There Are No Coincidences: A Tale of Synchronicity
“ There have been times in my life that, through the music of Jim Pepper, the flight of geese and herons, the incantation of Solomon Ilori and the drumming of Art Blakey, Chief Bey, and Milford Graves, I have been allowed to get a glimpse of that elusive 'pure lyric moment.' ”
Or Meditations on Jim Pepper, Chief Bey, Milford Graves, a Heron and a Flock of Geese
(excerpts from this appeared in the Winter/Spring 2005 issue of Planet Jazz magazine)
If anything is a coincidence, then everything must be; And if everything is coincidence, then surely nothing really happens by chance.
Item: One of the first times I listened to saxophonist Jim Pepper ("Comin' and Goin,'" from the album of the same name). I was driving on a crowded highway outside of Boston when a V of migrating geese suddenly whooshed up from below the median guardrail, so close to my open driver's-side window that it was like they had come expressly for me. In fact, I literally felt for that fleeting instant that they did have me, that they were sucking me out through the window just as if we were all rushing into a vacuum - and that if I had just given into it my soul, my spirit, if not my body, would have gone with them. For that fleeting instant the flying V was more real and the speeding, growling traffic was more ephemeral.
Item: Fast forward about 15 years. As Gunther Schuller's orchestral "Witchi Tai To" (from The Music of Jim Pepper) was slipping into its final strains, and as I was making my way past the toll booth and onto the ramp leading to another New England expressway, the majestic floating figure of a great blue heron winged its way across the road just ahead of me.
Say what you will about coincidence, or the lack of any connection between events, but even scientists will tell you that millions of light years of distance, billions of years of time, aren't enough always to break the bond between paired (or as they put it, "associated" or "entangled") atoms or sub-molecular particles - that what happens to one, simultaneously and identically happens to the other. Whether you're looking forward in time or back, facing toward one end of the universe or another.
I think Jim Pepper had it right, when he, Larry Coryell and Bob Moses named their proto-fusion 1960s band "Everything is Everything" - or better yet, when he sang "Walkin' to the East, Everything is beautiful/Walkin' to the West, Everything is beautiful/Walkin' to the North, Everything is beautiful/Walking' to the South, Everything is beautiful..." (from "Witchi Tai To"). Everything is everything. And everything is beautiful.
Item: By the way, you can't watch a great blue heron swimming across the sky without feeling like you're up there with her. Simply cannot be done. Don't even bother trying.
Item: Drummer Chief Bey was born James Hawthorne Bey, in South Carolina on April 17, 1913. He toured with Leontyne Price and Cab Calloway in the international "Porgy and Bess" tour in the 1950s, recorded with Herbie Mann (At the Village Gate, 1961), Art Blakey (The African Beat, 1962), Harry Belafonte, Pharoah Sanders and others. He died on April 8, 2004, of stomach cancer. His wife, Barbara Kenyatta Bey, collapsed at her husband's funeral and died nine days later, the day that would have been his 91st birthday and their 31st wedding anniversary. There are no coincidences. And everything is beautiful.
Item: Jim Pepper's first album under his own name, Pepper's Pow Wow, was released in 1971 on Herbie Mann's "Embryo" label. In 1992, Jim Pepper died of cancer. When he died, he was in the same room in which he'd composed much of Pepper's Pow Wow 11 years earlier.
Item: Excerpt from PlanetJazz magazine interview with Chief Bey (Summer/Fall 2004):
In 1962 (Chief) Bey had just come back from singing on tour in Europe as part of the original cast of "Porgy and Bess" with Leontyne Price and William Warfield. "I met up with Art Blakey and he asked me to come with him to help him make this recording, and I thought it would be a pleasure. He asked me to get the drummers together, you know, all the drummers I got together for him. There were about five of us there." The place was Rudy Van Gelder's, the album is The African Beat, and the prayer that opens it is exquisitely recited by Nigerian drummer Solomon Ilori. "Solomon didn't want to do it and I said to him, 'Look, this is a step forward. You're asking permission and you're giving thanks to do this. It will make you. People will always remember you from this.' So he finally went and he did the prayer. It was a one-evening session, but it was from night 'til dawn. The sun was coming up when we walked out of the studio and it was very tiring, but afterwards it was very rewarding."
I've always believed in synchronicity, though I've never pretended to understand it (Carl Jung described it as "meaningful coincidence"). So when I opened a magazine recently and saw a photo of Art Blakey's The African Beat album jacket accompanying an interview with drummer Chief Bey, I knew something mysteriously meaningful was at work. (Bey was one of the many drummers, who with Blakey and others made up the Afro-Drum Ensemble for the album.)