My Biking Annals #1: Remembering Ornette Coleman At Angel Speed
Biking for me is as much a metaphysical as it is a physical activity. By this, I mean it is bifocal: one part, full (and, if possible, immaculate) attention to the present; the other part, reverie. Of course, you use your “lazy eye” for the second activity because that sector of mindfulness is more accustomed to drifting in time and space. The “strong eye” stays steady and watchful.
Now lest you think I’m bipolar, trapped in some dichotomy of consciousness, let me quickly add that both activities converge on a plane where all is yoga.
Being a second-time beginner to biking, I did not know too much about the metaphysics of this pastime. When last I biked, I occasionally thought up stories and wrote them when I got home. But I never knew that biking could open what Aldous Huxley called “doors of perception” native to this, ugh, “sport.”
To rewrite Jesus, “Pedal and it shall be opened to you.” And I add that the pedals I have in mind could easily be spelled “petals.”
Before setting out for my bike trip on this glorious post-rainy, low-humidity, mild-climed day, I read about a funeral service held yesterday for jazz giant Ornette Coleman. Coleman was 85 and supposedly in poor health for the last few years. When you’re 73, as I am, that’s young. As far as I know, I’m still in good health and would like to stay that way long enough to leave a legacy of some sort. But I am also aware that my soul is “on loan” and must be returned at some point to the issuer (hopefully, no worse for wear).
In any case, I’ve been listening all week to Ornette’s records, as well as some made by others whom I revere equally who chose to play his compositions. One of those albums which paid tribute to Ornette was made by John Coltrane in 1960, with Coleman’s trumpeter Don Cherry and his bassist, Charlie Haden, also recently deceased. Called “The Avant Garde,” it features three (out of 5) songs by Coleman, and is notable for being the album on which Coltrane took his first-recorded solo on soprano sax.
Fairly soon after starting my usual bike route, I went into reverie mode, remembering listening to Ornette recordings with Gordon Inkeles, the proprietor of this blog. Although I have not seen Gordon since the late 1960s, he is an active presence in my life, linked by our mighty passion for jazz. It was Gordon who first played for me Charlie Parker’s epochal break-thru 1945 recording of “Ko-Ko”--not once but at least five times in succession until Bird’s whirl of notes made us feel like dervishes, spinning, spinning on “the still point of the turning world.”
I always remember that experience because I date my epiphany that the earth’s surface is (or was meant to be) a vast dance floor to that moment when Charlie Parker broke the speed of sound, then light, and ran jazz’s first 3-minute mile. Forget flights of bumble bees, and Lisztian arpeggios. Bird soared and took us with him, as if each note was a footstep to be followed (mind you, at sprint or glide-path speed).
I rejoined Bird in flight today, soaring with Ornette to a celestial sphere far closer to earth than any I have ever imagined. There is a saxophone blues-yelp that summons all angels on patrol of this planet. And Ornette sounded it in my fondest memory as I pedaled along today. In fact, he enveloped me in it.
And that’s when I felt like I entered a seraphim’s tail wind; maybe a whole band of them carrying me along in their beating-wing air stream. It seemed as if I had broken my own personal sound barrier and that I was traveling at “angel speed.” I know this sounds corny, but I was in a deathless place. As beacon, as symbol of all the I love, Ornette was singing through me, using my consciousness as his instrument and sounding board.
I’m sure there other ways and means beyond bikes and meditation mats to “get” to where I “got” today. I urge every person reading this to find his way and means to that place--a place where remembrance of ancestors, gods and heroes becomes grateful (and grace-full) mindfulness of the here and now. “It is all one day,” Tennessee Williams wrote in his last play. I hope to resume that day ASAP, or, at least, the next time I bike. In the mean time, thank you, Ornette; and thank you, Gordon. The three of us are still tuned in to God’s radio.
--David Federman, June 28, 2015