Nina Simone, by Lindsey Erdman
From far below flowery bushes and exotic plants that breathe with the wind and sun, rocks and boulders built mountains and circumvented the earth in their preparation for life and vegetation. Mankind was the future yet to roam the earth as the hand of God prepared it for civilization, and for giant shovels to scoop up the elements and cast them into blazing furnaces to make them pliable. Men with their sweaty hands and compliant souls followed artistic blueprints as they molded and shaped them to meet the requirements.
Together with wood they became united in sound, the marriage of artistic endeavors with their dreams; that beautiful mahogany piano that sits in the room, begging for sensitive fingers to embrace the keys. The more passionate my caresses are, the more passionate its response, like a cat that purrs and arches its back for more. Through our love affair, we became soul mates. I can hear it whispering to the ear of my heart.
“I am the voice of enchantment
I am the weaver of dreams
I am the messenger of God’s grace
I was born out of nature’s elements
And molded by man to bring you
To the altar of your soul with my music
Do not abuse me
Use me with extreme reverence.”
I followed its advice, and it led me into a world of sensitivity and artistic refinement. It cleansed my soul and brought me closer to God. Thank you, my beloved piano, for what you have done to me.
To Know Music
Before the evening sun began its downward journey, it cast its feeble rays through the window of the sitting room. Its once powerful voice said, “I am growing weak and I am falling, but I shall return tomorrow in full glory.”
There sat a group of highly intelligent men, lounging about on their easy chairs, discussing philosophy and music. One of the men, who knew everything about music, was boasting about his knowledge about Mozart. He knew his birthplace, Salzburg, Austria, born on January 27, 1756. He knew all about one of his most famous operas, (The Marriage of Figaro.) He knew the plot, the music, the harmonic structure, and everything else. The music took up residence in his mind where he could conjure it up and blurt it out on a whim in a very methodical manner, while patting himself on the back. His intellect was satisfied, but his soul was still unfulfilled.
The men were all annoyed by the music coming from a jam session across the street. The musicians were beating their drums with their bloody blistered hands, loving every minute of what the music did to them while forming a comradeship with the other musicians.
The pain signified what life is and how music dominates over sorrow and all earthly sensations. The music ushered them into the realm of the Gods and spoke to their sub-conscious, where love and beauty reside. Some didn’t even know who Mozart was, but knew what music does to them. Isn’t that what music is supposed to do? If there is no analytical procedure to stop its flowing, it will find its way to the heart and do what it is intended to do. While the music was annoying to the men, love came down and touched the musicians’ hearts.
The man who knew Mozart knew what music is, but not what music does.
That Human Touch
The lonely passage in the overture called for the violins to join in and embrace the sound like lovers in their joyful compelling moment, that unified bliss. They didn’t look for the opening. They just felt the vibrations in their hearts.
Each player climbed inside the others’ sound to caress it. With his utmost sensitivity and compassion, he guided his fingers along the neck as he massaged his violin like a mother to her newborn.
The music poured out through his heart, into his enchanted ears, then down and through his fingers. They danced with the music as they caressed the lonely sound that spoke through its unifying gratitude.
They all joyfully and tenderly stroked their bows with precision across the waist, breathing, loving, singing, rejoicing, as they moved together like the wind blown barley in the field.
Each to his own, then
A part of the whole
Playing together, while
Losing himself to that
Unified spirit, the one that
Stirs his heart
That human touch
That human devotion to
The love of music
My soul is a mystery to me. It lies in judgment as to what should inspire me. It selects certain harmonies in music that move me and the ones that don’t. I have no control over it.
It defies the rules of love, that non-judgmental spirit that moves through me. Love moves me closer to God, but its discriminate nature that my soul gives to it, draws me closer to a certain kind of music. Music is the universal language of the spirits, but my preference isolates me from universal love which encompasses every living thing.
My soul is telling me that love is prejudicial, but God tells me that it isn’t.
Love and music are an extension of that universal spirit that sanctifies every breath we breathe. If prejudgment existed only in the mind, I could control its influence over me, but if it is imbedded in my soul, I have nothing to do with it.
Beautiful harmonic passages draw me closer to God; those prejudicial passages that defy the rules of love. That is why my soul remains a mystery to me.
The Audible Remembrance
Music conjures up the past
It moves it up to the present
What we have become is
What music made us into
If it dampened our spirit
Its beauty lies in its sadness
If it led us out of our misery
We look for its vivacity
How we feel is how
We want to stay
If music matches our
Temperament, that is
All we want to hear; thus
Our spiritual contentment
When I studied jazz years ago at music school, I asked my piano teacher to write down some riffs and turnarounds, (melodies based off of chord progressions leading to a new chord or key change.) I copied and practiced them in all twelve keys, and worked them into my improvisations, but they still sounded mechanical and constrained.
My executions were alright, but my mind was still too immature and wouldn’t let me relax and enjoy the music. The riffs became my nemesis. I was too nervous and afraid that I would make a mistake instead of losing myself in the music and using it as a form of worship.
I let the music control and intimidate me, but shouldn’t worship be a form of mutual admiration between God and me; he the supreme artist and me in his image? He is the non-judgmental one and I let my own self-judgment belittle me.
The only critical thing to him is what transpires in my heart.
Because I didn’t understand how music was supposed to make me feel, I was still disconnected to it. Music was still an unreachable art form and I was its perennial slave.
Because I let myself be intimidated by it, my rhythm was weak, because I was weak. I let my worries affect my playing. Music should be an expression of love and joy; love that is strengthened through the spirit, and joy that is strengthened through the enlightenment of love.
Musicianship is a painstaking ordeal up to a point, until it becomes a musical form of worship. Then those riffs take wing and become music that colors the visualization of heavenly bliss.
Music and gypsies are alike in nature. Both have roving spirits; restless in their permanence and seeking a way out of it. In music, it looks to create a new environment, and in human nature, it looks to find an existing one.
Both environments are exhilarating, though. They get pleasure with their new findings, like a prospector seeing a gold nugget for the first time.
In music, chordal progressions make up the harmony and lead the music to exotic places, like a shepherd leading his sheep to an unfamiliar pasture. Whether or not it is a smooth transition depends upon the foresight of the shepherd with his careful planning. In the music, it is in the contentment of the heart. When the music is in its proper order, it can send him up to the realm of the Gods through the inundation of warmth spread into his heart. The careful planning of the musician is in his own musical conditioning, leading to his personal taste.
When the sheep are safely led to a new pasture, everyone is satisfied, but when the music is led to a new place, only those with a sensitive ear are satisfied.
Everyone applauds the shepherd, but only a few applaud the musician. Like the air, music is vital to life; but not its enhancement, which lies within its own artistic desiring.
When we call up the past and call it progressive, it was in those days, but not anymore. It was part of a movement that enhanced music as it was that made it into how it is today.
Mozart and Haydn’s music, for example, represents what music sounded like then. In the movies, anytime the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were portrayed, their music set the tone of how those centuries sounded like. It draws the audience into that particular setting (an audible association.) It conjures up the past and makes it become the present, all what the movies do to us. It puts us into a world of fantasy, combining the past with the present.
The music was beautiful then, and with Sravinsky and Ravel’s input, it became progressive and even more beautiful. Their new melodic and harmonic patterns shaped it into how they heard the music, and what it did to them emotionally. Many people rebelled against it, because they can’t hear it that way.
The older music is still dominant today, where it can be described as “mainstream classical'” The media’s job is to entertain the masses, most of whom still rebel against modernization. If it could draw a line between “mainstream and progressive classical”, it would entertain both kinds of listeners. As it is now, I, a progressive listener, feel slighted, because almost all of the music is aimed at the mainstream audience.
If the music doesn’t move me emotionally, I’d rather not listen to it. I want to hear music like Stravinsky and Ravel wanted to hear it. There is a huge distinct difference between the two kinds of music; music that stimulates the mind by conjuring up the past, and music that stimulates the heart that was born into the present and became part of me. I hope that, sometime in the future, the media would look at it in that way, and separate the old and new, 50-50; that way I wouldn’t feel left out.
Business and Music
He hears music from his heart
Of passion flowing like busy rivers
Heavy pounding and floating air
An ode to throbbing extremities
Sensitivity reigns in his fragile heart
Weeping from what music has become
Paper-hearted statues blowing in the wind
As apathy intrudes upon passion’s ground
Saddened by what his heart is yearning for
Will never come the day to be enchanted
While business manipulates music’s refinement
His heart is a lone wolf strayed from the pack
His loneliness becomes his staff and rod
It leads him through fields of green
It gives him strength to stay on course
To find what isolation does for him
To see how music became isolated from passion
Why music and big business are separate islands
His curse is in the frustration of not knowing
Satisfaction is in the knowing of that isolation
The Lonely Flute
A breath of passion
A sigh so sweet
A song of the zephyrs
Harmony’s a forgotten friend
Rejected and abandoned
Melody is too beautiful
Too fragile to touch
Would rather travel alone
A simple story
Tells it all
The lonely flute
Her Celestial Voice
I heard the language of the Gods
As if through melodious goldenrods
Songs of lament, joyful, and pure
Then life became an exotic overture
I floated up to lofted spaces
Saw the Gods with weeping faces
She sang, she cried, and she oh so felt
Passion ran through wherever she dwelt
Her celestial voice summoned my spirits
They ran with her through all her lyrics
Her song stayed with me through the night
Until the next morn’ what a glorious sight
She sang her song and changed my mood
My empty feelings can now conclude
Candice sang to me like I
Never heard before
Little Drummer Boy
Rudiments my laborious task ahead
Mental spaces they wait to be fed
A vacillating tap and a gentle sound
A quiet spirit to lift off the ground
I feel my tapping ever growing stronger
A little baby boy for I am no longer
Now I can dance to what I have done
Rhythm comes easy and so much more fun
Now since I left my nest behind
With virility and precision the two combined
I kick the band way out into space
To hell with rudiments and all that pink lace
I am now a madman with
Drum sticks for the launching
The composer who called himself the master creator with his music, sat in the auditorium waiting to hear the same old familiar music being performed. He thought that he had reached the summit with his music and that all other’s music fell short of it. There was nothing left that was new to him, or that he wanted to hear.
He came to the concert only to pass judgment. What he realized is that music has no summit.
The piano has 88 keys; thus, only 88 different sounds, creating its own summit. By this definition, music would have ended centuries ago. Tired familiar sounds would have subdued our spirits so much, it would have nullified its influence on us. Instead of music being a need, it would be something irrelevant and disturbing; that we’d want to rid ourselves of.
Music must keep alive our enthusiasm for its innovation. By our need for it, the summit of musical creativity has to become limitless and is limitless.
By placing those 88 sounds in different clusters and combinations, the result makes it infinite in itself. Each note creates its own infinity; sounds feeding off each other, to be added to new ideas that rejuvenate themselves; a musical voyage to the threshold of the infinite. One single simple note is multifarious; new sounds forever evolving or new stories being told. Thank God for innovators.
I have a confession to make. I am that composer in the audience. I thought that I had created a summit, until I realized that there is none.
Although the performer seemed to have created a new summit with his remarkable creativity and dexterity, it still remains a new sound awaiting its rejuvenation.
The end is not
The end, but a
The Bravora Touch
“Bravo!! Bravo!! Bravo!!” could be heard echoing from the rafters at the sold out concert hall. The performance would go down in history as one of the finest ever. The ghosts of yesteryear from their pictures lining up the hallways turned to listen to the music. Miles, Oscar, Dizzy, Coltrane, and Bill Evans were cheering him on from their envious ears but applausive hands.
After his performance, the media surrounded him with a multitude of questions; one of them being, “What were you thinking about in your music when you were improvising?”
He turned his tearful contented face toward them and said,” Scales were only stories and colors. They weren’t something to take me to the summit, but the summit was already inside of me waiting to be glorified. The E flat scale was the chanting of the Incas honoring the Sun Gods, and the F minor ninth chord was the rainbow that the Gods left behind after the storm.
Music isn’t a painful execution of applied learning, but a musical response to the jubilation of the soul. It isn’t restrained by doubt, but care-free in its certitude.”
After the media finally left him to be alone with his thoughts, he searched his soul and came up with this one conclusive thought. “My mission was fulfilled tonight. The love that was inside of me spilled out and flooded the auditorium as it touched everyone there.” Thanks be to God and the power of music.
A Slave to Beauty
I am a musician and this is my testimony. The God’s of music had me in their sights as they invaded my soul and directed my heart to only desire what dwells behind the surface of the music.
They forced me to focus on the harmony and melody, while most of the world listens only to the lyrics and the rhythm, being pumped into their brains, following them around wherever they go. It becomes as annoying as the screeching of train wheels against the tracks, and its value in being judged by how much money it makes.
Music needs the lyrics, the melody, the rhythm, and the harmony all working together to calm the music, like the roaring tempest needs the rainbow to soothe its anger.
The calming is in each element giving the others support so the sound will be complete to enhance its beauty, like a rose that needs its fragrance.
I feel betrayed by what music has done to me. I feel empty listening to what it lacks. Big business with its bulging muscles, stole my heart’s desire from me when they took the melody and harmony away from the music, and it became “mainstream.” I can only dream of the day that it returns to relying on each element to support its beauty.
Until then, music plays on with its missing elements. Substance is being replaced by theatrics. The listener, unaware of its deception, applauds it for what it has become. It needs a courageous innovator to flex his muscles and restore the beauty to it. Melody and harmony would even enhance its theatrical presentation, if big business would allow it to. Thank you, listener, for letting me get this off my chest.
Love and music are wandering spirits
Moving upon the face of the waters
Born from the womb of time
Their eternal voices scour the earth
They lift me into their quiet depths
Music that is so soft and serene
I dance even though the sound is hushed
Love is a silent thunder that
Strikes at the peak of the storm
They set my heart aflame as they
Sing to me a song composed by
Bitter joy and sweet pain
The song can’t be heard but its
Vibrations reach into my heart
With their hidden soft hands
And grasp my soul
Sweet love, silent reveries
Virgin dreams, incited passion
Silent music, thou art love’s calling
Silent music, I am thy devoted slave
James Nathaniel Brown
It was 1956 when the NFL held its annual draft. The first up to the fifth picks were announced and there sat Jim brown, undrafted until the sixth pick. The Cleveland Browns selected him. To the first five teams, I bet they did what they wish they hadn’t. All Jim did was go on to be rated no. 2 NFL player of all time by nfl.com in 2009. He piled up 12,312 rushing yards in only nine years and 126 touchdowns in all. He would have amassed even more if it weren’t for his movie career that he chose at age 29.
James Nathaniel Brown, born on Feb. 17, 1936, was the son of Swinton and Theresa Brown. His father was a boxer and his mother was a housekeeper. After spending his first eight years on Saint Simon’s Island in Georgia, he moved to Manhasset, New York. There at high school, he excelled in football, track, lacrosse and basketball. He set the record, 38 points per game, in basketball. The record stood until Carl Yastrzemski, formerly of the Boston Red Sox, broke his record. He went to Syracuse University on a lacrosse scholarship and set many records on the football field.
I was fortunate to live close enough to the old Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio, where I could go to see him play. The opposing teams would be devising new defensive plays to stop him, but they wouldn’t work. He still ran over them. What a player he was to have on the team. He never missed a game due to injury, just like Eli Manning of the New York Giants. I was heartbroken when he left football for his film career, but he was smart. He got out of it when he could still walk. He survived all the pounding that he took.
Best of luck, James Nathaniel Brown; I pray for a long, healthy, happy life that you made for yourself.
My fingers flying like the wind
Dexterous and all so disciplined
From the bottom to the top and back
In a flash and right on track
No time to think no time to dream
Surging forth with a full head of steam
Music to me is a fast moving storm
No breath no rest no form
Then as the spirit beckoned me
Calm down its time to be free
Look at scales as moving colors
Dance with them as heaven hovers
I slowed down and breathed into space
My music smiled could see it in its face
Scales began to tell a story
Of beauty in its bright new glory
The Bill Evans Era
Musical styles have always needed another one to influence and enhance the previous one. It becomes stale if it doesn’t change.
The mood of humanity and society dictates what should be done to it.
The Africans brought freedom, joy, and rhythm to music. The American slaves brought passion and suffering to it. The Baroque era dignified it and introduced it to formal dance. The Mozart era brought seriousness to it. The Debussy and Ravel era changed the commonplace harmonies to make more colorful and poetic ones, influenced by the French Impressionists.
Bill Evans, pianist, brought these enhanced harmonies to be-bop, which had become mired in its own style. It was fast and agitated and needed a calming influence to it. It needed Bill to put out the fire. He worked with Miles Davis and enhanced the way Miles played his music that was influenced by Charlie Parker, the king of be-bop. That music was an enhancement of the blues, sung and played by the slaves.
Like the Beatles, whose music and life style made society look around and judge what they had done to themselves, music continues to define eras and the way they have influenced one another.
Thank you, Mr. Evans, for doing what you did.
From the smoky room
A sound was born on that night
Clear, powerful, and exotic
Proud as a Peacock
Moving as a waterfall
Beautiful as a forest’s clearing
With the sun peaking through
The notes were picked from
The tree of heaven
From the finest orchards
Before the throne of beauty
For it was she that chose the notes
As she sent them to earth
They landed in that eager mind
That moved the fervent dexterous
Fingers that played those notes
From that smoky room
On that glorious night
Miles Dewey Davis
This is a true story about how much the man and his music influenced my life.The Beatles, who were they? That’s how much attention I paid to him. I didn’t know Miles personally, but I was a friend of Al Foster, his drummer, back in the 80’s.
Way back in the 50’s I heard him play in a jazz club in Cleveland, Ohio. I was an enthusiastic kid who was engrossed in his music. After one of the sets was over, I ran over to the band to talk to the guys. John Coltrane, his sax player, was very gracious and what a fine gentleman he was. He took me over to meet Miles, so I fired a bunch of stupid questions at him. His reply was, in his raspy voice, “I hate cats who ask so many stupid questions.” Over 50 years ago, I remember those exact words he said. That was my one and only conversation with him.
Although he was so arrogant, I still admired him and his music. His tone was sweet and his riffs were simple, but compelling. Other trumpet players would be playing as many notes as they could squeeze into four measures, but Mile’s were just a few; but those haunting notes were well placed as they conveyed a beautiful but sad story.
His music and life style made quite an impression in my life, though. I remember; his feet were real small, so I used to buy shoes that were too small for me, so they hurt my feet; but even though I was in pain, I thought I looked pretty cool. I looked like him.
His music sent me to the only jazz school I could find; Westlake College of Music in Hollywood, CA. There, I learned that the major scales were the most important thing. They are the basis of all improvisation. They give jazz the structure that it needs.
Later on in life, in New York City, I befriended his drummer, Al. I wrote lead sheets for him. He would sing the tune to me and I would write it down on manuscript paper for him. Miles, after hearing the music, would put his two cents in and ruin the flow of the tune, so to say, “Al and I both wrote the tune together.”
His arrogance spilled over in his concerts. When the rest of the band would be improvising on one nice chord, Miles would play another chord on the keyboard that didn’t have anything to do with what the other guys were grooving on. Here he goes again, ruining the flow; so then they would have to adjust to that new chord that came out of left field. After finally grooving on it, he would change it again, and so on and so on. This was Miles later on in his life.
Al was his best friend, so he used to wake him up at 3:00 A.M. to play him a new tune that he wrote over the telephone. He used to invite him to the gym and box with him, which he hated; then he would invite him and his three kids over to his house for the holidays. Even though he was so narcissistic, he had his congenial qualities about him.
Maybe his arrogance helped to get him the fame that he received, but his music surely deserved it. I still admire and miss him. Rest in peace, Miles Dewey Davis, rest in peace.
A Song of Beauty
Last night I played a solo
And what a solo it was indeed
Major and minor scales longed for
Colors and fragrances, they
Called for me to free them
From their cultivated prisons
What my studies placed within me
The fear of wrongful harmonies
E and F Major broke the laws together
But all they did was change the mood
All power and glory defied all doubts
They pushed my fingers
To all the right places
All I did was meditate on beauty
For it was she that played my solo
The first time I tried to sing the song, it was the wayward wind on the,
high seas and I was a sailor trying to tame it. The melody was a strange
beast that devoured me. Its beauty stretched across the horizon; then
its charm moved above the waters, came to me, and awakened my
passion. As we grew more and more intimate each day, I not only sang
the song, but presented it as a sacred offering to God with the maturity,
and sensitivity of a weeping giant.
About Robert L. Martin
Robert L. Martin used to play with the Jimmy Dorsey Band in the 1960’s. He now plays organ in his local church. His publishing credits include Mature Years, Alive Now, Purpose Magazine, Poet’s Pen, Poetica, and Storyteller.
The Jerry Jazz Musician Poetry page