The last time I wrote about John Coltrane the snow was falling here in Wisconsin – and no, it’s not 10 months out of the year. John Coltrane was born on 9/2/1926 and died on 7/17/1967. He was a truly great saxophonist. Summer’s here now. It’s hot, and if you need a reminder, there’s always this recording keyed off of Gershwin’s Summertime.
Take a break. Get something from the refrigerator, grab the paper, book, or magazine and go into the den or living room. Relax for a few hours. You put your feet up and consider that life isn’t so bad. You’ve got your favorite things. And like the Roger and Hammerstein song goes, “Raindrops on roses…”
All your favorite things are there for when you’re “feeling sad.” Great picture if you’re lucky enough to be able to get to that place or point in time where you do have something in the refrigerator, live in a dwelling with a living room or den, and can afford to take a few hours off to put your feet up. Sounds like the American Dream.
The dream itself appears to be neutral with regard to race, religion, gender, and color. After all, didn’t Julie Andrews sing the song in the Sound of Music? Sweet and pleasantly happy.
Interesting things happen when the melody gets stuck in someone else’s guts. It gets digested and comes back out in a not-so-sweet fashion if the musician feels that they and others may have been cut out of that rosy picture.
Poverty and the gap in wealth preclude too many people from having even a few of those “favorite things.”
I’m old and was lucky enough to have heard John Coltrane perform in New York at the Village Vanguard, in Chicago in a South Side bar, and here in Wisconsin. High points in my listening life! But I remember hearing a growing pain and impatience in his evolving treatment of My Favorite Things and other standards. He was getting older. It was obvious he and the majority of African Americans were not any closer to getting a piece of the American pie. Redlining and ghettos limited home purchases and appreciation of wealth. Poor schools and prejudice kept African-Americans at the bottom of the economic ladder, narrowed opportunities, and restricted where they could live. Too many people were getting nothing or close to that.
I think it’s there in his music. I wish it were otherwise. His ballads are so wonderful and his sound could be so sweet.
But listen to these two recordings and think about what you can do to help all Americans have some of your favorite things.
It’s a challenge for all of us. What can we do to make this a better place for everyone and I mean EVERYONE, especially those who don’t look like you or agree with you? Commit random acts of kindness daily. Give charity. Smile. And then in your heart, the sweet sound of Coltrane’s saxophone will echo in peace.
Parts of this essay first appeared in The Havok Journal on January 11, 2022.
Ken was a Professor of Mathematics, a ceramicist, a welder, and an IBMer until downsized in 2000. He taught yoga until COVID-19 decided otherwise. He continues writing, living with his wife and beagle in Shorewood, Wisconsin. He enjoys chamber music and mysteries. He’s a homebrewer and runs whitewater rivers. Ken is a writer and his literary works can be found at https://www.kmkbooks.com/
He welcomes feedback on his articles and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.