In those days, it was either live with music or die with noise and we chose rather desperately to live. ~ Ralph Ellison
The forecast for my childhood was overcast with a chance of thunderstorms though out the day. Forecast for tweens to young adult was smog, sunshine and partly cloudy with record-breaking temperatures near 80 degrees. Current forecast: Clear wind NW @ 5 mph; Humidity 56%. Dad never discussed racism. I discovered that jazz was a way of looking at life. You do not have to be a musician to understand the concept of life in America. American culture comprises many cultures. When I looked at television, it did not reflect the richness and diversity of those cultures. L.A. was in turmoil. Civil Rights were feverishly coming into the forefront. It became so intense that it began infecting the world my dad so desperately was trying to shelter me from. It wasn’t working.
Dad wore sunglasses all the time. It was a statement, a trademark that most musicians and celebrities wore in L.A. That day in the playground opened so many portals about prejudice and racism. Sadly, it is alive and well living everywhere and even in places you would least expect. Someone recently asked me why I don’t talk about being in the “other” category. That should be your “Brand”. My response Well, it is always easiest to talk about racism or being in the minority when you are in the majority. I would rather live with music and block out ravages of race. I am afraid that racism will always exist. Over the years, it has changed its wardrobe and address. However, it is everywhere — applications, job interviews, Census reporting. It is a way of marshalling and tainting mindsets, laws and culture in general. Violence isn’t the answer, speaking out puts a target on your back but most of all, the folks that have convinced themselves that it is a thing of the past and don’t talk about it allows racism to continue. Jazz has suffered since its inception. I felt it deep inside me. The only solution was to accept my father’s rule of not acknowledging my mom in public and allow being singled out for my appearance. I embraced Nella Larsen and Ralph Waldo Ellison’s thoughts of living with music and not to die from the noise of racism and prejudice. Today is Father’s Day, and what I choose to remember even though dad’s choices hurt me deep inside, is that he loved me. That is the dichotomy that I have learned to live with, music and words.
Living a jazz life means taking tropes like racism and using the fact that I am multiracial as the mechanism from which frees me from those bonds that have restricted me. Dad couldn’t put it into words, and his actions were hard to understand, but I survived it all and finding jazz in everyday life is quite liberating. Peace out!