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Talkin' Blues with the Groovemaster, Jerry Jemmott

Alan Bryson By

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AAJ: Didn't I read somewhere that King Curtis appeared to you after he died, and that started you on the path to Buddhism?

JJ: Norman called me at 8 o'clock on the night he died and told me exactly what happened, blow for blow. And the next morning I'm in my kitchen in Yonkers, and there he is hovering above the cabinets. That event turned my life around because I started looking for answers.

Before that I thought everything revolved around the essence of my being in the "now." I believed in cause and effect, but I only associated it with the present. I'd never considered the possibility of the past, present, and future being one, which is what Buddhism led me to.

So you start connecting the dots. An analogy I like is an iceberg, when you look at it, the part you see represents the present, but the three quarters you don't see represents the past. And because the iceberg is melting, you're also seeing the future.

The future is endless, and the actuality of eternal life is something we need to reckon with.

AAJ: How long did it take you to make the leap to Buddhism after you had the vision of King Curtis?

JJ: It took me two years, the summer of 1973, and I received my Gohonzon on February 9, 1974.

It took me a while, I started looking and digging. First I tried Kundalini Yoga, I looked into existentialism, numerology, astrology—you know, looking for something that made sense to me. When I came upon True Buddhism I became aware of karma, and that tied everything together for me. Our existence rests upon the concept of karma and everything is related.

AAJ: How has this affected you as a musician? Are you more selfless and empathetic?

JJ: By nature, playing the bass I was always empathetic anyway—that's the nature and supportive position of the instrument. I would say it has given me more openness and freedom to express myself.

AAJ: And the chanting, is that a calming thing?

JJ: I'd say it's more invigorating. When I finish chanting I'm fired up and ready to go. I don't do anything until I've had my morning prayer service which takes place twice a day. But really I don't think about it anymore because it is so intertwined with my life. In the course of the day there are a lot of opportunities to do things, to correct things, and to be more focused.

It's wonderful to have that rope to hang on to, and to pull ourselves out of the darkness and into the light. That's why the arts are so important, it's something that enlightens us and focuses us on the higher aspect of ourselves—as opposed to mass media, with art you have to focus and spend time with it. It's very rewarding.

My commitment to it comes from the actual proof of the process. You can believe and have faith, and that's cool, but when you actually see proof and results, you realize it's something you want to stick with.

So we try to serve, and to manifest the Buddha of intrinsically perfect wisdom in our lives, and that encompasses the past, present, and the future. Yet I'm not thinking of the past and future, I'm focused on being in the present with all I've got.

AAJ: People interested in learning more can find information on your website right?

JJ: Right. There's information about the True Buddhism, some of my discography with audio clips, info about my gear, I do clinics and teaching via Skype, tour dates, my latest book, an Ebook, There's Music In Everyone! (C Souler Energy, 2008), and other stuff.

As far as what I'm doing now, I'm trying to get my teaching methods placed in institutions and programs outside my workshops. I've been working with the Mississippi Arts Commission to get something going on the community or university level. Other than that, it's all about the fans and making music better, that's been my mission, to pass something on to the next generation.

AAJ: I'd say, mission accomplished.

JJ: [Laughing] Yeah, I'd say I've done that! But I have to continue and try to make my methods accessible to more people, not just musicians, by putting an appreciation of music in the hands of the average person. A little understanding can go a long way.

Selected Discography

Al Kooper, Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper, Mike Bloomfield Fillmore East: The Lost Concert Tapes 12/13/68 (Columbia, 2003)
Ben E. King, Supernatural (Atlantic,1975)
Jimmy McGriff, Black and Blues (People Records, 1973)
Herbie Mann, Turtle Bay (Atlantic, 1973)
Archie Shepp Attica Blues (Impulse/Abc, 1972)
Eddie Palmieri, Harlem River Drive (Roulette, 1971)
King Curtis, Live at Fillmore West, (Atco, 1971)
Aretha Franklin, Aretha Live At Fillmore West (Atlantic, 1971)
Herbie Hancock, Mwandishi (Warner Archives, 1971)
Les McCann & Eddie Harris, Second Movement (Atlantic, 1971)
Richard "Groove" Holmes, Comin' On Home (Blue Note, 1971)
Herbie Mann, Push Push (Atlantic, 1971)
Rascals, Freedom Suite (Atlantic, 1969)
George Benson, The Other Side Of Abbey Road (A&M, 1969)
Freddie Hubbard, A Soul Experiment (Atlantic, 1969)
Paul Desmond, Bridge Over Troubled Water (A&M, 1969)
Shirley Scott, Shirley Scott And The Soul Saxes (Atlantic, 1969)
Aretha Franklin, Aretha Now (Atlantic, 1968)
Freddie King, Freddie King Is A Blues Master (Atlantic, 1968)

Photo Credits: Page 1: Susea of Hittin' the Note; Pages 2, 3: Courtesy of Jerry Jemmott; Page 8: Dragan Tasic.


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