Classical music--the Eurocentric, orchestral kind, with Bach and Beethoven and so forth--had reached a dead end by the time the 20th century rolled around. The great masters had done their thing, had flung their genius tapestries of sound into the expanding universe of human culture. Bach and Vivaldi had long ago established a foundation of finely-tuned complexity and passionate virtuosity.Mozart and Beethoven then erected upon their base an intricate structure of technical perfection and artistic reverie.
In the 1800s, impressionists, Ravel and Chopin and others, flung the masters' exquisite orchestral constructs onto a canvas of blended colors and introspective wanderings among the forests of a disappearing natural world.
When the 20th century came roaring in with wheels of steel, endless hours of numbingly repetitive work, and dark forebodings of mechanized war, the old impulses of harmony and order in music had been lost. Massively organized concerts of deathly destruction had ground themselves into a muddy halt on European battlefields. A bewildering wasteland of alienation was spread out upon what had been a world of high culture.
Orchestral musicians sank into an abyss of academic irrelevance and bizarre experimentation.
Then along came an African bound in merciless servitude to a sweaty cotton dock down in New Orleans, and that formerly-enslaved black man restored to the fallen world of Western music what it had lost: rhythm.
And the rest is history. Well, it all was, but...
That ole man rhythm shuffled his feet, walked up a worn-out gangplank onto a Mississippi riverboat queen where he wafted up to Memphis, planted a few cotton-eyed blues shoots. Then he churned on up to St.Louis where he laid down some soon-to-be-classic 12-bar roots, and then beat out a trail on up to Chicago and got some uptown soul goin'on. By the time ole white on rice had laid his badself down and he be ready to do a little receivin' from de black folk he done brought hisself clear on up to New Yawk where he stopped and did some serious orchestratin' and western music was reborn in cradle of slavish trouble like nobody ever known in the history of the world.
And then came Gershwin.
Then the hopelessly stricken world of organized western music could get back on the boat in New Yawk harbor with some desperately needed pizzazz and a shine on his shoes, and transport his bad self around the world. And I told him dat.
And this is what I thought about when I heard, all on the same day, three awesomely talented clarinetists from totally different musical strains yesterday at the waterfront in Seattle.
1.) First there was Doreen Ketchens playing along with her tuba-totin' hubby and (probably 9-year-old) daughter cuttin' a shine on the drums while Doreen flung out that ole dixieland licorice stick magic right in the middle of all them white folk at Steinbrueck park overlooking Puget Sound. Doreen told me, while I was buying their CD, they had just arrived from New Orleans three days before.
2.) Then there was three talented fellers thumpin out a kind of retro ragtime klezmer thing goin' on right in front of the original Starbucks at Pike Place. They called themselves the Millionaires' Club, and I laid down some jack for their CD too.
3.) Leaving the Pike Place tourist mecca area, back up on 1st Ave, was yet another clarinet virtuoso. He was doin the solo thing, a la Joni Mitchell's For Free scenario, blowin' out those groundbreakin' clarinet strains from Gershwin's soulful Rhapsody in Blue.
Sorry I didn't buy his CD, but I did come back here to our son's place and start writing these thoughts.
And I remember thinking, in the midst of all that clarinetish genius in the middle of a gorgeous sunny Seattle day, and recalling the old Blood Sweat and Tears Tune, or maybe it was Chicago who sang that "I think it was the fourth of July" song about being in the park with all that native energy goin' on and all them happy folks and ice cream cones and red white and blue what not, and I thought, for some reason, of President Kennedy telling the Germans back in '61 that there is some help and some hope for a world that has fallen into destruction.
And he told those Germans that there was hope, and he said that when the world wants to get you donn, that old bad honkin' world should just come to Berlin "Let them come to Berlin..." said Kennedy to the Berlinners in 1961. Let them come and see how you've rebuilt yourselves in freedom that has overcome the ashes of tragic world war.
"Ich bin ein Berliner," he told them, figuratively. I'm a Berliner. We're all Berliners on this bus. We can all rebuild from the ashes of history. We can all overcome the sinful tragedy of an African bound to a cotton bale on the docks back in New Orleans back in the bad old days. And I thought...Let them come to America and see.
Ich bin ein Americano, and proud of it.