The Jazz State of Mind springs from the idea of Blackness; a surreal idea that must be explored, analyzed, and interpreted if "Black" people, "White" people, or anyone is to understand its presence.
"Blackness" is a derivative, not of reality: those things, facts, events, etc. that exist independently of ideas concerning them, but rather of something dependent on other things, facts, events, etc.
"Blackness" is not reality. "Blackness" is surreal.
The Free Black Mind
Why the free “Black” mind? The last large group of people to be enslaved were people of African descent. They were enslaved not by chains alone, but also by ideas that would linger in the mind until fully expelled.
Have You Lost Your Mind?
Did your momma, daddy, an elder or some other person in a position of authority over you ever get angry and demand to know:
“Have you lost your mind!?”
Probably so. The correct answer to the question, of course, was “no.” It has alway been and always will be the correct answer.
Even in situations where there was sufficient evidence to prove us guilty of some grave offense, the answer was never "yes." We knew by instinct that "yes" was the wrong answer. It's totally natural to know that “no” means: "Momma, I'm sorry. It just looks like I lost my mind."
The tiniest of tots seem to know that claiming to have lost one’s mind is a very weak assertion. Defense lawyers use it to protect their clients, but even then it’s often unsuccessful.
Also Often Surreal
If there is an American culture, its fundamental elements are as African as they are European. These elements may be thought of as threads connecting people to their ancestral roots; the essence of their creativity and spirituality. When asked who the most exotic American people are, someone replied, "Black People, of course."
That response may surprise some Americans. What appears to be exotic often seems appears mysterious and what is mysterious is easily misunderstood. How we see things, feel about things, interpret them and express them is also often surreal.
Dreaming in Haiti
Dreams Of Africa by Mabie Settlage
The sun is cresting on a rounded mountain top of grasses and trees. The mist is rising on others below and grey vapors of water and sunlight are rising around mango, neem, kanpech and coco palms.
The path to the big road is rocky, at times steep, at times with mud so dense it can suck shoes off, is full of travelers. People from “lod bo”, the other side of the river, farmers and their hardworking wives carry goods to the nearby markets of La Chappel and Dezam.
Romare Bearden used collage in his artwork because it helped him express things from the past into the present. "When I conjure these memories,' he said, "they are of the present to me, because after all, the artist is a kind of enchanter in time.”
Continued from above
The Free Black Mind
Minds of Any Condition or Coloration
The mind can be defined, not as physical activity, but rather as the mental activity that enables us and, perhaps other forms of life, to be more aware of our earthly experience; the part of that experience that causes us to think, calculate, remember, imagine, etc. in states of consciousness and unconsciousness.
An article posted on the internet says: “A lengthy tradition of inquiries in philosophy, religion, psychology and cognitive science has sought to develop an understanding of what a mind is and what its distinguishing properties are.”
In his book, T’AI CHI CLASSICS, Waysun Liao says the mind is the only part of the human being that does not belong totally to the earth. He said, “Our bodies are made up of earth and as such are part of it; yet our minds seem to be something beyond that. A person can easily observe that the body is readily satisfied by earthly things, such as food, shelter, and protection. But the mind seems to always demand more and more activity; it appears to be constantly searching for something, yet not knowing what that something is. The limitation of human physical development seems to have little effect on the constant, expanding activity of the mind…moreover, it can travel immeasurably fast.”
Beyond the constraints of particular cultures and the development of the religions collected within them, the properly exercised individual mind can be used to contemplate and better understand ideas of heaven and earth, of right and wrong, of life and death, and our relationship to them.
We may decide to suppress, or choose not to express our mind and we may even fall into temporary states of hypnosis or psychological possession, but the mind recovers because it is the ultimate liberating entity of the individual.
In 332 B.C. Macedonian warrior king Alexander the Great brought ancient Egypt to her knees. Macedonian rule of Egypt ended in 30 B.C. when Cleopatra committed suicide in the wake of intense intrigue, questionable alliances, and romantic liaisons with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony of Rome and others. Legends of her exotic beauty and strength have inspired artists for centuries.
Cleopatra’s transition from life to death is captured in a two-ton marble sculpture executed in 1876 by Edmonia Lewis. By most accounts, “The Death of Cleopatra,” is her masterpiece. An article at encyclopedia.com states that “while many sculptures of the Egyptian queen showed her as a power-hungry seductress, Lewis showed the moment of her death, a tragic and vulnerable figure slumped in a chair after being bitten by the poisonous snake she is said to have used to cause her own death.”
“The Death of Cleopatra” was shipped to Philadelphia for its 1876 Centennial from Italy where it was sculpted. So there was Cleopatra on Egypt’s ancient throne, no longer full of life, having contemplated death and having breathed her final breath. Her head, no longer held high, but back and to the side. Her right hand clutched a poisonous asp. Her left hand hung lifelessly; the whole thing what one source described as a “realistic portrayal” that “ran contrary to the sentimentality about death that was prevalent at the time.” Still, a journalist noted that the work “excites more admiration and gathers larger crowds around it than any other work of art in the vast collection of Memorial Hall.”
Some art critics disagreed. One wrote: "This was not a beautiful work. It was a very original and very striking one. The effects of death are represented with such skill as to be absolutely repellant — and it is a question whether a statue of the ghastly characteristics of this one does not overstep the bounds of legitimate art."
Failing to sell in Philadelphia, “The Death of Cleopatra” was moved to the Chicago Interstate Exposition where it failed to sell as well. Lewis returned to Europe returning to America from time to time to sell other work. She became a permanent expatriate in 1880. Her masterpiece was placed in storage. Storage was followed by a time as decor in a Chicago saloon and as a grave marker for a racehorse named Cleopatra. "The Death of Cleopatra" then disappeared until it was rediscovered in the late 1970s.
By the turn of the century, she was, like her masterpiece, "virtually forgotten." Where and and when she died is a mystery. Interest in the life and work of this daughter of a Native American woman and African father was not rekindled until the late 1960s.
Beyond "The Death of Cleopatra, the story of Wildfire (as she was called by her people) is one that is remarkable unto itself and well worth knowing.
Jazz is more than music. It's a way of doing things; an individual approach to one's own perspective that encourages its expression. Henry O. Tanner, an African American artist born in 1859, had to go to France to find an accommodating environment for his expression. The son of an A.M.E. minister, the young Tanner was expected to follow in his father's footsteps. He did, but in a different way. "I will preach with my brush," he said.
Henry O. Tanner may be regarded as one of the first modern Black Surrealist artists.
Of and About Art
Some artwork is of something; a depiction of someone, someplace, and the like. Somne artwork is less depiction of something than it is about something such as a feeling of happiness or sadness and such. Some artwork is both.
A room is a work of art onto itself. Rooms represent their contents and the relationship of those contents to one another. Our presence is not essential. We need not be present to interpret or validate the meanings of a room's content.
A Mulla Nasrudin Teaching Story from The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Naasrudin by Idries Shah
Sitting one day in the teahouse. Nasrudin was impressed by the rhetoric of a traveling scholar. Questioned by one of the company on some point, the sage drew a book from his pocket and banged it on the table: ‘This is my evidence! And I wrote it myself.’
A man who could not only read but write was a rarity. And a man who had written a book! The villagers treated the pedant with profound respect.
Some days later, Mulla Nasrudin appeared at the teahouse and asked whether anyone wanted to buy a house.
‘Tell us something about it, Mulla’ the people asked him, ‘for we did not even know you had a house of your own.’
‘Actions speak louder than words!’ shouted Nasrudin.
From his pocket he took a brick, and hurled it on the table in front of him.
‘This is my evidence. Examine it for quality. And I built the house myself.’
What You Got
Art Taum, the pianist in the above video was partially blind since childhood. The artist, Horace Pippin, despite having lost the use of his right hand in War World I, painted, guiding his right hand with his left. Both men did some pretty good work using what they had.
What Is To Be
A Mulla Nasrudin Teaching Story from The Pleasntries of the Incredible Mulla Naasrudin by Idries Shah
A farmer asked Nasrudin whether his olive would bear fruit in that year.
‘They will bear,” said the Mulla.
‘How do you know?’
‘I just know, that is all.’
Later the same man saw Nasrudin trotting his donkey along a seashore, looking for driftwood.
‘There is no wood here, Mulla, I have looked,’ he called out.
Hours later the same man saw Nasrudin wending his way home, tired out, still without fuel.
‘You are a man of perception, who can tell whether an olive tree will bear or not. Why can’t you tell whether there is wood on a seashore?’
'I know what must be,” said Nasrudin, ‘but I do not know what may be.’
A Mulla Nasrudin Teaching Story from The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Naasrudin by Idries Shah
Nasrudin stood up in the market-place and started to address the throng.
‘O people! Do you want knowledge without difficulties, truth without falsehood, attainment without effort, progress without sacrifice?’
Very soon a large crowd gathered, everyone shouting: ‘Yes, yes!’
‘Excellent!’ said the Mulla. ‘I only wanted to know. You may rely upon me to tell you all about it if I ever discover any such thing.’
The term “surrealist” was coined by Guillaume Apollinaire when it appeared in the preface to his play Les Mamelles de Tiresias (The Breasts of Tiresias), which was written in 1903 and first performed in 1917. Surrealism generally pertains to artwork, literature, and music, etc. characterized by their dreamlike and, sometimes, disorienting qualities. Surrealism is also the expression of a philosophical movement with the work as its artifact. An article on the history of surrealism describes it as a cultural movement that began in the 1920s to free the unconscious to express itself and help resolve contradictions between dreams and reality. Andre Breton, a leader of that movement, asserted that above all else, surrealism is revolutionary. The article goes on to say that Sigmund Freud's work with free association, dream analysis, and the unconscious was important to the Surrealists in developing methods that would liberate imagination.
(September 20, 1915- February 23, 1999)
Hughie Lee-Smith lived through all but a decade and a half of the Twentieth Century. The African American Registry describes his paintings as expressing “a haunting sense of loneliness and alienation” of the American scene. “Mysteriously, they convey the feeling that something good is missing-and yet somehow about to happen...His vast skies, desolate scenes, and distanced people, his blowing ribbons and colorful balloons, mix realism and fantasy in surrealistic juxtapositions that reflect the contradiction and paradoxes of American life."
"I cannot begin to project the meaning of my work,” the artist said, “for these paintings, at their best, are multi-faceted visual complexes whose many aspects are pregnant with as many disparate meanings as there are viewers…I think my paintings have to do with an invisible life; a reality on a different level."
A Mulla Nasrudin Teaching Story from The Exploits of the Incomparible Mulla Naasrudin by Idries Shah
The King was in a bad mood. As he left the palace to go hunting he saw Nasrudin.
“It is a bad omen to see a Mulla on the way to a hunt,” he shouted to his guards. “Don’t let him stare at me – whip him out of the way.”
They did so.
As it happened, the chase was successful.
The King sent for Nasrudin.
“I am sorry, Mulla. I thought you were a bad omen. You were not, it transpires.”
“You thought I was a bad omen!” said Nasrudin. “You look at me and get a full game bag. I look at you, and I get a whipping. Who is a bad omen for whom?”
The paintings, drawings, music, literature, and other creative endeavors of many Black People usually express something of their collective American experience or their personal blues experience that otherwise would go unexpressed.
TheartworkofArchibaldMotley,Jr.tellsofsecrets and dreams and discordances; a surreality peculiar to America.
Salt is not Wool
A Mulla Nasrudin Teaching Story from The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Naasrudin by Idries Shah
One day the Mulla was taking a donkey-load of salt to market and drove the ass through a stream. The salt was dissolved. The Mulla was angry at the loss of his load. The ass was frisky with relief.
Next time he passed that way he had a load of wool. After the animal had passed through the stream, the wool was thoroughly soaked, and very heavy. The donkey staggered under the soggy load.
‘Ha!’ shouted the Mulla, ‘you thought you would get off lightly every time you went through water, didn’t you?’
Forgetting is not a matter of choice or decision. Forgetting is a matter of time. Only the passage of time can completely dissolve a memory. And since the passage of time may be one that never-ends, wanting and trying to forget something may be a futile activity.
"You can’t make yourself love someone," she thought of him.
"You can’t make someone stop loving you," he dreamt of her.
And so they drifted apart thinking and dreaming of love
and one another.
A Mulla Nasrudin Teaching Story from The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Naasrudin by Idries Shah
An illiterate came to Nasrudin, and asked him to write a letter for him.
‘I can’t,’ said the Mulla, ‘because I have burned my foot.’
‘What has that got to do with writing a letter?’
‘Since nobody can read my handwriting, I am bound to have to travel somewhere to interpret the letter. And my foot is sore; so there is no point in writing the letter, is there?’
And The Beat Goes On
Religion is defined as “the service and worship of God or the supernatural" and as “commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance.” Religion is also defined as an organized collection or institutionalized system of spiritual attitudes, beliefs, practices and world views.
The process of organizing or institutionalizing anything, but particularly spiritual beliefs, necessarily requires adherents to the religion that emerges from it to give up some portion of their natural spiritual freedom. And there's the rub.
Rather than having spiritual consciousness expanded by religion, religion compresses it. In exchange for the spiritual freedom, the tenets and doctrines of a religion often gives its adherents another freedom: the freedom to discern and magnify differences between their religion and the religions of others. Others, the people who don’t believe as they do, are often denigrated. They have been condemned for their religion and its underlying spiritual traditions. Religious differences and disagreements have led to hatred and to its extreme expression, senseless endless war.
According to Wikipedia, Indian classical music is always set in a Raga; a series of five or more musical notes that render musical phrases and convey moods that are “more important than the notes themselves because in Indian musical tradition, Ragas are more associated with “different times of the day, or with seasons.” Ragas are known to create trance-like states and to express moods of spiritual ecstasy. These qualities may be examined in Bhairav, Malkauns, Hindol, Dipak, Megh, Shree and others of the thousands of Ragas.
Some Ragas are vocal with no instrumental accompaniment while others use percussion instruments to produce intricate cyclic rhythmic patterns known as Tala. The Tala rhythm begins, develops and returns to what is called the Sam or the first beat of the cycle, which may be considered a musical expression of Samsara: the cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth.
Now you have it. But can you have your cake and eat it too?
Think of life.
Now you have it. But you must live it.
Another Kind of Living
Africa was the motherland of the many generations of people enslaved in America. Their survival can be rationalized in many ways, but beyond rationalization their survival was due mainly to their ability to enjoy the freedom of dancing with spirit: a capacity to comprehend time moving in the mysterious space that exists between the reality of a miserable predicament and its ultimate transcendence. The space is like a dream, but it is more affirmative than aspiration and ideals. And although the dance comes to mind during sleep as well as in wakefulness and, although the whole thing may, like a dream, have unrealistic self-deluding qualities, it was essential to the survival of Africans enslaved in America.
The ability of enslaved people to move in and out of a sustainable mindset may indeed have been due to the “rich tropical imagination” of Africans and to their “keen, delicate appreciation of Nature” as described by W.E.B. DuBois in THE SOULS OF BLACK FOLK. So, in a very real sense, when “all the hateful powers of the Underworld had rose up against them” some of them found spiritual retreat within.
A Mulla Nasrudin Teaching Story often as collected and translated by Idries Shah:
“If you want truth you will have to pay for it,” Nasrudin told a group of Seekers.
“But why should you have to pay for something like truth?” asked one in the group.
“Have you noticed that it is the scarcity of a thing which determines its value?” Nasrudin replied.
To say that Moors are the Arab Muslims who brought Islam into Africa after the death of the prophet Muhammad in the year 632 or that Moors are the people of mixed Berber and Arab descent who invaded Spain (Al-Andalus) early in the 8th century and ruled until late in the 15th century is to dilute African history.
Some historians, however, teach that Moors are descendants of the indigenous people of North Africa; the people who first inhabited the lands west of the Nile Valley to the Atlantic Ocean and south to the Niger River.
The idea of Moors has inspired many magnificent works of art. The painting headlining this section is THE MOORISH CHIEF, a 59 1/8 inch by 38 ½ inch painting by Eduard Charlemont. The 1878 work is one of the most popular paintings in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The museum’s gift shop sells more reproductions of THE MOORISH CHIEF than of any other artwork in the museum.
The physical state of balance or equilibrium represented by weight evenly distributed on each side of a vertical axis is easier to visualize and contemplate than its spiritual state.
In its spiritual state, balance and equilibrium or equipoise can be visualized as contrast, opposition, and contemplated as the interaction of elements in the various states of nature and, most vitally, the spiritual state of equipoise can be realized by people who cultivate its essence by using it in everyday life as a means of making choices and decisions.
It is possible to realize a spiritual sense of equipoise by merely acknowledging points of difference and by observing, studying and contemplating the fine lines that exist between all things in nature and realizing that there are essential similarities in all natural things.
Tai Chi students must study the spiritual concepts of balance and apply them to their practice. In “The Essence of Tai Chi,” Waysin Liao says: “One reaches the ultimate level, or develops in that direction, by means of the ladder of balanced powers and their natural motions.” Tai Chi students study the idea that there is yielding or negative power and that there is action or positive power. According to Liao, it is the spiraling movement of an endless interplay between constructive and destructive forces that causes the essence of life to materialize.
The human spirit recovers and is reborn because it moves in a cyclical revolutionary path that connects with the individual mind. A point is always reached in its movement where even a long-slumbering human consciousness is re-awakened and re-vitalized.
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My name is Kenneth Moore. The Howling Monk website is dedicated to Baby Boomers and cool people of all generations. You're invited to explore A Jazz State of Mind, read and comment, peruse the artwork, watch the videos, and listen to the music, etc.
Howling Monk was founded in Inglewood California in 1998 as a continuation of the family business tradition started by my Grandfather in Chicago Illinois. The name, Howling Monk, is a tribute to the legendary bluesman, Howling Wolf, and to Thelonious Monk, a true genius of the music called Jazz.