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Ghetto Blues: From Roots of Suffering to Buds of Hope

Ghetto Blues
From Roots of Suffering to Buds of Hope

by Anna Immanuel

copyright © 2003 Anna Immanuel

"When the Nazis confiscated Jewish-owned musical instruments, Vogel soaked his valves in sulphuric acid to keep anyone from playing military marches on a jazz trumpet." From "The Ghetto Swingers" in La Tristesse de Saint Louis p 25 by Mike Zwerin

I think if I declared a Writer's Desk competition right now - freeze! - and every writer on this planet had her or his desk photographed & the picture posted, mine would win: And in submitting this Blues chronology that underscores and highlights the absolute and unique roll of Jazz in lightening Sysiphysian loads, I would like to decribe my desk and talk plain.

Exactly two years ago Arnie Lawrence and I brought "God Bless The Child: Reflections in The Jazz & Blues Tradition" to the Holy Land.

It was a time wracked by bombs and the blood of innocent children spilled over the front pages like invisible ink.

It coincided, as it happens, with 9/11.

To the day.

"I'll feature what you're doing on Prime Time," Israel Television Channel One's News Anchorwoman Sari Raz said, "unless there's too much bad news."

There was, as it happens, too much bad news - a market bomb in Afula killing & maiming dozens, a Russian civilian Charter Flight blown up shortly after take off from Tel Aviv, all in one day - but she put us on anyway - a handful of writers and musicians musing aloud about the role of the artist in totalitarian times.

Mike Zwerin was still musing when we were stopped at a roadblock the next day en route to the Annual Festival of Alternative Theatre in the historic Arabic Quartier of Akko, where Napoleanic ruins hold fort. We were ordered to turn back.

"Arnie's going to get out his horn out and play "When The Saint Go Marching In" right here at the checkpoint if they don't let him through," someone observed.

That may or may not have been the deciding factor, but we were eventually allowed past the barrier, and on to the tented "Normal Cafe" Experimental Theatre, where, billed alongside Arabic author Salman Natour, a Co-Existence line-up of belly dancers, and the ouds, darboukas, and Jazz trio of Arnie's International Center for Creative Music, Zwerin read a passage from La Tristesse de St Louis, reissued in paperback as Swing Under The Nazis. Past Washington Times reporter Leslie Horwitz, biographer, thriller-and-ghost writer who boasts the largest private Jazz album collection in the Village, read from the first of his 23 books, The Jerusalem Conspiracy.

Directly behind and over my ash-littered Toshiba laptop (many times repaired, sometimes ingeniously, in desperation, by me - with its red-rimmed "choose freedom" seal - thank you Toshiba! (would you pay for this acknowledgment?) is a five sheet photo montage of Arnie & his Band of Angels on a makeshift platform in Wadi Nis Nas, the Arabic quartier of the Haifa Valley leading up to the World Center Ba-Hai Temple.

Arnie & his Co-Existence Band "Kashcul," The Int'l Center for Creative Music, Jerusalem in association with Beit Hagefen, Haifa's oldest Jewish-Arabic Cultural Center, featuring young musicians of all cultures, at Wadi Nis Nas, the Arabic Quarter of Haifa, in concert for the Annual Holiday of Holidays Celebration of Ramadan, Christmas and Hannukah.

Photos: Tirzah Valentine

It's the four-part Holiday of Holidays Concert Series, celebrating Ramadan, Chanukah, and Christmas. Thousands of people, all faiths, all nationalities, crowd the winding village streets and mill among tables piled with local crafts, wind-up Santas, traditional Arab sweets, fresh humous and pitta bread and sizzling meat.

I can't remember how many people died that month in televised acts of terror and destruction, or how many children's lives were crushed.

The day before Arnie had tripped and cracked his hip, but he hadn't yet seen a doctor, there wasn't time, and on his bandstand an accordian, guitar, bass and drumset waited.

And as at every Concert, it was the Blues that got to the body and soul of the crowd.

"God Bless The Child" is celebrating its Year of The Blues in vastly different locales, before crowds so varied that often smiles and foot-tapping are their only means of communication - and the scatting along in thousands of accents to a universally struck chord.

Nearly 20 years ago Jackie Byard told a Blues Master Class at The New School that the Blues was inspired by "Silent Night."

Mary Lou Williams taught that "the roots of the tree of Jazz is suffering and the trunk is the Blues."

Arnie says, "The Blues is the truth."

And sometimes the band is in uniform, or playing for uniforms, or in striped pajamass, or playing for striped pajamas, or the polka-dotted ones of children in hospital beds too weak to sing along to the tune their parents said used to be their favorite.

I know I had to leave the bandstand four times and cry out in the Paediatric Oncology corridor, then go back in wearing a wide smile the morning I got my JJA obilesque with the saxophone encrypted nib.

Erroneously, although inscribed to me, it bears the dedication "To Jazz & Beyond "intended for Arnie, and my "God Bless The Child" inscription appeared on his. With the subsequent disappearance of Arnie's obelisque, onlly mine remains, and I brought it for presentation to Arnie, since it bears his dedication, at the closing Concert of our Daniel Pearl World Music Day II Holy Land Concert Series last week, twinning the Harmony for Humanity campaign of the Daniel Pearl Foundation with the Protection of the Lives of All Children in Conflict Regions Campaign of "God Bless The Child."

Another twinning has taken place which is described in the following letter from Brian Baker in Paris, Jazz journalist & Spokesman for The Josephine Baker family, representing the twelve surviving siblings of Josephine's original 13 child strong "Rainbow Tribe":


Paris, 22nd Sept, 2003:

Dear Arnie,

I hope you are well and doing good in music, with your Asssociation, too.

Your humanity and care for the children of the world are in the same spiritual sense of my mother, Josephine Baker.

Youth is the future, and need to be helped by peple like you in order to live in a different and better understanding of this universe.

On behalf of my family I wish you the best representing my mother and us where you are, and send you my best regards.

Brian Baker


Josephine's Dream joined God Bless in the Child in the Blues Harif (Harif - A hot Middle-Eastern Sauce) Concert Salute to Daniel Pearl (Oct 7 - Oct 19) opening the World Music Day coverage on CNN and ITV with a special Young Masters ensemble on bagpipe, ouds, darboukas, piano, keyboards, guitar, saxophone, trumpets, drumset and vocals in the Ambassador's Hall of Jerusalem's historic King David Hotel, and on the terrace of the stunning YMCA directly opposite. The musicians played while crossing King David Street New Orleans style past this stone inscription: "Here is a place whose atmosphere is peace, where political and religious jealousies can be forgotten, and international unity be fostered and developed." (Lord Allenby)

"Those words were perfect," Danny's father, Professor Judea Pearl, said to me on the phone from California after reading the verse we added in a liberty with "It Ain't Necessarily So":

Daniel - he went into that den -
You know, Daniel - he went into that den -
Those lions are long gone
But his memory lives on -
Oh Danny your memory lives on -

Before our Sunset Service at Beit Gabriel, the splendid Concert Hall built by Mrs. Gita Sherover on the shores of the Sea of Galilee to honor the memory of her only child Gabriel as the site of The Israel-Jordan Peace Accord Ceremony, we returned to Schneider Children's Hospital, the region's largest paediatric medical facility serving children & staffed by health caree professsionals of all faiths & nationalities.

"You know which song the children loved and remember most of all from the last time you were here?"Maskit, Hospital Program Director said.

"Which one?"

"Oh, you know - what's it called - that one about summer and daddy and mommy -"

She meant mammy, of course.

I'm no expert, but I would add "Summertime" to the list of inspiring Blues, and Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, and Mary Lou Williams and Harriet Beecher Stowe to our ongoing Great Lady Day tributees.

We invite all JJA members & readers to submit a written letter, quote and/or photograph on the theme "Through Daniel's Eyes - and Mine" to me [please use the link at the bottom of this page to initially contact Anna - we've hidden her e-mail to help prevent the address getting spammed] for on-line posting. The winning submission receives First Prize - a broken typewriter and the miracle ring that has taken us to this place - to be awarded at the upcoming IAC Conclave 2004.

And among a litter of papers, including school-children's and musicians' "Letters to Daniel", posters of GBTC Rainbow Concert series, and IAC Millennium Events "Let There Be Light" (in English, Hebrew & Arabic) stickers, depicting dancing figures under an uneclipsed sun (emblem designed in Jerusalem, produced in Ramallah), beside a print-out of Daniel Pearl's view on the Afterlife: "I don't have the answers, mainly many questions, but I sure hope Gabriel likes the way I play" - is the Running Press Handbook of Native American Wisdom, containing this observation by Lone Man (late 19th Century, Teton Sioux): "The earth is large, and on it live many animals. The earth is under the protection of something which at times becomes visible to the human eye."

And audible at times.

- Anna Immanuel


Afterword from Arnie:

The great natural leader of men, commander & coach of all he surveyed, a pure & simple man but deeply profound - I speak of none other than Yogi Berra.

This New York Yankee fans Commander in Chief said two things which stick in my mind that strongly pertain to right now, since it is the goal of God Bless The Child and my dearest friend, Anna Immanuel, and me to fulfill our promise to Salman Natour who, when asked for his advice, said:"The musicians and the writers and the artists, painters and dances are not going to make peace"

And I asked humbly if they could be the magnets that attract the common people - all of them - to the defence of innocent children worldwide. And his response was, "Let's get started!"

Now - Yogi's great pearls of wisdom: It is told that in the last of the 9th inning in an important game - 2 out & 1 to go to end the game - the great Yogi Berra said to his men, "It's not over till it's over" - and lo and behold his team went on to win. I forgot to tell you - they were losing.

The second quote which stands vividly in my mind: Yogi said, "If you come to a fork in the road, take it."

And therefore with the spirit that helped the NY Yankees win that game that day, we of the Conclave, God Bless The Child, Josephine's Dream, Daniel Pearl World Music Day - celebrated with thousands of concerts in over thirty nations - invite all who put their hearts and soul into attracting the people to add their names courageously as International Artists Conclave supporters.

A resolution of all people of all walks of life - from Hell's Angels to Madison Avenue executives & bank presidents to grandmothers worldwide, including the Arab world, and mothers and fathers & peace-loving people - to come together in a humanitarian way to solve matters in a civilized way for the protection of our children and as an example to them.

I believe we still have a chance to open a doorway to a new option - one that is not opened for us by those who desire conflict.

If you think your name doesn't count, you'll see my name there -

- Arnie Lawrence


Contact Anna Immanuel


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