Cultural Citizenship | Vision & Justice || Radcliffe Institute

Cultural Citizenship | Vision & Justice || Radcliffe Institute


– I thought I’d begin by
taking off from something that Sarah just said, which was
the broadening of the notion of vision and justice to
include arts beyond the simply visual arts and to
think about performance, and yesterday ended with a
kind of embodiment of that in Carrie Mae Weems’
performance and Vijay’s music. But I thought I’d ask these
two extraordinarily articulate practitioners of the arts
to think about their fields and moving a little bit beyond
the notion of the visual arts. Wynton said when he was
giving his lectures here several years ago, he once
said in the middle of one of those lectures– I hope you remember this
quotation– music is the art of the invisible. And Diane was saying to me this
morning that one of her mentors talked about theater as
making the invisible visible. So if we could just start
by having each of you reflect a little bit on how
you see your particular art practice fitting into the
notions of bringing culture into citizenship and advancing
the notion of justice. So Diane, we’ll start
with you, since Wynton may need to catch his
breath a little bit. [LAUGHTER] – Yes. Well earned. I think to be in the presence
of that just makes us understand the possibility of art. And thinking about
yesterday and all the ideas and the complicated conversation
and what something Carrie Mae Weems said about how do
we get out of the deadlock and push ourselves into
the dynamic future? So for me, theater is
always about the impossible becoming possible,
and how can we as artists create
space for that, create an environment of
risk, and because we were just in the presence
of improvisation, which I said to
Drew this morning, one of my great mentors was
Paul Sills, whose mother was Viola Spolin, who founded
the improvisational theater movement. And she, if you don’t
know her, created what we know in the theater
as the Bible of Theater Games. And she did it at the
turn of the century around the Hull House
movement in Chicago because she wanted to
find ways for children across language barriers to just
release and free themselves. So improvisation was designed
through play to get beyond, and she would literally
create games on the spot, overnight, to release
particular kids. She made up games. And so we think of
improvisational theater in the theater– that became– Paul Sills was her son. He was my teacher. And then we think about that
growing into Saturday Night Live, Second City,
but at its root, it was about the impossible
becoming possible, the invisible become visible. So that links to the
root of theater for me, which is transformation. And when we come
together in space, like we are convening,
how to we enter a realm of transformation? And that can’t be done alone. And so that’s why I
particularly love the theater and I’m sort of riffing
off of visual literacy to other three dimensional
forms of literacy and bodies and space and
eviscerality of how do we live in the world,
[INAUDIBLE],, where we are stuck and angry, but
how do we somehow continue to retain a hope? And the hope lays,
lies, in the hope for transformation,
which I think for theater is is the basis of our form. – And you fix on a
theme here that I think is also very much a part
of Wynton’s lectures, which is art as creating community
and the community of performance as well as the
community of reception. Your thoughts on all this? – I think it was interesting
what Diane was saying. You know, theater is so
complete as an art form. Theater can have
music, it can have dance– it’s like the old Greek
kind of concept of the course and community. People knew the stories. People participated in the
reinvigoration of the community through repetition of
the fundamental values. And it’s such a fantastic– for the arts, it
includes everything– more than music, even though
I was a musician, of course. You know we love our form. As a trumpet player,
we love the trumpet. [LAUGHTER] But if we get away from our
form and think of all the arts– I think it’s was interesting
you mentioned the Hull House. Just an interesting story about
jazz and where our music was. Our music was, of course, born
of an integration in a town where people hated each other. But we had three castes. So we had whites,
creoles, and blacks. And Jelly Roll Morton
said in his Library of Congress
recordings that if he were working in the
red light district or if he were in places of ill
repute, everybody was there. [LAUGHTER] Of course, nobody was
putting on airs or anything because they were all there to
pursue things they shouldn’t have been there to pursue,
so there was a measure of equality born of vice. He observes that. But I grew up in the
1970s, and you know, we were very segregated. I played in funk bands
mainly, but my father was a jazz musician. And his concept was much
more integrated than mine, and he grew up actually
in segregation. He was he was 27 years
old, or 26 years old, 27, before he could ride
on the front of a bus– not that he rode on the front
of a bus when he was 27. He might have waited
till he was 32 to do it. But our generation
was more Soul Train for black folks, American
Bandstand for white people. So we played gigs
for blacks, and there were white gigs and black gigs. So we were, in a strange
way, much more segregated. Even though there was a
possibility for integration, it’s not something
that we really sought out as black power. We had our dashikis, our
afros, our platform shoes, and we had the whole– I used to have my
uniform on every day. So I always go back to
that time because I just like to talk about the kind
of passing of generations. And I’m just going to tell
one story about our music and how the arts creates space
and how, in terms of our art, we actualize the
future of the thing. And that actualization
of the future of it is the symbolism of it. So I was at a– I was giving an award
to Dizzy Gillespie, and then I was
maybe 22 years old, and Benny Goodman
was there to give an award to Martin [INAUDIBLE]. And Milt Hinton, the great
bassist, a black bass player– they all have passed away now– he was there. I had known Milt Hinton
since I was in high school. He’s a great
photographer and one of the great bassists of all
times, nicknamed The Judge– played on more records
than any person. He was an early figure in
the integration of jazz. So I was saying something
disparaging about Benny Goodman being the King of Swing–
oh, man, you know, white folks the King of swing– I was in my thing,
unapologetically into it. That’s where I am at. And Milt Hinton was a
very soft spoken person– very, very positive, always,
always positive, like a rock. He looked at me and he said, do
you know who Benny Goodman was? I said, man, come on. He said, you need to find out. Just him addressing me that way
let me know it wasn’t a joke. I spent a lot of time clowning. So I went and I looked up
what was his relationship to Milt Hinton. They were both a part of
the Hull House experiment in the 1920s in Chicago. They were teenagers together
in the same high school. Milt Hinton had studied with a
basses of the Chicago Symphony, and Benny Goodman has
studied with a clarinetist. So I did the math. Said, OK, here’s
two people that have known each other since 1923. Now, it’s 1984, ’83. So what do they think
about me and what I think? [LAUGHTER] So in a strange way that
you think the Civil– Because if you were born after
the Civil Rights movement, you feel that every black person
before 1965 was in slavery. You don’t know the history. You have no idea. Y’all was all slaves before us. [LAUGHTER] And I think that just that
moment was a symbolic– the symbolism of it. The strength of the bond
between the two of them was deeper than the racial. And it was him telling me. Now, if you take today with
that same basses, Milt Hinton– One night, I went to his home. It was right before
he passed away. And I had three basses
with me, young basses. He was not supposed
to get out of the bed. I don’t know. This was maybe 15 years ago. And when he saw
of bass players– Rodney Whitaker, who runs a
jazz program Michigan State, Reginald Veal, fantastic
genius of a bass player, Walter Blanding. When he saw the musicians– Carlos henriquez,
a young bass player at that time from the Bronx,
was driving on a permit. He was driving us. He was supposed to be driving. He had a gig after that
meeting with Chaka Khan in Madison Square Garden. And I’m only saying this
to say about the community. We went to see Milt. And Mona,
Milt’s wife, she said, well, Milton cannot get out the bed. When Milton saw those
bass players, he got up. He start pulling basses out. Played his bass,
had them play bass. He literally started to cry to
hear the quality of their play. Now the two musicians, they
just play with Dan and I. We’ve been playing together– Dan and I– for years,
even though Dan still looks like a baby. Phil Norris and TJ,
they’re 19, 20 years old. They learned that song we played
just before we came on here. Sarah saw us going
over the tune. And this is a true story. And I’m going to stop talking. But in the car last night,
we drove from New York after a concert
from 1:00 to 4:30 or something in the morning. So I was thinking, what
should we play tomorrow? So I had whistled a
tuning into my phone. And we were just sitting there
talking, man we should we play? So Dan will saying,
well, let’s play this. Nah, nah, nah, nah. And Dan said, man, we should
play a minor blues in six. That’s what I had
whistled into my phone. So I said, man, check out. And I put it on my
phone and whistled. It was a minor blues and six. That’s what we just played. – Oh my God. – So Phil did not know the song. TJ did not know the song. We got here late. We started to rehearse the tune. And the way they played it
was not like we went over it. – Right. – But that’s the beauty of it. You know what I mean? So that’s what you
was talking about. That’s the beauty of it. – Yeah. – So you know. If you look at the space,
TJ is from Florida. Phil is from North Carolina. Dan is from Milwaukee. I’m from New Orleans. I’m in my 50s. Phil is in his teens, early 20s. Dan is in his [INAUDIBLE]. [LAUGHTER] – His 30s. And you know, it’s
that same spirit that was in Benny Goodman. It’s the symbolic
metaphor of us playing, and then also the seriousness
of what we’re playing. I told my young people
before we came out, you have to show young
people that it’s not a crime to be serious. Be serious. It doesn’t mean we
don’t joke and clown. We joking before
we came out here about I’m giving them Ds
and Fs because somebody pulled the cell phone out. You getting a D, son. But when it’s time
to start playing– It’s interesting just the kind
of relationship we all have. – Pretty tough act a follow
that with a question, right? You’re such a
fabulous storyteller. But I think of a story that
embodies something both of you have fixed on again, which is
history came right in here. Holehouse and Benny Goodman. And you both have done a
lot of your artistic work in historical contexts. And you’re about to do 1776. You did the whole set of
plays on the Civil War– sponsoring them and directing
some of them at ART. History’s played a very
big role in your practice. And Wynton, your
lectures here we’re really a kind of introduction
to the history of jazz and music in America and its
intersection with race. And I remember very vividly
you once very kindly invited me to come to a rehearsal
at jazz at Lincoln Center. And you were doing a
piece with the orchestra. And you got up and before you
even started to play a note, you talked about how this
piece had been performed in New Orleans, and the context
of the time and the city, and what it meant within
the history of the city. And I was so stunned by that as
part of a rehearsal of a jazz orchestra. I loved it of course,
being a historian, but it was a history class
that you gave to the orchestra. Could you talk a
little bit about how you think about
the role of history in art in the
service of justice? Because you both talked about
moving forward and envisioning an unimagined future, but you
rooted in a past in the way both of you approach your work. – Well, I’ve been
thinking about 1776. And by the way, Sarah, that
trailer, can I borrow it? Anyway, if you don’t
know, 1776 is a musical . about the signing of the
Declaration of Independence. And I didn’t know the show. It won the Tony award in 1969,
which is when it was written. It beat out Hair, which seems
impossible that anything could be better than Hair. And what’s so interesting
vis-a-vis the conversations we’ve been having yesterday
and this morning is this idea of blind spots
and counter-narratives. So because I didn’t
know the show, I started asking people,
what about this show? Do you know what is it good? And so many people said, oh,
it’s this most amazing musical. Because, of course,
you know how it ends. They sign it, but
it doesn’t matter. It’s the drama
that’s building up. And they’re fighting. And then when the bells ring–
the show ends and the bells ring– you’re flooded with emotion. So I went and I looked
at it, and I read it. I didn’t know, I had
to read the libretto. And I get to the end of it. And all of a sudden, there’s
this debate in the last 10 pages of the musical
about the slavery clause that Thomas Jefferson
has written, that Rutledge, who was the
representative from South Carolina, wants
out, otherwise he won’t sign the Declaration
of Independence. And the idea in the musical,
which is riffing on history, is that they’re going to revolt
from the tyranny of England. But they need a
vision statement. I’d never thought about the
Declaration of Independence– I don’t know, we get
it, we go to July 4th, we say it in grade school. But I never thought about the
Declaration of Independence as a document that was a
manifesto for the founding of the country. And they decided that it had
to be a consensual ratification of this document. So they had to have union
among the 13 colonies. So they’re debating,
they’re debating. There’s a big song where
Rutledge sings from “Molasses to Rum,” very intense song. And in the end, for the sake
of unity, they take it out. So I’m reading this– and I did not know this
about this moment of America. And I said, this must be
musical theater license. This is great drama they’ve
put into the documents. So I go into my rabbit hole
of internet, and, of course, there it is. There’s a PBS
documentary about it. I’m reading [INAUDIBLE] book. She’s talking about it. And so I thought,
A, as an artist today, this makes me want to
do the musical because I want to bring this into
space and talk about it, and talk about
patriotism, and look at this moment of the
founding fathers and say, but who was not included? What compromise did we make? And for me, when those bells are
ringing at the end of the show, it’s sort of like the
great American tragedy or the reckoning that
we are still living. And I have to say, thank
you, Alexandra Bell, who was here yesterday. I went into my little dive
of New York Times history on the show, and I went back. It was revived in 2006, and
then it was as a concert. And the big major
revival was 1997. And I went to read the reviews. And none of the reviews of these
two performances of the show mentioned this
aspect of the show. So it just made me think
again, why do we not see? I mean, when I
read it, I thought, this is the reason
to do the show. And then I did read, you
know, the paper of record who talked about this
“Molasses to Rum.” And they described this
song as “a sinister account of slavery.” And just listening
to [INAUDIBLE],, I thought, when is it not a
sinister account of slavery? I was like, get
my black sharpie, I’m going to mark that out. How about saying “the
truthful account of slavery?” And again, I just have to
quote one thing because I read this in Bryan Stevenson. We’ll be hearing
from him tonight. But he said, this
is a quote, “People do not want to admit wrongdoing
in America because they expect only punishment. I’m not interested in talking
about American history because I want to
punish America. I want to liberate America.” And that was just something
I thought if I could just approach that in this musical. [APPLAUSE] That’s why I get up
in the morning, right? That’s why we work till
4:00 in the morning. That’s why we do what we do. – Yeah, I mean, I don’t
really have anything to add. I just think one
thing that’s good is when you get a chance
to be around colleagues of such a high caliber,
and it is such a blessing. I sit here with you. I’m reading your books,
I’m talking to you– all of your achievements, how
much it’s cost you over time. And whatever level you go
to, the type of study you put and the type of seriousness is
just what you just described. I mean, there’s nothing
for me to add to that except to just say, yeah. [LAUGHTER] And I think with
Brian, it’s a shock. I was with him. He started playing the
piano when he could play. He was playing tunes– “You don’t know what love is.” And I was like,
man, you can play? – He can do that too. – He was like, yeah, man. He said, I can play, man. And I said, let me record
this to make sure it is real. And it’s real. [LAUGHTER] So you know, you’re quoting him. And I mean, yeah,
it’s just the reason we go into the past and
the reason that you– like I’ve told you before. There was a quote
in your book where you talked about the
aspirations and dreams of people on the body of eight-year-old. I forget the exact
age of the person. And all the years I’d
thought about slavery, I’d never thought about that. I like what you were saying. I’d never– we always enlighten. Last night, we did
a thing in our hall with Ken Burns
about country music. And we were talking about– Ken was talking about– and we were rehearsing
for the show. And the guys in the
band– you know, I’m normally very
frantic before rehearsal because we have to really be
organized with a lot of parts, a lot of new arrangements. I was very calm. They said, well,
why are you so calm? I said, well, Ken Burns
is going to be here. And when he walks
in here, that’s going to be 70% improvement in
the organization of everything. [LAUGHTER] And I go back to a lecture I
went to that he gave in 1987. So I go back to those years. And I went to meet him
after that lecture. And I hugged him,
and tapped him, and talked about
how great he was. Now, here we are
m-m-m years old. [LAUGHTER] And it’s still a
respect and love I have for just his
brilliance and his genius. And one person who played is
Marty Stuart from Mississippi. And you know,
Mississippi, Louisiana was not as bad as us in
Texas because we got a– butt I loved him. And when I was in my early
30s, he came on our bus and drove with us
somewhere, Marty Stuart. And he gave me a book
on country music. And last night, he played
a piece [INAUDIBLE] played for the Grand Ole Opry,
“It Sounds Like a Train,” called Panamericana. It was unbelievable,
on a mandolin. So all the kids in a
band were looking– I said, you see, that’s Marty
telling us, I can play, man. And I just think
that we have such a– we have to return to our
history over and over again because we are history. And we don’t return to
it to regurgitate it. We turn to it to revivify. That’s all there is to do. So it is only a cycle. We’re going to live,
we’re going to die. We’re not going to skirt those. We’re born, we’re going to die. So for us to– I mean, people have read the
Declaration of Independence. And how many have [INAUDIBLE]
in the Constitution? How many understand
how important it is for us to participate? How many have had the truth of
American life put in a context? Instead, we just bring the shiny
suit out, and we get a slogan. We take some clothes off, and
we have a slogan about something that’s the opposite
of our actions. So we have to constantly return
to those fundamental values in another way. But never run from what is hard. I tell my students,
why do people not rehearse these tools? It’s hard. Why do some might not know
how to play on chord changes? It’s difficult. Why do we not
write counterpoint? It’s hard to learn that. Why do we want to solo
ourselves and never listen to another person? Because we want
to hear ourselves. – Yeah, yeah. – We could just go down the
list of the directions we go in. Why do we not do some work? It’s hard to do this work. So we have to constantly
say, let’s do this work, or let’s be for real. And that’s what
you were talking. I’m honored to be here with you. [APPLAUSE] – Wynton, those remarks
underscore the fact that you are both teachers. And your artistic practice
is a practice of performance, but it’s also a
practice of pedagogy. You, obviously,
through the Theater, Dance, Media program
with students and then in programs in schools– Wynton, you’re at Juilliard. But you also perform
in schools regularly and get involved with kids. How do you think about that as
part of the artistic mission of change and the future? And how– I mean, when
you’ve spoken and written so forcefully about how we are
neglecting art in the schools, you’ve pointed out a
golden age of sorts when there was a lot of art
education in the schools in the early 20th century. And some amazing
number of pianos sold every year, like 300,000
pianos sold every year. How do we think about– if we’re thinking of the
mission of art and justice– what we could do, what we
must do in terms of education in the arts and beyond? – I think pedagogy is something
we have to do all the time, not just in the classroom. So like you’re talking you’re
doing it with your bandmates, I mean, we’re doing
it all the time. We’re doing it with every
audience we interact with. And I think I’m deeply
committed to that because I think we
need to take time. We need to take time to
talk about what we’re doing. And I came of age in the
’90s as a young artist. And there was a sense of,
OK, the arts are this thing, and it’s up on a pedestal,
and if you don’t get it, that’s your problem. And I just entered
the world thinking, I’ve got to be in communication
with the audience. And it’s not their
fault if they’re not coming to the theater. That’s my fault. And how
can I redefine the dynamic with an audience? How can I be in a dialogue? And I had a very early board
member at ART say to me, Diane, your job is to be a pedagogue. You have to talk about
what you’re doing. And then, of course, the next
step is to embody it, right? Because we can’t
just talk about it. We have to live it, do it. And I think the aspect
of pedagogy that I just want to throw into
the discussion is the idea that when
we’re in pedagogy, we’re asking questions. And that’s been a
driver to my practice. It’s just what are the
questions we’re asking? And if you’re not asking
a big enough question, that’s when the
work is mediocre. You just have to keep
asking a bigger question. And I had this moment at
Passover last weekend. Because every year you
go to a different Seder, and you get a
different Haggadah. So every Haggadah will
say different things about the service. And this one I had
never encountered before talked about the
idea of questions. And it said, the
beauty of a question is that it demonstrates
we need each other. And I’d never thought
about it that way. That the idea, the very
act of asking a question means we must have each other. So just what you were
saying about community, that we’re not going
to figure it out. We’re not going to progress,
we’re not going to heal, we’re not going to
provoke, we’re not going to do any of that
unless we do it together. So that’s modeled in
a classroom if you think about the questions
you ask and what you learn. And that should be modeled
in the rehearsal hall. You know, how do
you get a performer to do something and be someone
they’ve never been before? How do you get them
asking bigger questions– your collaborators,
everyone in the room? And then that extends
to the audience. – I think once again– I mean it’s– [LAUGHTER] I mean I will say something,
but I don’t have to say. I don’t want to feel
like I’m useless. But I feel like– let’s just talk about the
whole thing of a question. And in our music, a call
and response is a question. Like at the end of the
piece, I was hollering– yaw. I wasn’t supposed to
even be hollering. I hollered. So when I started
hollering, then TJ– prum-pum. But I told him, my man,
you could do some African– you know, poo-too-poo-poo. Backstage, it was
supposed to be his solo. So before we were walking
out, I said, man, we’re running short on time. So as we were
walking out, he said, does that mean you cut my solo? [LAUGHTER] Because his solo is last. So we were just talking about
why the rhythm didn’t work with the bass and the drums. And I gave him a
demonstration just downstairs. Because when Phillip
is playing, he’s going toon-ding-ding-doong-ding,
poom-ping-ping-toon-ting, ting-ting-pe-tong– deep inside of
the bottom rhythm. When TJ is playing, he’s
tin-tin-tin-te-kin, kin-ke-tin. He’s on the top rhythm. So Ken, look at Phil. This is his physicality,
and this is yours. The drums and the bass are
not going to play together. So what is your bottom rhythm? Your bottom is boom-dot-dot,
boom-dot-dot, boom-dot-dot. Put the top rhythm in the
context of the bottom rhythm– ding-ding, te-kin-kin-kin– and
sit down in the bottom rhythm. So Ken, you see how that feels? And that’s what
you’re talking about– how do you share the space? And how do you ask a question? And how do you find
another person? In our music, the rhythm
section did two opposites. The drums is the loudest,
the bass is the softest. The cymbal is the highest,
the bass is the lowest. And they are forced to
deal with each other. And they don’t like that. [LAUGHTER] The cymbal is in six,
and the base is in four. And this is what you’re
saying, basically. Yeah, I’m not dancing. We are. Look, we have so many
heavyweights up in here, so many people who
are doing so much. I can look around. And we’ve known each other
for such a long time. I was talking with Elizabeth. We were talking about Arthur
Logan and Duke Ellington. I sat down– I had a dinner
with Paul Simon two nights ago– we sat down, we are
very close friends. We talked about
human things, not argue about pop music or jazz. We went through every song
Duke Ellington ever wrote. And when we got to 1962, we
said, man, the guy in 1962 wrote like 80 songs. Then he was 63 years old. He had been writing
songs since 1924. So we were looking at this
list, and I said, damn, we got to get started. [LAUGHTER] So it’s the feeling
of what we are doing and how we show our
students and we teach them. We teach them with love. And we have to ask questions
and let them speak, and let them do their thing. But we have to be adults. Our culture has set
young against old to sell stuff to young people. It has created a bad situation. It felt good for a little
while, but it’s not a long-term solution. It’s just not. You have to back away from
the concept of a generation gap, your young
people as a market, exploiting their sexuality. Because you create a bunch
of young know-it-alls. I always tell my
students, when you’re 50, you’re not going to want
to follow yourself at 19. [LAUGHTER] I will guarantee you that. You know some things. You know some things. But boy, the amount
you don’t– look, if you know all
you’re going to know, you don’t need to keep living. And like the old folks
used to say in the country, boy, I’ve been your age,
you ain’t been mine. [LAUGHTER] You know, our kids, they need
to be loved, they need that. And they need the freedom. But they need
adults in the room. They do not need other
children in a room with them. They have to get online
to be with children. We need to be like, hey, this
is the standard that we have. This is what being
serious is about. And this is deeper
than me failing you. That’s why I joke
about their grades. I don’t give them grades. To go to what you were saying,
the people’s judgment on you is going to be so harsh. And they’re not going
to tell you a word. You’ll never see them again. And I always joke that we are
the only form in the world. But you’ve enlightened me. Jazz musicians, we
are the only ones in the world who will
play sad and blame the people because they
don’t want to hear us. [LAUGHTER] You know what I mean? So I agree, I’m with you. Let’s play better. Let’s get deeper into
the meaning of our thing. So if I play like Charlie
Parker in here today, people will come here
to hear him play. And so I talked anyway,
but I didn’t have to. – Oh, my god. Are you kidding? [APPLAUSE] – So now I have the
very hardest part of my job, which
is to say, we have to stop because there’s
so much more to do today. And I think you’ve
seen here today a performance of some ideas that
inspire the work of these two extraordinary artists
and I think that fit into the larger themes
of this conference. But I also want to underscore
how both of these people have through their
artistic practice made such an extraordinary
contribution to the creation of community on this campus
and have asked questions that linger with us, and that
have brought us together and made us understand
ourselves so much better. So we are the beneficiaries
of the very enormous gifts that both of you embody. So please join me in
thanking Diane and Wynton. [APPLAUSE] – I missed you.

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