Miles Davis & John Coltrane — Celebrating Black Genius

I’m thinking quite a bit about Miles and Trane these days.

Coltrane and Miles Davis

Coltrane and Miles

Both on their own terms and in light of the horrific displays of racism we are experiencing. A news commentator last night suggested that the entire election is in some ways a referendum on race.  I have also been looking back at my long career in producing music documentaries and doing oral histories — and seeing them as ways to shed light on racism and our collective past.

I think it is critical that white people wrestle with the past and the economic roots of our country. So much of our wealth and privilege comes st the hands of slavery, murder, cultural destruction, ripping families apart, rape, and continuing cultural supremacy, mass imprisonment and more.  Not an easy thing to look at, especially for Leave it to Beaver kind of folks who just want everything to be “nice”.

But as the brilliant Bryan Stevenson points out to us, white people in South Africa and in Germany have done a good job looking at their shameful behaviors of the past and are better human beings for doing that. It actually takes courage to face a legacy as horrific as ours and to see it for what it is. As a country we need to find ways to have this dialogue and find a path to reconciliation and ultimately one of redemption. It is going to take a while, but each journey starts with one step. And then another.

Here’s to the genius of John Coltrane and Miles Davis, in their 90th year — the Beethoven and Mozart of the 20th Century. And what obstacles they faced in rising to their elegance and supreme positions as speakers of truth and beauty.