On Jazz, Optimism and World Peace

Some of the things in short supply these days: optimism, compassion, comfort and joy and the conviction that light will always overcomes darkness.

Dave Len Scott Photo by Nicholas Wilson-nwilsonphoto.com

Dave Len Scott
Photo by Nicholas Wilson-nwilsonphoto.com

Two San Francisco-based musicians are quietly at work to advance all of the above. Dave Len Scott and Vernon Bush lead multi-pronged lives that are exhausting to consider, but they offer a strong endorsement of the energy that derives from choosing this particular line of work.

Occasionally the two get together to reinforce the notion that faith, hope and love continue to win out.

Scott, who teaches at Sonoma State University, is a trumpet player, pianist, composer, conductor and dispenser of peace and joy. His bio explains that he is “equally comfortable in improvisational/jazz and ensemble/classical idioms.” Bush, noted for his “Inspire Choirs” that are premised on the African proverb, If you can speak you can sing, is a singer, composer and performer who works closely with San Francisco’s historic Glide Memorial Church. He is also co-founder, with Marybeth Tereszkiewicz, of Tree of Life Cross-Cultural Arts Camp, a yearly two to three week summer program for children in the small school communities of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. Both Scott and Bush make a respectable living through their art, but what they do essentially for free, for the benefit of their brothers and sisters on the planet, sets them apart from many (happily by no means all!) of their fellow musical professionals.

The two get together occasionally (and will do so regularly throughout the spring of 2016) for “Live at Five” evening services at another San Francisco church, of which this writer is fortunate to be a member. Scott advertises the musical segments of the events thus: “Vernon Bush is a gentle soul and a gifted choir leader. To shine positivity and love is just Vernon’s way. Anyone who comes to sing with Vernon (first Monday of every month, 7 pm) at Calvary will come away feeling better about everything, feeling loved! I am certain!”

Certainty of goodness (and feeling loved) might be added to the things in short supply today. But a recent “Live at Five” service led, musically, by Scott and Bush, featured a chorus-with-drums rendition of this Chinese proverb:

Where there is light in the soul

There is beauty in the person

Where there is beauty in the person

There is harmony in the home

Where there is harmony in the home

There is honor in the nation

Where there is honor in the nation

There is peace in the world.

Vernon Bush

Vernon Bush

It may be an unfortunate fact that there is not a lot of peace in the world. But thankfully there are people like Dave Len Scott and Vernon Bush out there bringing light to the soul.

Peace Day quietly came & went

Dove peace

Dove peace (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In case you missed it, the International Day of Peace was celebrated recently. Its official date was September 21, and the word is there were “festivals, concerts, a global Peace Wave with moments of silence at noon in every time zone, and much more.” But I think the word wasn’t spoken very loudly.

In 1981, when Peace Day was unanimously and officially established by the United Nations, there were plenty of signs it might not easily gain traction. Ronald Reagan was inaugurated — which brought us that “peace through strength” business, demonstrated by bombing Libya and selling arms to Iran for the Contras. President Anwar Sadat was assassinated in Egypt and a few months later Israel annexed the Golan Heights. It’s been pretty much downhill ever since.

Still, Peace Day ought to have its day. In areas where it does get celebrated there’s a lot of dancing in the streets, lighting of candles in windows and — most peaceful of all if you ask me — moments of silence. It’s hard to commit violence when you’re keeping quiet. Or, for that matter, if you’re dancing in the streets instead of blowing up things.

I think we shouldn’t give up on Peace Day. We now have the word from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani saying he has some interest in peace, and our President Obama saying the U.S. would like peace, and maybe Iranian-American relations would be a good place to start. Mr. Obama admitted right off that Peace Day wasn’t always historically possible. “The idea that nations and peoples could come together in peace to solve their disputes and advance a common prosperity seemed unimaginable” before the U.N. came into being, were his exact words.

In his address to the U.N. (quoted above) Mr. Obama zipped through an extensive list of warlike actions and circumstances in which the U.S. as well as just about every other country on earth has hardly seemed bent on achieving peace of any sort. But I do like his closing paragraph:

“I know what side of history I want to the United States of America to be on,” our president said.  Essentially, the side that maintains freedom and equality for all. “That is why we look to the future not with fear, but with hope.  And that’s why we remain convinced that this community of nations can deliver a more peaceful, prosperous and just world to the next generation.”

So let’s hear it for Peace Day. Even if it’s not yet quite gotten its day.

Pilgrims? Turkeys? None of the above. Today was just Honest Abe's good idea

Perhaps the pilgrims and the Indians did indeed sit down to a great feast and a peace pipe; there were probably plenty of wild turkeys around in the early days of the pre-U.S. But all of those things had nothing to do with the beginnings of Thanksgiving Day — you knew that, of course.

Nope. It was Abraham Lincoln’s effort to bring a little peace into the fractured country he found himself trying to lead, at a time about as fractured here as the world is, today, everywhere. Abe thought a little reverence and repentance would be a good thing. Here, in part, is what he had to say:

“But we have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace…”

Poor Abe. If he thought he knew deceitfulness and intoxication, he should have seen what’s going on in health reform. And if he looked beyond our shores he might have sensed wider “punishment and chastisements in this world” and called for a global pause.

Whatever its origin — Lincoln’s formal establishment of the day was in 1863, but what would preschool be without pilgrims and cornucopias? — Thanksgiving Day still offers a nice time to pause.

Here in San Francisco a few hundred or so of us will be doing that at the 5th Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service, where we’ll have a group Ommmm, a Muslim call to prayer, a bunch of other prayers to Whomever has not given up on us all,  “with one heart and one voice” as Mr. Lincoln suggested we do. Then we’ll go home and eat stuffed turkey and watch ball games.

And a Happy Thanksgiving to all.