Hold the Center

I must beg the indulgence of my peeps out here in cyberspace that sometimes stop by here at Fat E-flat. I have forced you to endure writing that may only be vaguely connected to the intrepid community in which I reside. I have placed myself on special assignment. (Members of William Parker’s Little Huey Orchestra will recognize this designation.) After my vaunted sales technique has been exhausted each day, I have been in hot pursuit of finishing school at 44 years old. The last few months I was taking both a creative non-fiction and a creative fiction writing course online at Empire State College. It’s heartwarming to know that 3 of my musical big brothers are also in school with me. The writing on Fat E-flat as of late is my schoolwork. In Jazz you’re supposed to tell your story, so that’s what I’m doing. Joe Sarubo might sound like a character I invented, but he was oh so very real. Jazz meets Death was a creative assignment. I never worked so hard on a piece in my entire life. It’s the level known as next that I seek. All About Jazz published Jazz meets Death. I just sent them my piece about Hildred Humphries after a precise and surgical session with my editor. Fat E-flat is in transition. In a few weeks, it becomes my coursework. I’m taking an independent study on blogging and digital presentation with Fat E-flat as my stronghold. I’m most likely going to move it to WordPress and change the whole vibe. I’m going to be writing much more frequently. The NYC front-line I write from will be the focus once more.

Case in point: Where’s brother G? I had strong leads on three gigs for Giuseppi and called him up to talk about getting his horns fixed and possibly recording again, when I learned he was hospitalized. Information was scarce, giving me fear of a grim outcome. After some tenacious digging, I found out he has been relocated to a long-term health care facility in Far Rockaway Queens. This might be the best and safest place for him. He has a keyboard at least. I have a phone call scheduled with him later today. His buddy Jimmy is going to drive us out there asap. My concern is his connection to music. If Giuseppi is cut off from music, he’s cut off from life. It’s like when Duke passed on. Harry Carney said that without Duke, he would be gone in 6 months. That’s almost exactly what happened. Same thing when Roy Eldridge lost his wife.

2014 was a roller coaster of mountain tops and bottomless caverns. The transition of Roy Campbell had me plummet to depths in the Mariana trench that have never been explored by man. His music was the light that led me back to the surface. When I played Roy’s song Thanks to the Creator with Dave Douglas and some 15 other trumpet players from the FONT crew at Cornelia Street, I saw Roy right in the front row sitting next to his sister Valerie. This was the Roy I knew so well. The trumpet player! Roy had that expression that said go for it! This was the time to play what needed to be played. While everyone started dipping into their own outer-rim of pyrotechnics, I responded with crux blues. Blues at the center. A blue so bright you could go blind looking at it. A blue so dark it’s like an eternal eclipse. Playing music like you own it, with a slight in your face vibe, is something that Roy received from Lee Morgan. I received it from Tazz. Dang! I would love to show Roy my new copper bell flugel and my new plastic trumpet. The other thing I want to tell Roy is that I got married in 2014. That’s OK; I can hear him now.

Now you got it brother. Now you’re talking. You finally found the right one.”

Another mountaintop of 2014 for me was a literal dream come true. For years, I had envisioned recording at the great Systems Two recording studio in Brooklyn. I had heard this was the place to go. Was it even possible? I called up Nancy at the studio and found out it was in range. Plus, this was the place to record large ensemble. With my long term big brother Jack DeSalvo at Unseen Rain records in support, we booked it to record my 12 Houses Orchestra. When I found out that I could use a microphone owned by John Coltrane in the session, I almost exploded.

“What? I get to record on a mic that was owned and used by Trane himself!?”

I took this as a sign. This was a spiritual event of the highest order. This was, in fact, the most important and greatest thing I have done in my entire life up to this point. Nothing in 44 years could top this. The 12 Houses not only assembled, they played with so much magnificence that we got 2 records of material on almost all first takes! Highlights abound on this recording from Ras Moshe testifying on Brooklyn Mountain to Francois Grillot swimming in an interstellar ocean of whole tones. The brightest moment came in a piece dedicated to my Mom called Faith. Chris Forbes reached the real meaning of the word on piano. Anais Maviel then truly blew my mind and busted down everybody’s walls when I turned faith into free jazz Gospel. Some of the purest, most natural, and brilliant singing I have ever heard. This record comes out this year in 2015. Boom.

Back down into the pits, 2014 brought police violence firmly into the spotlight. After the not-guilty charge in the murder of Eric Garner, I was so incensed that I started writing a blog entirely based on how Patrick Lynch, spokesperson for the police union, was an actual demon. I started researching his history, looking to go after him. He became my target in a literary sense. I was so twisted over this that I couldn’t function at the time. I tried to talk it out with my fiancee, now my wife. I was unreachable until she told me that it was the artist’s job to hold the center. As soon as I heard her say those words I had a turnaround.

Taking a closer look around at the events of 2014 I could see a bigger picture. Evil is being uprooted.  It’s being exposed. The police have always been out of control. But now, people en masse are ready to say NO MORE. Human beings all over the world are calling out this evil. They’re not backing down, even after the senseless revenge murder of 2 cops. I have always believed that art and music are behind the energy that creates change for good. I have always believed that we’re at the center of the conflict. As evil gets uprooted, and everything starts to spin out of control; we have to hold the center. Sometimes we have to go to the center. Raphe Malik used to speak about playing at the center of the Sun.

Finally, 2014 closed with the ascension of master Will Connell. Will leaving town forever just pulled the rug out from under everyone. Will’s transition still causes genuine heartache. His residency at the Stone turned out to be an outpouring of Love as the message behind his music and life was delivered in a way that would have made him proud. With songs like World Peace-With or Without People, and Mountain Song, Will’s music was so poignant to the events of the year. I will, in fact, close with the lyrics from Mountain Song…

God is all and all is One


Truth is here to see


Truth shall set you free.




For Sue