The classic jazz stuff has always been my dad’s favorite music. So I’ve been bringing my laptop down to the hospital and breaking out a lot of his faves lately. It truly is music of the Gods… Miles, Duke, Dizzy, Monk, Bird. My God, how we both love this stuff.
The first day of our “music therapy” featured Ellington at Newport – blistering live treatments of some timeless big band orchestrations as only Duke Ellington can do it. He closes his eyes as he listens, just like he always used to… and not unlike a jazz musician in the middle of a solo… head lightly swaying, as if to reach way back in there for that inspired flurry of notes. Then Miles Davis, Kind of Blue – “So What,” “Autumn Leaves.” “On Green Dolphin Street.” Eyes still closed. The atmosphere in the room has shifted, and we’ve established a cool new routine.
So the other night, I’m sitting in a chair to his immediate right as he lay in bed, under the covers. My mom is on the other side near the foot of the bed talking to my aunt and uncle (his brother). And again, the laptop is open and we’re scoping out some tuneage; Dizzy Gillespie, “Night in Tunisia,” along with some Sonny Rollins, Freddie Hubbard, Max Roach – the cats.
The Holy Man
And then… the big daddy of them all; Coltrane. In my opinion, there is no other music in the world that captures the voice of the Divine more than this guy.
John Coltrane left us early, at 40, 4 days after my 4th birthday. But he was one of the genre’s greatest innovators – and greatest sax players – leaving us a towering legacy of incredible music. Trane was also a devout seeker of spiritual wisdom and practice, which was reflected in his music, and even in certain record and song titles like A Love Supreme, Meditations, Om, Ascension, “Dear Lord,” and “Amen.”
And that Coltrane tone! I realize the average listener would probably find much of Trane’s most adventurous stuff unlistenable – especially his later records. But to me, his playing has always been healing, transcendent… like he was tapping into something from another world. (I’m sure he was, actually.) Coltrane’s music is like certain kinds of modern art; you either really get it, or you really don’t. Those who do, experience a slight shift in consciousness every time they hear it. Those who don’t, usually grimace in a lemon juice scowl and go palms-to-ears pronto. The reaction can be that polarizing.
A Healing Moment…
Anyway… my dad gets it. So I broke out Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” from 1961. Timeless soprano sax magic from the tenor man. There had been zero movement anywhere on his right side in the last 18 days. Zero. And now, as Trane comes pouring out of my laptop speakers like Tibeten incense… I see his right foot begin to move beneath the blanket; slowly, deliberately, back and forth, like he was tapping his foot in slow motion. Over and over, with his eyes still tightly shut. Everyone else in the room notices. We try not to make too much of a fuss about it, so as not to disrupt him, but it’s hard not to. We have movement!
And so we continue with Coltrane, the holy man. The album Impressions – from my year of birth – with the band barreling through the title track like a tornado, and Trane soloing like he’s speaking in tongues. (I love you, John Coltrane!) Then “Greensleeves” and “Song From the Underground Railroad” from Africa-Brass. More foot and leg movement… like three dozen times over the course of 30 minutes. You are the fucking man, Trane! Keep it coming, my brother. Testify. Bear witness. Let the Truth explode from your lungs. Fill up this sterile little room in Panama City with your sweaty, smoky brilliance.
We are on our way back, and, wherever you are, we thank you.
And to all of you who have contributed to the staggering collective Light Energy surrounding my dad right now, we thank you, too.
As for the old man… obviously, a neurological connection has been reestablished between the music that he so loves and his visceral way of experiencing it… suggesting that things are continuing to reconnect up there. Not sure what all this will mean on the longer term, but we’re grateful for all we can get at the moment.
Peace, and thanks again –