Sam Newsome

Sam Newsome
"The potential for the saxophone is unlimited." - Steve Lacy

Live at WFUM with Kurt Gottschalk

Sam Newsome Trio @ Bushwick Public House

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Positive words for the week (Zen parable: Moving to a New City)

Moving to a New City 

(Zen parable): There was a person coming to a new village, relocating, and he was wondering if he would like it there, so he went to the Zen master and asked: 

Do you think I will like it in this village? Are the people nice? 

The master asked back: How were the people in the town where you come from? 

“They were nasty and greedy, they were angry and lived for cheating and stealing,” said the newcomer. 

Those are exactly the type of people we have in this village, said the master.

Another newcomer to the village visited the master and asked the same question, to which the master asked: 

How were the people in the town where you come from? 

“They were sweet and lived in harmony, they cared for one another and for the land, they respected each other and they were seekers of spirit,” he replied. 

Those are exactly the type of people we have in this village, said the master.

(Life Lesson): I think there a two closely related lessons to be learned from this parable. (1) What we end up seeing and experiencing in life, is what we choose to see and experience; and (2) some people deal with life with a winner's mindset and others with a loser's mindset. 

Musically speaking, I can be naively optimistic when it comes to seeing and experiencing the positive side of life, especially when it comes to the listening to music.

I’ve attended concerts where the person I’m with might say to me afterward, “That sax player doesn’t play changes very well, ” or “That piano player's rhythm is weak.”--typical things you'd expect from someone listening with an objective ear. Because I was listening with a more subjective ear, what I actually heard was a sax player improvising with a more open harmonic concept, or a piano player having his or her own way of feeling the time. 

By me not judging these musical scenarios as bad or wrong, allowed me to hear these things not as mere flaws but as new and different musical possibilities. I'm not saying that this is always a good thing, especially if you are a teacher and you're paid to listen with a critical ear. But I am someone who has the ability to enjoy music using both subjective and objective listening. This was not always the case. People who know me from earlier years, also know I could talk smack with the best of them. While I was a student at Berklee in the mid-80s, unfortunately, talking negatively about others was our favorite past time--a conversation for another day

But I'm happy to say that I did evolve.

Regarding the second lesson of the parable: having a winner's and loser's mindset. 

Ben Carson came under fire during a radio interview with conservative media personality Armstrong Williams, for expressing similar views regarding poverty.

Here are some statements taking from the transcript of the interview:

 “I think poverty to a large extent is also a state of mind.” Carson, then he went on to say, “You take somebody that has the right mindset, you can take everything from them and put them on the street, and I guarantee in a little while they’ll be right back up there.” And lastly, Carson said, “You take somebody with the wrong mindset, you can give them everything in the world — they’ll work their way right back down to the bottom.”

Political affiliations aside, I’m afraid I have to agree with him. 

Many political pundits spun this as him saying that if you’re poor, it’s your fault. Which is not the case at all. He’s basically saying that some people have a rich or successful person’s mindset, some have that of a poor person's, no matter their income--not much different from the man in the parable who only saw people in their village as "nasty and greedy."

In many ways,  most jazz musicians have a winner's mindset when it comes to experiencing life. 

Most of us who play this music (and there are the exceptions) live on very modest incomes. But we actually have a lot of in common with those who make up the upper echelons of the socio-economic ladder. 

If you think about what rich society folks like to do, it's usually:

  • traveling to foreign countries (other than the Virgin Islands and Mexico), 
  • going to museums,
  • enjoying healthy food, 
  • eating at nice restaurants, 
  • being connoisseurs of fine wine, 
  • reading classic books, 
  • watching movies by non-Hollywood indie filmmakers, 
  • attending operas and ballets, 
  • and appreciating art music like jazz and classical. 

I’ve just described 80 percent of all of the jazz musicians I know. And the point I'm making is that jazz musicians do not let the absence of wealth prevent them from experiencing the riches that life has to offer. Many live modestly but have the aesthetical mindset of someone with 10 times their income.

At the other end of the spectrum, look at wealthy pop music entertainers and athletes (or even lottery winners), that come from modest and sometimes impoverished
upbringings. Even though they go on to accumulate a lot of wealth in a short period of time, many still live with a poor person’s mindset and, consequently, often end up broke. Their bank accounts are abundant, but their aesthetical value system is in a deficit.

This is why you might see some these celebrities in $200,000 cars, pulling up to a KFC drive-thru. Or opting to go to strip clubs instead of the opera. And my favorite: Walking around with a $300 bottle of Dom Perignon, drinking it like it's a 40 ounce of Old English. 

You’ve rarely seen an episode of MTV’s Cribs where the guests showed off their vintage record collections and libraries of classic books. It’s usually nonsense like having a chair with fish aquariums in the armrests or having a basketball court next to their bowling alley.

I don't mean to come across as holier than thou. Like the traveler from the parable who only recalls encountering the "cheaters and thieves" of his town, I, too, am often a victim of my own poor person's mindset. I feel I can speak about it because I live it. 

And let's not forget the lottery winners.

According to the National Endowment for Financial Education, about 70 percent of people who win the lottery or come into huge sums of cash, end up broke in a few years. And I won't deny that greedy folks in their lives find ways to exploit them. But much of their downfall can be attributed to their mindset. It's a harsh but unfortunate truth.

So as the parable teaches us: Life is what you make it. You can fill it with great people. You can fill it with horrible people. You can fill it with music that sounds good, or music that sounds bad. You can fill it with riches, you can fill it with poverty. These choices belong to us. 

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