Black Culture: The Orphaning and Adoption Process

There has been a wave of commentary in regards to a blog by fellow musician/educator Nicholas Payton. See to find the original post. The title is “On Why Jazz Isn’t Cool Anymore” His post cut deep on all levels. His supporters (of which I am definitely one) and his detractors “cyber-polarized” themselves via blogs, FB comments etc. I even did a YouTube piece to add some clarity and support. See OK, now you have the background.

I am amazed at the denial, covert racism, and dismissive and apathetic responses to all of this. Mr. Payton said the name we were using for this music was not working. It was not reflective of the originators,and really served no real purpose in the artistic process. It is a marketing term. He is right. The music of Coltrane, a basketball team,and a software CAN NOT all be the same thing. Why the malicious angst from so many otherwise civil people? It is because his blog was the equivalent of a therapy session in which all the subconscious beliefs in many surfaced without preparation. This can be painful. Dealing with your own inner ugliness is necessary but by no means FUN.

I would like to offer this view. I will use birth, orphan, foster care, and adoption to illustrate. By the way, this is by no means a dig at or slight of anyone who is a product of foster care or adoption. It is also not an indictment on the many loving and concerned foster parents and adoptive parents. I salute and applaud those who are really about it.

So, many moons ago a child was born. He was not a bastard. He had a mother and father. They were two hard-working folks.Life was not easy for them. Regardless of what they were going through,they were able to bring this beautiful bouncing baby into the world. His birth name was “Black Culture”. He had nicknames given to him by outsiders. Some called him Jazz, some called him Blues, some called him Gospel. He also went by Tap and “Hoofing”. His parents and family really did not spend too much time on NAMING him. They simply knew who he was and ENJOYED watching him grow up. He was nurtured and protected. He was supported and held in high regard as an IMPORTANT family member.

Then when times got harder for Culture’s parents, a TERRIBLE thing happened. Mom and Dad , in their quest to make life better, they stop paying attention to Culture. He was able to run wild. No real guidance. Actually, due to the circumstances, Culture was orphaned. Not on purpose. He simply got lost in the shuffle. Now he was on the street begging. People were amazed at how strong Culture was in the midst of his adversity.

One day, as Culture was begging for existence, some relatives saw Culture and decided to take him in. His cousins were named Armstrong, Robeson ,Ellington, Neal-Hurston, Hughes, Brown and Shakur. They all let Culture stay in their homes as long as they could. They were a little better off than Culture”s parents. However, they ironically faced the exact SAME challenges as his parents. So with no real place to live, Culture grew bigger and stronger. You could not dismiss his presence . He was huge, friendly, fun to be around etc…. .

A couple of other people with the highest intentions took Culture into their homes as well. They had names like Hammond, Pannonica de Koenigswarter, Granz, Lion and Wolff. They were Cultures first FOSTER parents. They supported him and made sure that his intrinsic nature was not diminished. Yeah, they used the nickname, but it MEANT something at that TIME.

As these folks were being foster parents, (BTW, foster parents are able to receive money. You jut have to use it to best of your ability ON THE FOSTER CHILD. I believe the aforementioned did their best. I ain’t mad at them.), Culture’s NATURAL relatives started to not really care about him. They stopped checking on him and making sure he was cool. Out of sight; out of mind. They knew that he had foster parents, so that was enough for them. They would see him when they saw him. Please understand, NOT ALL of Culture’s foster care was pleasant. Many took him in just to get the check.

So, as time moved on ,it was quite apparent that Culture’s natural family was not returning. He had been so many places, HE almost forgot who HE was! So, with this being the case, the foster parents, (those with good intentions and those with a more sinister agenda), decided to ADOPT Culture. Now he belonged to THEM. They fed him, housed him and NAMED him. They educated him. He was THEIR son. Major offense was taken the minute someone said that he did not look like the rest of the household’s children. They did the best they could to have him blend in. However, he was always so big, soulful, unpredictable and PROUD. These were admirable traits in the minds of the adoptive parents. Sad, to say however, NOT All of Culture’s new parent’s FRIENDS AND FAMILY felt the same way about Culture. So little Black Culture had to be taught to tone it down and act in a more acceptable manner. As a matter of fact, the games he taught his step-siblings, were now being TAUGHT to him in a manner that EVERYBODY could play. They even told him that the way HE was playing the game was “WRONG”. Culture missed his birth mom and dad and his birth family. His new family, not really knowing much about his birth-parents were not able to nurture him in that regard. For example, Culture always had a jacked-up haircut. LOL! Eventually, Culture caved in (GOTTA EAT) and went along with the program. He grew up and had his own children. His life was moving along well and there was no real need to teach HIS children about the past and HIS ancestry. However, HE, as well as the ADOPTIVE parents knew he HAD A PAST.

“However, that past really is not important NOW. He only answers to the NICKNAME and that’s what we like to call him!”says the adoptive parents.

Nicholas and I are just a couple of relatives that DO LOVE Culture and we REMEMBER his birth name.

I hope you understand.


The Peaceful Artist

It’s amazing how many artists I encounter who lack peace in their lives. It seems to be a constant “STRUGGLE”. This goes for all of the artistic disciplines. Musicians(I am a part of this group), dancers,poets, filmmakers, writers, and visual artists ALL seem to have the same angst. As I examine my own life as a jazz musician, I am keenly sensitive to peacefulness. I am not referring to world peace,or the opposite of violence, but that “inner quiet and acceptance” that provides the proper canvas for one to create art. Many would challenge the notion that you can’t have inner turmoil and create art. They would point to countless examples of troubled souls who created masterpieces. My position is that troubled souls can still “be at peace”. There is a vastly different feeling when you have inner conflict and “accept and acknowledge” versus “fighting” what is really happening. The “NEED TO SUCCEED” which is a combination of notoriety and financial success seems to inundate the psyches of today’s artists more than those of the past. Technology has open the floodgates to information and to the accessibility of artists and their creations. This is bittersweet. We all know the ” pros” of cyber-space,but has the artistic community evaluated the “cons”? I will list a few reasons that I feel contribute to this constant uneasiness in many artists presently.

1. You have no excuse to not promote YOURSELF. You can no longer blame the elusive “people in charge of the industry”. This is not to say the same cronyism is not in place,but there is a highly viable ‘work-around” . You just have to get busy and embrace what is available. You CANNOT use the “I’m an artist” defense any longer.You do it or you get help doing it. That help cost money usually. I have found that most emerging artist are not wealthy,so the resources are not there to hire a team. Learning to DIY or bartering are your real alternatives. In essence,if you are not at peace because ‘NO ONES KNOWS WHO I AM,AND I AM GOOD!”,hopefully the above suggestions will help you sleep tonight. However,you have heard it before! LOL!

2.Wasting time trolling other artists in your genre for a heads up on what they are doing next,or to be critical and comparative of them and YOURSELF is pointless. Simply stop looking at their sites and FB, tweets etc….. and DO YOU! This is not to say you cannot be aware of your peers. I will NOT use the term”your competition”,because this implies a winner and loser.I am TOTALLY against that concept. You will actually make yourself physically sick worrying about the success of others in contrast to your situation. You will become bitter and cynical and your work will radiate a negative vibe that will not attract positive attention or results. Instead of going on FB,looking up somebody who does what you do as well or better(You don’t look up people whom you feel are not AS GOOD AS YOU! LOL!), go and CREATE something and market it! Stop being a hater and a victim. This is an easy fix to you self-imposed inner unrest.

3.Accept yourself and your choices. YOU must LOVE what you do! You CHOSE to be an artist. The rest of the world DOES NOT HAVE TO ACCEPT YOU OR THINK YOUR ART IS GREAT! This goes for the support of family and friends as well. Do they HAVE to give you money because YOU ARE AN ARTIST? Really? Please ask yourself this life-changing question that was posed to me by the great San Diego jazz musician Daniel Jackson ( ), “WHAT IS YOUR REASON FOR DOING YOUR ART IN THE FIRST PLACE?” Once you are able to answer that question honestly,and ACCEPT YOUR OWN ANSWER, you will find yourself at peace. Is it for money? If so you MIGHT be in the wrong field. You might have to change careers and your art become your avocation. Ii it to be popular? Is it because SOMEONE ELSE wants yo to do it? Is it because you don’t know what else to do? Do you feel ENTITLED? Are you rebelling or proving a point? Once you answer,LIVE IN IT!

In closing,I play jazz because I LOVE IT and I feel the presence of GOD when I am involved in it. I am thankful for the career that it has provided for me. However,I would play regardless of the financial gain and notoriety.I feel God has anointed me to play,so I simply give it back to him.

I am at peace.