Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A conversation with Winona LaDuke about Jim Pepper, pt 1

by Sean Cruz

Portland, Oregon --

Winona LaDuke and I had an impromptu conversation at KBOO 90.7FM that was recorded by KBOO Engineer Liam Delta in May, 2010.

The subjects ranged from the new White Earth radio station that Winona is building (they are looking for engineering help right now--call them if you can help), to the Heavy Haul tar sands project she is opposing, to the great Native American musician Jim Pepper.

The entire conversation will be posted on YouTube in segments, and will be continued....

Here's part 1, about Jim Pepper and Witchi-Tai-To:


Friday, September 10, 2010

Jim Pepper, Gunther Schuller, Mr. D.C. and "Custer Gets It"

By Sean Cruz

Jim Pepper never wrote pop tunes, that’s probably the first thing you should know about Jim Pepper.

Jim’s music came from visions, from his family, from ancestral teachings, from his friends with whom he shared his life, from his heritage, from the People, from the Earth, from the Sky, from the Wind and from the Water; they were his sonic visions, and they were as ancient as Man, as eternal….

Sometimes he wrote his music down in the form of compositions, sometimes they were recorded, and sometimes, if you were truly fortunate, you were there when he performed them live.

It’s one thing to have a vision, quite another to have the gift of expressing it, and Jim Pepper was one of the very finest, most original virtuosos to ever breathe through a tenor saxophone in the history of the instrument, right up there with John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, and you can fill out the Top 5 of All Time list with any other two names that you like….

Jim Pepper’s saxophone bridged continents and cultures, broke through language barriers all over the planet, and still does….

His father Gilbert Pepper and his grandfather Ralph Pepper gave him his start on his first tenor saxophone, and that music, their music, came from the Great Mystery….

Jim Pepper would be the first to tell you that his music came from somewhere else, from someone else. He was just the musician, he would say, taking the visions and adding harmony, jazz chords, this or that, singing in that soulful voice as ancient as water, and then picking up that silver saxophone, and your life would change, if only just a little bit at a time….

Mr. D.C. was Jim’s composition dedicated to his musical and spiritual brother Don Cherry, the pocket-trumpet-playing improvisational avante garde hero, the two of them joined for eternity in this world and the next, both of them blowing free and beautiful at the very same time, up there now with Trane and Monk, Dizzy and Miles, Floyd Red Crow Westerman and Johnny Cash.

Here, Gunther Schuller’s arrangement takes you on a journey through time and space, you will wonder how you got there so effortlessly, back to the mid-19th century at a place called The Little Big Horn, and at the same time here you are in the heart of free jazz country, some of the most challenging music that the 20th century had to offer.

First the orchestra enters, signals something’s up, there is something coming your way, you just need to pay attention a little bit, and the Remembrance Band is in there too, very subtle, working it, then the tempo changes and we’re in a new place….

Jazz, orchestra, Indians, Gunther Schuller speaking in his Third Stream voice, full throated….

That’s not Jim on saxophone, but you know he would dig it, and is digging it right now, Jim and Don….

Then the segue into Jim’s “Custer Gets it”….

And his lyrics:

“Here come the Indians, comin’ real fast

“Comin’ down the pass, gonna kick you in the ass

“Here come the Indians, comin’ real fast

“Comin’ down the pass, gonna kick you in the ass

“Custer Gets It! Custer Gets It! Custer Gets It! Custer Gets it!” the singers shout!

And from there swirling into a free jazz moment, a world that Jim knew as surely as any other musician who walked the earth, sure-footed Jim, on the battlefield at the Little Big Horn…you get the point.

Silence…and then the orchestra restates, there’s a little bit of Africa in that theme, it’s World music, after all….

That last muted trumpet note fades…shades of Choctaw Don Cherry…this note’s for you, Don….

With your help, Gunther Schuller’s Witchi Tai To: The Music of Jim Pepper …is coming to Portland in 2011.

You can listen to Mr. D.C. on YouTube right here:

…and your life changes, a little bit at a time….

On Columbus Day, Repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery, and next steps

We had hoped to stage the American Premiere performance of

Gunther Schuller's Witchi-Tai-To: The music of Jim Pepper

at Trinity Cathedral on October 7, 8 and 9, but the stars did not line up for those dates.

We are doubly disappointed, as the Schuller concert series would have been followed on Sunday, October 10, Columbus Day, with a powwow organized around the Episcopal Church's Resolution repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery!

"The Doctrine of Discovery is the dogma that Christian sovereigns and their representative explorers used to assert dominion and title over non-Christian lands with the full blessing and sanction of the Church. The Royal Charter, issued in 1496 to John Cabot and his sons by King Henry II, led to the colonizing dispossession of indigenous peoples from their lands in North America and to the dehumanization and subjugation of non-Christian peoples (which the monarchy termed “heathens” and “infidels”).

"The charter specifically authorized John Cabot and his sons 'to find, discover and investigate whatsoever islands, countries, regions or provinces of heathens and infidels, in whatsoever part of the world placed, which before this time were unknown to all Christians.' The Charter also reads in part, 'John and his sons or their heirs and deputies may conquer, occupy and possess whatsoever such towns, castles, cities and islands by them thus discovered that they may be able to conquer, occupy and possess, as our vassals and governors lieutenants and deputies therein, acquiring for us the dominion, title and jurisdiction of the same towns, castles, cities, islands and mainlands so discovered.'”

The Doctrine of Discovery was fundamentally the license with which Europeans granted themselves the right to steal, to kill, to rape and to enslave as they saw fit...and they always saw fit.

The Doctrine of Discovery led directly to the Doctrine of Manifest Destiny, and with it--here in Oregon--just over 150 years ago--to the forced relocation of Native people from sites they had occupied for thousands of years onto reservations, and to the Termination policies of the 20th Century.

The Resolution – "put forth by the 188th Annual Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine – would put the Episcopal Church on record condemning the Doctrine of Discovery and supporting indigenous peoples in their call for the repudiation of the 1496 Royal Charter issued to John Cabot and his sons and other similar Royal Charters which sanctioned European invasion of the western hemisphere. 

"The resolution also calls upon each diocese to reflect upon its relationship with the indigenous peoples within its area to understand the history of its relationship with them, to build a relationship with all such Peoples, and to support them in their political and legal struggles for their inherent sovereignty and fundamental human rights."

Here's a draft design of the poster that the Oregon Episcopal Diocese was preparing for the event:

We will call a Steering Committee meeting in the next couple of weeks to start working on 2011.

The Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery events are still taking place, at St. Andrews Episcopal Church on Sunday, October 10, from 3 pm to 6 pm.

Maybe I'll see you there.

Sean Cruz