Navy Yard, D.C.: “Not Normal”

ap_dc_navy_yard_shootingOn May 28, 1982, Edward T. Mann, a former employee of the company International Business Machines (IBM) drove his Lincoln Continental through the glass doors of the company’s headquarters in Rockville, Maryland. Mann jumped out wearing a mask and dressed in fatigues and began shooting up the building. Mann killed three people that day, held the authorities at bay for hours and then surrendered.  Mann didn’t fight the charges; he pled guilty and showed no remorse. He was given three life sentences plus 1080 years, making it impossible he would ever see the light of day. The judge famously dismissed him as deranged.

Mann came to mind when word began leaking out of my city that some man killed 12 people at the Navy Yard. The individual (whose name is unworthy of being printed here or being spoken) has just ruined so many lives it is unfathomable what he has done. He, of course, unlike Edward T. Mann died during his spree.  It is now reported he had shown conduct issues when he was in the U.S. Navy and that this is not likely surprising to a certain extent. Killing 12 people should be surprising to us; the fact that we have reached a point of acceptance indicts our society completely as a nation of violence. This kind of thing just happens way too often in other words.

The gun rights people have already shown up on various websites.  I did not read the notes. I also ignored the notes of those who would totally restrict guns in an effort to stop the madness brought forth today. I don’t think either of these strategies would work in this instance.  This was going to happen once this guy was not flagged and locked up for observation due to his erratic behavior.

This is like the individual who shot up Virginia Tech or the guy who shot up the theater, or the guy who rode around Washington D.C. years ago with a 17 year old and shot people at random. It is sick.  We have got to figure out how to identify better those in our society who are powder kegs.  I do not know how this can be done but it must be done.   There are 12 people dead tonight because again we didn’t flag someone who was ready to explode. These people have families and friends and colleagues who have to figure out how to go on.

Have we reached the point in our society where we think these mass shootings are normal?  The answer can be found in the film, “Brick City,” about the city of Newark, New Jersey. In the film after a shooting at a high school in that city, Ras Baraka, the poet, and current candidate for mayor of that city, famously screams to the students in a gymnasium that “this is not normal.”  Baraka was the principal of that school and the incident was not normal. Everyone armed to the teeth is not normal. Everyone saying we have to get armed to protect ourselves might be smart (right now) but it is not normal.  We created this craziness we live and have accepted it but that still does not make it normal.

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Etienne Charles

photo-1Etienne Charles, trumpet player extraordinare, and professor of music at Michigan State University, arrived like me in Michigan several years ago from back east.  He, from New York; me, from Washington D.C. Listening to him talk and play with his septet last night at the Broad Museum in East Lansing, was refreshing and hopeful.  Charles not only talked music but he paused to recall his initial sojourn here as quite challenging at first as well (it was a culture shock Charles noted last night) so it is good to see he was not the only one who found the move to mid Michigan quite a trip.

Etienne Charles is a rising star in the music world.  He exudes confidence when he plays and when he talks of his music.  His music has also always been challenging and accessible and his new album, “Creole Soul,” fits that mold.  He pulled music from that album last night but also songs from all over the place.  It was a night of spacious horns, complex percussion, and gorgeous improvisation across the instrument spectrum. The high ceilings of the Broad Museum captured the music but also let it soar and bounce off the gallery walls.

I heard all of it. The ‘spanish tinge,’ afro-beats, and classic jazz especially when Charles and his band locked in on the standard “Autumn Leaves.” And this song was case in point of Charles’ willingness to stretch boundaries and be that unique creator of new music within the tradition. He presented a quiet “Autumn Leaves” but also one with even more colors and drive.  His version of ‘Russian Satellite” by the soca legend, The Mighty Sparrow was similar. It retained the essential qualities of the song but it also had Charles’ imprint all over it.

The original music Charles presented was also outstanding. “Creole” from the new album stood out for its vigor and for the multilayered rhythms in play. Charles admitted that he is continuing to explore music that links him to his ancestors and “Creole” and most of the tunes, whether original or not, fit the bill.  It was a fitting night at the Broad Museum. The walls of the gallery where the band played were covered with modern and contemporary art with an international reach. Charles’ music had that same feel: modern and global, and full of depth emotion, and most importantly, the human spirit.

In Search of Charles Lloyd

Charles-Lloyd-4I do not know who it was who introduced me to Charles Lloyd. I suspect it was the late great poet, Gaston Neal, who was instrumental in convening a jazz listening group in Washington D.C.  It also could have been Reuben Jackson, the former Smithsonian archivist at the Duke Ellington collection. Regardless of who it was, Charles Lloyd is an artist who has been larger than life for me for years now. He is so big, so amazing, that I often wondered if it was possible to actually see him perform live.

Last year I almost was able to see him in Ann Arbor, Michigan but the deal fell apart. I was going and then I had a conflict, and so, I was sure that Lloyd was again lost to me in the earthly cosmosis.  Yet, this year Lloyd came to the Detroit Jazz Festival this past weekend and once I saw his name on the schedule, I knew I would be there, sitting in the audience finding out why Lloyd is so important to jazz as we know it.

As I sat waiting for Lloyd as the Robert Hurst band wound down their set, a buzz began to mount in the crowd. It was at least 30 minutes before the show and people began to slowly flow into the seats. One guy described Lloyd as “like Sonny Rollins, only West Coast.”  I am not the one to argue because Lloyd is more than up to the standards put forward by legends like Rollins.

Lloyd is Memphis born and went to the West Coast to study classical music at UCLA. He also hung in the clubs in Los Angeles during his formative years learning his craft, perfecting his unique spiritual voice that speaks of love, people, hope, and togetherness. He doesn’t have to say what his songs are about; you can feel it and see it in his mannerisms.

I am probably personally drawn to Lloyd for the same reasons I am drawn to Chico Hamilton; they both have this hopeful expression in their songs. Their music is open and inviting; they want to allow room for the musicians to create as if the emptiness that music presents is canvas and they are drawing or painting.  It is no accident that Lloyd was musical director for Hamilton at one point, writing and arranging many songs by Hamilton. Both have been apt over the years to rely upon electric guitars to carry the rhythm.

Lloyd has been a giant over the years recording and performing. His most well known album, “Forest Flower” is a timeless classic. It is probably one of jazz’s last classics before the electric period, up in the stratosphere with the likes of Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blues,” and Oliver Nelson’s “The Blues and the Abstract Truth.” But, of course, the 1960’s, that shifting time, was a time of change and maturity in the world, and artistic music is no exception. Lloyd fits in easily.  He was willing to embrace world music, free sounds, electric components, and it sounded natural for him.

Back in March 1967 when Lloyd played in the city of Boston, writer Roy Thompson said that Lloyd was “as much to see as he was to hear.” Two years later, he was enormously popular with the college crowds, this owed to his willingness to venture off jazz’s main drag into their aesthetic space.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MOMA) in New York City staged a jazz concert in 1969, and Lloyd’s group was part of it. The Fillmore in San Francisco also booked Lloyd’s group showing again the range and versatility of Lloyd. He has played with B.B. King and the Beach Boys and now gigs with some of the best young talent out there including the pianist, Jason Moran.

All of that versatility and passion was on display in Detroit yesterday at the Jazz Festival.  Every seat was taken once Lloyd reached the stage. Many, just like me, had been anticipating the performance because he doesn’t come around as often anymore and they believed it would be a good idea to take it all in this time and experience it.

Lloyd delivered his sweet sound but also captivated the crowd as his body flexed and jerked in spasms as he reached deep for the notes he wanted during his solos.  Rain threatened the city of Detroit as he played but barely a drop fell in the Motor City before Charles Lloyd finished his engaging set both on sax and flute. He even got behind his drummer once as his band rocked and worked percussion instruments.

The heavens knew better than to cut Charles Lloyd short.  He had something special to say.