One hundred and seventy five years ago on a
Pacific Northwest beach, a
man sings. A chant in a somber minor key – repeating, descending. His tone is
low and gravelly, but the sound carries far across the dark expanse of salt
water, through the air blanketed in clouds of grey and charcoal.
The sacred song was bestowed by nature, to evoke a spirit power. The melody harmonizes with the hissing breeze in the trees, the slurping wavelets on the shore, the raven’s rasp, barking seal, and splashing salmon, the crunch of shells underfoot.
Bushes laden with berries and rivers flowing with fish nourish the singing man. Cedar trees approach to offer their trunks for transport across the water and their bark for garments against the rain. Raven and coyote share ancient stories of how the earth came to be.
On the same day 175 years ago, at the sultry mouth of the Mississippi River, a man sits astride his bamboula, sweating over the drum he is permitted to play only on Sundays in Congo Square. Hundreds of African slaves drum, dance, and sing in this
Orleans park, away from the severe restrictions of the
British and French cultures left over from colonization. The music and motion
weaves a resilient fabric, recalling African village life where rhythms told
stories and dancing restored health. Their music is a haven of freedom within
the country enslaving them. This taproot of black music, jazz, drinks from the
confluence of cultures coming to the shores of the new world.
Today, I would like to bring these two streams of ancient music together. Like the Duwamish tribe, I yearn for a connection to the natural world. Like the descendants of African slaves, I find in jazz freedom, equity, and emotional expression. The sounds I choose to create today are flavored by the fruit of all our family trees.