Jazz & The ‘Whys’ of Life
by Sean Jones
Sounds of elementary chit chat between Malaika and her friends about the newest moves on roblox. Brinae’s frantic typing as she prepares for a hectic week, gearing up for the first virtual Tapology Tap Festival. Phoebe’s dialogue transitioning frequently between “DaDas,” cries and laughter. All a beautifully distracting soundtrack for the turmoil that was taking place in my mind as we were making our way to Flint, MI.
What will I do about students that are having issues with online platforms?
How am I going to meet all of these virtual recording deadlines while keeping up my own practicing?
How can I support my family’s online activities while making sure they’re not tied to the screen all day?
How do I dedicate more time to the various organizations that I’m involved with without getting burned out?
Then, BOOM! I heard a loud pop and the full-size SUV that we rented for the journey started to veer out of control. Luckily, I was able to maintain control of the vehicle and get to the side of the road on I-70. Once we were safely parked, I looked to my right and in my rear-view mirror at my family… my life… my everything and the tears that began to trickle down my face, flowed with perspective. Suddenly, nothing else mattered. The deadlines, the Zoom meetings, the conference calls, the budgets, the bills, etc., etc… literally everything that was consuming my mind, and for good reason because, like you… I care, took a backseat to what REALLY matters. I found myself realizing that I was in a subtle mental health conundrum. I was literally being consumed by the who, what, when, and hows of life and not focusing enough on the “whys” of life. The “whys” smacked me in my face like an unexpected flying object on a brisk run.
The “whys,” of course, are family, friends and the music. Without these, all of the aforementioned items are pointless. As we began to reset our trip, I thought of the “whys” more and more and the fact that we’re all suffering from a level of mental strain. Then, as we were waiting for assistance to arrive, we began to listen to our favorite tunes, singing along and thanking the universe for allowing us to remain on Earth in this form a while longer. The music helped clear my head and brought me back into true focus. This prompted several ongoing thoughts and questions.
What is my role in this moment regarding healing, focus, escape, etc., as an artist?
How do I maintain healing and some mental escape for myself as I’m trying to do this for the rest of the world?
After all, they say, “place the oxygen mask on yourself first before helping others.”
For me, it’s in the music. The music that we create when there’s no deadline. No point or purpose other than the sheer creation of it. The music that we listen to, bringing us back to points in our lives when we either thought we couldn’t get through it, or we shined through it. The music that is simply the backdrop of an ever-present now that we can all find rest in. It’s important to take a step back, especially in these moments as the days grow shorter, the air gets colder, the anxiety of the holiday season approaches and we all struggle to wrap up what has been an epically trying year.
I’m reminded of a passage of scripture that was engrained in my head as a child and I’ll paraphrase here: “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” These wise words come back to me from time to time and remind me that in the midst of the most trying circumstances, it’s important to center myself with these attributes. I often fail at the attempt, but remain resilient as I keep reaching toward this goal. Although my spiritual view is much broader today than the view I had during my formative years, these wise words remain and serve as a reminder that the immediacy of the moment should never take me out of the moment itself; and to call upon these attributes in my dealings with my fellow brothers and sisters, as they too, are feeling what I’m feeling, because they are me. We are one another and it is incumbent upon all of us to share the collective burden of our fellow man.
As we begin the final quarter of 2020, let’s remember to take care of ourselves, one another, and the music. In the words of my dear friend and NEA Jazz Master Todd Barken, “take care of the music, and the music will take care of you.” We’ve all done our best to be good curators of the music this year, and I hope and pray that we allow those efforts to speak through the music, providing peace, stillness, comfort, and energy to move into the uncertainty of 2021. What is certain is that the music will still be with us. The sounds of Duke, Trane, Art, Ella, and all of those that came before us, will be there waiting as they speak from the past, exuding the resilience of the human spirit. And of course, JEN will be there as we start the top of 2021 with our JEN EXPERIENCE, providing you with a conference that will both reflect what we’ve been through in 2020, and celebrate the promise of a new year of creativity, sharing, and connecting; the core of what we do at the Jazz Education Network. This promise is the ultimate “why,” which gives us purpose, hope, and the fight needed to move forward in the spirit of love.