‘I play pure emotion..In music, the only thang that matters is whether you feel it or not..Chords are just the name for sounds, which really need no names at all, as names are sometimes confusing..Blow what you feel – anything. Play the thought, the idea in your mind – Break away from the convention and stagnation – escape! [Musicians] have more room to express themselves with me…They should be free to play things as they feel it, the way it’s comfortable for them to play it. You can use any note and rhythm pattern that makes good sense for you. You just hear it – like beautiful thoughts – you don’t listen to people telling you how to play…My music doesn’t have any real time, no metric time. It has time, but not in the sense that you can time it. It’s more like breathing – a natural, freer time. People have forgotten how beautiful it is to be natural. Even in love…’
-ornette coleman, from The Harmolodic Manifesto [a musical application of socialism]
Even in love…the words settle softly but firmly within my mental. Of course the people are disconnected from any real feelings of what love in its natural state could look like. Feel like. We live within capitalism, which birthed racism and exploits patriarchy. It structures everything and socializes us in a culture that supports such structures; none of which are founded on love. In the states we are taught false bourgeois understandings of it. We are conditioned through bourgeois holidays to celebrate love and togetherness a few days out of the year, where we are assaulted with advertising pressure to consume and show love through our wallets and things. Things replace love and feelings. Natural does not occur, because we do not live within the settings of anything natural. We are so far removed from our own wants and desires; alienated from our bodies and spirits and each other. Alienated from the earth. The type of freedom ornette coleman speaks to in his manifesto above transcends the makings of music. For me, it means the necessity of revolution. Music, like all culture, is regulated through society. Music therefore represents the same rigidity and oppressive ideas that rule all realms of society, incarcerating us in a patriarchal/capitalist mental and physical slavery. Musicians, such as Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane chose to break jazz free from the western linear structure. They wanted collective/individual free expression; the connection of feelings and body with music; with sound. This type of connection is real freedom, but freedom does not exist under capitalism. Therefore our art is not completely free either. But we can use it to express these critical ideas. We can use it to express alternative visions in practice. John Coltrane expresses this idea musically here,
“I think the majority of musicians are interested in truth, you know—they’ve got to be because a musical thing is a truth. If you play and make a statement, a musical statement, and it’s a valid statement, that’s a truth right there in itself, you know. If you play something phony you know that’s phony. All musicians are striving to get as near perfection as they can get. That’s truth there, you know. So in order to play those kind of things, to play truth, you’ve got to live with as much truth as you possibly can, you know.”
I believe that revolutionaries feel very similarly. There is an understanding that our struggle is grounded in a righteous truth, liberation. All of our actions are being guided by that truth; the righteous revolutionary strives to embody truth as much as possible, despite the challenges of capitalism. This is what we must do if we stand a chance of moving towards a new age of freedom. This type of revolutionary thinking can be applied to the music and thought of musicians, such as Ornette Coleman and John Coltran. Coleman tried to develop his ideas around free jazz into a loose document called The Harmolodics Manifesto. It is underdeveloped theoretically, and some may argue that it is a joke that Coleman created to amuse himself. Either way, I see the potential in the ideas presented; there is a conscious analysis of music that can be applied to the overall structures of society and revolution. Coleman’s music and ideas are revolutionary, because they are dialectical. Dialectics is the understanding that society is developed and propelled forward through the relationship of contradictions, leading to ruptures and transformation. This was a fundamental change in western methods of consciousness, which relied on formal logic. Formal logic did not account for the real movement that makes up society, because it did not understand contradictions. Karl marx grounded dialectics within class struggle asserting that the fundamental contradiction of society is between the oppressed and the oppressors. It is the results of these struggles, which has catapulted us into new historical epochs, capitalism being our current one. Dialectics therefore is inherently revolutionary, because it is the conscious actions of people provide the basis for destroying and rebuilding society. The makings of history.
Ornette Coleman and John Coltranes development of free jazz is a musical application of dialectics in many ways. They used jazz to challenge the limitations of jazz giving birth to a new sound, and therefore a new idea. This is music, but it is all very social. That is why Coleman and Coltrane speak to the human feeling involved. They’re making musical emotion; providing sounds to the thoughts and feelings. They do not see a disconnection between them. This is a new concept that challenge’s the limitations imposed upon our collective consciousness through living in this capitalist system and learning exploitation on the job, within classrooms, and our communities. We have to consciously break free from this conditioning and strive for the truth behind the socialization. This is don through living, studying, creating and struggling. It is what has helped me stay awake in this system with hope and inspiration for my people. But the truth is we aren’t socialized to feel; to express our feelings naturally. We do not live naturally. We have no idea what that really means even. We buy meat in plastic and styrafoam, and frozen vegetables shipped from across the world. We live in little boxes removed from one other, laid down on pavement, which has been laid down on the beautiful earth. This keeps us spiritually weak so that we are more equipped to accept the misery of this absurd and abusive system. A people who are awake and in touch with their beautiful hearts and desires together is a powerful force; it stands oppose to the makings of the system. If we all begin to understand this truth and come together on the basis of this truth, then we can rebel against the system with the goal of taking it back and running it for ourselves. Then we will have revolution unfolding around us; materially and culturally, uplifting our spirits because of the strength of our spirits. Therefore, the most important revolutionary work we must be doing during and in between struggles is stimulating the conscious/spirits of the people. Inspiring them and supporting what they already know; what we all know birthed within us.
And art, like struggle, is, and has always been, an important vehicle for inspiring and transforming the people’s consciousness. Arts revolutionary effect on the people is twofold: it is both the production of revolutionary art, as well as consumption of it, which inspires and effects the people. Revolutionary art can deliver messages that inspire the people and make them move. It is also the act of making art and participating with others in the production of art, which can transform someone’s consciousness. There will be many a revolutionary who will diss art and its importance. Part of that is coming from a righteous feeling of seeing art fetishized in liberal ways that lose sight of the importance of revolution and taking power back. That said, art will save you. Capitalism is designed for so many to fail and suffer. It can be hard to find reasons for living, but art offers connection. Connection to ourselves and each other. Often people find art before they have been exposed to the idea of revolution. As a kid It was through art that I found emotional strength to survive my family trauma, and my ancestral trauma, the system being the ultimate source of it all. The more we value art in the revolutionary left the more we can guide people to a total understanding of the world. Our art can cast visions for action and that is what it must do.
I have never known the experience of having a grandfather in your life to learn from and spend time with. My father did not know his father and my mother was estranged from hers. However, my father’s grandfather, my great grandfather, has always carried such importance in my life. His name is Herman Walder, but we call him Daddy Herman. I never knew him but I know many things about him. He was a well-known and talented jazz musician in Kansas City, a family man, and a sharp dresser. His daughter, my grandmother, says that he used to say ‘sharp like a Harlem sissy’ in regards to his fashion. A lover of womyn and an ally to the queers. The truth is my grandfather was always down for a good time, and during the prohibition days good times were to be had at the underground jazz clubs, where musicians, queers, prostitutes, jazz lovers, and anyone looking for a party could be found. He was a charismatic person and an artist. Even though I never knew him I have been connected to him all my life. I guess it’s just something in the intuition; I feel his spirit in my own.
He has been gone for 28 years now. I’ve been thinking about him a lot today and it has felt good to meditate on his spirit, as well as my own. Been feeling preoccupied all weekend with thoughts…thoughts for my brothers who are so alienated in this world. Dehumanized as ‘criminals’. Disconnected from feelings. The legacy of our continual slavery. I think about the challenges I have experienced with trying to love my brothers. The disappointment and violence that sometimes greets this love. I think about humanizing them as I humanize myself, so that we can really embrace each other in our many selves. In honor of those feelings and my grandfather I wanted to include a poem by the fierce and important poet Wanda Coleman. Also known as the ‘LA blues woman’. Her words always radiate with truth and power.
Much love for the ancestors.
Holding the Sidewalk Down by wanda coleman
it is an american universal peculiar to certain black men
who hang out on street corners no matter where
making signals to one another
some mysterious juju/communication
worshipping the passing of a life
that excludes them
There are moments when lovers reveal parts of themselves
never revealed before
and you are hit with the sudden realization
that things aren’t always as sweet as they seem
and those late night giggles that lead to late morning kisses
are replaced with long silences
and awkward goodbyes
There are times when lovers reveal parts of themselves
never revealed before
that release you from old habits
daydreams where security is found
and pedestals that don’t really exist
and the hard feelings of disappointment
are gently unpacked from the truth gained from the release
and truth is sweet
as love first felt