Saturday, November 22, 2014

Don't Knock Nuthin Till After You've Checked It Out

My plan is to do everything I want least once. I don't want to live life based on what I heard, I want to live it based on what I know. Having been married to Nicole, an incredible jazz musician, for the past three years, my affinity for music has risen to a new level. Along with the short one year stint as a radio personality, and a new found desire to explore every genre of music and mode of communication, I felt that there was no other choice for Nicole and myself but to check out Thundercat and Flying Lotus at the Wiltern Theater in LA this past Friday. This same mindset took us to the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion on Saturday to check out our first two operas, Dido and Aeneas and Bluebeard's Castle.

Stephen Bruner, who is better known by his stage name Thundercat, is an electric bass player who has reportedly been influenced by the two renown fusion artists Stanley Clarke and George Duke. Stephen provided samples of jazz, R&B, funk, electronic, and other genres in his performance, and although the volume and timbre of his presentations were a bit overwhelming for my supposedly half deaf behind, I marveled at the uniqueness and creativity of each and every selection.

Steven Ellison, of the stage name Flying Lotus, is a music producer, rapper, and electronic musician with a strong penchant for multi genre experimentation. There was a bit of excessiveness in terms of my comfortability with the flashing lights and incessant sounds, but the wizardly appearance of him behind a sheer three dimensional curtain, the amazing backdrop of perpetual video imagery, and the constant and varied influx of musical accompaniment gave uncontested credibility to his creative brilliance. 

The joint was packed ya'll, and the participatory response, of the dominant 20 to 35 aged- old audience, reminded me of my avid appreciation for the Jimi Hendrix, and Funkadelic concerts I attended back in the day. I'm certainly glad I went to see Thundercat and Flying Lotus, because I now know first hand that some of our young artists are still working to preserve, cultivate and proliferate the innovative creativity that has made all types of music available to us, and has allowed countless artists to both find their place in the sun and to remain in our hearts. I'll just have to remember, if I go to another concert of that sort, to bring some ear plugs and dark glasses.

As for the first operatic offering entitled 'Dido and Aeneas' on Saturday, the program guide touted the simplicity of the stage setting. I was not convinced however, that economic restraints did not play a major role in limiting the props to a white park bench that spanned the width of the stage. The movement and vocal renditions of the twenty six performers, confined to this single bleacher, left me feeling a bit deprived in relation to the glamorous hoopla that I had expected, but their obvious exuberance along with my willingness to fully grasp the overall artistic intent, gave me a sense of having acquired a bit of insight, into the complexities that accompany transforming a story into operatic form.

The second presentation, entitled Bluebeard's Castle, was a bit more restrained because the only setting was the stage itself, and albeit very large and very white, along with a revolving trajectory, I could not comfortably grasp why there were a total of eight performers and only two of them contributed an audible rendition of the music being played. Not wanting to be undaunted, I was grateful that my appreciation for their concerted efforts overrode my expectations for a visual and vocal extravaganza. Let me point out however, that the orchestra was totally on point and poppin throughout both operas. So much so that I leaned forward a few times, to see who was playing the tuba, oboe, or any other instruments whose resounding tones both sparked my interest and captured my attention

As was the case in Friday's musical performances, the Saturday audience's appreciative exuberance, demonstrated by their resounding applause, let me know that opera is here to stay.The fact that the majority of patrons were between 40 and 70 years of age, and the same color as the stage, left me wondering if this mode of entertainment was limited to a select group of people, and if perhaps my cultural and/or aesthetic make up hindered me from seeing what everyone else saw. Nonetheless, the experience left me with a satisfactory sense of 'been there ...done that', and the understanding that I should read the reviews or talk to someone who knows the details of a particular performance, before I attend another opera.

We say we don't don't go to certain places or do certain things because we don't have the time or the money. We say we don't like certain people or things because we don't like the way they look. I agree with the adage that "There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is contempt prior to investigation", and I implore all of you do try looking at stuff the way me and Nicole did this past weekend ..."Do whatever it is, within reason, that you want to do, and don't knock nuthin till after you've checked it out". 

I'll holla... 

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Friday, November 14, 2014


In 1986,  after having shot dope for 18 years, I started eating Haagen Dazs ice cream almost every night until 2007, when I was informed that dairy products highly contributed to the mucous build up and ensuing colds that were occurring in my life, on a regular basis. Not realizing that the sugar content was also a major threat to my well being, I switched to a soy-based frozen dessert. Then I saw a documentary addressing the Monsanto monopoly on genetically modified soy beans, and substituted the soy variety for an almond-based product. In the meantime I had developed a chronic itching, the cause of which was not ascertained until I was diagnosed with cancer in January of this year, i.e. 2014. Mind you my figurative screaming for a frosty dessert every night was still strong, but I abstained from this frozen frenzy until my chemo treatments ended this past May. Since then I've indulged in a coconut based frozen dessert, probably about twice a month, and as I sit here having finished a pint of Almond Mocha Fudge...I'm feeling no remorse simply reflecting on the realization that I have an addictive behavior which stems from a fervent desire to feel good. What's ironic about all of this, is that I'm experiencing a significant degree of pleasure by sharing my situation with you.

I don't know what you do to feel good, and only you can determine if you do too much of it, but of one thing I am sure...moderation is the key for me when it comes to balancing the amount of pleasure I can experience without risking the onset of subsequential pain. There are many avenues available for meetng our desires to feel good, and food, sex, television,  the internet, alcohol, significant others, religion, exercise, money, school, jobs, cigarettes,  drugs (legal and otherwise), gambling, shopping for clothes, people pleasing, and acquiring attention  and fame, are just a few.  They are all potentially addictive pursuits however, that can ultimately lead us to possibly precarious positions. An overconsumption of heroin and sugar has significantly altered my physical condition, and has had a yet undocumented bearing on my mental and spiritual well- being. There are also a number of other addictive possibilities that I have indulged in, and that are still calling for my attention. I am aware however, that half the struggle in abstaining from, or moderating my participation in what I do, is the unconditional acceptance of my being prone to over-doing it.

Life is a wonderfully enlightening experience, and the understanding that we can take a disheartening situation, and alter it into a beneficial opportunity, is part and parcel of what makes the world go round. Constantly reminding ourselves that we can take life's lemons and make lemonade, will enhance our capabilities for turning the bitter into the sweet. It goes without saying that we have all over indulged in one thing or another, and that we continue to do so on a regular basis. It's also quite obvious that many of us know we are about to involve ourselves in something that is going to cause us harm, yet we do it anyway. Comments like..."Yea, I know I'm diabetic..but", or "My blood pressure ain't that high", or "My money's funny but... ", or even "They're haters and just don't want me to..." These are all feeble attempts to justify doing what we know is going to cause us harm, and all the time we are aware that the end result is going to be accompanied by intense feelings of guilt and remorse. The upside however, is that we can objectively share our problematic outcomes with someone else, ask them how they address similar situations, and collaboratively devise a means for altering or moderating our behavior.

I've overdosed on heroin a few times and by the Grace of God, I'm still here. I've inadvertently abused my mind and body through other means, and have consequently been told that I had a maximum of six months to live if I didn't get a minimum of six chemotherapy treatments. I was then told, after having not received the sixth treatment, that I could have died had I done so. God's Grace has kept me here, and it is by this same Grace that I am able to channel some of my addictive behavior into hosting a radio show and writing these blogs for you. Granted, I'm still doing stuff that isn't always in my best interest, but the more I focus on doing stuff for others, the better I feel about me. The pleasure I selfishly sought for myself, is exponentially intensified by seeking it for someone else. That's where I am right now ya'll..still screaming but not so loud.

I'll holla...

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Saturday, November 8, 2014


“ I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” I want to thank Lois 'Tootie' Brown for exposing me to the foregoing statement. The very act of her doing so speaks volumes for the importance of hearing everything that's said, and storing it on the shelf if you don't comprehend it at the time. It was about 40 years ago that I read the foregoing statement, on a relatively large, formica cube, ironically located in Mrs. Brown's home on a kitchen shelf , and because I didn't understand it at the time, I shelved it. I just took it down the other day, to plead my case for the paramount importance of truly understanding one another.

In our conversations with each other, we spend such an unwarranted amount of time trying to be 'right', that we don't always get the true gist of what the other person is trying to convey. We so urgently desire for what we're talking about to be understood, that while the other person is speakng we're thinking about what we're going to say next to validate and substantiate what we've already said. Subsequently, our primary objective becomes less about collaborative comprehension, and more about an individualistic pursuit of conversational conquests. 

True understanding comes from 'feeling' rather than 'thinking'. It is by doing so that we are able to gain insight into what is being said, because we have vicariously become the person who's saying it. Where has this person been, where is he/she going, and how can I relate my own life experiences to where this particular individual is right now. These are the sensibilities we have begun to focus on, and have thereby allowed the concepts of empathy, compassion, and genuine concern to become the objectives that are an integral part of our interactions. Then and only then can the question "...Ya feel me?"  be answered in the affirmative.

It's not necessary for us to disregard and forego all of our own thoughts and remarks to listen to another, but the communicative process would be greatly enhanced if our unbiased unconditional attention were given to the person doing the talking. Universal law is based on the premise that we get back what we put out, and we can rest assured that the consideration we give to another, shall be returned to us when it comes time to convey our own  concepts and comments.

That's where I am right now ya'll, working more on righteous understanding and less on being rightly understood. The hope that the things I say are being comprehended is still of major importance, however I want to be able to walk away from every conversation feeling that what I heard the other person say is truly what they meant. You see being right is not nearly as important as being decent and upright, because when you're demonstrating those two attributes of true righteousness... everybody wins. 

You understand what I'm saying? If not, please put it on the shelf for later on.

I'll Holla...

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Saturday, November 1, 2014

I Ain't Skurred

Everybody has their own idea(s) about the discomforting conditions that exist in our world, and I’m sure that we’ve all given some thought as to how we’re going to deal with these circumstances in our own personal environments. For instance, if you’re a member,or trying  to be one of the so called 1%, that being the people who reportedly possess/control 99% of the world’s wealth, then you don’t think too much is enough, and spend most of your time and energy in attempts to gain all you can, however you can, and as quickly as you can. On the other hand, if you have already decided that you won’t ever be in that group, or anywhere close to it, your efforts are expended in determining how you’re going to do the best you can with what you have. Then there are those who have looked beyond that economic paradigm of the haves and have nots, and have determined that happiness and contentment is not contingent on what and how much you possess, but on maintaining your integrity and upholding your moral/spiritual condition. How we cope with the global conditions of disease, poverty and the rampant inequity that exists, may be more about not merely responding to them, but knowing what precipitates their manifestation, and determining what we can do to prevent or manage the anticipated outcome.

This one man’s opinion is that fear is the underlying motivation for all of our negative responses to disheartening situations. It goes without saying that we are a world-wide, crisis oriented society, and that our dilemma stems from waiting for something to happen before creating a sufficient means of dealing with what already exists. You see those who seem to be in charge, have been designated as such by virtue of their hierarchal status, with the amount of wealth being the primary gauge for determining that ranking, They are fearful of losing whatever semblance of power they do have, and they respond to that fear by imposing laws and creating circumstances that will protect their possessions and, at the same time, fortify and substantiate their control. We, the people, respond to these laws and circumstances by becoming fearful of the yet undetermined repercussions that we think stem from our not having enough wealth and power, and of possibly losing what little bit we already have. We then begin to focus more and more on creating a means of protecting what we already have from both those, like the government, who we feel already has enough, and from those, less fortunate than ourselves, who we perceive as a threat to what we possess and a hinderance to our acquisition of more. What we have here ya’ll is a fear filled hot mess.

Herein lies this one man’s solution. Believe in the adage that  “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Let’s join the cadre of those focused on righteousness. I’m not talking about right and wrong because that’s relative and depends on whose calling the shots. I’m talking about treating others, all others, like you want to be treated…that’s universal decency. Don’t be afraid of those you think have too much money and power, because they’re afraid of you. Their illusion of power is predicated on the fear that they have consciously and inadvertently passed on to you. They say they’re doing the right thing, which makes you wrong. You say they’re wrong in doing what they do, which makes you right, yet you’re both doing what you do out of fear, all of which constitutes a fear of being righteous. 

In reference to the principles of yin(passive) and yang(active), true balance can only come when two opposites come together. After all, who knows the possibilities that can arise as a result of two different mindsets operating in the same place at the same time, in spite of the antagonisms that may crop up. We must allow those who have passively accepted the concept of not enough, and can only operate from a realm of fear, to continue to protect themselves from situations that tend to frighten them. The rest of us, who have accepted the universal principle of more than enough, must become proactive in our attempts to create equitable opportunities for all, through the simple process of each one teaching one.  Holding on to what you think is yours on the one hand, and the giving of what you have on the other, is contrasting by nature, but those of us who can, must develop a mindset of not necessarily condoning, but humbly accepting another’s secular way of dealing with stuff, cause we can't change how they think anyway. However, if we work honestly and with righteous intent on perfecting our own spiritual path...change is inevitable.

So we definitely need to do it our way, while patiently accepting each other’s ways, because then and only then can we lose the fear of...THE WAY... which is the universal collaboration and connection of us all.

I’ll holla...

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Friday, October 24, 2014


The story is that the Royaumont Abbey was built between 1228 and 1235 with the support of Saint Louis (King Lousi IX of France), and occupied by Cistercian monks. It was transformed into a cotton mill in 1791 and a novicate for nuns in 1869. In the early 1900's it was acquired by the Gouin family who set it up as a cultural center, and in 1964 Henry and Isabel Gouin created the Royaumont Foundation, the first private French cultural foundation.

This is where I have resided for the past 7 days, and as I sit here in our room, among the remnants of an almost 800 year old edifice, I can't help but feel the overall spirit of a transitory cultural experiences. There were the monks who theorized and contemplated, in silent meditative states, on theological treatises and their effects on themselves and on the kings and residents of the surrounding countryside. Then there was the spirits of the owner and workers in the subsequential cotton mill, who shared residency albeit it in different areas of the cloister of trees, shrubbery, and streams that surrounded their places of residency. There also remains the spirit of the nuns and their humble attempts to restore their idea of the sanctity that was hopefully inherent in this once holy abode, and herein dwells also the aristocratic spirit of those whose seeming purpose, to maintain and display the aesthetics of a centuries old French culture, is nurtured and perpetated by the ambience of the artists, musicians, and intellectuals who come here to create, enjoy, and  then share the outcome of a time spent in this ethereal yet laborious setting of nature, architecture and conscientious creativity. Surprisingly I, as an artist, feel a real sense of belonging.

The irony of all of this is that I am but a guest of the real proponents of my reason for being here. The musicians, American and African, who descended upon this age-old architectural monument, were invited here to create a transatlantic collaboration through the venues of word and music. Three African musicians from the west African country of Mali, Babani Kone on vocals, Fassery Diabate on balafon, and musical director Ballake Sissoko on kora are present. Then there’s the Chicago based musicians of African American descent, Mankwe Ndosii on vocals, Jovia Armstrong on percussion, Felton Offard on guitar, composer Nicole Mitchell on flute, and the one Jewish American Joshua Abrams on bass who are also here.  All coming together, each world renown in their own realm, to exchange artistic ideas and collaborate on the Malian and American compositions of Ballake Sissoko and Nicole Mitchell, that they would practice 8 hours a day, for 6 days, to present to the French audience gathered for the grand performance that ensued inside the interior walls of this majestic complex known as the Royaumont abbey and foundation. What a venerable experience to be a witness to this grand display of cultural collaboration and musical magnificence.

Royaumont has probably, in its 779 plus years of existence, never experienced this coming together of three different cultures, Malian, Jewish, and African American, on stage, bringing to an unknown number of cultures in the attentive French audience, a sound and a message that says “Yes, together we can accomplish a feat of yet unheralded magnitude”, and  at the same time provide you the listener, with an incentive to do the same in your respective arenas. As members of the audience walked away singing in Bambara dialect, the passage of the last song which vocalist Babani Kone had invited and encouraged them to participate in, I knew that a precedent for cultural commonality and a spirit of cross-cultural honor and respect, had been established at this place we call Royaumont. Let’s all keep this newly established legacy movin ya’ll … inside and outside these venerated halls.

I'll holla…

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Sunday, October 12, 2014


Got an opportunity to leave the country of America again, and I'm real excited about having met and talked with Jamika Ajalon, who left St. Louis, Missouri years ago and moved to Chicago, to New York, across the ocean to London, and has now resided right here in Paris, France for the past 7 years.   My wife Nicole has known Jamika for many years, and although she and I have visited here over four times together, this was my first time meeting her friend Jamika face to face. My excitement stems from the fact that I finally got a chance to talk with someone, who lives in a foreign country, speaks my language and shares a common African-American experience.

Those of you who have followed my blogs may remember my writing about my first visit here and how I was taken aback yet not surprised at the fact that racial prejudice existed here as it does in America, as did the disdain that some African people here displayed toward this African American. There was no one here, at the time, that I could speak with who I felt could really understand my sensibilities, because in order to really understand another person's feelings, you had to have experienced them. Jamika provided me with that opportunity, and it was disheartening to hear yet somewhat fulfilling to recognize that my intuitive sense of racism, and its inherent ramifications, were echoed by her experience both here and in our common American homeland.

As the three of us, my wife, Jamika and myself reminisced and shared our experiences, the issue of race was dismissed yet not negated. We recalled how our individual experiences have prepared us for our common objective, that being to promote understanding, among diverse cultures, through words, the arts and music. We all feel that it is unwarranted ignorance that hinders love and understanding of others, and that sharing and unconditionally accepting our collective experiences, can and will bring about a change. That is not to say that we are looking to travel the world 'teaching' others how to think, but it does infer that our time will be dedicated to creating venues and providing opportunities for those who are willing to learn. Not just the three of us, but all of us are one, and being honest with that part of us we call 'self', being open minded while interacting with the so-called 'others', and being willing to change if need be is where we must go from here if life is to be aligned with the reason for our being created i.e. to equitably share our existence.

Man, what an ironic opportunity to know that racial disparity exists in other places and that, at the same time, people everywhere are seeking to expel its existence. Jamika promised that on our next visit she would introduce us to some of her Caucasian friends, who reside here in Paris and who also share our vision. Nicole, as we speak, is collaborating with musicians of the African persuasion who reside  here in Paris and in Africa as well, and we are all envisioning an all around friendship and looking forward to our traveling down a common pathway toward equity and freedom.

To all who are hearing, not listening but hearing, I implore you to make peace with yourself. Dispose of any and all presuppositions and false information that hinder you from knowing the truth about yourself and others. It's still a wonderful world out there, in spite of the problems that seem to incessantly crop up. Let's alter our attitude and see these problems as opportunities rather than difficulties, and do whatever we can, no matter how big or small it may seem, to make the best of these limitless and opportune circumstances. Why? Cause we can!!

I'll holla

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Monday, October 6, 2014


I’m not at all comfortable with what I did this past Friday, yet totally understand the dynamics and anticipated ramifications inherent in my doing it. There was a church groundbreaking ceremony that I attended on that Friday morning, and it was held in the Grand Crossing neighborhood of Chicago. The event was ironically two blocks away from a drug and alcohol recovery house, located at 7730 S, Greenwood, that I co-owned and operated, from 1993 to 2000, and during that time Grand Crossing was an almost 100% Black neighborhood. Although gentrification of this particular area was not yet in full swing, there was a spattering of Caucasion residents here and there. What does all of this have to do with my discomfort? Well because of my awareness of the rampant drug traffiking and subsequent criminal activity that had taken place during that prescribed time, I was hesitant to park the rental car just anywhere. However, when I saw this white guy and his cat peering out of a window in the apartment across the street from this vacant parking space I had considered, I felt somewhat assured that I would be picking a safe location.

Some of you might feel that it was a valid decision I had made in parking where I did, and evidently I felt that way as well. However, I still feel that my decision only serves to point out how I am still somehow connected to an old adage common only to those of us of who years ago, from slavery to the civil rights movement, were a part of what was called the Negro persuasion. You see back then, we seemed to believe that…’The white man’s ice was colder and his water wetter.’ The irony of all of this is that still today there’s a great degree of validity in our way of thinking. Regardless of how we might try to cover it up, despite how folks of all races point to the so called progress and great strides that have taken place in race relations, and even though there’s a Black family in the white house, racial disparity still exists and we still find ourselves adjusting our actions to protect the limited semblances of liberty we do have. In essence, being on the ‘white side’ still seems to be the right side.

Why do I see things this way you ask? Well, from 2007 until 2010, I lived in a condo on 68th and Clyde, in the South Shore area of Chicago, and gentrification was quite obvious as demonstrated by the intense migration of white folks to an heretofore predominately black neighborhood. I’m not aware of the current situation, but during the summer of each of those three years, I was an eyewitness to the police paddy wagons that scoured the area every weekend, picking up blue jean and white tee shirt clad young black men, five to ten at a time, and loading them for transport to a criminal holding facility. Racial profiling was indeed the order of the day, and even though the city officials would have us believe that their intent was to rid the area of gangbangers, my take on what their true objective was and still is… is to make the area suitable and safe for white folks. You see, contrary to popular belief, wearing a certain attire is not proof of gang affiliation and/or involvement in criminal activity.

Let’s fast forward to this past Saturday night in the Hyde Park neighborhood, where security guards stood on just about every corner in the vicinity of the University of Chicago campus which spans over 100 square blocks. I envisioned this as I drove to a jazz concert taking place at 1414 East 59th street, and my findings were confirmed by both residents and students. The story is that there have been increased incidents of student assaults, and the need for better security was deemed mandatory. But come on, all the guards were black, the alleged perpetrators I’m sure were assumed to be black, but the University of Chicago is in the center of what used to be a largely black area and most of the black folks have been phased out of the inner city. The student demographics comprise 50% white, 20% Asian and 5% black and precludes that race has some bearing on this situation, and the fact that the average enrollment cost is over $60,000 a year further limits the chance that black folks will be moving back in and/or sending their children to this prestigious university. What’s really going on?

I actually used to think that white folks were smarter than black folk, and although I didn’t believe their water was wetter, I knew they had access to more stuff than those of us of a different persuasion. Today I’m well aware that both overt and covert racism still exists, and yet my aforementioned discomfort stems from having, at times, to make decisions along racial lines. It’s just not fair that black people, in every area I mentioned, were not the targeted recipients of the quality of living afforded to others. It’s also a shame that we are driven from our homes in areas that were once rife with crime and  decay, yet when we come back we look for the area where the residuals of the gentrification that moved us away is most prevalent. Where do we feel most safe… where the white folks are.

What we gon do ya’ll? Well we have to first look at ourselves, accept that things are not as they should be, and then perpetually ask ourselves "What can I do today to make it better?" I’m not just talking to black folk, I’m talking to all folks, cause if we don’t bust a move, it’s just a matter of time before somebody’s water is wetter because they’ll literally own all of it and everything else. And believe me, it won’t be because they’re white, it’ll be because we allowed it.

I’ll holla

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