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Beauty, Love and Justice: Living A Coltranian Life

Celebrating John Coltrane with Cultural Documentarian Steve Rowland

Celebrating John Coltrane with Cultural Documentarian Steve Rowland

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Steve Rowland is a documentarian, educator, lover of music and humanity. Discussing his journey for this article was enjoyable, thought-provoking and informative. Steve is a humble man, and he wanted the focus of this article to be on the music, but I hope also to shed light on what goes into the development of a good man who lives a life of integrity. Our initial discussion for the interview took place last year and the discussions grew with a lasting friendship as we are like minded in the ways in which we were impacted by the majestic musician John Coltrane. Steve and I are believers in the vibrational force and messages of love, messages of peace, and messages of universal oneness in John Coltrane's music. In this "law of attraction" people are pulled into the loving energy of John Coltrane all over the world. Steve Rowland shares a devotion to John's spirit, and a belief that the music is a healing force. Rowland is a keeper of the flame in mind, heart, and soul.

I had a growing curiosity about what went on in Steve Rowland's life which prepared him to create his exemplary audio documentary Tell Me How Long Trane's Been Gone. I decided the best way to find this out was to interview him. He agreed to be interviewed having met me once before in a social setting with a mutual friend. The landmark production was directed and edited by Rowland, scripts written by novelist and musician Larry Abrams and narrated by the late poet Professor Michael S. Harper. It was produced by Steve, and co-produced by Abrams and writer and music business visionary (and another profound Coltrane lover) Marty Khan. The program was originally brought to life to honor the 75th anniversary of Coltrane's birth and hauntingly was originally released to public radio stations a week before the attacks of September 11, 2001. Listening once again to the audio broadcast I am struck by the reflections which include my mentors the outstanding public intellectual and American philosopher Dr. Cornel West, and legendary jazz critic and writer the late Nat Hentoff. Also included in this colossal work are Alice Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, Wayne Shorter, Elvin Jones, Max Roach, Charlie Parker, Art Davis, Carlos Santana, Makanda Ken McIntyre, Zita Carno, Bobby Zankel, Lewis Porter, Steve Coleman, Babatunde Olatunji, Sekou Sundiata, Gary Bartz, Odean Pope, A.B. Spellman, Amiri Baraka, "Cousin Mary" Alexander, Rashied Ali, Reggie Workman, Jimmy Stewart, Jimmy Oliver, Dizzy Gillespie, August Blume, Dennis Sandole, George Russell, Jimmy Amadie, Gerry Mulligan, Roland Wiggins, Bob Thiele and more. I strongly suggest you listen to it, perhaps as a gift to yourself in honor of John Coltrane's birthday this week.

The overarching Socratic question explored in the documentary is what makes us tune into John Coltrane? Tell Me How Long Trane's Been Gone is an extraordinary treasure. He captured lightning in a bottle. Every time I listen to the five-hour radio documentary it provides more for me to unpack and learn from. Weaving throughout, we hear John Coltrane's family, close friends, musicians, poets, advocates, and intellectuals discussing why he was important to civilization. For some people such as myself John Coltrane is a prophet. The music came through him with the Grace of God for his survival, and as a vessel to help all his listeners in order to create a better world. People are yearning once again for answers so listening deeply to the message in John's music seems quite fitting. John was relentless in his search creating music which could actually bring change to humanity and here, so many years after his 1967 passing at the age of 40, his music holds so many beautiful answers which can be guides to human evolution. JC unlocked the power of music and left the world a force to reckon with, a "good" force to push away the "evil" forces.

In Rowland's radio documentary for example we hear pianist Zita Carno sharing with us that Coltrane has the powerful force to pull his listeners right out of their chairs and that they can't help being driven ahead by him. All followers of Trane know that he made his feelings clear in his letter to the listener which he included in his stellar album A Love Supreme, "During the year 1957, I experienced, by the Grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music. I feel this has been granted through His grace. ALL PRAISE TO GOD..." In the documentary Rowland includes the majestic voice of John himself speaking to us. For Coltrane music was his way of coming to terms with the mystery of creation. In the radio documentary we hear John in a rare 1958 interview conducted by journalist August Blume, talk about his powerful grandfather Reverend William Blair who was active politically, "He was the dominating cat in the family." He also talks about his father who was a tailor, and a man who played music in the sanctuary of his home. In a later interview with Kazuaki Tsujimoto we hear John state, "I believe that man is here to grow into the fullest, the best that he can be. At least this is what I want to do. As I am growing to become whatever I become, this will just come out on the horn. Whatever that's going to be, it will be. I am not so much interested in trying to say what it's going to be. I don't know. I just know that good can only bring good."

Trane's music is an eternal flame which includes a devotional landscape we can all listen and learn from directly from the prophet himself. Throughout Steve's production, he includes the primary voices of the people who John had in his life. It was a time in which a superhumanity was created by artists and activists who had the courage with a supreme effort to make that real difference to bring a better life to all. With his brilliance John Coltrane continues to feed the soul of the entire world with his message of A Love Supreme. Saxophonist Gary Bartz who saw John perform live states these breathtaking beautifully affirming words in the documentary, "It was like being in the presence of Jesus..." With a preciousness the production offers John's voice surrounded by the music he held so dear. In Steve Rowland's artistic and careful hands is sculpted an oral history that informs us great music be shared and examined to bring forth a deep understanding and peace.

I remember listening to and meeting A.B. Spellman at a 2009 NEA event at the Schomburg Library in Harlem which focused on keeping alive the legacy of jazz. Hearing his voice in the Rowland's documentary was quite uplifting as well and what he said having "witnessed" Trane live on many occasions was quite moving. Spellman was brought to a level of awareness and emotional depth that had him call out "Don't take me there Trane," when actually knowing that is exactly where he needed and wanted to go to continue to grow with his gifted poetry and purposeful life. Spellman's transformational experience hearing John Coltrane live can be found in his poetry. Rowland includes master musicians who also teach the technical genius of how John broke through what was and created a new way of playing his instrument which came from a foundation of literally playing with the best musicians to have ever walked this earth like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Babatunde Olatunji and others. So, it is absolutely clear to me that Tell Me How Long Trane's Been Gone is a five-hour documentary that should be studied by all who are moved by the music and or who want to continue to learn from the divine gifts left to us by John Coltrane and his contemporaries.

Now good friends, Steve and I often talk about the 'vibrations' music, and examine how it connects us to the universe in powerful and mysterious ways. It is always a joy to dive into Coltranian discussions with Rowland, from across the country we connect from his home in Seattle to mine on the east coast via phone conversations. In a recent conversation we were uplifted by the research that came out of Stephon Alexander's book The Jazz of Physics: The Secret Link Between Music and the Structure of the Universe. "Coltrane played with physics in his music and incredibly, correctly realized that cosmic expansion is a form of antigravity. In jazz combos, the "gravitational" pull comes from the bass and drums in the rhythm section. The songs in Interstellar Space are a majestic display of Coltrane's solos expanding, freeing themselves from the gravitational pull of the rhythm section. He was a musical innovator, with physics at his fingertips. Einstein was an innovator in physics, with music at his fingertips." Stephon is an astrophysicist and a saxophonist who sees the force in Coltrane, so including him in any Coltranian discussion sheds light on the world Trane explored as his musical journey evolved. Steve and I discussed this fascinating book which had us land on a discussion referenced in the book between master musician Yusef Lateef, a Coltrane confidant and the author. Dr. Alexander called Dr. Lateef to discuss Coltrane's drawing of a mandala which was a birthday gift to Lateef in 1961 from John. Alexander writes, "What I had realized, I told Lateef, was that the same geometric principle that motivated Einstein's theory was reflected in Coltrane's diagram. Einstein was a hero of mine. So were Coltrane and Lateef."

Steve and I continue to discuss the physics and math in jazz as we along with Coltrane are fascinated with Einstein's ideas. At some point in the discussion I told Steve, that recently one of my Kids for Coltrane students, Husna Mirza, now a college student living in California and an exquisite young poet had worshipped with her parents in the same mosque as Yusef Lateef. She gave me her copy of his doctoral dissertation entitled An Overview-of Western and Islamic Education as a gift when she discovered Lateef was Trane's dear friend. Steve was not surprised that the dissertation which focused on education wound up in my possession. It seems that the vibrational connections through the universe bring people together in this miraculous transforming way.

"Naturally, I believe that understanding Coltrane and other jazz musicians is essential to fighting racism—so race is always part of the conversation—but I'd rather have folks read about my ideas about Coltrane than about my personal experiences—which, even if those experiences are kind of interesting, are not the point. The point is that so much of this is deeply connected—Coltrane, God, spirit, vibrations, freedom, justice, and the emergence of a new consciousness among all human beings—seeking ways to live in harmony and peace," Steve stated. Nonetheless, I want to share more about the life of Steve Rowland, who I view as a modern renaissance man in search of the inner beauty of the universe through the guiding light of great creators whom he admires.

Meeting Steve

I first met Steve Rowland dining in Fiorello's Italian restaurant in NYC in 2015 with my dear friend and mentor, the philosopher, writer, Harvard professor and human rights activist, Dr. Cornel West. Rowland and West collaborated on a few projects including this outstanding work on beloved master musician and spiritual giant John Coltrane. Steve thoroughly enjoyed seeing Dr. West again after nearly two decades, and I felt pleased that I was the catalyst to bring about this reunion.

During our discussion, I enjoyed taking in the depth of their reminiscing and the eruption of our new thoughts about music, society, race, social justice and of course Coltrane's still powerful influence on contemporary thought. Even in the loud clatter of such a popular restaurant, all went silent except for the purpose of this encounter, with my showing up on this Coltranian journey to bear witness to this meeting of the minds and be a divine feminine keeper of the flame for justice. Certainly, the essence of our first meeting brought out the solidarity of thought in which we believed, along with millions of people throughout the world that John Coltrane opted to understand beauty, truth, and existence while embracing all people-committed to helping create peace on earth. He did this with his virtuosic ability to express his humanity as a free black man without ever compromising his integrity, purpose and soul. Steve shared that listening to the later music of Coltrane was "getting an intimate view of one of humanity's greatest artists speaking privately to God through his instrument-and allowing us to listen in on the conversation." In my view the three of us were certainly brought together by the frequencies of tender caring we hear coming from Coltrane's saxophone.

Princeton Talks

I discovered that Steve and Cornel first sat down to talk about John Coltrane starting back in 1995 over 5 breaking bread sessions just around the time West's classic Race Matters appeared on the scene made this rekindling even more interesting. I call their original discussions from the 1990's, the "Princeton Talks" as they took place in a quaint restaurant just outside the Princeton University campus. Both men came away with nourishment for their souls and left them firmly understanding that years after his untimely death at age 40 Coltrane still mattered—and would continue to matter which had roots in his prophetic spirituality. Reflecting on their past dialogues Steve stated, "I was deeply honored that a man as brilliant as Cornel was interested in my ideas about Coltrane—and especially as they related to Coltrane's search for an expression of Universal Oneness." The discussions were wrapped around generative questions and answers. What was special about Philadelphia as an incubator for Coltrane's talent? What were his practice routines like? Where did he study? What were the rigorous disciplines a young jazz artist needed to master during the 1940's and 1950's? And, central to those conversations were issues of religion, spirit and the inner soul. The two men talked about Coltrane's upbringing— both of his grandfathers were Methodist ministers in North Carolina. Steve discussed with Cornel that three of the most important men in his life—his maternal grandfather, his uncle, and his father all died in the same year when the saxophonist was only 13. It was then, inspired by his parents' love of music, and his father's clarinet playing, that John began his search for God, and for meaning in existence through the pursuit of music. Cornel and Steve talked about what might have motivated this relatively late starter to expand his talents relentlessly— continuing to grow when so many others would have reached an artistic plateau. They wondered what was it that allowed Coltrane to speak so deeply, so honestly and so profoundly on his instrument.

Steve talked to Cornel about the 1958 interview a with fellow truth seeker, the late music journalist, August Blume. Blume had the distinction of conducting one of the very first recorded interviews with Coltrane, and perhaps one of the most profound. During that interview Coltrane told Blume that he was disappointed when he found out that there are so many religions in the world, Blume asked him why 'disappointed'? Coltrane replies that it was not possible for all of them to be 'right'—implying that there must be more than one path to God. At the time of the Blume interview, Coltrane was recently married to his first wife, Naima, who was a Muslim. Steve said, "John was personally caught between his family's attachment to Christianity and the Islamic beliefs of his wife and many of his friends who were searching for meaning in a religion not so closely tied to slavery and racism."

Steve told me later, "Both Cornel West and I agreed that Coltrane's wrestling with this and his open expression in his music of this was profoundly progressive. I am sure that Cornel was asking many others about views on Coltrane as he began to put together his own sophisticated understanding of Coltrane's work and why decades after his death, that profound work is still so resonant."

Dr. West stated to me, "Steve is part of the beloved community of John Coltrane. He is for real. He is a good brother." And Steve said of Dr. West, "He certainly is luminous. I sometimes wonder if there is a connection between geniuses like him and Coltrane and the stars above which also illuminate."

Raised in Awareness

My official interview for this column Beauty, Love, and Justice: Living A Coltranian Life with Steve took place on Manhattan's Riverside Drive, in a magnificent neighborhood that I have come to know well in the last decade. I have viewed it from my perch living in a historic apartment which was attached to Riverside Church, surrounded by the church bells ringing and hearing the music of the majestic church organ through the walls. I have also viewed it from my precious daughter's charming Riverside Drive apartment off of 97th Street when she attended and worked at the grand institution Columbia University. On the day I was scheduled to interview Steve I rode up the elevator and transported into a spacious apartment worthy of a House Beautiful spread home to Steve's mother, writer Esther Edelman Rowland, wife of the late esteemed Dr. Lewis P. Rowland, former Chairman of the Department of Neurology at Columbia University. She is the author of the book Fellow Traveler (a memoir of her life and marriage) and a former Associate Dean at Barnard College. It was great to see Steve again after a few years which had flashed by. He served me the best-grilled cheese sandwich I ever tasted, and fresh organic strawberries, with French pressed coffee as his mom and I got acquainted. What a joy to meet this woman. We chatted about her magnificent journey which included a dedication to the Civil Rights movement, social justice, anti-racism, pro-feminism, and pro-immigration. In her vibrant youth, she met Lewis, and he too had a desire to help others and would evolve into a great healing physician and researcher. When Dr. Rowland was in medical school in the 1940's he became an early and passionate advocate of national health insurance and lived just long enough to see a version of it championed by Obamacare.

I shared my Kids for Coltrane journey in education with Esther and she was genuinely taking in my story and sharing hers. I briefly told her about my dedication to education and what Coltrane meant to me. She seemed impressed and I felt embraced. I learned that afternoon that Steve was not only a brilliant documentarian committed to the life of John Coltrane, he was standing on the shoulders of parents who believed in the best of America. Steve said, "It is an America that welcomes immigrants, listens to all voices, disdains racism, and division and one that will help move the world into a new era of caring, peace and honoring Earth's bounty and beauty." Steve and I conducted the interview in one of the coziest rooms I was ever in. A magnificent library, comfortable furniture and in the corner his late father's desk. I could feel the presence of this man and almost envisioned him there. Steve said tenderly that was where you would find him working relentlessly. It was clear he was still in mourning from his father's passing.

Steve Rowland's early years were in Englewood, New Jersey with progressive Jewish parents who were early supporters of the Civil Rights Movement and were determined to raise children with a higher level of consciousness. He enjoyed his youthful days there but the roots that would take form to become a Coltranian man started when the Rowlands moved to the city of brotherly love. Living not far from the early homes of master musician John Coltrane, and in the cradling knowledge of jazz and all it had to offer him. A privileged life for sure as Steve described himself as a middle-class kid.

We began our conversation talking about Steve's approach to his documentary work. For him, music documentaries become richer when they tie together many elements of the life of the artist. Steve studied ethnomusicology and counts as his mentors both Dr. Barbara Hampton of Hunter College and Dr. Steve Feld (winner of a MacArthur "Genius" Award). From them, he was able to see that understanding music means understanding society. What does music mean in its social context? Who is it for? How is it 'consumed'? Is it religious and performed for ceremonies or it is it commercial and sold as a commodity? Who has access to learning music? What roles do money, race, class, and access to education play in the development of a musical genre? While these questions are traditionally asked when one is studying ancient or early cultures, Steve's mentors urged him to apply these fundamentals to his study of American music—and the evolution of jazz in particular.

Steve was fascinated with Coltrane's journey. After losing his Dad, Coltrane's mother Alice moved to Philadelphia in 1942. John was 16 and it was a critical time in his life. Growing up in Philadelphia, Steve had a front-row seat to understanding what made the city tick and access to many of Coltrane's friends and associates. He struck up a long friendship with saxophonist, arranger, visual artist, playwright and essayist, the late Jimmy Stewart. Stewart was a self-educated Marxian Black Nationalist, a friend of Larry Neal and later Amiri Baraka, and part of the whole scene of Philadelphia jazz and R&B. During many long conversations Rowland and Stewart discussed the rise of the music, and the roles of well-known Philadelphia-based artists like The Heath Brothers, Sonny Fortune, McCoy Tyner, Dizzy Gillespie, Lee Morgan, Odean Pope, Jymie Merritt, Jimmy Garrison, Archie Shepp, Trudy Pitts, Philly Joe Jones and Sun Ra—as well as a cadre of others not so well-known but important nevertheless, including Jimmy Oliver, John Glenn, Charlie Cunningham, Wilbur Ware, Hasaan Ibn Ali, John Gilmore, Spanky DeBrest, Bootsie Barnes, Bill Carney, Clarence "C " Sharpe, Red Rodney, Lee Grimes, Charlie Rice, Johnny Lynch and Johnny Splawn.

Equally interesting to Stewart was the emotional and financial support of the black working class in Philadelphia, or 'the lumpen' as Stewart fondly referred to them. In Steve's documentary, Stewart can be heard standing on street corner in North Philadelphia asking the question "Who supported the emerging jazzmen? Certainly not the respectable church-going Christian community here. It was the lumpen, the working man who stopped into the bars on his way home from the factory." And it was this class of hard-working people with 'big ears' who so instantly connected with the emerging sounds of be-bop and the amazing original compositions and deep music theory coming from the clubs and basement rehearsal rooms all over North Philadelphia.

Transforming Influences

Steve's parents were committed to the idea of public education and sent their three kids to public schools in Philadelphia. Steve would have it no other way. This decision would impact Rowland's spiritual and intellectual journey then and now. "I always lived an existence that was between two worlds, a black and brown world, and a white world. And it was also between a middle-class world and an impoverished world." Steve attended a magnet public junior high school and later attended the acclaimed Central High School, but by 10th grade took himself out and transferred to Overbrook High—(Wilt Chamberlin's alma mater) which by that time was 98 % black. This decision for Steve would have a profound effect on the trajectory of his life. He already had a love of black music with the music of Motown being the soundtrack of his youth, but in his deep connection to the oppressed students in the poorer sections of Philadelphia, Steve would live his life with his eyes and heart wide open. His empathetic loving nature, combined with his brilliant creative existential mind made him ponder the universe. Living in the world of his friends who were being mistreated by an American system of inequality and privilege brought deep questions burning in his soul.

In his high school years, Steve Rowland was blessed to be guided by the much loved and revered swimming coach Malachi Cunningham. Steve said, "Cunningham had been an anomaly in the 1960's—a top-rated black swimmer." Cunningham received a scholarship to South Carolina State College where he met his wonderful wife Olivia, and upon returning to Philadelphia founded the Tigersharks swim team—hoping to give young North Philadelphia residents a path to college. A natural humanitarian, Cunningham wanted to integrate the team to broaden the experience for his black swimmers—and discovered Steve's older brother Andy and then Steve. He saw their natural talents as swimmers and their openness to new people and welcomed him on the team. Cunningham ran the team for decades and had an over 90% success rate at securing full college scholarships for his swimmers—changing so many lives. Steve still considers him a hugely important mentor.

Steve's nature is to ponder the challenging questions in life and refused the smooth path. Although he was able to "walk directly" into Yale University, he dropped out in his Freshman year. He holds an undergraduate degree in ethnomusicology and film production from Temple University and received an MBA from Columbia University in 2001. His dear highly accomplished father did not understand the direction his son was taking at first when he left Yale which caused a painful rupture in their bond. In this difficult time Steve was continuing to search for his own meaning and answers. During our interview, he worked through the meaning behind a world that offers up evil and good and listed examples of both. Understanding part of the human condition is figuring how to exist in a world with the extremes and the gray in between. It was crystal clear that his belief in John Coltrane's presence was an example of a person who comes into our lives with an overflowing amount of courage and we can try to live up to these highest of standards. While many of us tap into Coltrane's 'angelic' nature, Steve also points out that it is important not to distance ourselves from Coltrane's 'human' accomplishments. "Coltrane was a genius —but so much of what he achieved was through sheer hard work. Relentless practicing (like my father), and asking questions of nearly everyone (like Cornel West). So it is important to remember that Coltrane was mortal and certainly one of us—it is just that he expressed the very best that humans can be." Steve would take his empathetic nature, deep learning from his agnostic Jewish upbringing, and the richness from the black world he also lived in to proceed through life with a purpose that makes the angels sing. His projects reflect a spiritual sense of truth, integrity, love, and suffering. They offer the promise of what America could be, is at times, and should always be. This was the very promise that his parents taught him must never be forgotten or comprised.

Cherished Music

Rowland firmly believes that the best of music articulates its present time. This is another of the insights he learned from studying ethnomusicology. It could shed light on the problems in our contemporary lives and show us who we are as a nation. "It's not just the notes that you're playing. It's what you're saying with the music." For those very reasons when Steve was coming up he was very invested in and listening to incredible musicians coming out of Motown. He also focused on Bob Dylan, Odetta, Paul Robeson, Woody Guthrie and Crosby Stills and Nash. He has a concern with jazz musicians who only focus on the extraordinary music of the past. While he believes that Wynton Marsalis is "obviously a supremely gifted musician" he suggests that Marsalis originally denigrated the work of an entire generation of important experimental artists— including Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, Oliver Lake and of course the late works of John Coltrane. "There was so much exploration after Coltrane's untimely death in 1967. Some was more successful than others, but it was an important fervent and creative period. Many artists dedicated their entire lives to that creative search for meaning. And a lot of the search was this search for a new human consciousness. Also, in race issues and also musical issues, if you're only thinking about the past you are out of step with the 'now.' For instance, I adore Duke Ellington and know he is a towering genius of 20th Century music. There is so much still to learn from him about melody, harmony, arranging, leadership and being a great humanitarian. But if you're only thinking about Duke Ellington, that means you're not thinking too much about new jazz, or world music or contemporary classical music or experimental music or hip-hop. And you can't really be present in the moment of "now" without including those musical forms because you're thinking about the past. It seems best to me to honor each artist for their unique contributions and honor many, many artists"

Steve told me an interesting story about Sonny Rollins, Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC) and Mr. Rollins' long embrace of modern music, which is overlooked by many jazz purists. Several years ago Mr. Rollins was honored with an introduction into the Nesuhi Ertegun Hall of Fame at Lincoln Center. Rollins was asked to perform but declined. He attended the ceremony and graciously accepted the award and then introduced the performer he chose to represent him on that special occasion. The attendees, many stalwart financial supporters of JALC, were surprised, and some horrified when the remarkable tenor saxophonist David S. Ware came out to play the brilliant Rollins composition, East Broadway Rundown. (The original Rollins recording was made in 1966 with Coltrane colleagues Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones.) Ware's performance was significant for many reasons. At the time JALC was still down on modern jazz, and it was important that Sonny embraced Ware as virtuoso saxophonist and an artist of deep spiritual expression. All of this is discussion of how important it is for music to speak to the time period. And now, some 15 to 20 years later, in large part because the new music movement remains strong, even Mr. Marsalis has changed and is embracing artists like Ornette Coleman.

Spending his adolescent years in Philadelphia attending public junior and high schools was very influential in forming Steve's outlook. "I emerged with the ideas that I'm still wrestling with now and a lot of it had to do with my public-school education and my relationship with the black community and with black music. So very early I got interested in music, just as a listener but I was captivated by The Temptations, The Supremes, The Four Tops, Smokey Robinson, The Persuasions, and Aretha—it was music that spoke to the time period." Later, in Philadelphia Steve co-managed a nonprofit collective that owned a jazz club called The Foxhole. He was a huge fan of the past greats like Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald, and the jazz collective brought in contemporary legends such as Sonny Rollins, Betty Carter, Max Roach and modernists like Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp, Sun Ra and The Art Ensemble of Chicago who created art for the world in front of enraptured audiences.

Rowland dedicated a great deal of his career to making music documentaries although he is not doing that now. His very first documentary was on the brilliant John Coltrane. It is a one-hour documentary entitled Remembering Trane. That led him next to his 8-hour documentary The Miles Davis Radio Project narrated by Danny Glover. It also inspired his later masterful five-hour documentary, Tell Me How Long Trane's Been Gone. Subjects of some of his other radio documentaries include Carlos Santana, Patti LaBelle, The Roots, George Clinton, the Neville Brothers, Leonard Bernstein and Frank Zappa. Although some people raise an eyebrow with such a diverse musical landscape, Steve insists that all of this music is deeply connected. "It is part of the American oeuvre, part of the American genius, part of the America deep soul," Steve stated. When interviewing Steve, one can see without a shadow of a doubt, his sincerity, integrity, conviction, and a desire to bring beauty and peace into this world. His truth-telling and sacrifice in the way he proceeds through life makes him a standard bearer in my eyes.

Shakespeare and Current Situation

Steve currently shares his knowledge with elementary school children, high school and university students, and is currently dedicated to bringing the great work of William Shakespeare into high schools, colleges and prisons. Steve's manner of teaching Shakespeare is all about the power of the human spirit. While he loves the musicality of Shakespeare's poetic writing he thinks the best way to engage students is to get them to experience the parallels between their own lives and the experiences of Shakespeare's characters. With the right approach, Shakespeare becomes a tool of social justice, moving people to see how alike we really are. Shakespeare, in Steve's view, belongs to everyone. Weaving in and out of this portion of the interview he dove into reciting the Bard which was joyful to listen to. His project is called Shakespeare Central and he approaches this current work with the same intensity and love he puts into all of his work. First becoming smitten with the brilliance of Shakespeare in high school, thirty-five years later he is walking side by side with the lessons from this literary master to assist in bringing the questions and answers in life to prisoners who are captured in the abyss of our society.

Rowland is a dedicated father of two mixed-race children from an earlier marriage to their mother Shelley who is African-Native American. He believes children come to us to teach us about supreme optimism, kindness, the importance of not giving up, and mostly about the extraordinary power of love. Bonding closely to his angels as he is known to call his offspring, he beams with pride and joy talking about them. His son Cameron is an award-winning ascending modern artist whose work directly addresses race, property inequity and has been featured at MOMA, The Whitney and other institutions. His daughter Mariel is a teen educator at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, working to find ways to bring non-white teens into the extraordinary world of visual arts. His sensitivity through being a father to his children is all part of the journey that makes Steve live with an open heart flowing with an uplifting and exciting view of the world.

Rowland is deeply in love with his partner Sharon Lee whom he first met in high school and many years later rekindled a relationship that has led to their life partnership. For the past 25 years, she has been the Executive Director of The Low-Income Housing Institute, a Seattle-based nonprofit fighting homelessness, racism, and the effects of gentrification. When Rowland speaks of the triumphant success of her work, he does it with pride. Reaching out and caring for each other in all of our humanity is what Rowland is all about. He asks the universal questions in life. He wants to help others with pain and suffering, and believes that art and music are the healing forces of the universe.

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