Uh-will the wind ever remember the names it has blow in the past?
And with this crutch, its old age
And its wisdom it whispers, “No, this will be the last”– Jimi Hendrix
Mary is 94 years old with severe dementia, and resides in a hospice facility in Oklahoma. And she’s my mom. On November 6th, 2020 mom passed away from complications of Covid-19. This is the last moments I spent with mom.
Mom sits silently in her wheelchair vacantly staring at the bear wall above her bed. On occasion she will touch her locket that hangs around her neck. I know she feels like leaving, but she can’t go. Mom doesn’t know that this is her tomorrow. There are only fleeting moments when the depths of her dementia recedes, and she sees me sitting on her bed.
“What are you doing here?” She asks.
As quickly as I can answer. Mom vanishes back into the dark corridors of her mind. She’s gone, only to be replaced with an empty stare to the white wall above her bed. My love for the woman who gave me life isn’t always available, but somewhere in moms mind I can only hope she knows that I have not abandoned her.
I open my computer and start to play music to fill the void of silence in her room. Out of the corner of my sight, moms leg starts to gently move, I slowly turn my head so as not to detract from moms gaze. Following her leg down to the tip of her fuzzy pink slipper. Mom begins to tap the metal footrest of her wheelchair. Mom smiles, and the paleness of her cheeks disappears and is replaced with a rosy pink color hue. I wonder, what if I play music from her youth.
Playing a mix of Frank Sinatra songs, the room fills with big band music with “Ol’ Blue Eyes” at the mic.
“ I always liked him” she says somewhat abruptly.
“Mom were you a bobby-soxer?”
There is a pause as mom searches her past, “Yes.”
She looks over at me after answering.
“Who are you?”she ask
“Mom, I’m your historian.”
A broom is drearily sweeping up the broken pieces of yesterdays life
Les McCann first gained some fame in 1956 when he won a talent contest in the Navy as a singer that resulted in an appearance on television on The Ed Sullivan Show . McCann reached the peak of his career in 1968 Montreux Jazz Festival, recording “Compared to What” with saxophonist Eddie Harris. After the success of Swiss Movement album, McCann — primarily a piano player — began to emphasize his rough-hewn vocals more. He became an innovator in the soul jazz style, merging jazz with funk, soul and world rhythms. He was also among the first jazz musicians to include electric piano, clavinet, and synthesizer in his music. In 1971 McCann and Harris were part of a touring group of soul, R&B, and rock performers which included Wilson Pickett,The Staple Singers, Santan and Ike & Tina Turner. McCann is also credited in discovering Roberta Flack and obtained an audition which resulted in a recording contract for Ms. Flack with Atlantic Records.
In the mid 90’s McCann suffered a stroke that weakened his keyboard playing but his powerful singing kept him on the road. McCann’s comeback was solidified in 2002’s with “Pump It Up” a guest-heavy celebration of funk and jazz released on ESC Records. To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Swiss Movement album, tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson brought veteran McCann and a young trio of musicians to the KC Jazz Club for Swiss Movement Revisited.
Jackson is used to working with legends he cut his musical teeth with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the 1980s. He went on to record with such greats as the late Freddie Hubbard, Elvin Jones, Cedar Walton and Stanley Turrentine. Jackson leads his own group, and his latest release (Once Upon a Melody) hit No. 1 on the jazz radio charts.
In a 2009 Kennedy Center performance the interaction between Jackson, his young talented musicians and the old lion at the keyboard, Les McCann, reminded the audience that the old lion can still roar with heart.
“If you don’t know where you are going any road can take you there”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Away from the gaggle of tourist, there is a sweet spot just west of the of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. There Anthony Aquarius pays tribute to Jimi Hendrix as he performs Jimi’s heartfelt song, The Wind Cries Mary. Busking on weekends, Anthony plays in the late afternoons with the expectation that the power of his music will move the out-of-towners for voluntary donations. Standing before Anthony a small child is taken captive by the power of the song as the currency of notes and lyrics floats off the polished Walk of Fame. Just out of frame Jesus is talking to Alice in WonderLand discussing methods of wooing tourist to have their photo taken with the guise of their character. Motionless, the young child is rooted to the pink terrazzo and bronze star of a bygone era actress Dorothy McGuire as Anthony’s guitar licks echo off the wall behind him and is suspended in time for only a moment. Anthony begins to sing
After all the jacks are in their boxes, and the clowns have all gone to bed, you can hear happiness staggering on down the street, footprints dress in red. And the wind whispers Mary.
“Jesus you are taking this very seriously bro… It was a joke, stop blithering about an argument we weren’t having over music. Nobody is putting you down, quit being so fragile man. Lets just remain calm and put the thesaurus brain down on the ground nice and easy like.”
“Wow.. Thank you .. you know I played your lists in the car… cheeky stuff… friends always ask .. “what’s that you’re listening to?” glad to oblige .. thanks again for your critique.. I’m a Gimini by the way .. been in bands & played all my life .. for me this is real musician’s music.” ..
“Sounds like some kind of a noir fetish man, where did you find that track at a tobacco shop ?… it’s so slow, listening to this, I couldn’t steady myself with too much scotch in the tank…. way too much smoke in my eyes bro. All I could think about was a pair of soft tits, hard balls and the alabaster stems of the wing feathers.. What is the connection man?..Is it the connections that could keeps you alive or see me dead ? You are more cagier than a Soviet info broker and sharper than a Yakuza blade.”
“Wowww man, I’m shocked with your close minded taste of my music and an attitude of a femme fatal bitch…what did you have for breakfast…a can of dog food? I wouldn’t even be tempted to playing violin at your mothers funeral… for a dollars man.”
“Dont worry man…you will die, just enjoy your music now. By the way – your heart doesnt want to die, it will fight for you and your body to the last microsecond when it will stop. Be grateful for the light that comes through your pupils, one day they will turn grey and you – you will would be gone forever and your stupid music will be forgotten.”
“Hey ! You ready for lunch ?”
“Yeah, I’m hungry, your car or mine ?”
“Where do you want to go….Tally Rand or Los Amigos?”
While flipping burgers at McDonald’s in the early 90’s, Edward Moss was repeatedly told by co-workers and customers of his strong resemblance to the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. Edward likeness became his asset leading him from the business of cardboard hamburgers to show business on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. One of Edward’s first appearances as “The Gloved One” was at the old Hollywood Wax Museum. Standing at the entrance of the museum as living statue of Michael Jackson. Curious tourist would stop to take a gander at what they thought was a wax figure. As the vacationers gather for a closer look on cue a track of music would blast from the museum speakers. Startled by the music and movement, Edward would start dancing across the polished entrance of the museum to the surprise and amusement of his audience. For the Hollywood Wax Museum they sold tickets and for Edward it was the beginning to a career as a Michael Jackson impersonator.
It is my favorite assignment, photographing musicians while in rehearsal or in a recording studios. It is the moment that the musicians delve deeply into the musical notes on a sheet of paper and give birth to a sound that becomes airborne with an arsenal of emotions. Like a still image, music can act as a synthetic acid which enhances flashbacks to a moment in time that has been joyful or painful and never forgotten. Music is the needle and thread that sews our humanity together and in spite of being in metal boxes on Golden State 5 you can witness the joy of Angelenos as they boogie, jive and groove to their own soundtrack, it is a collective consciousness of moving forward to the beat of their own music.