Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine


Each One Teach One

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I find that good leading starts with good following, just as good teaching starts with good learning. 

Wanting to learn requires motivation. I find I’m most motivated when the subject captures my fantasy. (Conversely, another good motivation is when it’s a matter of grave consequence. In blues music that’s called the hellhound on your trail.)

A friend of mine was curious about what motivated me to learn to play jazz. I told her we are making art with the way time feels as it swirls around us. It’s a conversation of archetypes, and time is our medium. There’s a feeling of buoyancy and euphoria, of power, flight and fire, when I’m playing with musicians who have those sensibilities. You are released from the sheet music the way you are released from a script in an interesting conversation with a close friend. When we are engaged at this level, we can hear each other think, and we create a sound painting without physically talking about it. It’s difficult to get closer or more personal than that—it’s like we’re sharing a quickening spirit.

That experience is very personal, but it also connects to the essence of jazz: compassion. When we’re really into it, we feel one another.

Jazz music was born out of compassion. In the early twentieth century racism was so common it wasn’t considered racism—it was considered normal. Many people back then were compassionate toward the disenfranchised, and their collaborations are what made jazz possible. The Louis Armstrong story is about a Russian Jewish immigrant family’s compassion for the orphaned child of a prostitute. They fed him, clothed him and taught him a good work ethic. They later bought him his first horn. Because of their compassion, the Karnofskys gave the world the “father” of jazz music.

All those early jazz musicians had compassion, empathy, and even love for one another. They found this through the music, and it grew. Now, people from every walk of life and every frame of mind are in the music. Southerners, northerners, Israelis and Lebanese, old people, young people—what other thing besides breathing and eating can claim such a wide demographic?

The Dalai Lama observes that “Western civilizations these days place great importance on filling the human ‘brain’ with knowledge, but no one seems to care about filling the human ‘heart’ with compassion.” We’ve developed technology to the point that we can peel the skin off this planet. Everybody in the world can be electronically connected, yet we’re slow to recognize that this art form right in our midst carries important lessons about compassion—it continues to be dedicated to the development of social empathy among its practitioners.

We’re born as animals. Our parents are charged with civilizing us. Compassion has to be learned and then developed. To spread it, you have to teach it. To teach it, you have to learn it. So the cycle goes: each one teach one.

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