PJ Lifestyle Editor’s Note:
This is Part 11, the conclusion, of Volume 1 of Robert Spencer’s Jazz and Islam series. Yes — Volume 1 does imply the intent for Robert to return to this subject again in the future so we can someday produce a Volume 2. As the Islamic War Against Freedom has intensified and arisen again into the foreground of public consciousness, Robert and I have decided on a new cultural angle through which he will seek to illuminate each week’s dark, confusing stories of jihad terrorism. I won’t reveal the secret yet of just what Robert’s new focus will be. But perhaps this astounding article today revealing the troubled story of a lost young man who poisoned his mind with deadly ideas will provide a hint of what’s to come…
– David Swindle
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who along with his brother Dzhokhar murdered three people and wounded nearly 200 more with twin bombs at the Boston Marathon, was a musician. John Curran, Tamerlan’s boxing coach, recalled: “He also played the piano very well.” The Lowell Sun reported that “Tsarnaev also studied music at a school in Russia and played piano and violin.”
As late as 2010, according to Gene McCarthy of the Somerville Boxing Club in Massachusetts, Tsarnaev was still playing:
“I brought him to the registration” for a boxing tournament, “and while he was waiting in line, he saw a piano and was playing classical music like it was Symphony Hall.”
However, the Associated Press reported Wednesday that “in the years before the Boston Marathon bombings, Tamerlan Tsarnaev fell under the influence of a new friend, a Muslim convert who steered the religiously apathetic young man toward a strict strain of Islam, family members said.”
Jazz and Islam, Part 10
When jazz and drug use were in danger of becoming as closely associated a team as salt and pepper, a movement began of jazz musicians converting to Islam – for Islam, according to John Coltrane biographer C. O. Simpkins, “was a force which directly opposed the deterioration of the mind and body through either spiritual or physical deterrents.”
Islam may have saved many prominent musicians from the “deterioration of mind and body” stemming from drug and alcohol abuse, but paradoxically, many of them joined the Ahmadi sect, which is persecuted by Muslims who consider it heretical.
Jazz artists who became Ahmadi Muslims include pianists Ahmad Jamal and McCoy Tyner (a.k.a. Sulieman Saud); saxophonists Yusef Lateef and Sahib Shihab; and perhaps most notably of all, drummer Art Blakey, who after his conversion styled himself Abdullah Ibn Buhaina. He didn’t use his Muslim name professionally, but it was well known among his musician colleagues, who often called him “Bu.”
Jazz and Islam, Part 9
Jazz was more popular than ever in the early ’60s. Then the Beatles exploded onto the American pop music scene, and that was the end of that. Jazz artists who had begun the decade engaging in innovative and enthusiastically received explorations of harmony and rhythm finished it by offering up tired, pale instrumental covers of psychedelic Top 40 hits. Ever since then, many of jazz’s fiercest partisans have spent an inordinate amount of time insisting that jazz is not dead — which, like the claim that “Islam is a religion of peace,” wouldn’t have to be endlessly repeated if it were obviously true.
If jazz is dead, two suspects who should be brought in for some intense questioning are two of the unlikeliest people ever to be thought of as the ones to have administered the coup de grace to America’s foremost native art form: Miles Davis and John Coltrane.
Now don’t get me wrong: I am one of the most ardent fans either one of them could possibly have ever had. On my shelves are easily two hundred discs featuring one or (better yet) both of them. Their historical role as towering musical pioneers and composers, improvisers, and virtuosos of the first order is unshakeable. Yet in their own ways, where the vibrant and popular jazz of the 1960s is concerned, they became death, the destroyer of worlds.
John Coltrane took the road less traveled. He became enamored of Ornette Coleman, the great innovator of “free jazz” — and with good reason. Coltrane liberated his sound from the dense chordally based improvisations he pursued with characteristic passion in the late ’50s and early ’60s — first adopting Davis’s modal approach, and then emulating Coleman in exploring improvisations free from harmonic structures altogether.
Tarik Shah is a formidable jazz bassist who has recorded with a number of luminaries, including Pharoah Sanders and Abbey Lincoln. He is also prisoner number 53145-054 at the medium security Federal Correction Institution in Petersburg, Virginia, where he is serving a fifteen-year sentence for plotting to provide combat training to al-Qaeda jihadists. His sad and tragic case points up again lingering questions about Islamic moderation that have never been answered.
In 2004, Shah made the acquaintance of a man he thought was an al-Qaeda member, but who was actually an FBI informant. Shah, a martial arts expert as well as a jazzman, offered to help train jihadis. He made no mistake of his intentions, asking the informant:
You really want to learn how to rip somebody’s throat out? I’m talking about damage to the inside so they drown on their own blood. You give them internal bleeding. It fills their lungs with blood.
Nor did Shah make any secret of his allegiance. Tapes that the FBI informant made of his conversations with Shah show the bassist full of complaints. He disliked having to pay “taxes to infidels.” He was angry with the United States for toppling the Taliban, the “only Islamic government of Afghanistan.” He claimed that non-Muslim Westerners “have been killing Muslims on a consistent basis for almost 200 years. They have been at war with us, which means we are at war with them.”
Jazz and Islam, Part IV
Recently Islamic supremacists in the Egyptian city of Mansoura made a statement: they dressed a statue of Umm Kulthum, the revered Egyptian chanteuse, in a niqab. Proud of their achievement, they sent photos of their handiwork all over the Internet. They should have been hanging their heads in shame.
Their statement was clear enough: they were calling for the imposition of elements of Islamic law mandating that women not go out in public unveiled. That they would choose a statue of “the first lady of Arabic song” to make this statement suggests also that they object to the very idea of an unveiled female singing about secular subjects: they object to her being unveiled; they object to her being female and yet an independent human being in her own right, not just the slave of some man; and they object to her singing about non-religious matters, since the only music allowed in Islamic law is Islamic religious music.
In honor of Umm Kulthum, therefore, it is a good time to remember and celebrate some women we love, women who led lives and sang songs that were decidedly un-Islamic, and who would have left the world poorer had they forsaken the stage and recording studio, donned a veil, and retired to the inner recesses of the house in order to serve their menfolk. These five women never donned a niqab, and for that we should all be eternally grateful.
The defense of the free world against jihad and Islamic supremacism is a war for joy, a war for happiness, against regimentation that stomps on the human spirit — just as unmistakably as was the war against National Socialist Germany. That makes it also a war for music.
Take it from none other than the Ayatollah Khomeini, who once declared:
Allah did not create man so that he could have fun. The aim of creation was for mankind to be put to the test through hardship and prayer. An Islamic regime must be serious in every field. There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious.
This kind of attitude, not unexpectedly, leads Islamic supremacists to take a dim view of music, and particularly joyful music. The renowned Muslim Brotherhood theorist Sayyid Qutb shared the disdain for jazz that was brutally manifested by the Nazis with whom so many Islamic supremacists collaborated. That disdain was wonderfully satirized in the Schickelgruber Lambeth Walk, a wartime-era film short (made during the days when one could still mock the enemy) that provoked in Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels a towering rage. The devil, as Thomas More noted, cannot endure to be mocked.
“Islam,” said Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan al-Banna, “does have a policy embracing the happiness of this world….We believe that Islam is an all-embracing concept which regulates every aspect of life, adjudicating on every one of its concerns and prescribing for it a solid and rigorous order.”
Al-Banna was enunciating a commonplace. One of the chief elements of Islamic apologists’ polemic against the West is that Islam, unlike Christianity and other rivals, is a complete way of life, one that governs every aspect of the believer’s life, down to the smallest detail. But one detail remains unproven: that having every aspect of one’s life “regulated” is really a recipe for “the happiness of this world.” This is the key question at issue between the proponents of Sharia and the defenders of free societies: whether the human being can and should be entrusted with the right and power to make decisions of his own, or whether it is preferable for him to submit to a total system of control – one so all-encompassing that it tells him how to wear his hair, how to brush his teeth, what clothes to wear, and even how to evacuate his bowels.
Contrasting to this is the philosophy of life that assumes that the human spirit best flowers when it is not subject to such all-invasive control, but is allowed to find its own rhythm and choose its own direction. And that’s why jazz is a foremost expression of the American spirit. Every aspect of the music is not controlled; rather, the players compose it right on the bandstand. The blazing and tragic reedman Eric Dolphy once said, “When you hear music, after it’s over, it’s gone, in the air. You can never capture it again.” That is true of all music to a certain extent, even the most carefully scored and coordinated, for every performance is subject to human vicissitudes, particularly when different musicians interpret the same written notation — just compare recordings by two different orchestras of the same orchestral piece to see this. But it is true above all of improvised music, in which each performance comes from the soul (or lack thereof) of every performer, and every aspect of the music is most gloriously and emphatically not regulated.
All composition begins in improvisation, but the composer who is writing a score takes the time to reflect, sharpen, polish, and shape his musical thoughts; the improviser, on the other hand, is walking the tightrope without a net, trying to create something compelling in the moment. If he fails, the music will be dull and uninteresting; if he succeeds, it will be spectacular — as spectacular as the flowering of America and the West when individual rights were respected, and when so many fewer aspects of life were controlled.
Every great improvisation is, therefore, a monument to freedom — one to savor, and to celebrate. It would take a book, or more precisely a library, to catalogue them all and to give each its due, but within the confines of the space we have, here are a few choice monuments to the free and unfettered human spirit:
1. Louis Armstrong, “Dinah,” 1933
Louis Armstrong’s importance cannot be overstated; he practically originated this music himself. Ensemble jazz with short improvised patches arose in the early part of the twentieth century, with Armstrong’s great precursor Jelly Roll Morton laying claim to being its sole “inventor.” But it was Armstrong who had the imagination, the audacity, and the chops to extend his improvisations and make them the centerpiece of his music, making them into much more than the brief elaborations on the melody they had been before his arrival on the scene. This example comes from slightly later than the period of Armstrong’s first flush of inspiration and innovation, but all of his wit, exuberance, and musical inventiveness are on abundant display.
With the publication of Amity Shlaes’ biography of Coolidge, you might expect a sudden burst of Twenties Nostalgia. Everyone will get it wrong. There wasn’t any such thing as “the Twenties.”
But we think there was. The Simpsons’ Kent Brockman summed it up perfectly: “The Twenties! When Al Capone did the Charleston atop a flagpole.”
That’s as accurate as saying that everyone in Seventies was Kung Fu Fighting.
Decades get boiled down to songs, pictures, celebs, and fads, and we think we know them. The Forties: War! Then five years of something-or-other. The Thirties: everyone stood in breadlines waiting for the Wizard of Oz to be released so they could have some color. The decade before the Twenties — well, not so clear. The Titanic sunk, triggering World War One, somehow. The Twenties? Jazz and bathtub gin and F. Scott Fitzgerald throwing up on a flapper during a Jolson movie.
So what was it like? I’m no expert on the era, but I’ve studied the pop culture — movies, songs, magazines — for the segment of my Website devoted to the 1920s. It can be a stubborn era to grasp. The Gatsby stereotypes loom too large; 1929 seems like a different world than 1921; the era that followed reinvented movies and created characters much more vivid than the overacting shades of the silent era. The ‘30s speak to us. The ‘20s gesture.
In retrospect, it seems rather goofy. Like this:
A Woody Allen movie parody — except that’s exactly what it sounded like. Quaint to modern ears. Now try this: a tune made popular by the most unlikely fellow to be known as the King of Jazz, Paul Whiteman. Okay, it’s dated 1930, but this is right out of the top of the bubble.
The song is all over the place, throwing one instrument after the other — full band, then violin and guitar, heading towards that 2:22 spo-de-oh-dee moment where everyone puts their hands up in the air and shimmies their palms. Because the good times are here and youth culture is finally giving grown-up culture a run for its money, and everyone’s spifficated on liquor the crooks brought over the river from Canada.
Here’s what it sounded like if you were there:
It’s different when you hear the Twenties in stereo, isn’t it?
(The graphics chosen for the video, by the way, are from the game “Fallout,” which uses ’50s-style graphics in a post-apocalyptic world. But hey, does it matter? Anything that didn’t happen before 1995 is “retro” now.)
So is that the Twenties? Yes and no. The Twenties led up to that; the music evolved. Everything evolved — or least got faster and racier, if you call that progress. You start with a naughty joke book in 1921, and by the middle of the decade, the lid’s off:
About five years ago, after my husband and I first heard Paul Wilbur perform at a messianic temple in Ft. Lauderdale, we became instant fans. Since then, we have played his CDs in our cars repeatedly.
Wilbur’s songs appeal to traditional Jews and Christians alike. He has performed in Israel on numerous occasions, and his love for that nation, coupled with his own Jewish heritage and love of Christ, is the hallmark of his music ministry, making him a unique performer.
As a result, Wilbur’s popularity as a singer, songwriter and praise/worship leader has grown tenfold around the world since we first heard him perform in a small venue.
His music resonates with me, and not just because we are both Jewish believers in Jesus Christ, but in the extraordinary way his songs fill any room (or car) with passion and love.
Now, as so often happens when I’m inspired to write something with a spiritual theme for PJ Lifestyle, a deeper dimension of the topic is revealed while I am doing “research.” (A quick Google search.)
Such was the case with Paul Wilbur. I had already decided to write about him because I thought PJ Lifestyle Sunday readers would appreciate knowing about him and hearing some of his music.
That was when I discovered, just this past December, Paul Wilbur made history as the first singer to perform at a religious concert event in Cuba with the full permission and “blessing” of the communist Cuban government.
Watch him here as he speaks about this historic trip.
His Cuban concerts were truly amazing events for this struggling nation and its oppressed people.
Perhaps, just the fact that Wilbur’s two “praise and worship” performances were even allowed to proceed, is a signal that some potentially major political, social and or spiritual changes are about to be instituted by the Cuban government.
Which begs the questions, “Is God at work in Cuba and if so, is HE using Paul Wilbur as a catalyst?”
Only time will tell, but in the meantime, check out Paul Wilbur Ministries and discover what a tour de force he has become around the world.
And, if you are ever presented with the opportunity to see him perform live, do not hesitate. Trust me when I tell you your faith walk could be impacted, even if you have little faith or none at all.
Finally, I will close with a video of Paul Wilbur performing a song that ranks high among my favorites.
Please do watch until the very end, for this song builds and soars and I predict your spirits will be uplifted right along with it.
My new car comes equipped with a three month trial subscription to Sirius XM radio and when Patriot Channel talk gets repetitive, I occasionally switch to 60′s on Channel 6, where I know the words to every song.
So the other day I happened to hear a song which really jolted my memory bank. It was A Taste of Honey by Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass, but while listening, all I could think about was the album cover.
And if you are of a certain age, you know exactly what I mean.
In 1965 when the album, Whipped Cream and Other Delights, was released the cover was considered “veddy” racy.
And here is the hit song, A Taste of Honey from the album.
Whipped Cream was my parent’s album, but even as a Beatles loving 10-year-old I enjoyed it along with them. However, it was the cover that really made an impression. I even remember spreading whipped cream all over my arms in tribute to the girl on the cover.
This Sirius XM Radio childhood flashback got me thinking about what other album covers made lasting, even mind blowing visual impressions. So here is that small stack of album covers which came tumbling off a dusty shelf in the far reaches of my brain — presented in chronological order.
The Mamas and the Papas — If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears
In the middle of 1966 Beatlemania, this album by the Mamas and the Papas was released. To me, the music and the cover were equally impactful, for sitting in a bathtub fully dressed struck me as rather extreme. Chiefly responsible for the brain dent was Michelle Phillips, who was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen, wearing those jeans and cowboy boots. I remember getting into our dry bathtub pretending to be her. Yes, I was an impressionable pre-teen!
The Beatles — Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Of course the most famous album cover in history absorbed hours of 1967 summer time fun for me and my friends as we tried in vain to identify all the faces on the cover. Since we were stumped by so many, I remember having to ask my parents. (Oh the horror of asking your parents to explain a Beatles album cover!) But I had no choice since Google was 31 years in the future. Now, in one Google second here is the complete list. (How I love the modern age!)
Psychedelic flower power anyone? Released in November of 1967, this album cover fascinated me. On the inside I loved Cream’s music too, but something about the album design with all the fuchsia colors, totally blew my 12-year-old mind and opened doors of endless creative possibilities.
Traffic – The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys
This 1971 album by Traffic was so graphically unique with its die-cut design, it truly broke new ground and decades later the title song is still one of my favorite classic rock tunes. So here is a 1972 live version to enjoy, especially if it has been awhile since you have heard Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.
We must not fret about the passing of album cover art for it now lives on the net with many sites dedicated to its greatness. There are also numerous cover art quizzes that will be used as “game time” trivia at nursing homes around 2040 when I am in my 80’s. (Now at my mother’s nursing home they play trivia contest games with Broadway show tunes and my mother is often the proud winner of a new fluffy nap blanket.)
Speaking of getting old, here is the Whipped Cream girl from that famous 1965 album cover now age 76.
So what classic rock covers blew your mind at a tender age?
And if you can recall them now, remember them for later when a new fluffy nap blanket is at stake.
It starts around one minute in, but watch the whole thing for the setup. And it’s amazing. Ella Fitzgerald and Mel Tormé presenting together at the 1976 Grammy Awards, but performing a scat duet of “Lady Be Good.”
A couple years later, Tormé would record this number with Buddy Rich, with the lyric re-written as “Ella Be Good.” What an amazing record.
But this live performance? I can’t put it any better than one of the YouTube commenters, who wrote, “OH MY GOD. My face hurts from smiling SO HARD.” Yeah. That. The best part is, every single person in that auditorium, including that year’s winner, knew they just got absolutely schooled by two of the finest vocal performers in all of jazz history. And the ones who didn’t know it? They didn’t deserve to be at the Grammys.
To drink, we need something smooth, sophisticated, and sweet enough to match all the smiles.
Only — only — a Manhattan will do.
2.5 ounces bourbon
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
1 maraschino cherry (preferably with the stem still on, but my jar didn’t have any like that)
A cocktail shaker
Plenty of ice
Fill the shaker halfway with ice, then pour in your bourbon and vermouth. I happen to like Maker’s Mark for my Manhattans — anything fancier tends to get lost in the vermouth, so why bother?
Stir slowly and gently for ten seconds. Thou shalt not count to 11, nor count to nine, excepting as to then proceed to ten.
Do not break or chip the ice.
Strain into a martini glass and garnish with a single cherry.
Now rewind the video and play it again with your Manhattan. You’ll find both are improved immeasurably, along with your attitude.
Here’s the one I just made.
This is it, the last weekend of summer. Sure, that’s not what the astronomers or the meteorologists will tell you. But you know when you see Labor Day on the calendar, and feel that first chill in the afternoon winds, that this is it. Our music needs to be something breezy, and maybe a little melancholy.
George Benson’s “Breezin’” is a too-obvious choice — but so what? It’s still damn good music. Here he is performing live in the UK, an unbelievable 35 years ago. Benson had himself a crossover hit with “Breezin’,” which was all over the Top 40 stations the summer I turned eight. It was almost certainly the first jazz tune I ever heard on my own radio — a tiny olive green handheld AM relic powered by a nine-volt battery I used to remove so I could stick the contacts on my tongue. The fact that it played on my radio gave it an acceptability factor it never would have gotten had Mom or Dad tried to force me to listen. And a lifelong love was born.
For the occasion, we need just the right drink. It’s a little something I came up with for my lovely bride, and I call it — of course — Breezin’. (Melissa vetoed “Passing Wind.”)
Any decent brut champagne
2 ounces Citron vodka (Ketel One Citroen is excellent, priced right, and mixes well)
1 ounce pomegranate juice
1 teaspoon simple syrup
Six leaves of basil
In the bottom of a small cocktail shaker, muddle the basil in the pomegranate juice. Add the simple syrup and vodka, then a handful of ice. Shake gently until chilled, then divide evenly between two champagne flutes. Top off each flute with champagne. Give it a quick stir, then garnish with more basil. They’ll come out a sunset color, which seems sadly appropriate.
Serve with George Benson turned up to six and the last Saturday of the summer.
Here are the two I just made.