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Jazz Journal

It’s a summer Monday, I’ve been away for a few days, the emails and Facebook posts have accumulated, and I am saddened—and frightened—by the events in Charlottesville. I attended a peaceful rally and stood with uptown New York City neighbors of every ethnicity and age, some carrying candles or signs, a new literary genre since 45 was elected. I am sure someone will eventually collect them into a book.

I began this blog post thinking about free speech vs. hate speech, and how propaganda—words and images—are often prequels to violent action, an historical truism. Hitler’s “willing executioners,” as Daniel Goldhagen, a Harvard historian called the ordinary people of Germany during Hitler’s rise, are too easily led, too unquestioning, too virulent in their verbal expressions of loathing and exclusion. Hatred obliterates conscience, humanity and rational thought. And this being unequivocally true, a bizarre question surfaced in my writer’s mind: I wonder if bigots listen to jazz? And, if not, what is their music of choice?

I listen to all kinds of music, but it is only jazz—its melodies and riffs, the improvisation of the next unscripted note—that satisfies during hard times. And this has been true for me since high school. Only my really cool friends listened to jazz on the all-night station in New York, unbeknownst to our parents, of course. We were supposed to be sleeping, not talking on the phone about the latest Jimmy Breslin editorial in the New York Post, or listening to the radio. We were going to a progressive, politically engaged school. Andrew Goodman, an alumnus, had just been murdered during a voter registration drive in Mississippi, a murder that remained unsolved until 2004.

Jazz. I spent my late adolescent years in Boston, New York and San Francisco, in affordable jazz clubs instead of rock clubs. For the price of one drink, we could stay into the night and all night. Jazz lovers and jazz clubs were integrated. What an amazing word! Some of the musicians were white, some were black. Did it matter where the music originated? Yes and no. Its African and slave origins were embedded. Tunes held the pain of the Middle Passage, the celebration of survival, hope for the future. The British imitators I knew when I lived in London—George Melly, Johnnie Dankworth, Cleo Laine, in particular—were in awe of its power and did their best to honor the musical tradition, making their own contributions.

So I ask again: do bigots listen to jazz? Should we pipe this indigenous American music through the air ducts of offices and bus stations, supermarkets and Walmarts? And, if we could do this, would a bigot’s brain waves shift from hatred to love? Would they begin to absorb the true meaning and promise of America? Would they stand down and turn in their guns?  Read More 
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Words Matter; A Demagogue Speaks

“How Does a Nation Turn to Hate?” That’s a tag line on the New York Historical Society website this month. I went to see their small exhibition, “Antisemitism 1919-1939,” and took lots of notes. It was the only way I could concentrate without becoming very upset.

First of all, as many of my readers know, my parents were genocide survivors. Secondly, the Nazi propaganda displayed in the vitrines felt eerily familiar in this 2016 election year. At first, Hitler was dismissed as a fringe crank. It didn’t take him long to become Chancellor.

So I’m weighing in on the “Trump Phenomena.” His campaign is not at all funny or entertaining. It’s terrifying. Like Hitler and his cohorts, he is a master of media manipulation and inflammatory, subliminal messages, nuanced enough to avoid accusations of “hate speech" yet remain within the realm of “free speech” protected by the First Amendment. It's incendiary nonetheless. Trump is the voice of bigotry and has given bigotry a voice. And if he now claims—cynically—that he’s just a regular guy and is going to calm down, that’s even worse. The damage has been done.

In Nazi Germany, Hitler had many “willing executioners,” as Harvard scholar Daniel Goldhagen wrote in a 1995 book of that title. Men and women who were acquiescent, men and women who obeyed. The Nazi killing machine revved up incrementally. It began by endlessly repeating words and images of dirty money-grabbing Jews who were “repulsive parasites,” the cause of all Germany’s problems since the beginning of time. There were even children’s books written to reinforce these messages and a couple of them are on display at the NY Historical Society exhibition. I had never seen them before. They are shocking.

The indoctrination of ordinary citizens ended in The Nuremberg Laws—the legal foundation of Hitler’s Holocaust—and the death camps. Where will Trump’s campaign lead us as a nation? His anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim epithets deny our citizens, asylees, refugees and applicants for American citizenship, the fundamental right to live without threat of violence. His language inflames those who hate, those who may carry guns; we are a well-armed nation. Hate crimes against Muslims have spiked in recent months. And no wonder.

We have had other demagogues running for office in the past, but that fact does not make Donald Trump any less dangerous. We must stop him for the sake of our children and our democracy.  Read More 
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