and his Prepare Thy Self To Deal With a Miracleis a complete side of an album without taking a breathing break. http://www.cduniverse.com/search/xx/music/pid/4865088/a/Prepare+Thyself+To+Deal+With+A+Miracle.htm
- Nat and Cannonball Adderley and I could go on, and on.
During the six years I was in Harvard Law School, Harvard Business School, and my first year at ITT World Headquarters, I was also in the New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New York Army National Guard, where I played in the band. After many marches behind horses who left their morning feed in the streets through which we had to march, I became Drum Major. It was a strategic decision to do so. Mounted police riding Clydesdale size horses were frequently at the front of the parades in Massachusetts. Our marching band was directly behind these horses, which frequently somewhere around mid-parade route would deposit their morning feed in the streets through which we had to march. I became Drum Major so at least I could avoid the horse deposits and lead the musicians behind me around these manure mines. It’s not easy trying to play a Sousa march such as Stars and Stripes Forever, while marching around one of those mines, and the band musicians appreciated when I gave a special baton signal to take evasive stepping action. One of the nicest times I had in the band was when Dorian McGee, formerly from Elizabeth, now in East Orange and a Facebook friend, joined the same National Guard Company I was in. Dorian was one of the most fantastic drummers I ever heard. For many years he played with the road company of the Broadway musical” A Chorus Line”.
If Dorian had kept his drumsticks in the trunk of his car, I believe that either Sorcerer Apprentice like, or like the Cylons in the original sci-fi version of Battlestar Galactica , those drum sticks would have materialized from that trunk, marched over to Dorian, and bowing their tips would have uttered four words: “Master, by your command!” When I gave the special signal for evasive step action, Dorian added some special side taps to his drum, and even musicians who missed seeing my baton signal heard his drum warning.
This activity also contain a leadership lesson, namely that a leader also needs vision (the ability to see ahead and what is coming), a sense of direction (including where you are and how much farther you need to go to successfully arrive at a specific end destination or goal) and change management skills. In order to be an effective drum major, you have to know the music by heart, you have to be able to lead (conduct) facing away from those who are following you, and you have got to know what you are facing on the field or in the street. In order to be an effective drum major, you have to know what you are doing, where the band is supposed to be going, and the best way to safely and efficiently get the band to where it is going. It takes multiple skills to be able to play music while walking or marching as part of a group. You cannot look down and you have got to have one band and one sound.
And whether you are a drum major leading a group or a member of a group following a drum major leader, you should do it with creativity, with passion, with class and a commitment to excellence. Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, expressed it best this way: “The conductor, a magical figure for the audience, enjoys a leadership mystique of significant magnitude. It may seem strange to the orchestral musician that the corporate world would be interested in hearing a conductor’s views on leadership or that the metaphor of the orchestra is so frequently used in the literature of leadership, because, in fact, the profession of conductor is one of the last bastions of totalitarianism in the civilized world.” “A monumental question for leaders in any organization to consider is this: How much greatness are we willing to grant people? Because it makes all the difference at every level who it is we decide we are leading. The activity of leadership is not limited to conductors, presidents, and CEOs, of course—the player who energizes the orchestra by communicating his newfound appreciation for the tasks of the conductor… is exercising leadership of the most profound kind.” The drum major is a musical leader, a walking conductor.
In order to perform successfully and to ensure the success of those who are following, the drum major or leader has to know the score thoroughly. For example, a drum major needs to thoroughly know what is entailed in correctly and professionally playing some (of my) favorite and well known John Phillip Sousa marches such as Semper Fidelis, The Washington Post march, The Thunder march, or the Stars and Stripes Forever. He or she also needs to know what is entailed in correctly and professionally playing the somewhat different Johnny Owen march, sometimes referred to and known as the Regimental March of the 7th Calvary. The former and the latter tunes are marches but they cannot be conducted or performed as though they were identical. They are played, performed, and executed differently
As any Reservists knows, the two weeks active duty each summer requires adjustments. And active duty is, well, active duty. You do everything on military time, ranging from when you get up to when you eat. It’s doing your duty and fulfilling your obligation. Rarely, is the word “fun” associated with it. But for me, one of the things I really enjoyed was when our military band played late afternoon pop concerts featuring a medley of Broadway show tunes for the troops and also for civilians near Fort Drum in New York. These tunes beautifully arranged, a pleasure to play, and always well received: “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face” and “Get Me To The Church On Time” from My Fair Lady, “Comedy Tonight” from A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To the Forum, “Camelot” from the musical of the same name, “One” from A Chorus Line, “
Before Joe Sample , one of the pianist I loved (after Nina Simone, who was trained at Julliard, and who once told me that if I ever wanted to truly learn to play, I had to learn classical before I tried anything else) one of my favorite players was Horace Silver. Horace Silver wrote the tune Song for My Father, and it was one of the favorite songs I used to love play along with on my flugelhorn. Here’s a link to the song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWeXOm49kE0. Wikipedia provides this background about it: “Song for My Father is a 1965 album by the Horace Silver Quintet, released on the Blue Note label. The album was inspired by a trip that Silver had made to Brazil. The cover artwork features a photograph of Silver’s father, John Tavares Silva, to whom the title song was dedicated.
“My mother was of Irish and Negro descent, my father of Portuguese origin. He was born on the island of Maio, one of the Cape Verde Islands” (Horace Silver, quoted in Leonard Feather‘s original liner notes)
A jazz standard, “Song for My Father” is here in its original form. It is a Bossa Nova in F-minor with an AAB head. On the head, a trumpet and tenor saxophone play in harmony. The song has had a noticeable impact in pop music. The opening bass piano notes were borrowed by Steely Dan for their song “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number“, while the opening horn riff was borrowed by Stevie Wonder for his song “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing“. Earth Wind & Fire also borrowed the opening bass notes for their song Clover.”
When I hear Song for My Father today, especially around the Holidays, I think about my dad. When I go up yonder, it is my hope and prayer to be able to sit in and play along with that group of Heavenly musicians who praise the Lord with the trumpet, the harp, with every instrument every created and those yet to come into being. I also look forward to making some celestial baked macaroni & cheese, meatloaf, turkey, and gravy, and sopping some Beatitude biscuits.
Very Nice Read brother Ron !!!!!!
Correction about my “A Chorus Line” history:
I was with the Traveling company for 11 months starting in 1977, the National company for one year in 1978, then the Broadway Company from 1979 to 1990.