John Turturro: A Soulful Truth Teller

Christine Passarella By

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The collaborative journey of love warriors from different races has been of great significance without a doubt with musicians such as Coltrane insisting on bringing their emotional stories to existence. In the emotions we can wrestle with our humanity. John Coltrane did not seem to really care if he was understood necessarily, as he felt it was feeling the emotions that really mattered to his audience. John Turturro is like-minded in his thinking in this area, "When people have to talk about what they do it is bullshit. You either get it or not, but there are people in your way before you can have others listen to your artistry." I can imagine Coltrane nodding in agreement at this fact of life when the intersection of the arts and the business world occur. Turturro added, "Most musicians are not rich, they have to play the gig to pay the rent. It is not an easy life; no life is easy. Jazz has an unorthodox spirituality." It is that spirituality that has informed my life as a listener, there is no question. In Turturro's body of work, I can feel the same freedom of spirit that is raw and deeply human.

Two Italian Americans breaking bread in an Italian restaurant for this Coltranian jazz column well it was inevitable that we would discuss the Italian and the black cultural connections. Examining the connection between historian W.E.B. DuBois and civil rights lawyer Vito Marcantonio is empowering to modern-day human rights activists. The conversation branched out to our appreciation for the legendary Louis Armstrong, recognizing the many collaborations between black and Sicilian folks coming together to create the New Orleans sound. Highlighting the work of recording engineer, and producer Cosimo Matassa collaborating with Allen Toussaint and many other great musicians was just one example to be discussed. At this point, I referenced my Sicilian paternal grandpa. Although not a jazz player, he was a mandolin player, classical musician, painter, and entrepreneur. His kind and tender ways soothed my journey in a harsh world. Quickly John responded passionately, "That is a man, a gentle soul, creative that is a man, not the other types, not the machismo window dressing. The provincial thing pervades a lot of thinking in certain cultures. This can be the antithesis of curiosity." I told him of my journey breaking away from the rules and regulations of a restrictive life path I was born into, and discovering my true self over the passage of decades. "In a way, you are going backward to where and who you really are," he said with understanding and warmth.

I am inspired by this gifted and humble man. I have been most of my life as I watched him live a Coltranian life growing up. He never knew it, but his confidence by osmosis gave me the daring desire and courage to follow my inner voice as well. I confess my writing then is somewhat subjective, but from what I gather many people around the world agree that Turturro is a star in ways that bring a "force for good" to this world. I asked him if he had words of advice for the youth. "Listen to your inner urges or voice. If it does not seem obvious, don't be afraid to explore. That is all you have in life, it either grows or shrinks. I don't encourage others to go into anything when I am asked. It is their journey and it is all about the journey, not the destination. It is the experience of trying. It is hard to be open, if you are open you are going to get it," he said with a tender bittersweet smile in his eyes realizing we both recognized what that means when one must be who they were born to be. When the delicious lunch was over, and so was my interview, he gave me two kisses, one on each cheek and he was off to fulfill a very busy schedule. As I watched him walk toward the subway steps to his next appointment traveling down his unique path, I was reminded of the words of Joseph Campbell who stated, "The privilege of a lifetime is to be who you are."

Bravo John Turturro!


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