These are strange days for people who see life entirely through the lens of jazz and improvisation. Many musicians like myself might feel like we were born at the wrong time. While a select group of musicians has been able to create lives where they can focus all their energy on their music, another group, larger I believe, has to deal with survival first. You have to be alive to give your music life. This struggle is one of the main reasons that Albert Ayler was pushed to the brink and then beyond. When the new round of Doris Duke grants was awarded this year, I exhausted some high energy processing how this process works. I had a revelation: If Albert Ayler was given one of these grants, chances are he would have not only have lived on, but his music would have continued to change and grow. I have personally witnessed great veteran musicians struggle to survive to such an extent that it’s an absolute wonder that they can keep their music alive. As I have tried to suggest to the world before, why can’t musicians in dire need of support get a mere fraction of some of the money awarded in these music contests?
Going deeper still, why does the Jazz Foundation have to exist? Thank god, it does. I have seen their work up close. A sorely needed guitar case for master Bern Nix. New vibes for master Warren Smith after his were destroyed in a storm. Several instances of helping Giuseppi Logan make it just one more day. I found myself on the brink a few years ago. Not having had the opportunity to tour that often, I risked it all a few years back and quit my job so that I could make a few weeks in Europe with master Sabir Mateen. Once I got back, I tried to get some stuff happening to no avail, and the money ran out. I started playing the subway and was not making rent. When I started missing my $125 a week cash only rent for my little room in the heights, my man Rogelio started running out of patience. I saw him evict a militant Hebrew Israelite without reservation, and I knew I was running out of time. I found myself spiritually broken on the steps of the jazz foundation. The folks there told me straight up that at 42 years old I was too young to receive benefits, but since I had gone into the trenches to help my buddy Giuseppi Logan, they were going to help me in return. I left with a MetroCard, a food card for $50, and a check for three weeks rent. During the third week, I got my old job back at Sam Ash. On my first day back, a snowstorm, I sold master Charles Gayle a tenor. The Jazz Foundation is a beacon of light and a place where traces of humanity still exist. I heard they just got a million dollars from an anonymous donor! Who the hell was that? Prince before he was murdered?
Back with a full-time job, I have been able to survive so that my music could survive. I have pursued grants since then and have built up a nice little pile of rejections usually sighting wavy intonation, or worse that I was just playing “bad Ornette.” We live in a world where if you choose music as your life calling and then decide you will live off who and what you are, then you risk being homeless and straight up death. The world is merciless in general. Just ask the homeless vets all over Times Square and 34th st. Tourists walk by them like they don’t even exist. We are trained to not even see these people.
Watching all this election drama is a real trip. I have argued with Hillary freaks telling them I can’t relate to someone who makes $225,000 for a Wall St speech. They respond saying “You know that’s really not that much money.” I have never had more than $5,000 in the bank at one time my entire life, and that was for a loan that I had to declare bankruptcy on, my second. I’ve taken an extreme perspective on the election. Trump is the karma America has wrought for it’s straight up history of genocide and murder. Trump is the heart of the extreme superficiality that exists these days, where everyone seems less human. Trump also symbolizes true ignorance and racism. Obama said recently “You know, my job is not a reality TV show.” If Trump makes it all the way to the top, then America becomes what it is, a wasteland of ignorance, greed, and abysmal standards. If Trump wins, his song should be Payback by James Brown. America created Trump after all.
As for the big H, I think she’s a war monger, eager to show the world that she has the strength to lead. If she gets elected, people are going to die as a result straight up. A target will be chosen and then destroyed. The Hillary freaks I know are a trip. They have a great willingness to look the other way when time and time again she has shown her real character to be questionable at best. Her all time low was pandering on black radio saying she has hot sauce in her purse. What? Hillary people have accepted the system as is and see no need for change.
CHANGE, however, is what life is about at the core. No matter what happens this year, the republican and democratic platforms have been changed forever. Bernie..keep fighting man, it’s not over till it’s over. Change is constant in life. If you’re alive, you MUST grow and change.
What I’ve come to accept in 2016 as a matter of spiritual survival, is that every one of us has a distinct path that we have to follow. On that path, we will grow and change in exactly the ways we need. The path that we each have is so personal. On this road, survival may or may not be an issue. Who makes these decisions?
My path took an extraordinary turn on November of last year when my girl Pinar offered the 12 Houses every Sunday on going at Nublu on the lower east side of NYC. I’ll play the Bernie card here:
“Let me be perfectly clear. We don’t make any money on these sessions. Many nights we have had turnouts of 5 people max.”
Why do we do it then?
We do it for the music, which is what’s all about. The folks in 12 Houses are my musical and spiritual blood brothers and sisters. They have given me the ultimate gift: their music. I have had the incredible opportunity to build a book of music. We have done this entirely with no support whatsoever other than ourselves. It means everything to me. The 12 Houses exist entirely on faith.
Another brutal truth for me is the reality that the way the world relates to music has changed. True, I have had many low turnouts at Nublu. Fact: a cell phone video I took of sweet Lee Odom during one concert has had over 1,500 views.
That’s 1,500 people that heard Lee soar on her soprano. I could never get all of those people into Nublu. Nublu would be maxed at like 60 people.
The 12 Houses residency may be entering its twilight stage, maybe not. I have striven to make what we do relevant to today. The 12 Houses ARE today, for better or worse. The 12 Houses are change.
We will keep growing and changing no matter the cost.
For Hugh Masekela’s grandfather.