Vigil: "implies watchfulness. Anyone trying to attain perfection is faced with various obstacles in life which tend to sidetrack him. Here, therefore, I mean watchfulness against elements that might be destructive—from within or without." (John Coltrane)
I selected Coltrane for two reasons: his impact on my work and his impact on collaborating artist Niki Lee.
Music was my first langauge. My grandfather supported himself for years tap dancing and boxing. At home he played the guitar, with my Uncle Louie. My grandmother's brothers earned their living as the Réndon Trio. And my uncles played hand drums. Everyone danced, and I found an escape in musical theatre. I didn't stumble on Coltrane until 12 years ago. I'm partial to Duke and Billy.
Niki Lee introduced me to Coltrane. One year (2004) we listened to The Stardust Session for hours, drving 40 to Indian Market. We let the Interstellar Space bring us back. And every Tuesday, we tune into the Poor People's Radio (Uplift! The Music of John Coltrane, with Sister Wanika King-Stephens). Every unwanted CD was traded in for another John (the live concerts in Europe, Kulu Sé Mama, Soul Junction, The Complete Africa/Brass Sessions and others) on Haight and Stanyan.
John's writing, in English and the language of music notation, is so full—full of love, for music, for the cosmos, and for us, the dear listeners. His deep affection and loyalty to art exists in every note. His life, his practice, and his intellectual and spiritual dedication to creation is infused in each composition and in each performance. His work is a journey and the beauty of his soul is reflected in his invitation and invocation to us, to share that journey. He welcomed us, having a profoundly mature understanding of that word: Welcome: "is that feeling you have when you finally do reach an awareness, an understanding which you have earned through struggle. It is a feeling of peace. A welcome feeling of peace." (John Coltrane)
Living with a painter teaches you how to listen. When they paint, there's no talking. My own work straddles so many languages I've had to find comfort conversing in silence. Music shapes silence so viscerally I've learned to give myself over in ways I never have. When my lung collapsed there really was no breath, there was only pain. There was no fear, just color and screeching sound. Morphine. Chest tubes. Silence. A Breath returning. A Love Supreme. I slow myself down enough to quiet this language I work in and attempt life in another.
"I don't try to set standards of perfection for anyone else. I do feel everyone does try to reach his better self, his full potential, and what that consists of depends on each individual. Whatever that goal is, moving toward it does require vigilance." (John Coltrane)
I receive Coltrane's gift of sound and insight and answer back with my own life's work, fully aware of the vigilance required.
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