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My Coma Dreams was reviewed on May 10, 2011 in the New York Times by Ben Ratliff, the senior jazz editor. It was a perplexing and disappointing write-up, prompting me to write the following letter to the editor. Whether it will actually appear is anybody's guess: "As a jazz critic for over two decades, I know that subjectivity is inevitable when doing a review. But you also need affinity for your subject matter. As his review of My Coma Dreams makes clear, Ben Ratliff had little patience for the events theatricality; moreover, he seemed to blame its creators for not providing him with the kind of "blowing session " he's used to covering. So intent was he on complaining that "the music never took off on its own" that he totally missed the swinging sessions that did occur, complete with blazing solos. In fact, judging from his rather petulant account, he missed the point entirely. I was there too, along with hundreds of others who were profoundly moved by this brilliant and groundbreaking work. It's unfortunate that Mr. Ratliff was unable to relate to My Coma Dreams and gave his readers such a skewed and negative impression." I encourage anybody who witnessed this event to weigh in too. As I point out in Critical Conditions - one of the first Shrinktunes columns, still archived here at AAJ - the whole enterprise of critiqueing someone else's creativity is always chockablock full of subjectivity. This is particularly true when a work is so rich and ambiguous, inviting a full range of interpretations, like this one.
I'm late in posting this, but I have to say that I was in awe of, "My Coma Dreams," and may I say I'm not the most articulate 'commenter,' but all of what I saw made me think that's about as close to experiencing life from 'inside a coma' as I have ever gotten. I couldn't help but think back to working with patients in the ventilator unit of a hospital -- using music therapy. I wondered, and looked for signs that the patients were 'getting' what I was conveying through music -- and I wondered what it felt like -- what were they experiencing - and how were they experiencing my musical interventions along with everything that was going on around them -- and what was being said - the conversations, the day-to-day nursing staff interventions -- What did it sound like 'inside a coma'? What were all the sounds, smells, movements that took place around the 'hospital bed,' and in the room, and with the patient(s) in the nearby bed(s) -- all this received and processed through the 'filter' of the 'dream-like' state of a coma.
Now I know -- or at least have a better appreciation for what that may feel like -- and how it may get interpreted - through what may seem like 'the mind's creative process' within that unconscious world. Yes, I guess, the mind is always working!! Even when it may not seem so 'from the outside!'
It did seem like we were eavesdropping on some very private experiences, but - and this may sound trite - it was truly fascinating. But after the 'fascination' level, there was the 'empathy' level and the grateful feeling we audience members had, learning that Fred's partner, Scott, worked those hands and arms of Fred's that were beginning to give in to the contracture condition that befalls those who stop using and moving those important human implements. As Dr. Judith has said, Scott may be fully responsible for having saved and put back the life into those precious limbs, enabling Fred to continue to give us his incredible music -- and I feel selfish in saying that, because I -- as I believe the entire audience that day -- want more!!!! Fred is indeed a musical treasure!!! We all stood in awe of him and Scott as we came out into the lobby after the performance -- not just for the music -- which we have to hear again -- but because he took us along for the experience -- I can't imagine that anything quite like this has been done in theater before -- and it's something that many more audiences need to be there to witness -- to laugh and to cry at, to bop to, to marvel at -- Yes, this is a theater experience that needs to be presented at every possible venue -- Again, trite as this may sound, it's gotta be seen to be believed, and I am one grateful believer!!! Thank you, Fred, and everyone who played a role in this event!!!
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