Tag Archives: jazz

A Song for Sunshine

Photograph by Maggie Padua
This evening when I got home from the store
I laid a bag down on the kitchen table and
said to my wife and daughter, “Check this out.”
My wife opened the bag, pulled out what was
inside and said, “Oh, they’re apples,”
and I smiled. “But they’re not just any apples,”
I explained, and I paused so as to make my
great surprise even greater. (This is a technique
I learned on the city streets: pause if you want
to surprise the shit out of anyone). Then I said it,
“They’re not just apples, they’re Jazz Apples,”
and I pointed to the tiny purple sticker attached
to the red and yellow surface of one of the apples.
“See, it says ‘Jazz’—because they’re not regular
apples, they’re Jazz Apples,” I said, and I nodded
the way I do when I’m driving home a point and
swept up my hand toward the ceiling the way I do
when I’m blown away by the marvels of the world
we live in. My wife looked at me, then my daughter
looked at me and my daughter asked, “Yes, but
are they organic?” and I paused again (a technique
I learned to use in school whenever I had an answer
that I knew wasn’t the right answer), then said, “No,”
and repeated again, because I am a poet who on occasion
repeats a word, a phrase, a line for the beautiful music
it creates, “they’re not regular apples, they’re Jazz Apples.”
Then my wife said, “We can’t eat those, apples are
the worst for retaining pesticides.” And without missing
a beat, without taking the time to breath, much less pause
(a method I learned on my own, because as a poet I am
the inventor of marvelous things people don’t know
need to be invented) I said, “The best jazz is always
a little dangerous,” and my point was driven home
to my wife and daughter, and one day my son who is
still too young to understand will indeed understand
this, and what a great pleasure it is to live with me.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Maggie Padua

A Hundred and One Years of Sun Ra and Other Examples of the Beautiful Passing of Time

Photograph by Jose Padua
Over the years, of all the musicians I’ve seen perform live, the one I’ve seen more than anyone else is Sun Ra. Wherever I was, if he was coming to town, I went to see him. There was never any question about it. Even one time, in New York, when I was in the middle of some horrible flu, I went to see him play, and by the time the show was over I felt completely fine. He and his music had that kind of effect on me.

In fact, one of the few things I actually regret—and, since I consider every sort of misstep, error, or wrong turn a learning experience, I don’t regret much—was that time in New York when Sun Ra was set to play at the bandstand in Central Park. It had been a stormy summer day, and I just assumed the show was going to be rained out. Of course, later in the day things cleared up a bit—still I didn’t think it was enough for the show to have gone on. Then, in the early evening, when I stepped outside for the first time that day, I ran into one of the guys who worked at the Nuyorican Poets Café, which was just down the street from me. He was heading into work.

“Man, I just saw the greatest show,” he said.

“What?” I said, incredulous. And I’m sure I must have been pissed and said something like, “Are you fucking kidding me?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Things cleared up uptown, and he went on. Of course it’s going to clear up for Sun Ra.”

I, of course, felt like such a fucking loser for not having faith in the power of Sun Ra. I did manage to catch him in a club in New York at least one more time before he left the planet on May 30, 1993. When he died, WKCR played his music non-stop for about a week, and so for about a week, whenever I was home, I listened to Sun Ra and nothing else. There aren’t many musicians I could listen to exclusively for a whole week without eventually wanting to hear something different.

When my daughter Maggie was born, it wasn’t long before I played Sun Ra’s music for her. I probably started with something easier, like Jazz in Silhouette. Though by the time she was four she was already asking me to play her “some of Sun Ra’s weirder stuff” when I picked her up from school. So there we were, riding around our new home—this conservative small town called Front Royal, Virginia—playing Sun Ra’s Disco 3000 record in our mini-van. For a little while, anyway, when we first moved here, it was pretty much just Sun Ra and P-Funk that Maggie wanted to hear when we were making our way around town. And, naturally, when Julien was born, it was probably just a week—or maybe even a few days—after we brought him home that one night I played for him “The Conversion of J.P.” from the Sun Ra record, Space Probe. It’s this deceptively simple piece, starting with percussion and flute for several minutes before Sun Ra comes in playing these halting, broken chords on the piano. Subtly and beautifully, he builds on this as the notes start to come together and move forward. By the time the piece is over, you know and you feel that Sun Ra has taken you somewhere. And in a way that no one else could.

Today, May 22, 2015, marks the 101th anniversary of the arrival of Sun Ra on the planet. About two and a half years ago, on the occasion of his second birthday, Julien seemed to take a few moments to channel Sun Ra. That’s what you see in this photograph—Julien, at his toy keyboard in the evening on his second birthday, wearing a wild pair of sunglasses and gazing up at the heavens. It’s very much the sort of pose Sun Ra would strike in the midst of a performance. And just looking at this photograph, I start to hear the sounds. At first, it’s Sun Ra’s music. But then, it becomes something else—something for which Sun Ra laid the foundation and upon which Maggie and Julien will be building, using whatever art forms they see fit.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

A Child’s Introduction to the Million and One Secrets of Jazz

Photograph by Jose Padua
I think that long before I’d even come close to having a child, I believed that it was never too early to plant the seeds of a certain kind of determination in a child’s mind. Furthermore, if I had slightest bit of control over it, no child of mine was ever going to be addicted to the blowing up and blasting away of things and people as occurs in so many video games. I didn’t care whether or not any experts thought they had any lasting effects on a child’s development, these things were, as far as I was concerned, a colossal waste of time and imagination.

It was unlikely, then—with me being her father—that my daughter Maggie would go through her toddler years without hearing the music of Charlie “Bird” Parker. Maggie was around three when I first played Charlie Parker for her and she immediately liked his music. Of course, by then, I’d already played Sun Ra, later Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, and even some Cecil Taylor for her. So, when she first listened to Charlie Parker, she was actually moving slightly back in musical history, and didn’t really need the child’s picture book we’d found—Charlie Parker Played Be Bop by Chris Raschka—to help her appreciate Charlie Parker’s be bop sax solos. Which isn’t to say she didn’t also enjoy the picture book we read to her.

Her introduction to jazz went slightly like mine. When I first started listening to it around 1974 or so, I was listening to things like John Coltrane’s free jazz versions of “My Favorite Things” and “Naima,” as well as Sun Ra’s The Magic City and Atlantis. It wasn’t until a few years later when I started exploring Charlie Parker and the music of the be bop era. To my surprise, after my first exposure to Miles Davis being his 1970 LP, Bitches Brew, I found that his work went back to the 40s when he replaced Dizzy Gillespie in Charlie Parker’s quintet.

Soon, I realized there was quite a bit of jazz history I needed to learn. And though I don’t consider myself an expert on the subject, I learned enough to get annoyed whenever someone would say something like, “I enjoy big band music” or, even worse, “I like jazz.” My reaction would always be, OK, who do you like or what do you like? Swing? Be bop? Hard bop? Who do you listen to, Glenn Miller or Duke Ellington? Bud Powell? Eric Dolphy? Albert Ayler? Do you listen only to jazz that puts you on some kind of nostalgia trip?

Because to so many people jazz was a single type of music they’d heard once at some party where everyone was smoking pot, or that they’d heard during a trip to New York when they stopped in a club and had a drink, or that they’d heard when they went to a friend’s wedding and the band at the reception was this group of old guys wearing cool tuxedoes. In other words, it was a superficial acquaintance that they would exaggerate into some kind of in-depth knowledge when the truth was they didn’t know the first thing about jazz.

Yeah, I know. I was a difficult person back then—and in a lot of ways I still am. But to me, real art of any kind isn’t just a way to just pass the time—it’s a way to destroy time. And real art isn’t just something that’s pretty or gets you high or entertains you. When you’re experiencing real art you’re learning something you didn’t know before, you’re discovering a different way of looking at the world, and above all, you’re not escaping the world, you’re digging down deeper into it. And, when you know real art, and give it the time it takes to know it, you’re less likely to get fooled by all the idiocy that’s out there, exploding like an atomic bomb of horseshit.

In this photograph, taken somewhere around 2006 when we were still living in the northern Virginia suburbs, Maggie is holding The Very Best of Bird, a double LP I bought in 1977 at Olsson’s Books and Records on Dupont Circle in DC. (Or was the store still Bob Bialek’s Discount Books and Records back then? I’m not sure). Little did I think when I bought it back then that, more than 25 years later, I would have a child who’d be holding it, and listening to it, and digging it. And who in so doing would be sharpening the tools with which she learns— separating what’s beautiful from what’s merely pretty—and be determined to contribute to peace not war.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua