John Turturro: A Soulful Truth Teller

Christine Passarella By

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John has a deep respect for jazz and affection for all black music. He understands how these great musicians influenced popular culture. In addition to Ammons, he mentioned Lester Young, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, and Miles Davis stating he can go on and on speaking about the greats. He included, "Jazz musicians are loyal to their instruments and walk to the beat of their own drum." He also cherishes his childhood memories seeing live performances by outstanding soulful musicians such as James Brown, the Shirelles, the Crystals and many other extraordinary black performers when they came to the New York City area. "My journey is I have done a lot and I want to do more. I associate with musicians who take their own paths. I followed my interests. I made movies about the working class and anti-bourgeois. My next thing, I am working on is a film about ignorance and race. When I write, I listen to music, when I write scripts. I love classical music too, many of the jazz greats were trained classically." Creating America's music in the form of the blues and jazz originated from the pain, suffering, courage, and eventually triumphant joy coming from black people in the United States. Jazz artfully helps tell America's story connected to race. The musicians help us stay focused on what is important and their music helps us get through life. James Baldwin once wrote, "If we—and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others—do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world." The brilliance in jazz improvisation and camaraderie while creating music in groups, with intense respect for the soloist is a gift to this world. It was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who called it triumphant music.

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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