Tag Archives: teaching English

THANKS TWO MILLIONS, or GRATITUDE WITH SWING

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, an official holiday created for us to join with family and friends to be thankful for what we have.  But I’ve been thinking about gratitude for some time now.  (The Beloved lights the way here and in so much else.)  It’s easy to take our bounty for granted: the color of the sky, a bed in a clean warm room, clean water to drink, coffee to start the day, the affection of people near to us and those in cyber-space, and so much more.  Each one of us should have no trouble making an individual little list.

Among so many other marvelous phenomena, I am grateful to the point of tears for the music we love.  Isn’t it remarkable and beyond that we should live in a time where such creativity, such joy is possible — and we can enjoy it over and over?

I give thanks to these wonderful living musicians who have learned so much about creating beauty and having the generosity to share it with us.  Behind them, of course, is that fellow Louis.  Scott Robinson told me (last Sunday at The Ear Inn) that if you listen closely to any kind of jazz, no matter how “far out” it might initially appear, it all comes from that fellow.  Hearing this — I am very constrained in what I say, as some of you will know; I never express any emotions at all — I grinned at Scott and said, “Now I know why I love you!” and we both broke up.

So here are two versions of THANKS A MILLION: for the musicians, for the prosperity that enabled me to buy a video camera and be on the scene, for the love in the air:

That’s Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Levinson, reeds; John Sheridan, piano; Jon Burr, bass; Ricky Malichi, drums.  Recorded on September 15, 2011, at Jazz at Chautauqua.

There’s Ehud Asherie, piano; Dan Block, clarinet.  Recorded at Smalls on October 16, 2008.

And a footnote, nothing preachy.  I teach English — literature and writing — to four classes of college freshmen and sophomores, and I met with them this last Monday and Tuesday.  At the end of each class, I looked at them very sternly and said, “I have a Thanksgiving homework assignment for you.”  I can’t describe the collective skepticism in the room, because I never give “homework,” and asking students to “do work” over a holiday when the college is closed seems to them a violation of their basic rights.  And some of them know my deadpan humor.  (Others were simply waiting for me to stop talking so that their holiday could begin, and I understand this completely.)

I said, “I assume many of you are going off to have some sort of meal with family or friends this holiday?” and many of them agreed.

“OK,” I said.  “Here’s your assignment.  Find someone in that room, someone you love.  TELL that person you love him or her.”

Some of them giggled; they all looked relieved.  Maybe that’s the most important thing I will teach them this semester.

One more four-bar break.  I do, of course, have a secret purpose in all of this.  If everyone got in the habit of acknowledging their gratitude, it would be a world full of people saying and thinking THANK YOU! and I AM SO FORTUNATE, which would be lovely additions to the cosmic atmosphere.  And perhaps then we could move into the next phase: noticing those who have less to be thankful for, whether they are homeless people on the street, the Chinese workers who suffer to make our technology (see Mike Daisey’s play about Steve Jobs if you have a heart!) . . . the list is longer and sadder than I can say.  And we could then move from noticing to taking action.  What a wonderful world, then, indeed.

Wishing you all happiness — and not just on Thursday.  JAZZ LIVES wouldn’t have a reason to exist without you.