Meanderings In


 A Work-In-Process by Kenneth Moore


 Jazz Is A State Of Mind


Jazz is known mainly as a genre of modern music. Many people love this music and proclaim it to be America’s most significant contribution to art. True, but how is this so? In a piece written several decades ago titled, Black Art, Black Magic, Ron Milner offered an explanation. He noted that music is the least concrete of the arts and that its inherent flexibilty may have freed "Black" musicians to express themselves beyond certain prescribed constraints.

Free of those certain constraints, some "Black" musicians ventured out and came upon a plateau of the mind, a spiritual common ground long-cultivated by their ancestors. This entity had no known name. It was identified mainly by a sense of common feelings and revolutionary ideas and everyone aware of them was also aware of its necessity. It was a sense of common mindset that existed long before the word "jazz" was coined to describe a genre of modern music. Today, some people use the word "jazz" as a frame of reference for that plateau of the mind. Thus, the Jazz state of mind. 





Beyond Constraint


The physical body is a perishable container. It can be controlled and even enslaved by outside forces. Spirit, however, is an invisible, uncontainable entity that resides in the individual state of mind. And although outside forces can influence and weaken one’s spirit, one’s spirit is ultimately unconquerable. Spirit is unconquerable because it has an inherent power to create and to move, and thereby the ability to transcend all present states, physical or mental.



At times, one’s spirit may seem to reflect and react only to the physical manifestations of one's existence. But one's spirit naturally aspires to reflect and react to one's true self or soul. One's spirit is a property of the mind and both are universal in nature.

And so, expression passing through this mysterious realm often rejuvenates, re-creates, regenerates - rebirthing the self. 


Ancestral Voice of Communal Experience




Jazz came, not out of a musical tradition, but rather "out of a communal experience” as Max Roach said. And that communal experience was never and is not now necessarily musical. Albert Murray called Jazz “the ancestral down-home voice at its highest level of refinement” and that voice is not unlike the experience. Together, they are the root of an ever-encompassing and long-lasting echo of "Black" reactions: a look, a glance, a gesture, a stance, a silence, a scream, and more; all reactions to a unique American experience.

True. Jazz music can be, and often is, the catalyst into the Jazz state of mind, but once there, the music often fades and deeper, more significant things take shape: emotions forming a surreality; an invisible collective mentality that necessarily fulfills the individual expression it inspires. Yes. Jazz is more than music.



Black Surreality 



Commenting on Jazz, Nina Simone said. “It’s a way of life; it’s a way of being, a way of thinking.” Indeed, Jazz is more than a mere genre of modern music! It is a state of mind; a spiritual way of seeing things, of feeling things, of doing things that was cultivated by “Black People” centuries before the word “Jazz” was coined late in the 19th or early 20th century. Here the word “Jazz” is used to establish a point of departure into the further exploration of an invisible entity; a certain surreality founded on revolutionary ideas and creative thought and any activity that stirs and awakens a sense of the higher spiritual self.


The Mind


An article written on the subject of the mind 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.” Those inquiries are ongoing. However, in the book, T’ai Chi Classics, Waysun Liao offers a conclusion that the mind is the only part of the human being that does not belong totally to the earth. The working Jazz state of mind is a mental activity that enables those who can perceive its existence to gain consciousness of the earthly experience in a spiritual sense. 



Like Souls




In 1903, W.E.B. DuBois explained in The Souls of Black Folk that American Negro history is one of strife and one of “longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self…to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows.” The end of this striving he said is “to be a co-worker in the kingdom of culture, to escape both death and isolation, to husband and use his best powers and his latent genius.”

These words coming from 1903 in the wake of the collapse of the institution of slavery and the initiation of Jim Crow, expressed something of the multi-self “Black Person” all “Black People” had been forced to accommodate and, hopefully merge into one person – an awesome and unspeakable task for a mass of people suppressed for many generations.

It was a problem many “Black People” didn’t realize they had and the few who did couldn’t solve it without help from like souls: Those who might forgive, but would never forget their common history and the need to cultivate the souls of "Black Folk" forever.



The Sprit Moves


“Slavery is gone, but the spirit of it still remains.”

(Francis Grimke, 1850-1937)



And So Do We





The Jazz state of mind proceeds from a sense of reality consciousness into another sense that resides in sub-consciousness: a change of mind brought about by a movement of the spirit.


Any music, not just Jazz music or, for that matter, any other thing of a certain quality can move the spirit and cause one’s way of seeing, hearing and feeling about things, etc. to change, temporarily, if not permanently.

In this transitory state, individual reality is overwhelmed by individual imagination and although no one necessarily sees, hears or feels the same way about anything, everyone having been moved by spiritual elements experiences something of a common state of mind.




A Story Untold



James Baldwin said, “It is only in his music, which Americans are able to admire because protective sentimentality limits their understanding of it, that the Negro in America has been able to tell his story.  It is a story which otherwise has yet to be told and which no American is prepared to hear.”



This story-telling music employs a mysteriously delicate voice, what Albert Murray called “the ancestral down-home voice at its highest level of refinement” and it is, therefore more ritual in nature than it is musical. The ancestral down-home voice is a language made not notes or words, but rather of the threads of ancient signs and symbols and hieroglyphics pulled together over many generations by “Black People” as “the gates of chaos” slammed shut around them.

Baldwin referred to “the gates of chaos” in explaining how the American experience of “Black People” affects American psychology and how that experience is betrayed in its popular culture and morality and how that estranges Black People from themselves and America from herself as well.  The story is difficult to understand because its more pertinent points are outside the realm of music and the voice attempting to give them meaning sounds mostly foreign and so the story may be interesting, but is mostly incomprehensible. “We cannot ask: what do we really feel about him (Black People)–such a question merely opens the gates on chaos. What we really feel about him is involved with all that we feel about everything, about everyone, about ourselves.”


The Gates of Chaos 


Archie Shepp warned the uninitiated:

"You can't just come on in the middle of Coltrane playing IMPRESSIONS or TRANSITION and expect you're going to pat your feet.”


The music subsides suddenly and there is confusion that leads to disorientation; to a place in the mind where the uninitiated may come face to face themselves and something else; with what one writer called “the comfortably benign, self-righteous, innocent side of ourselves” and another writer called “all the hateful powers of the Underworld” and the uninitiated sees for the first time, perhaps, “the dark triumph of Evil” over good. And there is a scream, then silence.

A door opens and what Dr. Richard King called “the hidden doorway to the collective unconscious” in THE AFRICAN ORIGIN OF BIOLOGICAL PSYCHIATRY and the realm beyond: a "darkness, the shadow, the primeval ocean…the accumulated experience and wisdom of the ancestors" enters the conscious mind.” In that silence, in that silence, the mind sees through the darkness and "challenge to human destiny” is clarified as the refusal “to accept the transience of this life,” an “attempt to transform the finality of death into another kind of living" just as musicologist Francis Bebey said.

The words of the critic who described Coltrane’s 1965 masterpiece, ASCENSION, as “alien to the American spirit” seems shallow as the head nods and the now-initiated foot pats anew.

 Dancing with Spirit




Listening to Jazz music has the power to lift the gates of chaos, but a mindset of orderly disorder is needed to understand the story; a ritual, what Malidoma Patrice Some further defines in his book, The Healing Wisdom of Africa, as the spontaneous feelings and trust placed in certain outcomes; a surrender that gives the human spirit, indeed the soul, permission to express itself.

“When most Westerners think of ritual,” Malidoma explains, “they are more likely to connect it with words such as empty, old-fashioned, irrelevant, and boring than with words such as transforming, essential, challenging, or healing.” When the gates of chaos rise and the ritual begins it is possible to understand.

Malidoma tells us that ritual engages passion and stimulates creativity and emotion and, in the end, those who enjoin the ritual feel changed. “Doing ritual heals people, reconnecting them to the ancestors and to their own deepest purpose. Because ritual is so deeply connected to our human nature, anytime it is missing there will be a lack of transformation and healing.” Ritual is a dance with spirit, the soul’s way of interacting with the Other World, the human psyche’s opportunity to develop relationship with the symbols of this world and the spirits of the other.”

There are two poles between life: birth and death, and although we experience the birth and death of others, we can’t recall our own beginning to the living nor can express our own end to the living even though both are of ultimate significance. To recall or express anything beyond the pole of birth and the pole of death requires, what Malidoma calls ritual and describes as “a dance with spirit, the soul’s way of interacting with the Other World, the human psyche’s opportunity to develop relationship with the symbols of this world and the spirits of the other.”


’ligious meetin’ 



“Black People” pulled together the threads of their ancient spiritual traditions in secret. A note or an account of some kind may exist concerning these activities, but there are no long-form books or papers.

A former slave recalled:

“When de niggers go round singin’ ‘Steal Away to Jesus,’ dat mean dere gwine be a ’ligious meetin’ dat night. De masters … didn’t like dem ’ligious meetin’s so us natcherly slips off at night, down in de bottoms or somewhere. Sometimes us sing and pray all night.”

However, these secret late night meetings, what some historians refer to as “the invisible institution” is something more than religious ceremony. They were the continuance of the dances with spirit that began in the earliest moments of the attempted enslavement of African people.

Once the institution of slavery was established in America, “Black People” continued conducting the secret ritual and cultivated it over many generations.

In the somber wake of the Charleston Nine who were murdered during a Wednesday night prayer meeting at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church, President Obama reminded mourners and the nation of the significance of “hush harbors;” the secret meeting places cultivated in Black secret society by “Black People” in resistance to the attempt to enslave them centuries before the “Black Church” was established in American society-at-large.

Before leading mourners and the nation in rendition of the hymn, “Amazing Grace,” the president reminded mourners and the nation that the so-called “Black Church” and its predecessors have long been the “center of African-American life: a place to call our own in a too often hostile world, a sanctuary from so many hardships…where slaves could worship in safety…our beating heart…the place where our dignity as a people is inviolate…”

“A sacred place, this church,” the president said. “Not just for Blacks, not just for Christians, but for every American who cares about the steady expansion of human rights and human dignity in this country; a foundation stone for liberty and justice for all.”  

Who can say how much President Obama knows about the ritual, if anything, but as he sang and spoke the mysteriously delicate voice of “the ancestral down-home voice” came through loud and clear. The spontaneous release of emotion was present. No attempt was made to contain and control emotion through the use of familiar words and for the first time in American history, a president joined in the dance with spirit.


Nine "Black People" lost their lives in another episode of the American nightmare that is rooted in America's original sin: the institution of slavery in the "land of the free." Members of their families of the Charleston Nine, faced the muderer. and forgave him and broke through a layer of "protective sentimentality" moving some to a better understanding.



Black Magic, Black Art 




Jazz, a form of musical expression, has been called America’s most significant contribution to art. In a several decades old piece titled Black Magic, Black Art, Ron Milner explained that music is the least concrete of the arts and that this flexibility freed Jazz musicians from having to prove how well they knew the English language. Jazz musicians were free to bend the European musical scale and adapt it to fit their unique purposes.

“Had Jazz-men been using words, or readily definable images, like our writers and painters, then they too would be just now emerging in their true colors; would have been squelched by editors, publishers, and critics. For John Coltrane is a man who, through his saxophone, before your eyes and ears, completely annihilates every single Western influence, and longs and strains so totally, so desperately for the Asian-African nuance that soon he is actually there in his playing – as a man who calls on his Gods and Lo! They appear.” 







Surreality: The Otherwise Unexpressed


The ancestral voice of the African American collective experience is often unexpressed because so much of the blues experience of "Black People" approaches the inexplicable. However, all of it exists in various forms in the Jazz state of mind and is only expressed outside of that entity in surreality. 




The artwork of Archibald Motley, Jr. tells of secrets and dreams and discordances; a surreality peculiar to America. 








 (To be continued)






 Seeing in the Dark



"I can see in the dark," boasted Nasrudin one day in the teahouse. 

"If that is so, why do we sometimes see you carrying a light through the streets" Someone asked?


"Only to prevent other people from colliding with me."



(Story from The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin by Idries Shah)







Shhhhh. Artists at work.



I remember why I stopped going to Jazz clubs. No. It wasn’t because of cover charges or drink minimums or bad music. I stopped mainly because Jazz club audiences have a tendency to be disrespectful of the music and the artistry that goes into making it. I think it's disrespectful for people to laugh and talk so much during performances that it distracts from the performance. The music is forced into the background. I suspect that most Jazz musicians don’t like this and, as a consequence, I believe many of them learn to ignore rude audience. That is a sad situation because a collective mentality is needed to fulfill the individual expression that is the Jazz state of mind, that is of great residual value. 



If Jazz is to survive as a form of art and live on as something more than jazzy background sound, those of us who appreciate the art form - the Jazz state of mind - must find the way to upgrading the quality of its audience.


So Shhhhh. Please.




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On Jazz







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The Limbless Fox


There is the tale of a man who saw a limbless fox and wondered how it managed to be so well fed. Deciding to watch it, he found that it had positioned itself where a lion brought its kill. After eating, the lion would go away, and the fox would eat its leavings. So the man decided to allow fate to serve him in the same way.

Sitting down in a street and waiting, all that happened was that he became more and more weak and hungry, for nobody and nothing took an interest in him.

Eventually a voice spoke and said: “Why should you behave like a lamed fox? Why should you not be a lion, so that others might benefit from your leavings?”


 Jacob Lawrence - Simply Surreal


Jacob Lawrence said: “When the subject is strong, simplicity is the only way to treat it.” Indeed. What is essentially surreal need not be complicated, See Jacob Lawrence artwork. Watch the videos JOHN BROWN.   






(Story from LEARNING HOW TO LEARN by Idries Shah)




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Confusion or Not

We are the essence of a dual consciousness. One consciousness is an awareness of that which is outside ourselves, what is physical, the world around us and the outer spaces. The other is an awareness of that which is within us, what is spiritual, the soul, the mind and other such things. The condition of our dual consciousness is the state of our essential presence. It is that part of the mysterious entity of life that justifies life, establishes a balance that each individual must maintain. When our dual consciousness is balanced, we feel at ease. We have a sense of certainty and confidence. When it is not balanced, we feel uneasy, uncertain and confused.





All I Needed Was Time

A Mulla Nasrudin Teaching Story from The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Naasrudin by Idries Shah



The Mulla bought a donkey. Someone told him that he would have to give it a certain amount of food every day. This he considered to be too much. He would experiment, he decided, to get it used to less food. Each day, therefore, he reduced its rations.

Eventually, when the donkey was reduced to almost no food at all, it fell over and died.

“Pity,” said the Mulla. “If I had had a little more time before it died I could have got it accustomed to living on nothing at all.”





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Henry Ossawa Tanner



 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, and did.






Henry O. Tanner may be regarded as one of the first modern Black Surrealist artists.








Watch The Blues & The Blackness on page 3





The Free Black Mind



Why the free “Black” mind? People of African descent, particularly those in America - people often called "Black People" are the last large group of people to be enslaved. They were enslaved not by chains alone, but also by ideas designed to linger in the mind until they reconciled them in order to free themselves. 

(to be continued)



Ken's Two Cent - Optimal Delusion









 The Sample

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.






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Trayvon and the Souls of White Folk/ Sandy Hook Blues & more

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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.’ 




Black Surreality





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.





Hughie Lee-Smith

(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."





The Omen

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 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?” 





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?’ 






Hymn For The Unforgotten



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.




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"You can’t make yourself love someone," she thought of him.


"You can’t make someone stop loving you," he often dreamt of her and she of him.


And so  they drifted apart dreaming of love and one another.







Burnt Foot

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?’





A Piece of Cake


Think of a delicious cake.

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.





Dance with Spirit!





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.





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