Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Jazz Thing

If forced to choose, I would probably spend every morning of my life listening to John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.”

I was reminded of this over the weekend, when the First Lady and I watched Spike Lee’s ode to jazz, “Mo’ Better Blues.” Music from the composition is infused through the entire film, giving the movie the feel of a jazz documentary. A documentary about trumpeter Bleek Gilliam, if you will. And “A Love Supreme” was the narrative.

“Mo’ Better Blues,” in fact, was my first real brush with jazz. I saw the film in 1991, not long after it was released on home video and when I was on the cusp of turning 13. Up until that point, I had always thought jazz was music for old people who liked to smoke and hated hip hop.

I was young, which often walks hand-in-hand with ignorance.

Now, maybe some folks might take issue with my parents allowing me to watch a very R-rated film (it was one of the few times that I remember Denzel really getting into it with his female co-stars) at such an impressionable age. I can understand that. But I think that would be missing the point.

My exposure to profanity, sex and violence was rarely, if ever, gratuitous or without some acknowledgment that something was amiss. But that same exposure, of course, introduced me to John Coltrane and a number of things that challenged and informed my own ideas and beliefs.

My parents never worried that Spike Lee or Keenan Ivory Wayans or Warren Moon would have more influence on me than them. But they were prepared if that ever came to pass, for they realized it might happen anyway, at school, around the block or when I finally went off to college. And it did. And that has manifested itself in lots of ways, most of them good.

Which brings me back to “A Love Supreme” and “Mo’ Better Blues.” Since I first watched the Spike Lee joint as a teenager, I have found myself trying desperately to expand my catalogue of jazz. I have bought some Davis, Brubeck, Ellington, a little Marsalis, both Branford and Wynton (though I find his opinions about hip hop to be loony).

In many ways, I feel as if I’ll never have the time to catch up.

But it didn’t take a genius to know that John Coltrane was a genius. Even a kid could figure that one out.

And for that, I thank my parents.

P.S. From the knowledgeable robots at wikipedia, I recently learned that Spike Lee wanted to name the film “A Love Supreme” but Coltrane’s widow denied the request because of all the profanity in the film. Too bad.

No comments: