When I was born, the doctor told my parents that, due to a rare form of stomach cancer, I would not live past the age of five. So, growing up as a pastor’s son, I got used to people calling me a miracle from a young age. I won’t go as far to say that I agree, but given that I’ve already lived twenty years longer than anyone thought I could, I do believe that I am still in this world for a purpose. In addition to this unique sense of purpose, the church also exposed me to community-based music making at a very young age. These two aspects of my early life experience have shaped the way I navigate the world today, with music as the vehicle through which I am able fulfill what I believe is my purpose in life. I can break down what I believe my purpose to be into three sociopolitical responsibilities: (1) to put spirituality back into music, in order to reach audiences on a spiritual level; (2) to add to the collective cultural contribution of Black Americans to our nation’s musical, and by extension national, identify; and (3) to spread a message of tolerance and peace to all types of people on an international scale.
I will always remember the first time I heard jazz. The first record I had ever checked out was “My Favorite Things” by John Coltrane. When I first heard the music, I was instantly captivated by the expressiveness of his playing and the force of his sound, so much so that I felt vibrations go down my spine and resonate throughout my entire body. It was just like the feeling I got in church when the choir would sing their praises to God or when the preacher would preach his heart out to the congregation. As I started checking out more jazz artists and became familiar with the sub-genres and styles, I discovered that most of the music I listened to did not produce the same type of spiritual experience that Coltrane did. In particular, I have found that modern jazz has become more about impressive techniques, odd meters, and unpredictable changes. Without a sense of spirituality, I feel that the musical medium is limited to purely aesthetic communication, rather than true expression of inner thoughts and emotion. Thus, one of my responsibilities as an artist is to keep spirituality as the focal point of my music, in order to enable my audiences to look deep within and learn about themselves and the world around us.
In addition to an emphasis on spirituality, another core component of my upbringing has been the importance of African American culture and its role in American music. It is my belief that Africa is the birthplace of all music, and that African Americans are responsible for the birth of jazz, which gave rise to countless subsequent genres of American popular music thereafter. Yet, for some reason, mainstream society does not want to acknowledge the role of Africans and African Americans in the formation of our nation’s musical culture. For instance, most music history curricula will not cover a single African American composer. In schools, children have to wait until Black History Month for their teachers to acknowledge Black American artists, of which there are far too many to learn about in just a month. This lack of equality in music education deeply saddens me, especially when Black American music has served as the single most ubiquitous influence on American music for centuries. Therefore, as a black artist, I feel that another one of my responsibilities is to gather as much knowledge as I can about the Black music that influences me, and to share it with my audiences so that more people can understand its importance to American music as a whole.