Welcome to Mondo Samu - Questions and Answers about my self-work.

Mondō: "questions and answers"; a recorded collection of dialogues between a pupil and teacher.
Samu: Work service; meditation in work.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Jazz Koan

I have written in the past, on more than one occasion, about music and how it has effected me in my health, wellness or spiritual pursuits.  I've talked about Ben Harper's "With My Own Two Hands" and how it is a very "Buddhish" sort of song.  I've written about trumpet virtuoso and legend, Jack Sheldon, and how I experienced a deep and profound sense of involvement in the song and music of his that I was listening to one day.  Well, today, I experienced a similar event of both of those things combined.

I woke up in my hotel room, did my usual morning Tai Chi, practiced my morning meditation, and spent some time reviewing my vision board, as usual.  I then packed everything up and set out for the airport to make my way back home to my family.  In the car, I turned on XM/Sirius' fantastic jazz station "Real Jazz" and drove along enjoying the music.

The show was "American Jazz" and it was focusing on the music, performed by a variety of artists, of legendary writer Jerome Kern.  Having grown up on jazz, I have a pretty good familiarity with a lot of it.  The song that caught my attention was a Jerome Kern piece, with lyrics by Hammerstein,  being performed by Etta Jones called "Why Was I Born".  This was a new song to me.  After hearing it, having the experience I am writing about, I decided to look in to it's history. Then, while researching it so that I could write about it, I now realize why I wasn't familiar with it.  It's from origins are from Broadway, which I've never followed much.

Anyhow, whether because of the relaxed, meditative, state of mind I was in or just because I was in the moment, I found myself amazed and deeply involved with this song.  From the light-footed starting jog of the drums, to the stunningly elegant vocal interpretation of this classic song which - as often was the case for her career - brings to mind the passion of Billie Holiday mixed with the clear sharp energy of Dinah Washington, this song grabbed my attention right from the start!

Timeless Etta Jones

I mentioned her elegant interpretation...this seems to be the reason she left out the first verse of the original Hammerstein lyrics.  I am guessing at this, as my research on this song was quite conflicting and tells nothing of how the lyrics were changed or why.  From what I could find, it was originally written for a late 20's show.

Whatever the reason for the lyric change, it's that change that made this song so noticeable to my "Monkey Mind".  As though she were a Zen Master re-imagining this song as a Koan, Jones starts off asking:

Why was I born?
Why am I living?
What do I get?
What am I giving?

And then she exhibits those old cravings that we're all familiar with at one time or another in our lives.  The craving for love.  She asks with pleading power:

Or why do I want for things, 
I dare not hope for?
What can I hope for?
I wish I knew.
Why do I try, to draw you near me?
Why do I cry?  You never, never, never hear me.

I'm a poor fool, but what can I do?
Oh, why was I born to love you?

These eternal questions, sung with such hope, pain, love, passion and determination fill the listener with every ounce of emotion possible from a song, I feel.  The lyrics give way to a scandalous,  bourbon flavored sax lead that is equally filled with the feeling of these burning questions on the human condition.

All of this, mixed with my mood, led me to ponder - perhaps taking all this a little too far, but enjoying it none the less - what IS music, and (a question I have pondered for most of my life) why do some songs bring lyrics, music, artistry, vocals, talent, words and everything that goes in to a performance together in such a way that they profoundly effect you more than others?  Is great music because of a singer?  The songwriter?  The musicians?  Can the magic happen because of just one of them, or is it the inter-connectedness of them all, in some perfect dose, that does it?  Or is it more?

If you've ever gotten chill-bumps from listening to a good song, you know what I am referring to.  It happened almost any time I listened to my dad play, which at that young age I attributed to hero worship.  The next time I encountered it, I was working for a rock band.  That spine tingling feeling was the reason I was there.  I heard them play for the first time ever, and was struck by the same feeling I had gotten listening to my Dad play.  It wasn't every song, in fact it wasn't even every show.  But every now and then, the atmosphere would sort of click in to place at the club, and MAGIC would happen!  It's quite an experience, and I know a lot of people who have experienced it, usually at live shows.

I don't know what it is but I do believe, just as I spoke of in my Jack Sheldon post, that when it happens, we are TRULY in the moment with the music.  I am beginning to think that what this feeling is, is very similar to what I have heard described by people who have experienced extraordinary meditation states.  The feelings described are similar, and the reason makes sense to me.  Perhaps it is in these moments that we are touching, at it's most fundamental level, the inter-connectedness of the entire universe, or at least of mankind.

Too deep?  I don't know, but it makes good sense to me.  Check this song out, but more importantly be sure you spend some time listening to your very favorite music while being FULLY present in the act of listening to it.  It's an experience worth having, regardless of my musings above!

I would LOVE to hear of similar experiences from any of you readers!  That's the whole reason we're titled MondoSamu after all!


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