Which Side Are You On? The myth of neutrality in racial justice

“The time is always right to do what is right.”

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”

These quotes from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King have two things in common. One, they are inspiring examples of his important work and his skills as an orator. Two, they are so universal that they have been used by right-wing politicians to bolster actions and philosophies completely antithetical to Dr. King’s beliefs and work.

Before this important holiday gets washed away in the attempted gaslighting of portraying Dr. King as somehow the vanilla yogurt of the civil rights movement, let’s stop for a moment to consider reality.

Continue Reading

Top 10 Favorite Howard Johnson Tracks

When news spread yesterday of Howard Johnson’s passing, I reflected on how he was in many ways the consummate musician. If all he had ever done was evolve jazz tuba to an unprecedented level, his place in the history books would be secure. But there was so much more – brilliance on the baritone saxophone, skillful work on multiple other brass and wind instruments, visionary bandleading, capacity to thrive as a soloist or as a supportive ensemble member across a vast range of styles. And the couple times I had the pleasure to hang out with him a little confirmed why I’ve literally never heard a single person suggest he was anything but a joy to be around, which is a major part of the gig too.

Continue Reading

20 Tracks that Moved Me in 2020

There need be no more words uttered on the challenges of 2020, but MAN was there a lot of great music that came out. I agonized over all that I left out (I kept a running list this year and there were literally over a hundred things on the list of records I really dug) and here’s what I came up with.

Continue Reading

Top 10 Favorite Stanley Cowell tracks

Yesterday, a couple hours before I heard about the passing of jazz giant Stanley Cowell, Kate was doing ordering some supplies for Wesleyan’s Art Department and I saw the piece of paper full of hyper-specific color names – indigo blue, poppy red, royal blue, and so on. As I think about Prof. Cowell’s legacy as a pianist, composer, and conceptualist, it is like that. He may not have invented “blue” or “green,” but you can be sure that there is a shade that is uniquely and identifiably his and so much jazz of the last 50-plus years has been enriched by that indirectly and directly.

Continue Reading

Stop the Bleeding: What Disability Has Taught Me About Treating the Symptom (Societally, Physically, or Otherwise)

Right now a lot of people I know are navigating the cognitive dissonance of joy and trepidation. They are elated by the outcome of the election, as many millions are (and as, turning the tables from 2016, many millions aren’t). At the same time it’s harshing their mellow to realize that there will be backlash and that core issues that divide us will remain as roadblocks for at least the foreseeable future, regardless of whether a single polarizing human is amplifying them. Here’s what life with EDS has taught me about how to view this.

Continue Reading

Top 10 Favorite Tribute Songs for Musicians/Friends

The recent release of my Love Right project has made me reflect on the many others who have used music to paid tribute to those who have departed, whether loved ones or heroes and whether musicians or not. This list centers on those in the middle of this Venn diagram – musicians paying tribute to fellow musicians who were also their friends, and doing so with music created for that purpose.

Continue Reading

Bravo to Phil Schaap, NEA Jazz Master

I’m a couple days late here, but bravo to the three brilliant and deserving musicians in the newest class of NEA Jazz Masters. I particularly want to shout out the 4th member of that cohort, the historian/producer/archivist/DJ Phil Schaap. He’s a mysteriously polarizing figure (though literally the only criticism I’ve ever heard is that he talks too much, which is maybe true but the absurdity of ME criticizing someone for that is more than my brain can handle) but my goodness has this man spent his life working to elevate the visibility and understanding of the art form he loves from the bottom of his heart and the depths of his utterly remarkable mind.

Continue Reading

Top 10 Favorite Toots and the Maytals Tracks

Frederick “Toots” Hibbert has been my favorite reggae singer (and indeed one of my favorite soul singers, period) since I first heard him when I was around 15. Because 2020 is relentless, we now only have his recordings (including his latest studio album, released soon before he suddenly fell ill), but my goodness are there gems in his discography.

Continue Reading

Top 10 Favorite Sonny Rollins Tracks

What a gift that a soul as wise and deep and creative as Sonny Rollins has been around for 90 years as of today and is still with us, playing retirement notwithstanding. Even if he never played a note, I would be moved by his approach to art and his wise words about life. But fortunately for us he did play notes, sometimes lots of them. I’m reticent to describe his style in a setting like this, but his mixture of stunning fluency (on the horn and with harmonic structures) and relentless pursuit of idea-development is incredibly inspiring, and if you add to that his robust sound and the extreme clarity of his articulation, the results are incredible. And I mean that literally – I listen to Newk sometimes and think “how is this even possible for a human to come up with this?” I can confidently say (and, mind you, I would cite John Coltrane as my favorite musician, period) that no greater saxophonist has ever lived than Walter Theodore Rollins.

Continue Reading