Thursday, January 14, 2010

Good Friends

A reformer cannot afford to have close intimacy with him whom he seeks to reform. True friendship is an identity of souls rarely to be found in this world. Only between like natures can friendship be altogether worthy and enduring. Friends react on one another. Hence in friendship there is very little scope for reform. I am of opinion that all exclusive intimacies are to be avoided; for man takes in vice far more readily than virtue. And he who would be friends with God must remain alone, or make the whole world his friend. I may be wrong, but my effort to cultivate an intimate friendship proved a failure. (Gandhi, AMG, 31-32)

The great Duke Ellington had just such a friend in Billy Strayhorn.  Neither man required reform and both nursed near the breast of Jazz's muse.  Watching them at the piano together composing it becomes clear that they each felt moved by the same phrase or melody.  They could complete each others sentences.  Ellington described him, "my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brain waves in his head, and his in mine".  Duke was a figure larger than life, a womanizer and a showman.  Billy was an openly gay man in a time when homophobia ruled the minds of the masses.  The music shared transcended their differences and together they changed the nature of jazz.

Most of us will never meet our Billy.  Our thoughts feel strangled in the folds of our gray matter, unable to unleash their unique and authentic voice into the world.  We seek that compliment to ourselves; someone that inspires that voice, words, and action simply because they also feel the internal struggle and seek the same expression for truth.  We long for another heart that can share an intimate silence and still hear the songs of our soul.  My life has been a long march of acquaintances, each one loved by me, but none that truly resonated with my deepest reality.  So I've often fallen back to this quote by Gandhi to assuage my own feelings of failure in the realm of personal relationship.  It's at these times I take a step back and look at all the friendships I have and how each one has brought some unique gift into my life, enriching my experience of this world.  A relationship such as that shared by Ellington and Strayhorn is such a rarity, but friendships are a necessity.   
Jazz is a strange blend of sounds both harmonic and dissonant, built on the improvisation of many moods and interpretations.  It took more that just Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn to bring the music to life.  That's where a rich palette of friends will add color to our lives, helping us to shine ever more brilliantly than we ever could on our own.

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