While in graduate school, I had the pleasure of taking a class entitled “Jazz Historiography” with Dr. Lewis Porter. As part of the final paper for the class we were required to interview at least one notable jazz musician in regards to our chosen topic. After considerable deliberation over a few weeks, I decided to write about two of my favorite things, Jazz and food. Since thinking about food always takes me home to Durham, I decided to interview Nnenna Freelon who also happens to live in my hometown. It was during this interview that she told me about a saying her grandmother told her that she holds very close to her heart. It would have a tremendously positive impact on me and I want to share it with you. The saying goes, “Bloom where you are planted.”
I recall walking down the hallway at C.E. Jordan High School and being approached by the band director, David Robinson, towards whom I have nothing but gratitude and appreciation. I had decided earlier in the day that I couldn’t be a part of the jazz big band because I didn’t think that my schedule would allow it. It was a bummer and I had been feeling bad about it all day. In a moment that literally changed my life, he found me and told me that I absolutely should be a part of the group and that we would make it work. At the first rehearsal I remember being so excited by the energy coming out of the music and filling our band room. It was raucous. It was sultry. It was great. The seed had been planted. I was falling in love with one of the greatest things to ever be created, Jazz.
The following year, once again, my life was changed. Friends in the band, who continue to be some of the most important people in my life to this day, encouraged me to be a part of the jazz combo program. Soon, I found myself buried in headphones listening to Lee Morgan records. John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Joe Henderson became artists-in-residency in my car stereo, and “Chick Corea” and “Return to Forever” became loaded terms signaling extreme badassness and excitement between friends and me. I found myself constantly listening and becoming completely absorbed in the music.
As a young jazz musician learning about the history of the music, New York became a sort of Mecca and visions of pilgrimages to this hallowed musical ground began to emerge. But it wasn’t until deciding to attend graduate school at Rutgers that I finally made it to the big city (well, close to it at least). If I was going to be a jazz musician I had to be in New York, right? Everybody knows that. You want to play jazz, you go to New York and live in a tiny studio apartment with about four other guys, wash your clothes in the sink, eat Ramen noodles for a couple of years, and play with some of the greatest musicians on earth. But how could I leave my family back home in North Carolina? I had already been apart from my girlfriend (now fiancée) for 2 years and the distance between the big apple and the old north state wasn’t getting any shorter. It was a problem with no good solution. It wasn’t until my conversation with Mrs. Freelon that I was introduced to another way of thinking about my path.
I love North Carolina. I love it! Sure it has its problems like a legislature that’s taking us to hell in a hand basket, a power company that’s poisoning the water, and support for teachers on par with a soggy paper towel, not to mention the soul-crushing summer humidity. But I’ve never had ice cream as good as at Maple View Farms. I’ve never had barbeque as good as at any one of the dozens of restaurants dotting the Triangle. I’ve never seen as many fireflies at dusk as I have on a misty evening in Chapel Hill. I’ve never felt so nostalgic as I have after walking to the car after an old school Durham Bulls game at the DAP. And I’ve never met so many musicians who are full of energy, passion, and love for each other and for the music as I have in North Carolina.
“Bloom where you are planted”. These words echoed in my head as I pondered my life path. It was so encouraging to hear someone who is so successful and full of love assert that it was possible to grow and bloom and flourish to your full potential where you have roots. Living away from home I realized that my heart lives in the south and my roots are deep. New York is an amazing place and I look forward to visiting often and playing as much as possible there but I know that there is so much room to grow here in my hometown. I can bloom and be a part of this wonderful garden planted right here.
Back to the shed…