There once was a great music. It was born in America and branded with the name Jazz. The music was later re-named madam Zzaj, by one of her lovers, the Duke. She grudgingly accepted the moniker of Jazz over the years. It was how she was bought and sold after all. Jazz had several intimate relationships over the years. Each one of these caused her to experience tremendous spiritual and emotional transformation. There was the great Armstrong, who raised her from the brothels. There was the Bird, who taught her how to fly. There was the Prince of Darkness, who seduced her. There was the great Train whose tracks led Jazz to Interstellar Space. After growing and growing and growing some more, Jazz found herself in a real rut. People far younger than her, who knew none of her lovers, were telling her and everybody else who she was. At the same time, people all over the world kept pushing and prodding at her extremes just to prove what she was not. All the conflict caused Jazz to enter a period of deep stagnation. She felt like a polluted and cloudy pond. When she looked in the mirror, she no longer recognized her face. It became so bad that one day Jazz passed out into a deep coma. So deep was her sleep that even Buddy Bolden himself could not wake her, blowing the loudest cornet of all time from New Orleans.
Finally, Jazz was able to open her eyes, but she was no longer down on Earth in New York City where she last remembered being. Jazz found herself in a room with a man wearing a heavy dark cloak who was holding a staff that resembled a cane from the Cotton Club perhaps. Sitting down with the cloaked man were all of Jazz’s past lovers. Armstrong, the Bird, the Prince, and the Train. Everyone looked sad. The cloaked man introduced himself as the one and only angel of death.
“Jazz my dear. You have lost your way. You don’t remember who and what you are. It’s time for you to find out. We are here to help you remember what made you what you are. We need you to return to Earth and answer three imperative questions. If you can answer these questions correctly you’ll be allowed to live and be reborn. If you answer wrong, then, unfortunately, your time on Earth will have come to an end.”
Next it was Armstrong who spoke with the first question. Always known for his big smile, it was shocking to see him so filled with misery. He was greatly concerned for Jazz. In his gravelly voice, he asked:
“Lady Jazz, what are the Blues?”
Next the Prince of Darkness spoke. Sinister and menacing was his vibe. Lady Jazz felt a powerful intimacy with the prince. It was as if he could see right through her. He spoke in a raspy tone:
“Who’s owns music? Who’s owns you Jazz?”
Next it was the Train who spoke. The Train had traveled great distances and seen many things. The Train was very tenacious and never missed a stop and was never late. He was known to be able to travel at great speeds and carry an enormous amount of cargo and passengers. He spoke softly and sounded like a preacher from the southern United States.
“Hello Jazz. My question for you is this: What is the tonic in the key of F?”
Death explained to Jazz that it was time for her to return to Earth. She would return in one day with her answers for better or worse. Before she could leave, the Bird came over and gave her huge hug. He whispered to Jazz in her ear, almost as if to not let the others hear him.
“To find the answers to these three questions my love, you must seek out counsel from two people back on Earth. Seek counsel with the proclaimed King of Jazz, residing at Lincoln Towers. After your time with the king, seek out a the Coalman. He lives in a place called Chelsea. I’ll give you a map. Based on their responses, come back to us and reveal the truth about yourself once and for all. Don’t be afraid. We know you’re going to do the right thing.”
With that Jazz found herself at the gates of Lincoln towers. The doorman said that the king was indeed home. When Jazz was announced as a guest, she was escorted right to the penthouse. She was treated with supreme respect. The King welcomed her with open arms. He was alone.
“Ah, lady Jazz. I’m so glad you have come. I’m well aware of your reason for coming here to see me. You’ve come to the right place. It is I who have saved you and preserved you. It is I who am your translator to the world. I have made the decision of who you are myself. You must trust me. I will now answer your questions three.”
“The Blues are where you come from. It is a feeling you should have. Blues are played in groups of twelve measures at a time. You follow a one four five chord progression. When you are played, notes can be bent to show that you sound like you have a feeling. You have to play the right notes with the right chords and be in tune. If you’re feeling aggressive, you can add some vibrato to yourself. You may enjoy slight note ornamentation. Taking real chances and risking complicated ideas is not recommended. It’s more important to play the blues correctly.”
“Now the question of who owns you. Well, you were created because America believed in slavery. The slaves brought African influence to the music made in the states. The people that created you should own you, but they don’t. It’s the same people that named you Jazz that own you now. You were taken back then and never returned to your owner. Now it is the people with money and power that control how you are represented to the world. Here in the kingdom it is I who represent your brand. There’s a lot of money going down. The money we make could help some people that are closer to you Jazz, but to be honest with you, authenticity is no longer truly relevant. It’s more about following the holy laws of swing. We teach you in schools. I’ve gone around the world to tell everyone just who and what you are.”
“The answer to your third question is very straightforward. The tonic in the key of F is simply F. Some folks may suggest it is the forbidden flat five. I’m telling you that the tonic in the key of F is F.”
The King gave Jazz a kiss on the cheek and held both of her hands gently. He made eye contact with her.
“I would give my life for you Jazz. Take my answers back with you, and spend the rest of your life with me. It will be a peaceful life. It’s time for you to rest. We can spend the rest of our days together reflecting and celebrating your past.”
Jazz felt like she was being proposed to. She smiled politely and headed downtown to meet with the Coalman at the spot on the map given to her by the Bird. She found the Coalman, not in a mine, but simply seated at a table in his loft near the kitchen. The Coalman was wearing an unusual purple suit. He was gentle and soft spoken as he poured Jazz a glass of root beer and lemon juice. The Coalman also knew that Jazz was coming and what her questions were.
“Isn’t it amazing that we can have this conversation you and me? How are my old friends? I studied the Bird’s flights very carefully in my early days. The train and I spent many hours practicing together and talking about our favorite person in the whole world, You.”
Jazz was touched by the Coalman’s loving gaze. She listened humbly and politely as the Coalman told his version of the truth.
“The Blues are a feeling inside. You have to be a human being to feel the Blues. The Blues are what it feels like to be a human being. The Blues are what happens when life teaches us painful lessons. Blues are often about the pain that comes with the ending of a relationship and lost intimacy. The Blues are when the soul cries out when its needs are not being met. The Blues are that feeling you get when you KNOW someone is telling you the truth. The Blues are something you feel in the marrow of your bones and the bottom of your soul. The Blues is where you come from Jazz. You do not exist without the blues. The Blues is what unites us all. You know this deep in your heart, you know it.”
Nobody owns you Jazz. You have to own yourself. Nobody can tell you or anyone else what you are. You need to believe in yourself again. Everybody is trying to tell you what you are. When you are yourself, you will see that nobody could ever own you. You are a part of nature itself. Just because were intimate with you doesn’t mean we can claim to own you. It could only be fear that would make a musician try and do that. Jazz, you are eternal, pure and simple. Remember how close you were with the Duke? Do you remember what he said when he was asked what you are? Duke said you were freedom of expression. Duke also said you were a tree. Duke said your branches extended to twigs. At the end of each twig a beautiful flower blooms that is different from any other flower. Duke said that as your branches continue to grow, you always pick up whatever influence you may desire, but you always remember that your roots are in the mighty blue soil of Africa. What Duke said then is truer now than ever. You must remember who you are. I think it’s starting to come back to you.
Finally, I will explain to you Jazz that the answer to the third question is not a note! The intellectual and theoretical answer will never be correct. The tonic in the key of F is YOU. You’re the tonic. Any key that you feel, any note that you hear, must be the right one. You have to learn to trust yourself once more.
Before leaving the Coalman smiled and gave Jazz a gentle hug. He was leaving himself but wouldn’t say where he was going. Before he left, he spoke a little more with Jazz.
“I know you’re going to the right thing. Your life will continue. Your mission isn’t over just yet. I’ve been with you my whole life up to this very day, and I’ll never leave you. Please tell all my friends back home that I can’t wait to make music with them again.”
Jazz went into the deepest sleep of her life that evening and woke up back in the room with the cloaked man with the cane, Mr. Death. The Armstrong was smiling. The Bird and the Prince were joking with each other. The Train remained calm and serene. Death asked Jazz to answer the questions. Jazz spoke openly and from the heart.
“My beloved friends. I do believe that I have received the lesson you meant for me to have. So blessed am I to have you as my caretakers all these years. I owe each one of you a special debt of gratitude. We have always been there for each other, you and I.”
“While the king was sage, and believed in his mission, I could not entirely trust him. He was telling me who I was. The Coalman said that I am myself. I am me. I swing. I’m inside. I’m outside. I shout. I scream. I come from the Blues. While the Blues does have a certain structure as I was reminded by the king, the Blues I believe are a feeling. In fact, I feel that feeling now. It’s all starting to feel new again. The Blues contain that feeling that no matter how tough life gets, we must carry on. The blues are how we deal with the adversity that could destroy us. We must know that no matter how hard life gets, were going to be ok.”
“I remember now when I was branded with the name Jazz. The King likes calling me this, but he doesn’t realize that it insults and hurts me to a degree. That name is how I relate to the world and how we see each other, so I’m going to keep it for now. The King wanted to possess me and spread me around the world as a brand, but now I know better. At least those people who are trying to prove what I’m not, or who try to break me, respect me enough not to claim they own me. I own myself. I belong to me!”
“Finally my friends, it is with great delight that I exclaim to you that I’M the tonic in the key of F! Whatever I feel, that’s me. Whatever key I’m in, that’s me. Whatever note I want to be, then that’s what I am. I must say I feel as though I’ve awoken from a long and terrible nightmare. I feel as though I am restored. I am me once more!”
Since Death had no face, it was difficult to read his emotions. If he could smile, this might be the one time that he did. A grin from ear to ear. Big ol’ teeth smile from the master of death. He spoke:
“Lady Jazz you have passed our test. Go now and return to the world fully restored. Please remember to take the lessons we have taught you with you. They will always serve you well. Your friends here all want you to know how much you are and always will be loved. Should you see the Coalman, please remind him that his friends send their regards. One day they will all have a great big Happy Reunion, just like that song written by the Duke.”
Lady Jazz returned to Earth as her life began anew. She planned on calling a blues right away.
The Armstrong: Louis Armstrong
The Bird: Charlie Parker
The Prince of Darkness: Miles Davis
The Train: John Coltrane
The King: Wynton Marsalis
The Coalman: Ornette Coleman